Maxi-mum Wear

A while back, I spotted a smokin’ hot deal on Old Navy’s website for a soft, jersey maxi dress which was pretty much  universally well-reviewed as flattering and comfortable for–wait for it–$7 shipped. (it’s currently $10, but they pretty much always have a coupon code to stack with that).

I mean, my Goodwill generally slaps a $6 price tag across the board on pretty much anything–be it a denim jumper, 80′s mumu, or designer frock–that could remotely be skewed as something resembling a dress.

So, $7 for a brand new maxi that’s supposed to be decently well-made is pretty much a no-brainer. Especially when I don’t have to leave my house to buy it, and I can return it for free to the store if it doesn’t work.

In fact, it was such a “duh” moment for me that I bought it in three different colors. And, after I posted the deal to my FB page, several of you let me know that you’d bought it too. Heck, even my mom bought it! (Albeit as a gift for my sis-in-law).

I’ve worn all three version of it already, and I’m happy to report that it’s just as comfy as the reviews say.

As far as flattering, I really love the unconventional neckline, which looks like a halter from the front, but is actually a yoke style that connects in the back as well. It shows off your shoulders without being revealing, and, even though it requires a strapless bra, I still would rate the over all comfort level of the dress at an 8. (The material is sooooooo soft, and has a nice, heavy drape).

And, while it’s not technically a maternity dress, the tie is just high enough to work with my belly, and there’s tons of stretch to accommodate the bump.

The only complaint I have, really, is the inconsistency in the sizing.

I wore the navy version with a tie from another skirt on a date night with the hubs with flip-flops and was thrilled with the length, which just grazed the floor.

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Pardon a) the weird shiny thing happening with my eyes (I tried to hide behind a pole to avoid the direct glare but clearly was only partially successful) b) the speckles on my top (you can stop wiping your screen now; they’re not going away). I think it’s toothpaste. But really, as a mama to five small humans, I can never be sure.

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But then, there was the teal version, which I didn’t get a great picture of (this would be a cell phone shot snapped by Ezra).

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It was considerably roomier all-around, but a good 3-4 inches shorter, even though it was supposed to be exactly the same size. I would have loved it a lot more if it had had the extra length, but I’ll probably stick to wearing it with flats in the future, which should help.

And finally, I channeled a bumblebee when I wore this ditzy-print black/white version to church last week.

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It’s a size smaller than the other two and was definitely clingier overall and not as long as the first one (though a smidge more so than the second…I think).    IMG_4719-001

So, was I happy with my 3 maxis for under $25 (including tax)?

Yup!

I’ll be putting away the smaller size until after pregnancy, but I can see getting plenty more wear out of the other two (especially the navy version) this fall.

Sadly, the navy is the only one left and only in a size large, but if you stumble across it for a steal in stores, or if they decide to restock, it would totally be worth a $7 “splurge,” in my humble opinion–whether you’re pregnant or not.

Scored any great deals (thrifted or new) lately? It’s so rare to score such an amazing price on something online that I was pretty stoked. As much as I love the thrill of the hunt at Goodwill or even an occasional run to the mall, there’s just something extra-special awesome about getting a steal on something from the comfort of your own couch.

Twins Are Twice as Sweet 2nd Birthday Party

I wasn’t sure until maybe a week and 1/2 before the twins’ 2nd birthday party materialized a) whether we were even having a party and b) what it would be like if we did.

Last year, I planned a big outdoor shindig for their 1st birthday...

And then it rained, for like the first time in 2 months…pretty much exactly and only during the hours of their party.

So, we moved everything and everyone upstairs to our big room, which I am so grateful to have. But, I’m not going to lie: it was crowded, nothing was particularly cute (despite hours of prep for several days ahead of time), and I was borderline pouty about the whole business.

This year, I didn’t have the energy for that kind of pressure (cough, pregnant, cough), so when I finally did decide on a semi-applicable “theme”–which then meant that there needed to be a party  to accompany it–I knew I didn’t want to go big. At all.

Of course, I also wasn’t planning on going quite as small as we ended up being after two of the invited families ended up with sick kids on the day of the party. What a bummer!

The plus side? The weather was absolutely gorgeous (which only slightly lessened the grudge I’m still holding against last year’s thunderstorm) and we got to eat yummy food and play with family and friends. Which is really all that little kids (should) care about.

The boys and I had fun making no-bake treats as a supplement to our homeschooling (um, hello? fractions, measuring, reading…it’s practically a flippin’ SAT prep course!) several days in advance, and the rest I did a little at a time throughout the week (up until the ultimate all-day-long, can’t-sit-down, too-much-to-do push of the day of).

The results were pretty much what I’d hoped for: cute, simple, and–you guessed it–very sweet.

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The best part was that I already had almost everything you see on the table here (which was the only thing I decorated, so be prepared for shots from every angle). The wrapping paper I used to cover the ugly folding table…the striped bags for the favors…the party cups…the napkins. Practically all of it, I had either collected on super-clearance over time or had leftover from another party, and it felt pretty good to just toss all of it together in one big, sugartastic explosion of color!

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It’s hard to get much more on-the-nose with a “Twins are Twice as Sweet” theme than pretty glass jars full of very sweet things–in this case, chocolate-dipped pretzels, jelly beans, Lemonheads, caramels, gumballs, and homemade caramel popcorn. twinparty2

 

I had ordered a grab bag of items from Pick Your Plum months before, not having a clue what I’d get. But several cute party accessories were included–like those yellow cookie-holders. Okay, so I don’t know what they’re actually intended for, but they were the perfect size for the chocolate-dipped morsels of death by marshmallow fluff cookies that the boys and I made, so I went with it.

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Another fun item from the same PYP haul was these cupcake wrappers/embellishments. They fit perfectly in with all the bright colors and candy-related theme.

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I already had a pretty decent stash of pretty paper straws leftover from bygone parties, so I tucked them into those white laser-cut holders from the Target Dollar Spot.

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You’ve seen this chalkboard make several appearances already, including in my family command center and my fall-themed buffet reveal.

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I didn’t really do much with the chalkboard trend when it first started, but now that’s it’s been going strong for a while (and is probably petering out, honestly), I’ve been having a lot of fun playing around with different fonts and embellishments. Although I’m not much good at coming up with the pretty stuff on my own, I usually have a design in mind and am decent at hodge-podging together elements that I scrounge from Pinterest or Google searches. At least, I’m happy enough with the results. twinparty8

I borrowed the small candy jars from a sweet friend, but the large apothecary jars were my one big splurge for the party, since I knew I could use them again and again, both for future festivities and for decorating/useful purposes in between. They were 1/2 off at Hobby Lobby, but they still cost about $22 each. Honestly, though, after doing quite a bit of looking around both online and in stores, I couldn’t find a better price for something of this size and quality.

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Those little double mint cookie balls were a major labor of love (AKA: a pain in the bohonkus) but I kind of adored how cute they were when all the fussy parts were done. Oh, and they were YUM-MO! (I’ll share more about some of these treats soon).

Of course, pretty-looking treats can only serve as (forgive me) eye candy for so long…

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Eventually, they must be eaten.

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Not too surprisingly, none of the party guests complained too much about that task…

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And the birthday girls seem happy to do their part as well.

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Not that I didn’t try to do my fair share. (This is the plate I made for me and Shaun, but I was so tempted to caption it: “It’s for the baby”).

It was such an enjoyable evening right up until the moment that I crawled into bed and realized that my raging allergies from the week leading up to the party had morphed into something else entirely (evil).

But, after spending the weekend downing Echinacea and Vitamin C and taking as many naps I could cram into a 72 hour period that was already pretty full of schedule obligations, I feel a whole lot better. At the very least, I can breathe out of one nostril at a time for longer than 30 minutes. And that, my friends, is progress.

Ultimately, I’m happy that I made the effort to do something fun for the twins’ birthday, but I’m not so sure they’re getting another one until they’re at least five!

Do you guys throw a party for your kids every year? We don’t. But neither do we really have a system for when we do. Simon and Della get somewhat gypped every year because their birthdays are so close to Thanksgiving (Simon’s is actually on it this year). But we did manage to throw them a mega-bash a couple of years back. And Ezra has gotten something resembling a party every couple of years or so since he was born. I suppose some day, we’ll have to figure out something that makes it more “fair,” but, for the most part, my kids don’t seem to notice too much if one gets a party and another doesn’t. A cookie, though? Well, that’s another matter entirely.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Twins are TWO!

You guys. NO lie. It seems like about a month ago that I was absolutely desperate to meet my twin girlies. They’d been riding around comfortably (they were comfy, but their poor mama sure wasn’t; turning over in bed was an 8-point, 45 second process by the end) for 39 weeks and 4 days, and I just couldn’t wait to see what they looked like, hold two armfuls of heavenly smelling baby goodness, and see if the names we’d picked out the very night  we found out it was twins would fit. (And this from the woman who begged God not to give her multiples!)

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{Evy’s on the left; Nola’s on the right}

Thing is: that wasn’t a month ago. That was 2 full. years. ago.

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{I’m not sure the girls believe it either}

That’s right. It’s been two years since I wrote about the 5-day-long process that was getting those stubborn little sweeties out of my belly.

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And if the time has flown for me, then I’m guessing you’re a bit flabbergasted too (since other people’s lives always seem to pass much more quickly than mine).

But this much I can tell you: long or short, every moment of my time with my precious girls has been a unique and unexpected blessing from the Lord.

Maybe that sounds like romanticizing things or glossing over the bad parts, but really, there haven’t been any that I can even remember. Yes, having two exactly the same age when I already have 3 has been challenging. Yes, it’s a pain to go places in public. Yes, screeching (even the happy kind) in stereo is really, really obnoxious. And, yes, yes, YES 2-year-old tantrums X 2 are as nerve-shredding as they sound.

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{Tantrums? US?? NEVER}

BUT. Challenging does not = bad. And, in the case of my girls, it has meant quite the opposite. Jesus, in His mercy, has used these blue-eyed, smiley little miracles to grow my patience (this is a never-ending process), deepen my love for all of my children, and give me a peace about His will like I’ve never had before.

All of my children have slept through the night from an early age, including the twins, but before them, it was something that I stressed about. As bedtime neared, I would feel anxiety rising in my throat, even after they had established a pattern of sleeping through the night.

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What if my baby didn’t sleep well? What if I had to face the next day sleep-deprived and cranky? What if…? I mean, really, what’s the worst that could happen? I napped when they did instead of getting something done? Big whoop. (That sounds like my idea of fun these days).

Except that hormones speak so much more loudly than logic when you’re a young, new mom, and you’ve just birthed a helpless little human. A tiny tyrant from whom you’re more than a little desperate to escape for more than 2 hours at a time. And yet to whom you are completely enslaved by the bonds of love.

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But with the twins, I expected to get no sleep. To be nothing more than a glorified milk factory. To be exhausted and hollow-eyed. To completely lose my sense of self in the care of not one but two tyrannically helpless humans.

And you know what? In that complete surrender of any expectations for normalcy, I found so much joy in serving my daughters. I didn’t dread nighttime like I had before. And even when, on the bad nights at the beginning, I alternated between feeding them one at a time on the hour every hour, I still felt complete and total peace that, “This too shall pass. We’re going to be just fine.”

And let me just say, y’all, that this is not bragging but instead boasting in the Lord because not one ounce of that peace came from anything that my personality is naturally inclined to do.

It was a lavish example of God’s grace on me during a daunting, uncharted period of motherhood for me.

I can honestly say that, not only is having twins not nearly as “bad” as it sounds (in terms of difficulty), but it’s about a million (trillion?) times better than anything I could have dreamed up.

I halfway expect for #6 to come out and me to say: “Where’s the other one?” (Which, I suppose, would be fitting in some ways). I’m not so sure I’ll know what to do with just one baby!

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{Sometimes, it sounds like three cats trying to fight their way out of a paper bag when the girls are all playing upstairs. But then, there are moments like these}

We’re having a little “Twins are twice as sweet” themed birthday party for the girls tomorrow, and that phrase pretty much sums up the last 2 years for us. I love all of my children fiercely, but I am just so stinkin’ grateful to have the unique opportunity to watch these two grow up side-by-side, so different in their personalities…

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{Evy, the (Over)Thinker}

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{Nola, the Social Butterfly}

…but both so connected and equally cherished.

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So…Happy Birthday, Evy and Nola!

You have given this Mama’s life a double-shot of sweetness, and I am so thankful God saw fit to make you mine.

The Winner of the Thankful Package…

Okay, so first of all, after reading all of your fun comments from yesterday’s baby names post, I no longer feel quirky.

Y’all are SERIOUS (and slightly psychotic–your words, not mine!) about your baby names!

5 letter first names + 6 letter coordinating middle names (with matching vowel-consonant-vowel order, of course). Biblical names that work in Hebrew and Japanese (I confess I don’t even know what this means). All J’s. Only Celtic/Nordic names.

It was a lively, interesting, and slightly insane discussion. I loved every single second of it!

Especially the comment that deduced that our Baby #6 is going to be named “Gerund Blue Blazes.” (You got me!).

And the reader who couldn’t even comprehend her husband’s suggestion of “Dominique” after their first was named “Leah” (her exact words: “While I was pregnant with #2, he literally suggested Dominique. DOMINIQUE?!?!?!?!?!?!??? (He said we could call her Q. I mean, I can’t even…”)). Girl, you are my jam. And you’re also responsible for my cracking up right in the middle of the boys’ math work. Love it.

You know what else I loved? All of your responses to the “thankful package” giveaway from last week. It was such a blessing to see who and what y’all are thankful for in your lives. It sounds like many of you have wonderful Mamas (me too!), friends, and friends-who-might-as-well-be-family.

And now, it’s time to say who won!

And that would be…

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Beth said in response to the prompt about someone who inspires or helps: “My dear friend, Angela, who knows when a brownie and some beautiful flowers help somehow. She never judges and always waits to process whatever I am going through. She also prays and speaks the truth in love. She is a gift from God to me!”

That’s awesome, Beth! Shoot me an email at blogabbie{at}gmail{dot}com, and I will get you hooked up with your goodies!

Happy Tuesday, guys!

The Baby Name Game

I had a reader ask me about my process for choosing baby names last week, and it got me thinking about a) whether I even have a process, and b) what in blue blazes it is if I do?

And here’s what I’ve decided: I don’t really have a baby name picking process so much as a baby name picking quirk.

For lack of a better term, I’m calling it “name parallelism.”

There’s this thing in grammar called verb parallelism in which you are supposed to keep the form of your verb consistent throughout a sentence. For example, if you’re going with the gerund (a verb ending in “ing” that’s been made into a noun), then you would say, “I like fishing, eating ice cream, and playing in the rain.”

If you were going with the infinitive (the word “to” + an action), you would say: “I like to fish, to eat ice cream, and to play in the rain.”

However, you’re not supposed to say: “I like fishing, eating ice cream, and to play in the rain.”

Mostly just because it’s awkward.

So, why the grammar lesson? Because a) I’m a grammar freak (and, yes, I realize that there are typos and grammar mistakes on this here little ol’ blog in practically every post; I may be a freak, but I don’t catch every mistake…and, sometimes when I do catch one after I’ve already hit publish, I’m too lazy to fix it :) ), and b) the little twitch I get when I read a non-parallel sentence is the same one I get when I think about my children’s names not being parallel.  Or not “matching,” to put it in less geekish terms.

In the words of the immortal Inigo Montoya: “Let me ‘splain.”

If I had two children, a boy and a girl, and named the first one John and the second one Mary, then I could never, under any circumstances, name a third Rocket. No matter how much I adored the name Rocket. No matter how much it made my soul sing. It would just drive me nuts. And then my soul stop singing forever. (See? Quirky).

Honestly, I think most people have this in them to some extent since most families with multiple children that I encounter have a pretty high degree of name parallelism.

Keep in mind that this particular quirk is not the same thing as the First Letter Quirk. (See the Duggars and their thing with “J’s”).

But, if you were to look at all of my children’s names, you would see that they have two things in common: 1) they are old-fashioned, somewhat unusual names and 2) they are all only two syllables long (when it comes down to what we actually call them). Ez-ra, Si-mon, Del-la, Ev-y, No-la. I tend to think that the length thing is purely coincidental, but maybe it’s actually another subconscious name quirk that I have. I guess I need to try to name a kid something longer than two syllables and then actually call him that and see if it makes me itch.

ANYhoo, just for fun, I put together a little graphic of different kinds of name that I consider “parallel.” Feel free to disagree or chime in with more!

baby name game It’s interesting to me how, with both the trend-setters (AKA: “I really like last names!”) and the hipsters, there’s a lot of gender ambiguity within the names themselves. Is Taylor a girl or boy? What about Quinn? (I have friends who both have kids named Quinn almost exactly the same age, and one’s a boy, and the other’s a girl). Whereas, with the traditional names, there’s no doubt. Whoever heard of a boy named Caroline??

Of course, as much as I like many of the names above, I fall into a completely different category (the ones above are by no means exhaustive, of course), which I will tentatively call: oldfashioned rebel

Again, these are not ALL the names I like, but they are my favorite kinds of names and–in my strange little mind, at least–they have the same vibe. They’re not your everyday-average-go-to’s, but neither do they inspire visions of dreadlocks and nose rings (nothing inherently wrong with either; they’re just not “me”).

So, what about it, folks? Do you have a name-picking philosophy? Am I the only one who’s weird about names needing to “match?” The funny thing is that it doesn’t usually bother me when I encounter a lack of name parallelism in other families; just mine.

Do you fall into a particular category? Or is it just a “whatever I like” kind of thing? Honestly, I go with what I like. And my husband tends to think like I do (although he has both vetoed a few of my more outlandish preferences and promoted some that I didn’t expect. See: Magnolia). But what I like tends to be pretty consistent.

Hint: At least a portion of baby # 6′s name may or may not be included in one of the categories above. Think you can guess what it is?

6 Months Pregnant with Baby #6!

Well, look at me go with a pregnancy update only 3 short weeks after the last one.

27 weeks

(Can you tell that I’ve got pregnancy hair? Thick. and. bushy)

6 months (27 weeks) just seemed a little too momentous to pass up.

On the one hand, I think, “Holy wow! I’ll be snuggling this little guy in no time!” On the other, all I can think is: 3. More. Months.

I know it will go fast, especially considering that we have 4 birthdays, and multiple holiday celebrations between now and then. But still. 3. More. Months.

I could try to look on the bright side by reminding myself that–hey!–at least I don’t have to gestate my offspring in my body for 2 years like elephants do, but there’s really nothing about comparing myself to an elephant that makes me feel better, so I’ll pass.

So, here’s the lowdown on how things are going right now.

Cravings: These are still random and rare (I haven’t had an Icee in weeks). I usually eat eggs and turkey bacon for breakfast, an apple with peanut butter for a morning snack, a salad (topped with yummy stuff like chicken, pecans, cheese, and croutons) for lunch, a kale smoothie for an afternoon snack, almonds + dried fruit for an even later afternoon snack, and whatever I’ve made for dinner in the evening. Throw in an occasional bowl of ice cream or other treat, and you have the rundown on the never-ending process that is getting (and keeping) me full. Usually, after dinner, I’m good to go and don’t get hungry again before bedtime, but up until then, I’m munching on something every two hours or getting hangrier by the second. (My kids are lined up behind me saying, AMEN!)

Weight gain: Pretty darn high. There’s a reason I’m trying not to think about elephants, y’all. I hadn’t weighed myself once during this pregnancy, but I made myself step on the scale the other day because of that whole being 6-months-pregnant business. And now I wish I hadn’t. It’s amazing what 3 little digital numbers can do to your morale. Still, I know it’s for my little guy’s good, and it will be totally worth the extra time it takes to come off after he’s here.

Exercise: Still teaching and taking classes…although it’s definitely harder than it was even three short weeks ago. I’m modifying more and skipping workouts here and there when my body feels particularly crabby. But for the most part, I still feel better after I make myself sweat and plan to keep going to the end, barring something unexpected. I’m hoping the feeling of lead in my legs subsides a little in the coming weeks (which probably sounds strange, but I actually felt better from months 6-8 with the twins than I did for several months before that…here’s hoping).

Pregnancy side effects: The wild and crazy dreams have amped up considerably over the last few weeks. Sometimes, I wake up with the entire plot for a very convoluted action movie in my head, feeling a little bit worn out from “experiencing it.” I’m convinced I’d be the next big hit director in Hollywood, except that the vividness of the details starts to fade just minutes after I really get my eyes open, and I’m left with just a general impression of sword fights and derring-do.

Also, as an update to the varicose veins complaint…they’re still there. I think they’re actually more prolific than ever. However, I’ve been faithfully taking a combination of an MK-2 supplement and Collinsonia Root, and I’m happy to say that, while it still looks like a colony of aliens is about to crawl out of my right leg, it no longer feels that way. The pain has diminished considerably, so for all of you “ME TOO-ers”…there’s my tip.

Energy: Some days, I feel as normal as a woman who’s been growing her 6th baby for the last 6 months can. Other days, I feel…a little like a Mack truck smacked me, backed up, then did it again. Okay, that might be a wee bit dramatic. I generally feel fine, but my initial nesting phase (which came earlier than it ever had before) has kind of petered out, and there are days (like yesterday, ahem) that my planned 25 minute nap turns into an hour, and I wake up wondering when bedtime’s coming.

Overall though, I have no complaints. And I was reminded how easy my pregnancies are just the other day when my midwife, Diane, said to her apprentice, “See? Abbie’s the perfect example of how you really can do a prenatal check-up in 15 minutes. Or, in her case, 5.”

It’s hard to get too upset over aches and pains and exhaustion when I really stop to think about the awesome and exclusive privilege I get of nourishing my child  for 9 months until (after a healthy dose of pain and agony), he comes out, and I get to see his wrinkly little turtle face and feel his amazingly strong grip as his fingers curl instinctively around mine.

One of my favorite anticipatory activities for my babies is imagining how they’ll compare to their siblings. Each of my children has a distinct look (well, minus the twins, of course…although, even they are quite unique from each other, once you get to know them), but we do kind of have a Shaun + Abbie = THIS mold that they all loosely fit into.

So, the other day, when someone suggested that #6 might have brown eyes, I couldn’t even wrap my brain around it. All of my children have blue eyes. The thought of any other color just feels silly at this point. But that’s the fun of it. He could have brown eyes. Or green. He could be bald as an egg (all of my babies have had hair, thanks to their rather hirsute Mama). Who knows?!

Only God at this point. But I’ll tell you what: this Mama can’t wait to find out.

So, what about y’all? Any updates to share? I know lots of you are pregnant right now, so don’t leave me hanging! :) Anybody else not on speaking terms with their scales right now? I think we’re going to stay broken up until a good three months after I give birth.

Did I leave out anything you’re itching to know?
I thought about including a chart for how many times I pee a day, but something told me you’d be all right without it.

5 Learning resources my kids LOVE (because they don’t feel like “learning”)

UPDATE: one awesome reader let me know that you can get the entire Kingdom Tales Trilogy here, spiral-bound (there are even discussion questions!) for only $30.

There are aspects of “school,” no matter what route you choose, that pretty much mean “gittin’-ur-done.”

Like math. I mean, yes, I could go on Pinterest every day and come up with cute/clever models and exercises to reinforce carrying the 1 in addition, but honestly, I just don’t have the time. Or interest. And so far, my boys are getting the concepts from simple repetition and practice.

I’d rather reserve my limited supply of creative effort for art or Spanish or history.

But any time I can easily introduce some sort of meaningful media or fun supplementary material that makes learning feel less like work, I’m all about it.

So, I thought I’d share 5 of my favorite learning resources that my kids go gaga for…because they don’t feel like school at all.

1.

Liberty’s Kids

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This 14+ hour series on the American Revolution is so engaging and well done. The main characters are teenagers, but the series is completely age appropriate for even your youngest learner (unless they’re easily scared by gunshots or other slightly perilous situations). Told from the perspective of the fictitious characters, James (an apprentice to Benjamin Franklin at his Pennsylvania Gazette during the period before and during the American Revolution), and Sarah, a British loyalist-turned-reporter, it manages to weave tons of factual information within a fun, story-telling framework. It features quite a few impressive voice credits, including Walter Cronkite, Billy Crystal, and Dustin Hoffman, and my kids absolutely eat. it. up.

It’s not part of our “regular school,” but my kids fold all of our family’s laundry (yes, you read that right), and so every other day or so, they fold a couple of loads while they watch Liberty’s Kids. It’s pretty much a total win-win, as far as I’m concerned. (Also? You can get the entire series from Amazon for $5. Whaaaaat?)

2.

Christian Liberty Nature Readers

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The lady at our local Christian bookstore recommended these as a supplementary resource for science (we use Apologia), and I’m so glad I went with her suggestion, I kind of want to go back and take her flowers.

My boys luuuuuuurve these. Now, granted, they’re more than a little obsessed with nature in general. But these books are just so stinking interesting and accessible that I think the boys would devour the entire book in one sitting if I let them. (I only assign a few pages per day and, if the boys are ever reluctant to do a subject, I ask them to hold off on reading “science” until they finish the subject that’s making them drag their feet; it’s a huge motivator, they love it that much).

Right now, Simon is learning about crabs, and Ezra is studying ants, and, considering that these are boys who have really only recently gotten into this whole “reading thing,” their information retention is staggering. They practically can’t wait to do a daily report about cool details like the fact that crabs can grow back their legs and even their eyes! (It takes a year, but still…wow). And I’m not gonna lie: I find their recitations absolutely fascinating and the passion for knowledge shining from their blue eyes pretty darn exhilarating.

3.

The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child

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Again at the suggestion of the lady from the bookstore (and after a mom walking by overheard that suggestion and enthusiastically corroborated its awesomeness), I ordered this audiobook version of these history books.

We listen to it in the car on the way to and from the gym, and my kids are totally hooked. I’ve had to back Ezra off several times for being too pushy when he’s trying to hustle me into turning on “the history cd” before I’ve even gotten my seat belt on.

When the reader first started talking, I thought, “Uh oh. This guy sounds stuffy and boring.” But, it turns out, he’s anything but, although his voice is–ahem–mature and his diction is frighteningly proper. He does voices and just generally makes the kid-friendly but super-informative historical accounts (we’re learning about ancient history from the “Earliest Nomad to the last Roman Emperor” right now) come alive.

4.

NEST Animated Learning DVDs

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We watch these also when we fold or sometimes in the car for trips. NEST has a huge library of really well done animated videos on everyone from Abraham Lincoln to Eric Liddell to Helen Keller to John the Baptist.

The videos are approximately half an hour and usually cost between $5-8 each. A few years back, I bought several of the collections (which gives you a bigger discount) for Ezra’s birthday, and we’ve been enjoying working our way through them (with lots of repeat viewings) ever since. The quality is surprisingly good, the stories are worthwhile and uplifting, and the messages are clear and positive.

(Side note: please know that, if you order any of the Biblical ones, some embellishment takes place. For example, Jonah is given a plausible back story for his hatred for the Assyrians–they burned his childhood home–which doesn’t actually appear in the Bible. But they never change or water down the actual truths in the Bible, so I just make sure to point out the added parts to my children and then read them the read deal and don’t worry about it too much).

5.

Kingdom Tales Trilogy

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This is the series I’m reading to my older kids at night. My mom read them to me when I little, and I remember loving them. Sure enough, my kids do too.

They’re not strictly “educational,” per se, but I honestly consider it my first job as a mama to instill godly character traits in my children–before math, science, reading, or any other pursuit of knowledge. Sure, spelling is important, but it pales in comparison to honesty or integrity.

The Tales of the Kingdom Trilogy is made up of a series of allegorical stories about the inhabitants of The Enchanted City, where the evil Enchanter rules, and Great Park, which is ruled by the one true King. Each teaches a lesson, and while they flow well and build upon each other, each can be read as a stand-alone story as well.

Best of all, the writing is some of the best I’ve encountered for raising vocabulary levels and forcing kids to think, without losing their interest (I sometimes find myself reading on to the next story while my kids brush their teeth because the writing keeps my interest as well).

And because each story is allegorical, it requires a lot of critical higher thinking skills (just this morning, Ezra asked me if something that had happened in last night’s story was “real,” and I told him that we can’t know for sure, to which he fired back a fact from the story that supported its being intended as literal in this case. I was thrilled! He had not only listened well, but he had been mulling it over and even had a support from the story for his point of view!)

Note: it’s pretty much impossible to find these books in anything but their trilogy form, which are kind of pricey at $90 for all 3. However, if you have a Kindle, you can get each one separately for $10.

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So, there you have it: my picks for learning that just feels like fun.

Care to share some of yours? I’m always on the lookout for ways to engage my kids’ minds without their even realizing it.

The Perfect Patio Snack: Black Bean Salsa (Recipe)

We’ve had the most incredible summer in terms of weather here in E. Texas. I’ve only been blogging for a little over three years, but during that time span, we’ve experienced both the worst and the best summers of my lifetime. Two years ago, it was the worst, with 100 straight days of 100+ temps (you would get in your car, and the thermostat would read: 117, and the skin on your thighs would fry against the leather seats). Things start to run together, but I think that was the same summer that we had a severe drought, complete with wildfires (or it could have been the year before; either way, it was a rough couple of summers).

But this year. Oh THIS year has been (relatively) cool and rainy (apparently, it rained practically every day we were in Europe in June). But other than the rain, the most brutal aspect of our summers has been noticeably reduced. And that would be the humidity. Typically, within five minutes of stepping outside from May to–oh, you know–November, you’re sweating. Profusely. No matter what you’re wearing.

But this summer has been surprisingly dry. We’ve only broken 100 degrees a handful of times, and let me tell you, 91 and mild humidity feels like the Swiss Alps compared to 103 with 386% humidity!

In fact, yesterday morning, it was in the 60′s, and some friends of mine had a good laugh at church as we noticed that we had all busted out the scarves, even though it was barely cool enough to warrant jeans.

So, why the weather rundown?

Well, it’s been so nice that we’ve been eating outside on our patio every chance we get (when normally, we would stay huddled around our kitchen table, on which the air conditioning vents conveniently blast).

Last night was no exception, and dinner was so yummy that it just felt selfish not to share the best part, so I thought I’d show you today how I make a super delish, super healthy, super easy black bean salsa that goes great with all things Tex Mex and beyond.

To get started, you’ll need:

  • 2 cans of black beans (drained and rinsed)
  • 1 can of corn (drained and rinsed)
  • 3 Roma tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 1/3 cup purple onion, chopped (you could also substitute scallions or any other kind of onion)
  • 1-2 avocados, roughly chopped
  • 1 large lime
  • 1 handful of cilantro (I usually just shred mine with my fingers, but you could chop it) IMG_4628

Pretty bowls are optional, but I’ve been slowly collecting all of these specimens on super-clearance or from Ross, and I couldn’t resist the chance to line them all up for a picture.

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Apparently, they made everything look so especially appealing that our cat, Scout, had trouble keeping his nose out it.

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{Literally}

After everything is chopped up, dump it all together in a bowl…

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…and add the seasonings and “dressing” which basically consist of:

  • 1 – 1 1/2 tbs of olive oil (depending on the juiciness of your tomatoes, you may need more or less moisture)
  • 2 tsp of red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • the juice of one lime

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Give everything a good stir, add a bowl of tortilla chips, and–TADA!–you’ve got the perfect accompaniment to pretty much any casual dinner.

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I serve this at parties and family gatherings a lot, and it always gets gobbled up before any other dips.

We ate ours last night with brisket tacos.

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{I like it so much, I had it on the side and on top of my taco; also, did anybody else spot the floating piece of corn?)

I hope my kids remember these patio dinners with as much fondness as I know I will ten years from now (when, hopefully, they’ll still be going on).

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Talking with her hands…such a girl. IMG_4681

{This would be Nola trying to mesmerize me with her baby blues, all while looking innocent and stealing my phone}

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This kid has been losing teeth (literally) right and left. Pretty sure, he’s not going to have any left to chomp his tacos soon. IMG_4686

{Evy knows how to work those blue eyes too; all the better with a little hair swoop}

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And as much as Simon pretends to hate it when people comment on his dimples, I’m pretty sure he’s fully aware that they’re his secret weapon.

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Shaun absolutely loves it when his girls snuggle with him, so I don’t think he was too sad when Nola heard gunshots (we live in the country; this is normal), and made a beeline for him, wailing, “Daaaaaadddy!”

Oh, and in case you’re wondering what my boys’ latest obsession is and in case you had begun to believe that all things at our dinner table were either ridiculously cute or pretty to look at, here’s what was staring me in the face for practically the entire meal:

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I know, right?

Appetizing in the extreme. (Better yet, they’re in my kitchen right now, and Simon and Ezra informed me this morning that a grasshopper and a stick bug have gone AWOL. To which, I replied: “Better them than the spiders; now put another layer of plastic on that jar!!!“).

And just so I don’t leave you with a jar full of your bugs as your last image…

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Do you have a version of this black bean salsa recipe? I can’t remember where I first had it, but I’ve encountered lots of different variations (sometimes, I hear it called Texas Caviar) over the years. This is just the version that our family loves best, but I’d love to hear what you do differently if you make it too.

What kind of summer weather did you have? I feel like I’ve been spoiled for life, and when it goes back to being ultra-sticky and sweltering next year, I’m not even going to know what to do with myself.

Is your house a glorified bug zoo too? It’s gotten so bad around here that I don’t even blink when I find some sort of critter hopping across my kitchen table. Ugh.

 

 

 

A small token of thanks (Giveaway)

I wasn’t really nervous when I pressed “publish” on Wednesday’s miscarriage post because you guys have proven over and over again that you are a kind, caring, and compassionate bunch.

But still.

When you share something so personal, there’s at least one toe-curling moment when you wonder if it will fall completely flat. What if all you do is open old wounds, or nothing about your story resonates with anyone else?

Based on your oh-so-sweet responses and emails (I’m working on answering them, I promise!) that have been flowing steadily into my inbox–emails full of heartache and trials but also so much hope–I’d say that we really are all in this messy thing called life together. I’d say that God knew what He was doing when He gave each of us a specific role to play and formed us uniquely in our mothers’ wombs so that no two of are exactly the same, in experience or our reactions to it.

You have been such a blessing to me over the past 3 days, if for no other reason than that you affirmed that what I shared was needed and timely for you.

So…

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As a small token of the BIG love I have for you guys, I’m giving away a fun little package to one lucky winner.

It includes:

  • a cute gold striped pouch from Target
  • an 8 piece set of thank you cards + envelopes
  • a pretty paper bead bracelet made by Ugandan children that I bought to support one of my favorite organizations, Parental Care Ministries
  • a short camera strap made from a scarf by my talented friend, Lia

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To be entered to win, simply comment with the name or description of a woman who has inspired you or helped you out in a hard time. You can tell me how, or you can simply leave her name.

BUT I have one request: if you win, would you take one of the thank you cards from your package and write that woman a note, telling her what you just told me? She will cherish it. I can promise you that.

I’ll pick a winner randomly and announce it next week.

(Open to residents of U.S. and Canada only; sorry international, peeps!).

Thanks for being awesome, and “may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)

A soul filled with rainbows (my journey with miscarriage)…

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The soul would have no rainbow had the eyes no tears. -John Vance Cheney

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I pushed through the gym doors with maybe 13 minutes to spare before the 2009 Turkey Trot kicked off and made a beeline for the bathroom. There was no way my full, 13-week-pregnant bladder was going to make it through a 5K without something embarrassing happening. Especially not with its being my third run at this whole pregnancy business.

As I walked, I absentmindedly massaged my lower abdomen, which had been feeling crampy all morning. I banged through the stall door, creating quite a ruckus in the thankfully deserted bathroom. My mind on the race ahead and the bread rolls I needed to mix up as soon as I got home if they were going to have time to rise before we headed to my mom’s for her annual Thanksgiving feast, I sat down on the toilet and stared unseeingly ahead.

It wasn’t until I moved to stand up that I saw it.

Blood.

And not pink or spotty either. But thick and so dark it was almost black.

Everything froze. My mind. My body. Time itself.

And then, as if someone had taken their finger off of “pause” and mashed the fast-forward button instead, a barrage of emotions pummeled me in quick succession. Fear, panic, and above all, guilt.

You see, I hadn’t been very excited about this baby. I had thought I would be. That I was ready. That after having my first two only 18 months apart, a 22 month break from pregnancy would be sufficient to recharge my baby anticipation meter. I was wrong. I had been fighting frustration and borderline resentment for most of the pregnancy. I felt disconnected from the little life growing inside of me. And it didn’t help that my emotions were all over the place. Although, let’s be honest: they were mostly in an ornery, short-tempered place. I wasn’t much fun to be around, and I knew it.

Granted, it was a stressful time of life for us. We had just finished building our house completely from scratch and were barely moved in with lots of work yet to do. I spent my days chasing toddlers and changing diapers with one hand while holding a paint brush in the other, fighting nausea and fatigue along the way.

Still, this pregnancy seemed different–leeched of joy somehow.

But none of that mattered when I saw the blood, and the chill of possibly losing my child crept its way up my arms and into my soul. Once I could breathe again, I called my mom, who is, sadly, no stranger to miscarriage, and she listened and talked and prayed and just generally did the things that good moms do when their daughters are hurting.

But I think we both knew what was happening.

That didn’t stop me from hoping, though. From praying and frantically shoving away the thought that I deserved this for not being excited enough about this baby. Because, surely there was no “this.” Pregnant women bled all the time during pregnancy. My midwife said as much when I called her, stumbling over my explanations and apologies for disturbing a day of grateful happiness with my mess.

For several hours after we hung up, I hunkered on the couch, trying to be as still as possible, as if, somehow, my lack of motion could hold my baby inside where it was safe and warm.

At first, it seemed to work. But then, then there was another trip to the bathroom and more blood. More nauseating fear.

My roll ingredients languished on the counter top, unmade and ignored. There would be no feast for us that Thanksgiving.

My midwife called to check on me again, and I told her the grim news. She offered to leave her own family feast to drive 40 minutes to the childbirth center and listen for a heartbeat. Clinging to hope, we agreed, thanking her effusively for her selflessness.

I’m not sure I breathed once as she ran the wand over and over my belly, to no avail. No familiar whump-up, whump-uh, whump-up emerged from the faint crackle of the Doppler signal.

I lay there, feeling numb as she described what I could expect in the upcoming hours.

I think I remember tears leaking out of my eyes, down my cheeks, and puddling in my ears, but I can’t be sure. Everything about that moment is blurry and strangely metallic.

The contractions began in earnest before we were even all the way home. I had to pause to let one subside as I dragged myself up the stairs. I know I cried then. Tears of sorrow and self-pity and anger. No one had ever told me that miscarriage could be a mini version of labor, except with no sweet, squishy babe at the end to make it all worth it. This was not supposed to happen.  It was Thanksgiving day, for the love of all things sacred! How was I supposed to be thankful for this?

I spent the next several hours surviving the process, mostly in the tub, pretending to read The Count of Monte Cristo, ignoring the pain and trying to ignore the impending moment when I would have to hold my tiny baby for the first and last time.

The only thing that kept the sobs at bay was a thought that Thalia had offered when I described how odd I’d felt throughout the pregnancy as well as some other unusual things I’d noticed. She had suggested the possibility that I might be looking at a blighted ovum, which meant thatalthough my body had been behaving as if it were pregnant, with heightened hormonal levels and a developing placenta and everything, there would be no actual baby.

In the end, when all was said and done, I think that’s exactly what happened. I never saw a baby, but I did experience the other symptoms, subtly different though they were, that Thalia had said to look for in this kind of miscarriage.

And, relieved as I was, I was also battered and exhausted. And sad. Sad that my body was broken. Sad that I wouldn’t get to meet that particular iteration of me and Shaun. Sad that the last 13 weeks had been wasted. Sad that Thanksgiving Day seemed destined to bear the taint of loss.

The thing is, with God, no sadness is truly wasted. He keeps count of our miseries, collects our tears in a bottle. It is we humans who shovel sorrow away by the double fistful, hoping to bury it beneath activity and sound and something, anything that will make it ache less. I know that sounds trite. And believe me, I would never have chosen to be pregnant for three months, only to endure a miscarriage and discover that my body had been misfiring all along. But I learned some things about myself that I needed to know. The experience stretched and reshaped me, forcing my gaze up from my own navel and outward towards the hurts of other women to whom I would have never related in some ways.

And three months later, after my body and heart had both had time to heal, I was genuinely thrilled and oh-so-grateful to find out that we were pregnant with Della. That was a pregnancy full of anticipation and joy and complete redemption of what had been lost.

She was my rainbow baby, and I was in love with her from conception.

Fast forward 4 years to this pregnancy–to the moment our sonogram technician swiped the wand across my 11-week pregnant belly, and I immediately said, “Did I just see what I thought I saw?”

And she said, “Goodness, girl. It’s twins again! Or at least it was.”

That last phrase filtered through my stunned thoughts as I squinted at the screen, straining to make out the second shape. But it was too faint, the mere shadow of a tiny babe.

Almost like that second rainbow I captured on my way home from the gym one day. (Did you see it?)

Again, I held my breath as the hunt for a heartbeat commenced. My prayers were a simple loop of: “Please, let him be okay.”

But, once again, there was silence. One baby we thought we knew who turned out to never have been at all. And one baby we knew nothing about who slipped away from us before we could ever wrap our hearts around his very possibility.

Honestly, the second time was less traumatic, both for my body and my heart (somehow, not knowing he existed in the first place made releasing him back to Jesus easier).

But it still hurt. It still tugged and pinched to think what his twin, who is kicking me as I type this, could have had (now that I’ve seen the bond that Evy and Nola share, I kind of think every singleton is missing out). What I could have had.

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So, why do I tell you all of this now? (I certainly never planned to before this pregnancy).

I tell you because I know that it is hard for many of you to read about a woman who is effortlessly pregnant for the sixth time when you would give anything to see those double pink lines just once.

I tell you because of this verse: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

I tell you so that, maybe, possibly, my story could comfort those in any trouble with comfort I myself received from God.  Those of you who extended such sweet words of congratulation in the midst of your own struggle to conceive. Those of you kept silent and fought the urge to throw your laptop across the room (I get that). Those of you who can relate to the horrible, nauseating stomach-drop when there’s blood on your underwear, and the Doppler does nothing but crackle.

My story is different than yours. But I still hear you. I see you. I’ve felt at least a tiny sliver of your pain. And I’m for you.

But, more importantly, Jesus is for you. Even on Thanksgiving Day when your bathtub water runs red or on a Monday morning when you’ve just tossed your 23rd negative pregnancy test in the trashcan, along with a fair bit of hopes and dreams.

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither miscarriage nor barrenness nor unexpected pregnancies when we don’t feel “ready” nor rebellious children nor anxious nights in the NICU nor stillborn births nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:37-39, added paraphrasing, mine).

We don’t always know why we hurt, but we can know this with certainty: “I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 27:13).

If you’re struggling with miscarriage or infertility or feeling overwhelmed by lots of little kids or…whatever…I would be honored if you emailed me at:

blogabbie{at}gmail{dot}com.

As I’ve said many times before, I don’t have all the answers. But I know a God who does. And I would be happy to lift you up before Him in prayer. And if that whole “love of God in Christ Jesus” thing sounds confusing or foreign or too-good-to-be-true, I’d love to talk to about that too.

You probably have some processing to do, but in the words of the inimitable Joe Fox: “Meanwhile, I’m still here. Talk to me.”