Category Archives: Family

Hannah’s Maternity Shoot for Baby #2

Do you remember about two and 1/2 years ago when I posted Shae’s and Hannah’s engagement pics? (That would be my bro and his wife, if you’re new-ish here).

Well, I must have done something right enough to earn a repeat (I strongly suspect the fact that I’m family and charge, well, nothing were the biggest factors, but I’ll happily delude myself that it was due to some merit) because I had the privilege of snapping some maternity shots for their super-cute family a couple of days ago.

And I say, “family,” because exactly 9 months to the day from their marriage date, Hannah gave birth to my cutie-pie niece, Halleli. #honeymoonbaby

And now, she’s expecting Halelli’s sure-to-be-equally-cute baby sister, Eliyana, any day. (Not that you’d be able to tell because she’s just the tiniest pregnant woman you ever did see).

Speaking of Halleli, I do believe that she has the baby smolder mastered.

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She’s a thinker, this little girl, and it’s not that easy to wrangle a smile out of her (although Shaun has always been able to get one with almost zero effort; she has good taste), but when you look this good serious–really–what’s the point in wasting all of that effort smiling?

She’s awfully stinkin’ cute when she does smile, though (thank you, husband, for playing peekaboo like a fool behind me pretty much the whole time I snapped pictures).

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Go ahead and feel disgusted that Hannah looks this good 39 weeks pregnant. I’m right there with you.

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Oh, how I love tiny baby booties!

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And sweet sisters.

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If you’re not a professional photographer (raises hand high), I’ve got a tip for you: take your pictures in a peach orchard at sunset. Then, everybody will be too focused on all of the prettiness around to care whether the shot is perfectly clear. If the peach orchard belongs to your neighbor, and you can tramp over from your own property, all the better.

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“Halleli, where is Eliyana?” Girlfriend knows what’s up. Or…down, in this case.

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Happy girls are the prettiest!

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I have to laugh at these pictures in our field, which looks a bit scrubby and unkempt until the evening sun is sparkling down on the each green blade of grass, and you plop a couple or three cute humans in the middle of it. Then, it’s all CHARMING! and PRETTY!

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This one was a Pinterest recreation. I’m sure not going to show you the original for comparison, but I still think it turned out fun.

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And this version was my idea. Because the husband kissing the belly is, like, the most original thing ev-ah, Abbie.

Either way, it’s pretty sweet in b+w too.

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And this one, here, is pretty much modern day reality: daddy wrangling the toddler while mama looks up the pose she wants on Pinterest. How did we ever take family photos without it?

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And just in case you’re sick of sun flare…

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It was so much fun to take pictures of three of my favorite people in the world and made me even more excited to get to meet a fourth!

PLUS!

Hannah brought us dinner…because she’s super-thoughtful like that. And, since I had already decided before I started Whole30 that I would make exceptions for hospitality, I got to eat ravioli and cookies! Woo!

So, what do you think? Didn’t they they turn out cute? Sometimes, I start to get super-critical of my limited photog skills, but then, I remind myself that it’s not about the perfect bokeh or the just-right angle.

Hannah will always treasure these memories, captured when they were just three (on the outside anyway). And I will always treasure getting to be the one to capture them.

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Helping Hands

Okay, so confession: I was sorely tempted to label this post, “I Heart Child Labor”…or something equally tacky. But, as much as I’m fine with people being mad at me over important stuff, I figured I’d better not waste my goodwill on a bad joke.

ANYhoo, about a year ago, I posted a picture to Instagram of Ezra and Simon folding clothes with a caption to the effect of: “I think the single most helpful household chore I’ve taught my boys to do is sorting, folding, and putting away all of the laundry. What do your kids do that is most helpful to you?”

Some people actually answered the question, but most listed ALL of the things that their kids do.   kidschores3

{If you’re impressed that I was brave enough to let boys clean my beloved lights, .02 seconds later, Simon was demoted to cabinet washing. He tried, but 7 1/2-year-olds really aren’t cut out for careful glass handling}

And I’m not going to lie: I found myself fighting the urge to be like, “Wait, I didn’t say that’s ALL my kids do. They do other things too! We’re not limited to laundry, darn it!”

But that was just my pride talking, and once it simmered down, I really enjoyed reading the lists of tasks that other people have trained their children to do. Most were similar to what we do at our house. But I definitely had a few, “Aha! Brilliant!” moments.

So, in the interest of sharing and answering one of the most commonly asked questions that I get, I thought I’d tell you what my kids actually do around our house.

Please, as always, understand that I’m not thinking that this should be any kind of “guide” for anyone’s life but my own or that your kids should do the same things or in the same way (just in case you, like me, struggle with prideful comparison sometimes).

I just know that I am always encouraged and challenged when I hear about new ways to teach my children responsibility, independence, and servant-heartedness, so if anything I share can help someone…well, yippee!

I’m going to share our actual chore process (along with a fun, free printable!) next week (hopefully), but for now, I’m just going to list the tasks for which my children are responsible.

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{Clearly Nola has discovered the all important truth that silly faces make sweeping so much better}

Simon and Ezra (ages 7 and 9):

Clearing/rinsing the breakfast dishes and loading them in the dishwasher (daily)

Wiping down the breakfast table and sweeping the kitchen floor (daily)

Emptying the trash and installing a new bag (every other day)

Wiping down the fridge/freezer/dishwasher (once a week)

Wiping down kitchen cabinetry (once a week)

Mopping the kitchen floor (once a week)

Picking up and vacuuming the living room (daily)

Cleaning bathrooms: scrubbing bathtubs and toilets, sweeping, and wiping down all surfaces, and emptying trash (once a week).

Sorting, folding, and delivering all clean clothes to their appropriate place/room (approximately 3 times a week)

Putting away their own clothes

Picking up their room (daily)

Cleaning/vacuuming out the van (approximately once every two weeks)

Picking up/vacuuming the “big room” (once every two weeks or so, since we don’t use it for regular play, and they–theoretically–put away what they were playing with as they go)

Helping their younger siblings get dressed (daily)

Getting snacks for themselves and younger siblings when we leave the house (daily)

Helping younger siblings get buckled into the car

Helping with basket-pushing/grocery-shopping

*Occasional extras: helping me weed, wash the car, wash windows/mirrors, dusting, sweeping the porch/patio, etc.

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{Yup, they even had to do laundry while we were on vacation; because clean clothes do not magically appear while you’re “on holiday” (I so wished we Yanks actually used this phrase)…more’s the pity}

Della (age 4):

Unloading the dishwasher

Wiping down the freezer/fridge/dishwasher

Picking up toys/clutter throughout the house

Helping fold laundry and deliver it to appropriate locations

Helping get snacks

Picking up her own room

Putting her own clothes away

Cleaning out the car

Wiping down kitchen cabinetry

Occasional vacuuming (it’s still a little heavy for her)

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{If you’re curious how quickly a bottle of cleaner can disappear…give it to a 2-year-old. The answer: real fast}

Evy and Nola (age 2…almost 3):

Emptying the dishwasher and putting silverware and plastic kids cups away

Throwing away Theo’s diapers/other trash

Picking up toys/clutter around the house

Carrying laundry to appropriate locations

Wiping down kitchen cabinetry

Theo (age 6 1/2 months):

Eating, pooping, sleeping, and smiling

Ha! Couldn’t resist!

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It’s possible that I’ve left something out (I honestly expect someone to comment with, “What? Your kids don’t _________??!” And me to slap my forehead and think, “Duh. Of course they do.”)

It’s also possible that I’ve made us sound more impressively organized and clean-obsessed than we really are.

We’re a work in progress. Some days, we hit every item on that day’s list with vigor. Some days, we get home late, go to bed with dishes in the sink, and get up and tackle it again the next day.

But, pretty consistently, the items on the above lists get done with an acceptable level of competence. And if they don’t, they get redone (unless I’m being too lazy to make sure they’re done right…which happens).

I’ve got all of kinds of ways I want to grow in the housekeeping department where my kids are concerned. Cooking classes. More yard upkeep (my nemesis). Better organizational practices (my other nemesis; my brain is organized when it comes to thoughts and tasks but not when it comes to where things should go).

But for now, this division of labor is what keeps us sane and keeps the house–if not visitor-perfect–generally decent at most times.

And now I have to know. What kinds of chores do your kids do? Do you have a system that you swear by? I’m all ears.

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A V-day Photo-Dump Extraordinaire

Hey friends!

I hope you had a fabulous weekend whether you’re an all out hearts, flowers, and candy type of girl or a “what a ridiculous excuse to peddle more Hallmark cards!” kind of girl.

(I’m somewhere in between. I realize that Valentine’s Day is a completely manufactured holiday and therefore a bit silly, but I also love any excuse to eat yummy food, give thoughtful presents, and hang out with my man, so I look at it as a reminder to do more of that).

I had a post scheduled for this morning (which–I must point out–made me feel extremely organized and on-top-of-things given my current helter-skelter state of life with homeschooled kids, toddlers, and a newborn), but it just felt a little too glib to completely ignore the rather intense discussion that took place after Friday’s post.

I want to thank each of you for taking the time contribute to that discussion, whether we agreed or not. I read and considered each and every comment but chose to spend the weekend with my family rather than answer comments just yet. I will try to do that as soon as possible. I’m also mulling over a blog post that addresses several of the issues raised, so be on the lookout for that in the near future.

For today, I thought I’d recap our Valentine’s weekend because it was pretty fantastic and because I haven’t been doing too many, “This is life,” posts lately, and sometimes a good ol’ photo-dump is just the thing.

Just like this past Christmas was my favorite to date, I’m pretty sure this was the most enjoyable Valentine’s we’ve had yet too. And not because our others have been bad, mind you. We always enjoy good food and have a fun, relaxed time, but just overall, I feel like the fewer expectations we place on ourselves, the more fun we have. (Ain’t that always the way?).

And, when you’re doing your Valentine’s date at home with three small children, it’s easy to keep your expectations super-low.

You already know what we were going to eat as well as what I was going to give Shaun. In case you’re wondering, his gift was a hit. As soon as he saw the Bingo set, he got a mischievous glint in his eye, so I went upstairs to my closet and “prepared.” (Apparently, he knew all about that “one little word” I mentioned in that gift basket post).

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Okay, so this was just a joke, considering that this took place at approximately 5 PM, all 3 littles we had at home were awake, it was 68 degrees outside, and I was melting. But it made for a good visual gag + photo op when he came downstairs and saw me standing there, camera in hand, snapping selfies.

Of course, before we ever got to the Friday afternoon festivities (which started after I met my mom to drop off the three older kids, just like I do every Friday afternoon; the woman’s a saint!), the kids and I got to experience the joy of car carts at the grocery store.

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If you want to know what I really think about car carts, get a load of Della’s face. They cause more fights than they fix (again: Della’s face), and they’re pure misery to navigate. But the kids think they’re ah-maze-balls (except when they don’t; Della’s face, anyone?), and our local fancy grocery store (that we hardly ever visit) is the only place that has them.

So the torture ecstasy of car carts was all ours.

I felt very much like Joe Fox buying books in Kathleen Kelly’s Shop Around the Corner–complete with his incredulous, “H-h-HOW much?”–when my measly pile of specialty items rang up to over $70 (I did buy a crepe pan, so there was that too), but I swiped my card just the same, and we proceeded to bump our car carts into every corner and “VALENTINE’S SPECIAL!!!” display all the way back across the store on our way out.

When I got home from that little adventure, I discovered these waiting for me.

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I love flowers. Especially these (um, tulips and sunflowers and Gerbera daisies?…oh MY!). But I love words even more. So when my adorably geeky husband took his adorably geeky Christmas present (a label-maker) and proceeded to attach a word describing me (or, at least, me through his eyes) to each flower…well, it could have been a measly bunch of wilting weeds, and it still would have been the best. bouquet. ever.

Oh, and in case you saw this view of our kitchen on Instagram after my hubby spiffed it up for me last week…

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{Glean what you will from the fact that I showed this pic to Shaun, and he said, “Wait, that’s OUR kitchen??!”}

…well, this is what it looked like the morning after an epic evening of crepe and eclair making (and this, after we did two {!!} loads of dishes).

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Come to think of it, that’s sort of how it still looks right now (I should do something about that).

I have zero pics of the crepes, since we didn’t get done with them until 9:30 PM, and a trashed kitchen, plus ugly nighttime lighting, plus extreme hunger do not an ideal photo-op make.

Suffice it to say that they were delicious, and I’ll share more soon.

The eclairs, on the other hand, which were entirely Shaun’s doing, were photo-worthy in an epic way.

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These White Chocolate Maple Eclairs are, I think, the most decadent, gorgeous, wonderful morsels of creamy, melt-in-your-mouth goodness I’ve ever eaten. They have multiple steps, and, granted, I’m not the one who made them, but based on Shaun’s eye-rolls of ecstasy, he seemed to think they were worth the effort.

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{I mean}

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The twins were fans as well, and Theo didn’t complain about his milk later, so I think I can  safely say that we all give them many enthusiastic thumbs up.

Speaking of Theo…

 

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Pardon the grainy photo, but I just couldn’t resist snapping a pic of his cuteness as he chilled in bed with me when we were both “supposed” to be taking a Sunday afternoon nap.

He is the sweetest of the sweethearts.

And I’m not the only one who thinks so.

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This is Evy, who has morphed from being our most mischievous into our most motherly and will sit absolutely still holding Theo for 15 minutes at a time when she usually can’t go 30 seconds without wiggling all over the place.

I snapped this shot yesterday during our Sunday movie night (Pollyanna, in case you were wondering; my kids couldn’t believe they didn’t tell us whether her legs got better!)…right before Nola proceeded to upchuck every last bite of her pizza all over Shaun.

Everything in me was screaming, “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” I mean, really? A stomach bug to end our magical weekend of decadent food, fun, and family fellowship?? (I couldn’t ruin the alliteration, no matter how cheesy it sounds).

But, thank the Lord, it was just a fluke, apparently. She’s been happy as a lark and completely puke-free since “the incident,” and no one else has shown signs of stomach malcontent, so I think we’re in the clear for now.

Phew!
And there you have it, folks. One very yummy, very enjoyable, very repeat-worthy weekend.

How did you guys fare? Any fun tidbits to share? I’m all ears. (And growling tummy; those eclairs were so good).

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A Thanksgiving Miracle (Family Photos)

I am so thankful for this blog…for many reasons.

But one of the biggest is that it has forced me to take so.many.pictures of my family.

Well. I guess “forced” is a strong word.

But, for years, I was the girl who hid from the camera and grimaced awkwardly when I did have to be in a shot. I was the girl who didn’t even own a camera (and this was before phones that took great pics) until I was 25, and even then, I forgot to bring it with me to important events or have it out ready to use at home at any given moment.

But since blogging, I’ve really stepped up my camera game and discovered that, not only am I oh-so-grateful to have captured literally thousands of sweet,memorable moments over the last 3 1/2 years, but I actually enjoy the process.

Which brings me to that Thanksgiving Miracle of this post’s title.

For the last 3 Thanksgivings/Christmases, I have bundled my family into coordinated outfits (always assembled pretty last minute from whatever we already had in our closets) and hustled us out to the pier on my parents’ pond to snap a few pictures. (You can see 2012′s and 2013′s if you like).

We’ve also done several other family photo shoots and lake pics that I’ve shown you here on the blog.

But in all of those attempts at cute, posed togetherness, I don’t think we’ve ever before achieved this:

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That’s right. Every single one of us is looking and smiling. See? Miraculous.

I posted that shot to my Instagram and Facebook page the day we took it, and someone (a mama who knows what’s up) asked how many shots it took to pull this off. The answer? Um, quite a few. It was definitely sandwiched between many wiggling, sneezing, half-closed-eyes shots. But it happened, darn it!

So did this:

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Could have been worse, right?

Oh, and, perhaps even more impressively, THIS!

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That would be all 13 members of my immediate family (yes, I’m counting the little boy in my belly) looking pleasant and aware that a camera is pointed in their general direction.

Even my ridiculously adorable little niece, Halleli, got the: Smile and Look memo.

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{Although, I don’t think my brother got the “clean your shirt” memo. :) }

Nola was the least cooperative of our entire clan…

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…but after a week of fussiness and digestive issues (hello 2-year-old molars), I was just thrilled to have the twins participating on any level.    thanksgiving8

Ezra, on the other hand, it always ready to smile and “do the right thing.” He is such a sweet, good big brother/cousin.

And these two?thanksgiving9

You’d never know from this shot that their similar personalities tend to produce a bit of–ahem–friction on a regular basis every now and then.

Oh, and in case you needed it, here’s proof that Nola wasn’t the biggest fan of family photos.

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This shot makes me laugh so hard because of how dramatic Nola’s expression is. She is alittle woman of high highs and low lows. And, according to her, this was a very low moment. I think this was the best shot we got of all the cousins, and it just went downhill from there.

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I would have loved to have nabbed a few more shots that I had planned out in my head. But I have long since resigned myself to getting what I get when it comes to pictures with kids in them. And, with those low standards in place, I can honestly say I was thrilled with our results this year.

Of course, these pictures represent only a tiny fraction of our Thanksgiving weekend, which was full of food and family and fun.

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Not to mention that this handsome little dude got to share his birthday with Thanksgiving for the 2nd time in 7 (!!!) years.

I hope that all of y’all had just as enjoyable a weekend and are still finding things to be thankful on the Monday after.

Oh, and anybody else a little freaked out by the fact that there are only 3 1/2 weeks left until Christmas??

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Since you asked…

There are a handful questions that I get asked on an ongoing basis, which, as I mentioned, is how Wednesday’s Day in the Life post came to fruition.

Thank y’all, by the way, for your super-sweet, supportive, solidarity-sister responses to that post. Any time you let people in that fully to your daily life, there’s at least a chance that folks are thinking less about what works for you and more about what they might do differently.

But if y’all were thinking that, you didn’t let on, and I’m just so grateful that you would take the time out of your day to let me know that my telling you about our day was helpful or encouraging in any way. I am always a little in awe that God can use me in that way at all, and it’s pretty much the best compliment I can get here on the blog.

ANYhoo, in the comments of that post, I got several repeat questions that I’ve run into before on social media and emails , etc. so I thought I might write a dedicated post to answer them in case anybody else was wondering too.

 

So…

QUESTION #1:

How do you find time to exercise consistently? Where are your kids while you’re doing it? How often do you exercise a week?

ANSWER #1:

If you’ve read my blog for a long time, then you know that I’m an exercise instructor (have been for over 7 years now), which means that exercising is my side job. Yes, I get paid for it. And I definitely think that I’m more consistent because, well, if I don’t show, that’s a problem, right? But I do not love to exercise because I’m an instructor. I am an instructor because I love to exercise. So, it just made sense to meld the passion and the position, if that makes sense.

That said, I don’t have a lot of room for extras in my life, period, so I have pretty much whittled my teaching down to the two classes that I love the most (I used to teach everything from Hip Hop to yoga to free-style step), which are BODYPUMP and BODYCOMBAT. As much as I would love to branch out more and do different/fun/challenging forms of fitness, these are my bread and butter and work well for my full life right now.

When I’m teaching or taking a class, my kids are in the gym daycare. They don’t mind going (some days they’re actually excited; some days, they’re like, “Aw, the gym again?”). It’s a chance for socialization with other kids. And I’m pleased with both the staff and the facilities.

I clock an average of 5-8 hours a week at the gym and am there 3-5 days (5 is very unusual and probably means that I had to sub someone’s class). You’ll pretty much always find me there Monday-Wednesday afternoons when I teach or am already in town for piano lessons, and anything after that, I play by ear.

QUESTION #2:

What homeschool curriculum do you use?

ANSWER #2:

I had planned to write a dedicated post on this some day, and I probably still will, but I am getting asked this so often lately that I figured I would just throw the sources out there and then go more in depth at a later date.

There wasn’t one prepackaged box curriculum that I felt completely sold on (I’ve gone that route in the past and just didn’t end up using a lot of it), so I hand-picked our subjects this time around, based on recommendations, research, and reviews. And I have to say that I’m pleased with how things are turning out.

Below is the list of resources for what we use:

Horizons Math

First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind

Apologia Science (supplemented by these awesome Christian Liberty Nature Readers)

Bob Jones Reading

Sylvan Workbooks

The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child (we use the audiobooks)

Route 66: A Trip Through the 6 Books of the Bible

We also do Spanish (which I am teaching them using a variety of resources that are too numerous and random to list)

I make their spelling lists each week using this site, and we quiz each Friday.

We don’t have a specific handwriting program (although I’m totally open to suggestions), but we do practice with copy-work for things like poems and their weekly Bible memorization verse (I use worksheetworks.com to print out customized, traceable, lined practice sheets).

I’m sure there is more we can/will work in in the future, but for now, this list + lots of independent reading (they’ve both recently plowed through several abridged versions of classics like Journey to the Center of the Earth, The Last of the Mohicans, and Tale of Two Cities) keep us hopping!

QUESTION #3:

WHERE are you putting Baby #6 in your vehicle?? What kind of vehicle do you drive?

ANSWER #3:

We drive a 2007 Honda Odyssey. It’s certainly nothing super fancy, but I L-O-V-E it (um, hello, remote controlled sliding doors!!!) and am not giving it up until we can’t fit one more soul inside (legally, of course). So, at this point, we are planning to do some creative arranging of kiddos to fill every single last seat in the back and see how it goes.

Yes, it will be a tight fit, especially with so many car seats. But we think we can make it work. Plus, we’re all pretty used to being up in each others’ grills and having no personal space, so what’s a little more togetherness, right?

The only thing I’m worried about at this point is the epic throw-down the kids are going to have about who gets to sit next to their new baby brother!

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And that’s a wrap!

If you have more questions for me (I have this niggling feeling that I’ve forgotten one of the most obvious ones, but I’m not coming up with it at the moment), ask away!

Chances are that others have them too, and I’ll be happy to answer them in a later Q&A round-up post.

Just to get the ball rolling, the most common topics of curiosity seem to be:

Why do you have so many kids? (I’ve already got a post 95% written about this.  You’ll see it soon.)

More homeschooling

Babies and child-birthing in general

Kid-rearing

Balancing “it all”

If none of those are your cup of tea, feel free to ask anything else, and I’ll do my best to quench your thirst for knowledge. :)

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Using Photoshop.com to fix not-so-great pictures (AKA: Y’all are nice!)

First up, THANK YOU for your sweet, encouraging comments on yesterday’s photos. I am grateful we got to take them at all, and I’m glad so many of you were happy to chalk the haze up to an artsy effect.

However, I knew that if I wanted to actually print those photos to any kind of decent size (especially the one with all of us looking), the haze was going to be noticeable to the point of distracting (because here on the blog, my pictures are obviously much smaller and lower resolution than, say, a nice big 11X14 wall framer).

So, I was absolutely thrilled when several of y’all did some post-processing and sent me mock-ups of what that family photo could look like. Problem is, I don’t have Photoshop. I know, I know. I should. And my husband does have Photoshop Elements (which I only remembered this morning), but I am really unfamiliar with it and have a bad habit of shying away from technology that I don’t already know how to use and which takes a dedicated amount of time to figure out.

Several of you even offered to edit the raw file for me, which just makes my heart happy. Y’all are so nice!

But then one reader clued me in to photoshop.com, a free online, scaled down version of Photoshop, the real deal (AKA: perfect for a technophobe like me).

And so, I uploaded the original hazy family photo. Which looked like this, if you recall:

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…and used the “burn” tool on our faces and bodies only (I left the sky and deck hazy for the most part) and upped the fill light a scotch.

Which gave me this:

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It’s not the most elegant job ever, and I need more practice with the tool, but it’s an improvement!

Oh! And here was another contender that I didn’t post yesterday, which fared even better with a little bit of tweaking.

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Again, I left the haze in the sky and on the deck to maintain the dreamy, seaside effect (I even left a tiny bit of it on Shaun’s right foot, so you can see what a difference it makes; Ha! No, I didn’t…that was a total accident that I need to go back and fix, but you have to admit it sounded good! :) ).

I love being able to more clearly see the happy expressions on my kiddos’ faces.

Want a side-by-side comparison?

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It’s not a drastic contrast, and I will probably keep playing around with it until I get it just right, but I’m much happier with it already.

So, all that to say, if you end up with a less-than-stellar photo and don’t have full-blown Photoshop, head on over to Photoshop.com and play around a little. You may just love your results.

And, again, thank you to all of you who gave me suggestions for the fix. Y’all are too kind and are the best readers a girl could ask for!

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A valiant attempt at family photos…

Last year, when we went to Lake Livingston, Donna, our wonderful, thoughtful, super-energetic hostess, also doubled as our photographer to take some family pictures for us down on the pier one evening. I had thrown some somewhat coordinating outfits in our bags at the last second, and we managed to get some cute shots.

This year, I was determined to at least try to replicate that lake pier shoot, even though we didn’t have anyone to take the pictures. A camera with a self-timer is a wonderful thing, no?

Problem was, the weather kept being uncooperative. As I mentioned yesterday, watching a storm is cool and all, but it’s not exactly conducive to picture-taking.

In fact, every evening during the “golden hour,” either something would come up (aka: we were too busy watching something fascinating about sharks) or the sky was dull and very un-golden.

Finally, the morning we were leaving, the sun was just right for pictures, so I hustled everybody into cute clothes, slapped some makeup on my puffy morning face, and we all headed down to the pier to pose.

Sadly, I completely forgot to account for the outside humidity and how drastic the change in temps would be between the indoor, air-conditioned space and the muggy, warm outdoors.

So, yep, my camera lenses fogged up. We didn’t have just tons of time before we had to skedaddle back home (Shaun had a flight to catch for a work trip), and even if we had, having your kids hang out on a pier in their clean, cute clothes while you wait for a camera lens to unfog and try to keep twin toddlers from tripping off the edge is pretty much a fool’s errand.

So, we snapped away anyway in hopes the cloudiness would wear off quickly. It didn’t really, and several of these shots are hazy as all get-out. But we took them, darn it. And I’m showing them to you! So there.

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I’m pretty bummed that this one didn’t come out clearer. Every single last one of us is looking and looking pleasant, and that is a miracle of such epic proportions that I don’t expect a repeat until…well, maybe ever.

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Same here with the bummed-ness. Definitely would have been a framer (darn you, humidity!!!)

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We’re going with this b+w shot of the boys being “artsy,” but we all know it would have been loads better if it weren’t foggy.IMG_4233-001

Things finally started clearing up a bit right about the time the twins lost all patience for photos (of course), but I still managed to get a few okay shots before the weeping and gnashing of teeth commenced.

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Evy wasn’t in this shot because she was busy doing this.

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Poor thing had a major flare-up of allergies and had puffy eyes and a runny nose for half the day.

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I am happy I got this one of Ez. Such a fun, cool kid. (Side note: he insists that he lost three top teeth, but only two replaced them, which totally freaks me out about where the third is lurking. Anybody else had this happen?)

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Another almost framer, if Evy weren’t so puffy and miserable-looking, sweet baby.

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This one, though. This one is definitely going on a wall somewhere. Oh, how I love my girlies!

And there you have it, folks.

A fundamentally flawed, fairly unsuccessful, but-still-worth-a-try attempt at family lake photos.

I suppose we’ll just have to keep going back to try again. What a hardship that’ll be!

 

 

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Colorful reading for summertime

Summertime is in full swing, which means, among other things, more time for books! (Our current read: The Princess and Curdie). 

And while, of course, the most important part of a book is what’s inside the covers, it sure doesn’t hurt if the outside is just as delightful.

Which is why I love these bright children’s classics that I scored from Barnes and Noble last fall.

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They fill up the little built-in shelf in our upstairs sitting room, and when I revealed that space to you guys, several of you asked questions about the books (since I never showed any close-ups of them). I’ve wanted to do a specific post about them ever since but just hadn’t gotten around to it…until now.

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Here’s the thing, though: I bought all 12 of these books as a set from Barnes and Noble online during their black Friday sale last year (which gave me an extra 30% off my entire order), and it brought my total down to something RIDICULOUS like $5.50/ book.

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These puppies are leather bound hardback, y’all. So, yeah. That was an amazing score.

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I’ve looked and looked (and looked) to find that original set of 12 on Barnes and Noble online and just generally scoured the internet at large, but either they’ve discontinued it (whenever I think I’ve finally nailed it, it takes me to another set that I don’t think is nearly as cute) or just made it uber-hard to track down because I’ve had zero luck.

You can, however, buy each of the books individually (here’s a link to Peter Pan, The Wind in the Willows, and Anne of Green Gables, and if you look down below the listing at the “If you liked these, then you’ll also like…” suggestions, it’s pretty easy to find links to the rest of the Children’s Classic titles one at a time, if you so wish). They’re $9 each, which, while not as awesome as $5, still isn’t that bad for such sturdy, pretty books.

In case you didn’t care to squint at each individual title, the options in this particular series are:

  • The Swiss Family Robinson
  • Black Beauty
  • Anne of Green Gables
  • Peter Pan
  • Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
  • The Story of King Arthur and His Knights
  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
  • Treasure Island
  • The Wind in the Willows
  • The Secret Garden (one of my childhood faves!)
  • A Little Princess
  • Grimm’s Fairy Tales

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I have the boys read for 30 minutes at the beginning of their rest time each day, and I’ve been letting them choose whatever they want (which usually means that they gravitate towards stories about Spiderman and the Avengers), but, pretty soon, I’m going to graduate them to these bad boys.

Here’s hoping they hold up to smudgy little fingers.

Although, I suppose you could say that fingerprints are the marks of a truly beautiful book.

What’s on your summer reading list? Shaun’s about to read the boys Where the Red Fern Grows when we get done with the The Princess and Curdie, and I’m about to invest in Kleenex stock.

Do you like pretty books as much as I do? I found several gorgeous options at some book sellers along the Seine in Paris and majorly had to resist the urge to take them home with me (I managed by mentally chanting, “Your suitcase is already heavy enough!” over and over).

This post is in no way sponsored by B&N. I just like sharing worthwhile things with y’all!

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Nothing formed against me shall stand—not even screeching toddlers

A few days ago, I ended up in town from 8 AM until 6 PM with all three girls due to an unexpected confluence of, well, quite a few things actually.

I’m not an intensely scheduled person, but we definitely stick to a loose daily routine, and, ideally, that routine, always includes a nap for the twins.

Doing back to back (to back) errands accompanied by two 19-month-old napless toddlers is a bit like doing errands accompanied by a couple of baby wolverines. Which is why I was so very grateful when, on the way to the always-dreaded Wal-Mart leg of our trek, both twins fell asleep. And then, due to my mad Mama ninja skillz (or their utter exhaustion…whichever), they stayed asleep during the transfer from the van to the grocery basket, even in blinding sunlight. They stayed asleep, in fact, the entire time I shopped.

Oh sweet relief! It was a modern day miracle.

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And then we got to the checkout line.

And Nola started to squirm and whimper.

And I started to pray. Desperately. “Lord. Please. PLEASE. I just need 8 more minutes. Just 8 minutes! Could they please stay asleep that long? Then, they can scream at me in the car all they want. I won’t mind.”

(I know. Worst bargainer ever).

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(Side note: I don’t love being in public with my children when they’re screaming no matter what, but there’s just something about being trapped in a checkout line with screaming children that is uniquely capable of making my blood pressure skyrocket . You’re in close quarters with lots of other people. There’s a really good chance that someone will shout something like, “Well, they’re not happy, are they?” over the screaming duet {or chorus, in some cases}…and you’ll want to put your head through the nearest wall).

Pretty much the moment the last words of my prayer of desperation evaporated from my mind, both girls woke up and proceeded to make that noise that makes the hair on every mama’s neck everywhere bristle.

It’s not screaming. It’s not wailing. It’s not even shrieking. It’s screeching. Screeching is the worst, especially at the decibel levels that my children, who all inherited their mama’s big lungs, can achieve.

And this wasn’t just momentary screeching. It was inconsolable screeching. In stereo.

And I thought, “Gee, thanks, Lord.” (I am convinced that God is fluent in sarcasm in such cases as these).

I shoved bananas into four little outstretched, flailing hands. I prayed, stream-of-consciousness style. I pushed the basket back and forth enough to wear grooves in the tile floor.

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{Look how angelic I am. I would neverput my mama through any kind of discomfort in public}

Nothing worked. The girls woke up disoriented and hungry, and nothing—not even the sight of food and a familiar face—was going to rob them of their opportunity to express their displeasure.

At some point, I stopped praying, “Please make them stop,” ad infinitum and prayed this instead: “Okay, Lord. I get it. They’re not going to stop right now. So forget whatever’s easiest. Please, just do whatever sanctifies me most.”

I would love to tell you that they stopped crying immediately. That Della stopped yanking on my shirt while droning, “MAH-ma, MAH-ma, MAH-ma” on a constant loop. That I looked up to discover all of my groceries magically and neatly bagged and deposited in my basket. That I felt even a tiny bit less tense.

None of that was true, though. In fact, I think the screeching reached new heights, and a lady a lane away chose that moment to lean over and holler, “ARE THEY TWINS??”

But as I heaved a box of diapers into the basket with one hand and attempted to force-feed a banana to Nola with the other, I heard a quiet voice say, “What can I do to help?”

I looked up to discover my friend, Holly, a fellow mama of five (although hers are older), leaning in with an expression that said, “I totally get this. I’ve been there. We both know this is no big deal in the grand scheme of things, but it kind of stinks right now.” There honestly wasn’t much for her to do. I was almost done loading the basket. Getting the twins out of their car seats was only a temporary fix that I couldn’t sustain. I just needed to get the heck outta Dodge. But her expression and those calm, quiet words were helping already.

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{Deep in concentration, planning her next moment of public mayhem}

Sadly, I couldn’t leave quite yet since I needed to go to the in-store bank, which was a whopping ten feet away. So, I wheeled my basket of apple juice and bawling children over to the bank desk and finally capitulated to releasing the twins from their seats, since it’s awfully hard to tell the cashier you only want 10’s and 20’s when she can’t even hear you over the screaming (by the way, I think getting your license back from someone while holding a baby on each hip should be an Olympic sport).

Before I knew it, Holly was by my side again, filling out deposit slips and helping reposition car seats and babies. Just as I finally started to wheel my way towards the exit, a man came up to Holly and started chatting about life. I heard him say something about Super Mom (Holly) coming to my rescue and about how he had five kids now too.

I had Nola on my hip, Evy strapped into the seat in the front of the basket, and Della riding on the side. And everyone was finally and blessedly (mostly) quiet.

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At some point during the unloading process at the van, I noticed that my basket was resting against the truck next to me. And I looked up to discover the owner, who looked vaguely familiar, approaching. I started to apologize and drag my cart away from his truck, but he waved me off and said, “No worries. I have kids too. I know how it is.” And I realized that, of all the people that I could have parked beside, I had ended up next to Holly’s friend, a fellow parent of 5.

I smiled and said, “Yeah. It’s fun. And I mean that, even though the last 10 minutes were not my favorite.”

He grinned back and said, “Yep. It’s hard. And fun. And the two don’t cancel each other out. Praise the Lord for that.”

And then he helped me load my groceries and left with a, “God bless you. Have a great day!”

Y’ALL.

Can I just say how thankful I am that God sometimes ignores my survival prayers? That, instead, He looks deeper into my true needs and hears me best in my moments of submission and brokenness?

Because what I needed most that day was not just for the babies to stop crying. That was just survival. What I needed most was an opportunity for surrender and an assurance that I’m not alone. That there are others who have gone before me and lived to tell about it…and help others who are coming behind them. What I needed was an encouragement to do the same. That’s sanctification. And the Lord gave me that. Twice.

Right after we got in the car, I heard these words on the radio:

Nothing formed against me shall stand.

You hold the whole world in your hands.

I’m holding onto your promises.

You are faithful. You are faithful.

Amen and amen.

P.S. I do not actually think that having screaming babies in Wal-Mart for ten minutes is a huge hardship. I am grateful that they are alive and well and healthy-lunged. Neither do I think that anyone is doing anything wrong by asking, “Are they twins?” or “Why are they crying?” Also, I’m sure there’s something practical I could have done to avoid something like this scenario in the future. If you have any of these concerns or any others I’ve missed, feel free to share them. But I hope you hear my heart in this and not just the specific details that stand out along the way.

P.P.S. If you’d like to hear a little more about my Mama-ing process, head on over to Brown Sugar Toast and read my portion of a fun Mom Series she has going on just in time for Mother’s Day.

P.P.P.S. (: )) Speaking of Mother’s Day, have you entered to win a set of Mama printables yet?

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