Friday, May 31, 2013

Today was the day...

We bred our dogs, Mocha (a miniature schnauzer) and Cinnamon (a miniature poodle), two months ago. The timing was  accidental, but they were successful and we were looking forward to welcoming babies in June. Mocha's due date was supposed to be June 3rd which is the day we are planning to get home from our great Midwest Adventure. 

Starting at 9am this morning, I was getting texts that things looked like they were moving along, Mocha was restless and trying to make a nest in the corners of my couch. She finally moved to her crate and by 10:21am she had birthed three puppies! 

Nothing new happened for awhile, but around lunch, two more puppies arrived. Five puppies! How exciting! But wait, one more puppy arrived around 2pm, SIX puppies! I giggled as pictures came in over text, at one point some of my closest friends and their kids were all in my living room watching my sweet Mocha become a new momma. Thanks to all the adults there, videos were captured, and I can't wait to show the kids. 

We are having a blast on our vacation. It has been a refreshing time, and a very encouraging one. It will take me weeks to unpack all the wonderful sessions I have gone to and share what I am applying. As we wrap up our last couple of days here, we are now looking forward to our return home for another reason. Well, six, actually. 

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Gearing up...

The kids will be attending the Teach Them Diligently Homeschool Conference with us, all six will be in the Battle for Truth program. They have been encouraged to come in uniform with all things camo. We already had camo hats from our Young Birders Club in San Antonio, but I couldn't find a single kid's camo shirt at home. 

So, on the drive we brainstormed some camo crafts and on Tuesday evening I ran to a local Michaels and purchased camo handkerchiefs, camo duct tape, para cord bracelets for the boys, pins, and face paint. Then I just had to figure out what to do and when to squeeze it in. 

Wednesday's rain day was the perfect opportunity, and this is what we came up with for the girls. 

I think I have figured out something for the boys, now to make a few more...

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Day at the loft...

When we were planning out our NE trip, we found out some special friends would also be visiting in Omaha during the same time. It took a little juggling on their part, but we were able to schedule a time for lunch and we offered to have them to the loft so we could just hang out and relax. It was lots of fun to catch up. :) 

And we were able to enjoy the benefits of a downtown loft by ending our lunch date with a quick walk over to Red Mango frozen yogurt. A sweet treat with great fellowship. 

Our plans for the day were continually changing as the rain in Omaha just kept coming down. It rained most of the day and this evening has persisted with no signs of stopping for the last 2 1/2 hours. There is also a Tornado Watch in effect, which, if the sirens go off, will round out my extreme weather in Omaha experience (last time we visited in 2011 there was extreme flooding and a record breaking heat wave). 

The evening brought more friends to the loft for dinner. The kids ran all over, we were thankful for the balcony which the children used for running laps. It was a lovely and relaxing evening, dinner was yummy even though creating it set the smoke alarms blaring. However, when the sky turned black and the winds picked up, we decided to call it a night so our friends could make it home before the storm got too bad. 

We have museum plans tomorrow. We are having a blast! 

When you go to the Zoo...

Tuesday was our "go to the Henry Doorley Zoo" day. We were running about 15 minutes late, but we got to the Zoo and everyone was a bundle of excitement once they spied our friends waiting for us right inside the gate. Greetings exchanged, mostly jumping and laughing and hugging, we started to explore. 

First things first, baby lion cubs! The cubs were supposedly super playful, but during our visit they were super hungry and sleepy. The momma has a litter of five cubs, but the aunt was helping with the nursing... My friend and I were both wondering how that happens, I sense some homeschool research projects on lions will occur back in Texas. :) 

On the outside of the great cats exhibit, we got to see Mr. Bigs, the male lion. He was talkative which is always fun for the kids who try to talk back to him. There was also a Bengal Tiger that was super close to the walkway (thanks to really thick glass), so I was trying to get a photo of him. Each time he came my direction he would growl and hop around. The first time it startled me, the next time I assumed he did this to everyone. I asked a Zoo docent near by about the tiger's strange behavior, he looked like he had worked there for fifty years, he said he had never seen him do that before. Ha! Leave it to the Texans. 

The Omaha Zoo is critically acclaimed for many of its exhibits. I love the San Antonio Zoo, but Omaha does have some really unique exhibits. The Lied Jungle, the Desert Dome and Underground Night Creatures, and the Aquarium are so fun. We spent a lot of time hanging out with the Gorillas, one of the baby gorillas was super playful and would come bang the window right at one of the kid's faces. It was quite surprising but then we would all laugh because the baby would then throw himself on the ground and pat his stomach like he was having a good laugh scaring us. We passed by quite a few exhibits trying to convince us of man's evolution from monkeys. My kids kept singing "There Aren't Any Monkeys In My Family Tree" from the Answers in Genesis VBS they went to a few years ago. We are looking forward to the kids getting to hear Ken Ham speak on Thursday night. 

We told the kids we planned to stay open to close at the Zoo, and we did. But knowing little legs grow tired, we planned to watch the IMAX in 3D movie about the Monarch Butterfly Migration to Mexico. The timing was perfect, it was a perfect ending to a wonderful day. Micah thought so too. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

First day in Omaha...

We arrived safely to our loft apartment in downtown Omaha at 10am on Monday. Grand total travel time was 14 1/2 hours which included the 7-miles-from-home potty stop, the Oklahoma City gas stop and the first Starbucks sign we saw in Kansas stop. When we finally parked we were awed by a couple of things... how close we were to the convention center, the fact that a 2 minute walk found us at a Red Mango frozen yogurt shop, and how amazing my little find was!

I am not sure I will ever stay in a hotel on purpose ever again. Last August I used the HomeAway website to book a little cottage for a Mommy Getaway with two old friends. It was awesome to have a whole little cabin with kitchen for the same price as a local hotel with no character. Family-sized travel finds us either dragging the RV around or paying for two hotel rooms which puts a strain on the vacation budget. When we decided to attend the Teach Them Diligently conference, I checked hotels, even those with suites, and couldn't find any that would allow for more than 7 people. Our loft is totally amazing, 2200sqft with a bigger kitchen than my house, a huge balcony, wide open spaces for kids to wiggle. Yay!

The kids broke in the loft by running laps through the apartment, going up the stairs, coming down the stairs, jumping from the stairs. They had a little bit of energy following our travel, the fact that Mom and Dad wanted to nap found no sympathy with them. So, we all got our shoes back on and went to Red Mango because, well, I wanted some. :)

I had read on-line that at the bottom of the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Footbridge spanning between Nebraska and Iowa was a splash pad. The very existence of this supposed splash pad was the sole reason I packed all of our swimsuits for this trip. Following the yogurt outing, we got in our swimwear and headed over to run around in spraying water and walk between two states. However, the splash pad was not working which resulted in sad children. We made a quick walk to the top of the bridge, everyone thought it was pretty cool that the bridge wiggled a little with each step, and then we piled into the car to go have dinner at Cheeseburger in Paradise.

Elliott put the kids to bed while I ran to the grocery store in the middle of a thunderstorm. I don't think I have ever been more stressed out in a grocery store in my life. I missed the selection and pricing of my local H.E.B. more than I knew was possible. Finally back to the loft, we quickly put away the cold stuff and I climbed into bed after a solid 30 hours of being awake. I didn't hear a thing or wake up once until Tuesday morning, it was a delightful night's sleep.

More later...

Monday, May 27, 2013

Car dancing...

Our family is on the road this week, everyone tucked into the Suburban, for a week in Omaha with friends and to attend the Teach Them Diligently Homeschool Conference. Since Omaha is a 13-hour trip if we never stopped, we decided to try something new...

Many times we have done the "put the kids in the car at 3am" trick only to be left with wide awake children at an unusually cruel hour for a verified non-morning person (me). We also wanted to avoid as much of the "he's touching me syndrome" which is somewhat unavoidable when you cram eight people and their stuff into a large SUV. Elliott thought of it, I get no credit for the idea outside of agreeing to it, but we decided to leave in the evening and let the kids sleep in the car. Since I am a night owl anyway, and Elliott is an early bird, it is probably obvious who took which driving shift. :) 

I took a good 5-hour nap after lunch on Sunday, Elliott let the kids ride bikes all afternoon. Everyone except E and I got into pajamas. We headed out around 7:30pm and the kids were excitedly chatty while the sun was up. As soon as it got dark, it took a little more than an hour for them all to be asleep, E included. There was much discussion amongst the children before leaving on the trip about whether Dad's snoring would keep them all awake, but I assured them that sitting up would keep him from snoring. Around Fort Worth he proved me wrong, but thankfully, he didn't wake anyone up. 

Since I had the first driving shift, we started out with lullaby music. After the kids were asleep I put in my Philippians CD, all scripture, still very relaxing. Once I drove into Oklahoma, everyone solidly asleep, I threw in a Mercy Me CD and started car dancing. I am not sure what the other people thought as they drove past, and I am kind of glad no one was awake in my car to see it, but it was fun and was a great substitute for having no one to talk to.  Ha!

Elliott took over in Oklahoma City and we are almost in Kansas. Kids are sleeping, we should be settled in Omaha by 10am. I tried getting a picture of the sleeping dominoes, I mean, children, but it is too dark and I dare not risk waking them for a photo. They are quite definitely touching as they are laying on the back of the person next to them so they don't have to sleep sitting up, but no one is complaining. Yippee! 

So far, so good on the travel experiment! Car dancing without witnesses was a bonus. :) 

*** Most of my readers know I don't usually say anything about trips until we get back... But we actually have friends house (and dog) sitting for us, so the usual "advertising our house will be empty" concern doesn't apply. I am hoping to post daily, photos and everything!!! 

*** UPDATE *** 
We are almost out of Kansas. The children didn't sleep much after our 2am Oklahoma City stop, but I think that might have something to do with E's loud jamming music selection. Ahem. Just saying. However, I just looked back and saw that Micah had caved into sleepy land again, and since it is now light I snapped a photo. We have about 3 1/2 more hours! Woooo Hoooo! 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

When Mom isn't home...

Today I had an all-day meeting with the moms in the co-op we are joining next year. We were planning and agreeing to what would be offered and the focus of each class. It was a great time and I am looking even more forward to the school year ahead. 

When I got home the children came running out to greet me. Their excitement was suspicious, they were giggling and jumping up and down and dragging me inside with pleas of "You have to see what we did!!!!" 

I never expected this: 


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A day at the park...

Last week the kids and I went on a nature study walk with some friends. We were planning to find and identify wildflowers. In the process, we found a really cool caterpillar.

Thanks to my handy dandy field guide (i.e. iPhone 5 and Google), we were able to identify this little guy as a Black Swallowtail caterpillar. We discovered that if you touched him, he would extend those orange looking antennae and rear up to respond to the touch. After the children passed him around for a little while, we put him back on his host plant and continued our walk.

After searching out all the varieties of Texas wildflowers we could find, we set down to do some watercolor field sketches of our favorites. A few children painted Texas Thistle, some Coreopsis, others Yellow Wood Sorrel. It was a lovely day with friends.

But, we kept thinking about that caterpillar and how cool it would be to raise it. We offered it first to our friends and went back to look for him. He was right where we had originally found him, happily munching away on his favorite leaves. I gathered him up for our friends, and since his host plant was a weed in a cultivated flower garden, I decided to "help" and pulled the host plant up from the roots so my friend could replant it and have food for the caterpillar.

I was quite surprised to find two more of the same type of caterpillar on that plant. So, we decided to keep them. I dove in and was "helping" weed the garden to get us some of the plant and discovered two more caterpillars, so I took them home for another friend up the street. All of the children were giddy to get home and get a home set up for our newest pets.

Settled in a 1/2 gallon Ball Jar on our nature study table (a.k.a. the dining room table), we watched our two friends munch and munch. A little research on the internet revealed that they also liked parsley and carrot tops, which was a good thing because my "replant the host plant" experiment didn't work and I didn't want the little guys to starve. Everyone who has come to our house since their capture last week has been forced to endure the "come see our caterpillars" plea from all the people under 48".

Yesterday we noticed they weren't moving around any more. Then, we saw they were spinning some of their threads to attach themselves to their chosen place for becoming a chrysalis. Then, they did nothing. And we stared at them doing nothing. And we talked about them doing nothing. And we wondered when they would do something.

This morning they were both still attached and unmoving but very definitely still caterpillars. Around lunch we walked past and noticed that one was a chrysalis! Excitement abounded! But the best part was yet to come... After dinner I was just staring at them. And then, I noticed the last caterpillar was wiggling. Then his head turned green. It took a moment, but I realized I was watching him turn into a chrysalis before my very eyes!!! I called for the kids who could come. We all ooohed and ahhhed. I grabbed my phone and recorded it for the kids who were taking baths to see. Incredible doesn't even begin to describe it. Amazing.

And now we wait for the most incredible and amazing thing... the butterfly! And we marvel at our Creator God and the majesty of His Creation, and we thank Him for allowing us to behold His handiwork.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


For the last few months I have been going through all of our stuff and asking myself, "Do we need this? And when did I use this last? Or do I have plans to use it again?" Sometimes it is, "Is this worth keeping and storing and dusting? Or do I let it go and buy it again later if I need it?"

We have been struggling around here for a long time with cleaning up and keeping things tidy. I have bought almost every style of plastic bin and storage helper ever marketed. I have taught, and taught, and taught. I have lectured, and lectured, and lectured. I have sadly, at times, succumb to raising my voice and threatening to throw everything away. I don't want to be the kind of mom that rants and raves to get a reaction from her kids. So, something had to change.

In the past when I have merely suggested to the children that I plan to go through their things and purge the unused items there have been tears and cries for mercy. This time around, I decided to focus on me first. I have plenty of excess in my life, demonstrated by the non-stop counter clutter (both in my kitchen and bathroom), and my frequently impassible craft room and office. 

Starting with low-hanging fruit, I went through my closet and got rid of clothes. My mother was thrilled to find out I ditched all my sweatpants and old nursing t-shirts. I got rid of clothes that no longer fit my body type or style, anything that had become too short or worn. I filled 5 or 6 trash bags to give to the women's shelter. I went through E's clothes next (with his permission, of course) and discovered he owned 27 pairs of shorts. 27!?!?!? He now owns 9. :) I also got rid of some polo shirts and dress shirts which pre-dated our marriage 13 years ago. The same day I went through his clothes the tragedy in West, TX hit and a call for a specific size of men's clothes went out, and we could fill it, all from our closet give away pile! 

I culled out stuff we never used or lost interest in from the craft room and the books in the classroom from previous curriculums were separated. I got rid of art supplies that weren't what we were using regularly. I even cleaned out the office which had become the "dumping ground". We have a lot more to do, crayon boxes and pencil boxes need to be weeded out, my bathroom needs some organizational help (ideas welcome), but all-in-all, great headway has been made. 

After about two weeks of purging my stuff, I mentioned to the children that we needed to go through their stuff. And they shocked me by being on board! At first I thought it wasn't going to last, but the kids had caught the vision to live leaner and hopefully cleaner! The kids were honest with themselves about what they use and don't use. The toys they weren't quite ready to say goodbye to forever were moved to my mom's house where they could still play with them and they would seem "new" because they were no longer in the day to day mix. 

We have filled 1/4 of my mom's garage with stuff to take to the local women's shelter. We have another growing pile of toddler and preschool toys to set up the nursery and classrooms for our church plant once we land in a permanent location. I have acquired a large pile of EMPTY plastic bins, freed up by all the purging. A friend suggested I give them away... I am not sure I am ready for that just yet. It is not that I plan to fill them up, but for the possibility that kids' interests change and necessitate different box sizes, or for the inevitable broken box which previously would have sent me rushing to the store in hopes of finding a matching replacement. 

While we aren't anywhere near finished, the progress we have made has been so freeing. The fact is, there are a lot of us, in a variety of age levels and with varying interests, and I know we will likely never have a clutter-less home. I am not sure I even want that. What I do want is to live in my home unencumbered by stuff. I want to teach my children what it means to be a good steward. And sometimes that means giving things away. An unexpected blessing has been budget friendly, after spending weeks purging closets and bookshelves and drawers, I have no interest in going to the store to buy anything. Nothing. Nada. I have gone into Target three times and come out with nothing. I even went into Hobby lobby and came out with no bags, I think it freaked out my mom who said upon leaving, "We never come to this store and buy nothing!  What is wrong?!?!?" Clean-up time has been reduced which has been truly worth all the hours of work.  We have some work to do on forming better habits (like putting things away when you are done with them instead of needing to be called back), and we have some dawdling tendencies to address, but it has been so much easier to do with less than it was with more. 

So, if sometime this summer you come to my house and wonder why I have trash bags lining the hallway, now you know. At some point, I need to go through my books... I wonder if there are any small libraries around that I could make a donation to... I could probably supply the whole children's section. :) 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

And then there was Facebook...

Five months ago I decided to tip-toe back into the world of social media and open up a Facebook account. My previous one had been deleted two years ago, but due to a variety of reasons I thought it was a good idea to give it a "go" again.

When I started back onto Facebook I was encouraged to see that I wasn't struggling with contentment like I did when I hopped out of social media two years ago. In the past, I found myself feeling left out when I saw posts about trips to the park that I wasn't invited to, or would be discouraged to see friends' "perfect days" displayed in adorable Instagram-filtered living color. I have found it easier to rejoice with those who rejoice this time around, and I worked hard to measure my words to not be a stumbling block to others where I had previously had difficulty.

Yet, being on Facebook again has had its share of new challenges. Even though I worked harder than before to keep Facebook time down, I still found I was sneaking away to my bedroom to check it when I should have been reading aloud to the kids. I made "rules" for myself to help in allotting appropriate time to staying in touch, but it didn't take long until I broke them. When I would become overwhelmed with my day, instead of going to God's Word or stopping to pray, I would pull up the Facebook app and scroll through to see what was new in the lives of my friends or what words of wisdom were posted by the various pages I "liked".

I also found myself relying on Facebook for all my interpersonal news, instead of being purposefully relational. No need to email or call or text, just go look on so-and-so's timeline, if they are struggling or hurting, they will let the whole world know, right? The artificial reality that I found Facebook to be in the past, remained, and it still made me sad. I don't know how to truly pursue 137ish relationships with on-line friends without forsaking the face-to-face relationships with my children, my husband, my neighbors. I found walking the fine line between informing people about my life and sounding boastful paralyzingly difficult. I considered having a Facebook account and just not logging in, but then, what is the point of that? Really?

So, this week I decided to delete my Facebook account. I was surprised to find it was a great relief to make that decision. I know it means that I will have to work harder at keeping touch. I hope that it will free my mind up from little one-liners and blogging will resume, fleshing out whole thoughts versus coming up with clever ways to describe the mundane. I haven't been on my phone much, since there is nothing to really check on, and I actually couldn't remember where my phone was twice today which was kind of nice. I am happily faceless*. Again.

* I do not think Facebook is all bad, I just have not been able to be a good steward of my time. I admire those who can balance being involved in people's lives on Facebook and managing their real lives. I have failed to do well at that, twice now. If you need me, E is on Facebook.