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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas Recap

Christmas this year was spent with family. In my book, that's pretty much a perfect holiday. I absolutely adore spending time in Grandma Kingsley's home. I'm like a sponge, soaking up all the good feelings of love and laughter, storing away these priceless memories to relive later.

Aunt Betsy's room was a favorite hang out for all the little girls. Betsy the Beautician played with everyone's hair and spent an hour curling all the lovely tresses on the girls. Sarah really felt beautiful. Thanks, Betsy Buttons!

Sarah with Auntie Betsy

 Grandma Kingsley directed a bell choir on Christmas Eve. We all held pipe bells and created music by striking the pipes with a spoon. It was so fun and the children all really enjoyed it. We participated in a new tradition this year. Christmas Eve dinner was held as a picnic on blankets spread around the Christmas tree. It was very fun and casual. The children thought it was such a treat to do an indoor picnic.

Grandma Kingsley directing music
Matthew enjoys playing his bell    

Hazel enjoying her picnic under the Christmas tree
 I feel so blessed this year. Spending a week with a family like this rejuvenates my soul.
The cousins on Christmas morning, waiting to see their gifts.
Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Poopberry Club

Matthew made an exclusive club last week. He told Sarah and Daniel that only 'cool' people can belong to it.
(This reminds me  of a Joke Journal entry from Nathan's childhood. One year his brother gave Christmas gifts consisting of a single piece of paper stating, "Merry Christmas! You belong to My Club.")

The name of the Matt's club was carefully planned, calculated to impress even the most dubious observer. It is The Poopberry Club. 

Daniel came up to me imploring, "What cool thing can I do to convince Matthew I'm neat enough to join his club?" 

Sarah walked pass, telling Matthew he could use her bracelets as tokens of club membership-ness if he would let her join. He inspected the colorful glass beads and charms, made concessions that they were indeed girly, but announced grandly that they would do. Sarah was delighted and passed out bracelets to the members. They set to work making a large club sign announcing their coolness. Their adoration of all things "Calvin and Hobbes" was manifest in the sign: 

"G.R.O.S.S. Get Rid Of Slimy girlS. 
Except Sarah. She's cool."

My curiosity was piqued. I asked Matthew to tell me more about his club. In a conspiratorial whisper he exclaimed, "In the Poopberry Club we do cool things, like finding sticks and poking them into old horse poop in the pasture. The poop stays on the stick, then we put berries on the poop. Those are our "poopberry sticks". When intruders try to invade our clubhouse we'll throw our poopberry sticks at them! Isn't that so exciting?! It's the awesomest idea EVER! Our club ROCKS!"

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

New Camera

I'm doing my happy dance this week. My new camera arrived! I've wanted to learn photography for years, so I'm super-excited about this. I still don't know how to use my camera very well yet, but I'm plugging along through the instruction manual steadily. Here are a couple of my favorite pictures from last week.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Value of a Moment

(Editor's warning: This blog post is more of the journaling variety than anything else. You are welcome to read it, but will most likely find it immensely boring. These are just a few thoughts I wanted to put down for my children to read someday. Proceed if you like... but don't say I didn't warn you! )

Yesterday, I read a quote.  It said: 

" will never know the true value of a moment until it becomes a memory."

I am fascinated by which moments a mind decides to hold onto and which ones it lets slip away. What do you remember?

I remember my first conversation with Nathan. He was sitting outside his apartment reading a book. I was interested in a boy who enjoyed reading (because I'm a hopeless bibliophile myself) so I struck up a conversation. It went like this: 

Me- Hi! What are you reading?
Nate- Poetry.
Me (giving brownie points to him mentally, because of all things, he's reading POETRY! He's already winner in my book.)- How neat! Would you read me some?
Nate (reluctantly)- I could, but you wouldn't understand it.  It's in Russian.

I remember thinking, how often would a girl find a man who enjoys cultivating his mind with poetry, and in a foreign language to boot? That's when I knew I wanted to be his sweetheart. 

When I was pregnant with Sarah, I was so sick I couldn't even drink water for several days. It was scary. I was barely surviving.  After a doctor's appointment for IV fluids, Nathan wrapped me in blankets and took me to the park. He spread out a quilt under a huge tree and carried me there. He brought me bottles of bubbles to blow to boost my spirits. We laid on the quilt and watched bubbles dance in the breeze for an hour. This was a pattern he has repeated throughout our entire marriage. He is always helping me find joy in the little things in life. 

One of my sweetest memories is the first time we saw Matthew on the ultrasound monitor during my pregnancy. The first thing I saw were his little fingers, shaped with the exact characteristics of Nathan's fingers. I was surprised at the way my heart swelled with love for this little person that I hadn't even met face-to-face yet. I'm surprised I recall this so well, because much of his actual birth is a blur. I don't remember holding him at all that day.
Another memory I have is playing in the empty farmer's field next to my house as a child. My sisters and I thought it was so fun to collect the old bleached animal bones in this field. We were so dismayed when my mother wouldn't let us keep the bone collection in our room.  We used to explore for hours in this field, looking for similar 'treasures', like stray golf balls from the adjacent golf course. It was like pirate's gold to us, isn't that silly?
I remember taking Sarah to get her first  immunizations as a baby. I remember the doctor's office perfectly. I could even tell you the picture on the wall (An embroidered picture of a mother rocking a looked like it was made in the 70's). I cried harder than she did. I thought it was a cruel thing to ask a mother to hold down her baby while it's being inflicted with pain.  I cried with all of my babies when they were given shots, but with Sarah it was the hardest for me. After it was done, I rocked her and sobbed with her all alone in the room. 
In second grade my mother told me she just couldn't bring cupcakes to school on my birthday. I don't remember the reason why she wouldn't be able to make the cupcakes. Was she sick, or too sleep-deprived, or too busy, or out of baking supplies? I don't know. I just remember I was so sad. My teacher felt bad for me and gave me some little suckers to hand out on the desks during recess. Just as I finished placing the suckers on the vacant desks, my mother walked into the room with decorated cupcakes. I remember feeling so relieved and happy. It meant so much to me. I'll never  know what she sacrificed in order to make those treats.  I wonder what little things like this my children will remember from me. 
Every time I smell apple butter, I remember my grandmother's house. She would bake bread and spread it with either apple butter or honey butter. I loved her bread. It was so comforting to sit in her kitchen (where the decor seemed to never change) and eat her bread. I hear her voice and see her smile in my mind each time I taste apple butter. 
My sister and I shared rooms for most of our childhood. We used to lay next to each other at night and pretend to 'draw' with our fingers on each other's backs. It was very soothing. We would talk while we made these imaginary pictures. I missed this after we moved into separate rooms as quarreling teens. I'm so immensely grateful we are good friends again. 
I loved all the pets we kept in my childhood. It seemed like our house was teeming with a miniature zoo: gerbils, rats, mice, hamsters, hedgehogs, turtles, cats, dogs, parakeets, and the occasional stray wildlife we took in (like ducklings or snakes). My mother must have been driven crazy with the chaos of so many animals. I loved it and pitied anyone who was so deprived as to live without pets.  We used to make colossal mazes for the rodents by taping together a hodge-podge creation built with toilet paper rolls and empty tissue boxes. I remember thinking this was the coolest way to spend a Friday night.
I remember visiting my dad in the hospital when I was seven. I seem to have more memories of my dad in the hospital rather than at home. In his closet was a box of candies. We were allowed to choose one at the end of our visit. I picked Lifesavers one week and was saving them so I could bring them along on a school field trip that was happening soon. My little sister ate my candies one day before the trip and I was devastated. After my mother came home from visiting my dad that night, she gave me a new roll of Lifesavers. It overwhelmed me that she did this. She had such heavy burdens to carry of her own, but she remembered my distress over a few paltry pieces of candy.
I remember my insecurities my first night in my new apartment in college. I felt so incredibly lonely and was just wishing someone would ask me to join their activity. I sat alone in my room, not knowing what to do with myself. I learned that I can't sit back and wait forever for someone else to take the first step.  As soon as I plucked up the courage to introduce myself to someone new, I had a great time. 
I remember being bullied in middle school. It was so heartrendingly difficult to just get through each school day.  I dreaded interacting with anyone, so I walked to school instead of riding the bus. Even in winter. I think this is when I grew to love books so much. Books were never cruel to my heart. There were two classmates out of the entire school who stood up for me in the face of bullies. I'll never forget them or their names. They were my heroes. The value of courage was imprinted deeply on my mind from this. I also learned the meaning of true friendship.
The first time Nathan's mother met me, she swept me into a sincere hug where she held me tightly and whispered, "Welcome to our family! We are so happy to have a new daughter!" His little brothers and sister swarmed me with hugs and excitement. His littlest sister was seven at the time, and she had spent all her allowance money on little gifts for me. I felt so incredibly welcomed...they actually were eager to love me, little me!
I remember the way Daniel loved feathers. Instead of picking me blossoms like most children do, he would lovingly select the prettiest feathers from our yard. He'd bring a chubby little fistful of feathers and give them to me like it was the greatest treasure on Earth. I kept a tiny vase on my kitchen windowsill where I kept his feathers just like a bouquet. 
I remember the night I gained my own testimony of the gospel for the first time. I had been reading one of my mom's books about the Book of Mormon. I felt so strongly that I should pray and ask if it was true. The answer came so unexpectedly strong and I was overwhelmed with love. I recall crying in joy for a long time in my room that night. 
I wish I remembered more. 
I wish I  could remember the words Nathan said to me the first time we attended the temple together.
I wish I remembered my last conversation with my dad when he knew he was going to die.
I wish I could remember holding each of my babies for the first time.
I wish I remembered  every special moment of my children's lives.
I wish I remembered every bit of advice my mother gave me.
I can remember times when I had to stick up for what was right.
I can remember being offered my first cigarette and beer, and turning it down. 
I can remember my baptism day.
I remember learning the pain of sin, and the shame I felt when I admitted my wrongs. 
I also remember the clean feeling of repentance, and the pure joy found through Christ's Atonement. 
I remember laughing so hard with my brothers and sisters that tears streamed down our faces.
I remember a million positive things- Christmases, family trips, family games, service projects, feeling loved. 
I don't remember how clean (or not) our house was. I remember the interactions I had, not the decor.
I am so thankful for our memories. They make me who I am- the mistakes I made and subsequent lessons learned. Aren't we each essentially a collection of past choices and memories? 
I wish I knew what magical event occurs that turns a moment into a memory. There are so many important moments that I can't remember, even when I read the words I wrote about it in my journal. There are other memories of events that seem pretty trivial, but they are rendered in surprising detail in my mind, like when I cared for stray cats in college and bought them cat food even when I didn't have enough money for my own groceries.
 I wish I could know which interactions with me are being recorded in my children's minds. I doubt my mother knew I would always remember the day she brought cupcakes to my class. I try hard to 'create' special moments that will linger with my children as they grow- like having a tea party with their favorite stuffed animals with teeny loaves of bread made into doll-sized Nutella sandwiches. I don't know if they will remember that party or if it is already erased in their minds.
I realized today that I feel such a close bond with my siblings because of my memories that are shared with them. Memories are what build our relationships with each other. I think it's crucial to our identity. 
I'm hoping each time I create a unique moment, perhaps one of my children will record it mentally. Perhaps it adds just a little drop of glue to our family unity. That lasting value makes my efforts worth while. 
I'm so thankful for each day we are blessed with, and I am thankful for each fleeting moment with our families. I hope I can use my time wisely.

Our Anti-Black Friday tradition

(Editor's note- This was a post I wanted to write a couple weeks ago. How lame is that? Tough luck. I've been too busy with my family. Now you're thinking sarcastically: "Great! A post about old news!" That's okay, I'm not at all offended if you skip this one. In fact, I won't even know.)

How do you spend Black Friday?

I have a confession: I have never attended a Black Friday sale. Ever. My friends know that I am very anti-Black Friday.

Why? There are a few reasons.

1. They never have sales on the type of toys or things I would buy anyway. I don't care how cheap the sale is; if I don't need it, I'm not buying it. I also don't 'do' electronic toys that flash, beep, play music, whatever. If it requires batteries, it's not welcome in my house (with the notable exception of the Wii). Have you ever noticed there is NEVER a great sale on classic toys, like...say, wooden blocks? Legos? Magic sets? Chemistry sets? The loss leader toys are always either A- electronic in nature or B- stupid name brands that I refuse to support (Barbie, anyone? How about Elmo? Or even better, Bratz brand. Ug, I cringe.)

2. Even IF there is a sale that interests me (everyone could use new clothes, right? Especially at the rate my kids wear theirs out!) I still don't go. The entire spirit of the thing bothers me. I am a competitive person, but I try very hard to keep that competitiveness friendly and under control. Black Friday is competitive by its very nature, and I don't want to be around people acting competitive, frantic and greedy.....those feelings are all too contagious.  I don't want to feel greedy or care so much about 'stuff', so I avoid stores like the plague on Black Friday. I don't like any of that bad karma saturating the stores to touch me.

Usually we just stay at home on Black Friday, enjoying games and puzzles while enjoying Thanksgiving left-overs (I feel terrible referring to Nate's cooking as 'left-overs' because the very word inspires images of gross food past its prime.....his cooking is too good for that and needs a new name.... perhaps Thanksgiving abundances? Nah.) It's usually a quiet day to rest (and recover from hosting the large group we invite every year for the Thanksgiving feast.)

We found a new family tradition to celebrate Black Friday this year. We attended a Homesteading Fair and celebrated the 'Simple Life' of self-sustainability. I can't tell you enough how much FUN we had! I was actually was more fulfilling than I expected. It was so...what's the word?.....REFRESHING and INVIGORATING to be so removed from the rampant materialism in my world. It felt a lot like a state fair, except without sponsors/advertising/sales pitch guys.It felt like a good, old-fashioned idyllic state fair full of good food, handmade crafts, and a deeply agrarian base to everything.

This fair is hosted by a religious community who operates a self-sustaining village. They don't buy's all made at home. It's very similar to the Amish, but it is a different group. I was so impressed with the entire village.

There are residential master craftsmen who create the necessary supplies for EVERYTHING a family needs: farmers provide food, blacksmiths make all the tools needed for a home/garden, women spin wool and weave their own fabric for all the clothing, potters make all the kitchenware, leather shops even make all the shoes for the village, etc. Isn't this so fun?! I ADORE visiting Amish shops, so this was even more fun.

There were educational demonstrations all day. Our favorite demo was watching the sheepdogs herd the sheep through an obstacle course. Other highlights included casting aluminum in the blacksmith shop (Nate has been wanting to build a blacksmith shop in one of our barns, so this was a great class to attend), shearing sheep, milking goats, building brooms, making soap, distilling essential oils, and weaving fabric. Of course our kids adored all the livestock, poultry, and petting zoo. We spent a LOT of time playing with animals. (You'd think we didn't already have several dozen animals of our own.)

Our children made several souvenirs to remember the day. Daniel learned how to make a leather bookmark punched with his name.

Matthew made scented soap balls and used a printing press to make his name on a bookmark. Sarah stitched a purse and made soap. Their favorite activity was hammering brass spoons and punching their initials into the handles. At each of these activities, village members (I guess I should say church members) taught the children how to create the project themselves, so it was very hands-on.

We brought a picnic for our lunch. Can I just say this was the BEST picnic I've ever had? Thanksgiving leftovers (er..."abundances") worked so well as a picnic- the boys each had turkey legs (isn't that a staple in state fairs?), and we all feasted on rolls, turkey breast meat, fresh veggies, fruits, sweet potato ambrosia, and strawberry/rhubarb pie with whipped cream. Oh, it makes me salivate just to remember it.

Nathan and I were surprised to discover we kind of wished we could move to this village. I always thought the perfect place to live would be next to Amish neighbors, and this place was so similar in principle. I learned so much and felt so empowered to go home and get to work on our own property.  Luckily we have several friends from church and work who are gung-ho on self-sustainability the way I am, so there are lots of resources for us to learn from.

Just tonight we went to a Christmas party at one of these homes. The owners built their own house (even down to extruding their own electrical wiring- just to see if they could do it) and cleared some of the forest to plant a large vineyard. Now they make their own wine and beer (sweetened with honey from their own beehives). The vineyards are watered from rain water collected from their home and barn. They make their own cheeses (amazing kinds we've never tried before, like smoked gouda and Shropshire) and process their own deer that are shot on his property. Actually, the way they harvest deer is interesting. He sets up a night vision camera at his deer-feeder so he can monitor which animals are patronizing his property. He simply picks out what animals he wants to 'harvest' whenever he wants to stock up on more venison.

Doesn't this all sound so amazing? Who wouldn't want to be friends with people like this? I feel so blessed to be surrounded by interesting people.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The day my life changed forever

Yesterday I aged 5 years in one day. 

Daniel was missing.

He didn't come when I rang the bell for dinner, which is unusual. I realized I hadn't seen him for a long time, so I began searching the house to discover where he might be curled up with a book or asleep under a pile of blankets. A cursory glance of the house didn't yield any results, so we all began searching deeper and calling for him loudly. I checked under every bed, under every couch, in every closet, inside the dryer, even in baskets of clean laundry to see if he burrowed under the clothing. There was nothing...but it was likely he was playing outside in a far corner of the property. I checked all the barns, sheds, and chicken coop and turned up no sign of him. I had been looking for him for almost an hour. This is when I began to feel worried.

Nervously I called my neighbor on the phone. "Did Daniel by chance come over to your house to play without my permission?"

She replied, "He tried to earlier but I asked him to go home and get permission first."

He had never came to me to ask permission. The conversation between Daniel and my neighbor had happend much earlier in the afternoon. That was the last time anyone had seen him.

Our property is completely fenced in, so Daniel would have to walk along the road for a long distance before he could reach our gate and enter the yard. It would be so easy for a passer-by to pause and kidnap him. Usually I go outside and watch my children walk along the road until they reach the safety of our gate, but this time I didn't know he was out there. He was gone. Every parent thinks this will never happen to them, but suddenly it was happening to me. My mind was racing with all the terrible possibilties and I began to tremble as I dialed 911. Darkness was falling rapidly, making it hard to search outside.

I continued to search the house, the garage, the vehicles, everything I could think of where he might be while I talked with the dispatcher. They dispatched 6 deputies out to our home, but it would take a long time for them to arrive. They also said a helicopter with infrared cameras was on its way to help search in the dark. The dispatcher told me I shouldn't have waited so long to call 911....the longer Dan was missing the farther away a kidnapper could get, reducing the chances of finding him. My neighbors searched their property with flashlights in case Daniel had stayed to play in the groves of trees. When they found nothing, they volunteered to begin driving along the country roads looking for him in case he wandered off and became lost.

Inside my house was utter chaos. Children were alternating between praying for help and searching in more hiding places for Daniel. Diego was hungry and crying for food, but there was no way on earth I could handle sitting still and feeding him, so I asked Sarah to feed him pinches of bread. We knelt for a quick (but very heartfelt) prayer begging the Lord to protect Daniel and help us find him.

I called our bishop, asking him to contact local ward members to come help in the search-and-rescue efforts. A calling tree began to notify friends that we needed help, but our friends are all scattered across the countryside so they wouldn't begin arriving for another 15 minutes. I also called my mother-in-law with this quick message, "Please pray for our family! Daniel's missing and the police are looking for him, he may have been kidnapped- we don't know. Just pray for him, we need all the prayers we can!" Left with that unnerving message, she began to call all our extended family to ask for immediate prayers for Daniel. I also called Nathan on his cell phone and told him what was going on. He wouldn't arrive home for another 30 minutes.It was a living nightmare to be dealing with this situation alone...without my other half, my strength, my dear husband.

I couldn't leave my house and help search for him because officers were calling me on the phone, asking his description so it could be posted to police departments across the state. Weeping quietly I took his photo out of a frame so they could use it in identifying him. I felt actions were strangely mechanical. Daniel had been missing for several hours. My heart was full of silent prayer the entire time, begging the Lord to watch over my son.

While I updated an officer, my sister called to chat. It went something like this: "Hi Renae! Is this a good time to talk?" I spoke quickly, "Actually no. I have to go, Daniel's missing and the police are here." What a great conversation, right? She began calling more extended family to update them.

This was all happening so quickly, but it seemed to take an eternity. In this moment, I learned a powerful lesson. I realized that I would happily trade anything for my son's safety: my possessions had absolutely no value compared to him. I didn't care if I had to sell everything (even our home) and live in a tiny apartment for the rest of my life. Family matters more than anything. It's strange how crystal-clear this thought was in my mind.

Another strange occurrence was the 'movie' playing in in my mind. People speak of seeing their life flash before their eyes. Oddly I was seeing Daniel's life flashing through my mind. His fistfuls of feathers, his love of animals, his cherished rock collection, his passion for music, his gusto for life.

I was talking with an officer outside when Sarah and Matthew came running out of our home shouting, "Daniel's here! We found him! We found Daniel!" Words can't possibly describe the relief and joy that washed over me. Maybe 'washed' is too gentle of a word. It's more like I was hit by a tidal wave of relief.

We ran inside and found him inside the tiniest cupboard on one of our bookcases. I never would have thought he could possibly fit more than half of his body in there. He evidently had crammed his body in this cubby and closed the door on himself, then fallen asleep. I believe the wood muffled our calls when we were looking for him.

I learned several things in this experience. Most importantly, I was given a powerful eternal perspective. My life seemed crystal clear, with all threads of doubt or indecision wiped away. I knew that God would lift me up if this burden was too heavy for me to bear alone. Event though my heart was breaking when I thought Daniel was stolen, I knew I could rely on our Savior's atonement to heal my pain. I realized that Christ doesn't only heal the affliction resulting from sin, He has power to heal any anguish from any infliction.

I realized on a deeper level how important my children are to me. The 'stuff' we own is all icing on the cake of life, but it's all worth absolutely nothing eternally.

I also was taught a powerful lesson of peace from my sweet husband. After he arrived home, he held me close and spoke soothingly. He pointed out that even if Daniel had been kidnapped and died, our family was sealed for eternity in God's holy temple. We know we would have been with Daniel again. It's amazing how much this comforted my heart.

God lives. He hears our prayers and knows our hearts. Surprisingly, I'm thankful for this harrowing experience. The Lord has taught me so much. Most of what I learned cannot be framed in was a spiritual schooling.

Your family matters. Make sure you let them know.

Cherish every moment with your loved ones. You never know when your time with them will be gone.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Camping with a baby

I was hesitant to participate in our annual ward camp-out this year. I didn't want to be 'those' parents who were foolish and brought a baby who cried all night. Tent walls don't provide much of a sound barrier, and I couldn't bear the thought of being responsible for 50 sleep-deprived people.

Our kids love camping and look forward to this tradition of camping with friends. I intended to send Mr. Kingsley and our three older children happily on their way to the camp-out while I stayed home and enjoyed a quiet (albeit lonely) evening at home with Diego. Diego really doesn't like being without a rocking chair during the infamous 'witching hours'.

Nathan couldn't bear the thought of being apart from each other for a weekend. Characteristically, he had a clever solution to the potentially-cranky baby problem. He packed along my rocking chair and set it up in the pecan grove where we were camping. (Okay, I'll admit, we DID feel a bit self-conscious carrying the rocker to our tent {like the people who can't handle camping without the luxuries of home....we might as well bring along a refrigerator and DVD player!}....but as soon as I sat in it with my baby, I didn't care what people thought.) Doesn't this look fun?

Nathan ingeniously purchased several boxes of glowstick necklaces to bring along and share with all the children. He and I sat at a table and passed them out to any child who could recite a scripture or Article of Faith from memory (or sing a Primary song if they were too little to memorize scriptures). All the children were so ecstatic to have a glow necklace. Their faces were lit with anticipation as they waited in line.We felt like Santa and Mrs. Claus on Christmas Day. It was so fun watching the children all get so eager to recite scriptures!

Dozens of children danced and played night games with their glow sticks lighting the way. It looked like a party with all the bright colors swirling around in the dark.

After the potluck dinner, stories, and games,  I sat in our tent and rocked my baby while listening to coyotes calling in the woods behind me. It was a surprisingly relaxed evening for me. Cuddling with my soft, warm baby while enjoying the nature around me was a perfect way to end the day.

Everyone slept quite well (even Diego) and we enjoyed playing all morning with friends before I ran away for a face painting gig.

I love the friendships we have been blessed with in our new congregation. Life is so wonderful! It was a delightful weekend to create family memories. I feel so very blessed.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

10 Things You Might Like to Know

1- Living with dial-up internet is frustrating. There's not much else offered in our neck of the woods (unless we want to pay $500 to install satellite internet, but it's not a much faster connection than dial-up, so why bother?). It takes literally 2 minutes to load anything I click on. If the webpage has a picture, my computer will take around 5 minutes to load the page. If there's multiple pictures, it's best to forget about that webpage altogether. Facebook doesn't really work here.

2- Matthew loves to play 'chicken' with our rooster, Pavarroti (by the way, I found out this rooster really IS Italian! Minorca birds come from an island off the coast of Italy. Cool, eh what?). Matthew will crouch down and crow at Pavarotti, who will then crow back. They'll have a vocal battle of sorts, crowing back and forth louder and louder until the rooster can't stand it anymore. He'll makes his feathers stand on end and charge right at Matthew, who laughs and runs away squealing. Last week Matthew ran shrieking past my bedroom window. Along the bottom edge of my window all I could see of the rooster was a bright red comb streaking by. Good times.

3- Yesterday the boys discovered that if they sit on the tire swing the rooster can't reach them. It's hilarious to watch the rooster dance around the swing trying futilely to peck the boys. The boys tease Pavarroti almost everyday now.

4- I finished another painting last night. There's good news and bad news. Good news: It's a study of Renoir's techniques and I discovered I love dry-brushing the canvas. More good news: I think it's the best painting I've ever done to date. Bad news: it's going to be given away this Christmas. It'll be hard to see it go. Sarah begged me to keep this one and give away an earlier painting....but I think it's better to give away my best work to the people I love rather than a second-rate item.

5- I LOVE this time of year with all the holidays. I play Christmas music every day and Sarah plays the MoTab Christmas Album everyday in her room. The house feels so delightful with the strains of music praising our Savior filling our walls. I love it.

6- Sarah's birthday is this weekend. It's on a magical day: 11-11-2011. We are having her friends come over for a Glittery Girls' Night. We're doing manicures, make-overs, and applying glitter liberally on everything. We're making jewelry for the party favors. She wants trifle for her birthday cake and we're doing a tea party. I can't believe my baby girl is growing so fast! I miss holding her in my arms and cuddling with her soft cheeks.

7- I haven't started my Christmas shopping yet.....usually I'm FINISHED with our Christmas shopping before summer even starts. This year the pregnancy and our move kind of threw off my groove. Surprisingly I don't feel stressed at all in this regard.

8- We try really hard to have a modest yet meaningful gift exchange and keep the focus of Christmas on our Savior, not on 'stuff'. This year we adopted a poem to guide our gift giving to our children: Something they WANT, something they NEED, something to WEAR, and something to READ. Four gifts and a stocking of treats and trinkets. Sounds good to me.

9- Our children are already asking if we're doing a Bethlehem dinner again this year. Every other year we do a biblical dinner by candlelight (flat breads, baked fish with rice, dates and raisins, savory yogurt dishes, cheese and olives, etc.) While we eat, I tell the Christmas story in a way that invites the children to imagine the story better. Just imagine Joseph's burden of responsibility as he searches for shelter, or imagine Mary having contractions during the long journey. We usually do this on Christmas Eve for a reverent way to end the night.

10- Yesterday Matthew volunteered to help Daniel unload the dishwasher. They danced and sang while they worked. It was so cute. I'm so happy to glimpse these fleeting moments of their childhood.

Friday, October 28, 2011

How-to do a Halloween face painting

With Halloween just around the corner, I wanted to share a fun spooky face painting video I made with my sister last year.

It's always hard to find feminine costumes that stand out from the parade of fairies and princesses that inundate town every year. (I admit, it's SO FUN to dress up as royalty or mystical creatures....and yes, I have a princess gown, elf costume, and fairy wings hanging in my closet.) I'm a nonconformist at I don't often want to blend in with all the other same old costume ideas.

Here is a unique face paint pattern that perfect for Halloween. It is a spooky skeletal/butterfly pattern. I did it in a video so you can see how to paint it yourself. Accompany this face with a cute black dress and -VIOLA!- the best costume ever.

Even though I used professional paints, anyone could imitate this pattern with eye shadow for the background colors and a good liquid eyeliner for the black and white lines.

Here is a picture of the final product:

Good luck with your creation!

Halloween face painting ideas

Just in time for Halloween! Here are some of my favorite Halloween face painting ideas.

Try painting a spooky pumpkin pattern like this one. This one can be made using eyeshadows as the background and a good liquid eyeliner for the black pattern. You don't have to have high-quality face paints to get good results on some of these patterns.

Princesses don't need face paints, right? Wrong! 
I love adding a face painted masquerade mask to a princess costume. 

Can skull paintings still be feminine? Kinda sorta. This was my attempt at making a 'girly skull'. 

It's fun to paint exposed muscle tissue for an interesting costume.  There is supposed to be an illusion of skin stretched across the face and stapled in place over the exposed facial muscles. This one is a bit tricky, and I'm not very good at it. I still need practice on this one.

Even fairies can add face paint for a colorful twist to their costume. 

I love painting eye masks. 
Masks compliment almost any outfit and make a great costume addition.

This is a mask I wore with an elf costume.
This one was painted entirely with eye shadow and eyeliner.

Abstract patterns are my favorite. It's SO FUN, like doodling on someone's face.

A tiger mask is super easy to paint. I like this stylized tiger pattern.

Here is a different abstract painting. 
Almost any kind of swirls will look great if you use two or more colors in your pattern.

Butterfly patterns are the most popular requests I get. Here is the standard butterfly face painting.

For a more elegant, adult look I shrink the butterfly and make it into an eye accent. This picture was taken at a sorority prom night. The pattern complimented her formal gown nicely.

This is my favorite butterfly pattern. It's a spooky butterfly. My daughter calls it an evil butterfly. We morphed  elements of a skull with the butterfly mask. Isn't it perfect for Halloween?

I made a video of how to paint this pattern. 
You can watch the time-lapse video of this pattern here.

See more of my face paint patterns here and here.

Have a beautiful day!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Birthday kidnapping

Be patient with this pathetic rhyme.
I didn't have abundant time
To sit and think, through my language sift.
My time was spent preparing this gift.

Your trusty car was long neglected.
I thought, "It's time this was corrected!"
I drove it to my favorite lube shop
Where attendants laughed and shouted, "Stop!

"This car is four thousand miles o'verdue!
Don't you know what could happen to you?
We'll change the oil and inspect the brakes."
The good news is those both look great.

However the tires are much too bare.
We don't have a choice, they must be repaired.
If we drive much longer they will explode.
Then what would happen? Your head may implode!

I've ordered new tires after worry and fuss,
Tomorrow they'll arrive and be waiting for us.
I know you don't have a lot of spare time,
That's why this gift is especially fine.

I included a vanilla-scented tree
So each time you drive you'll remember me.

Happy Birthday!

This was the poem I left in Nathan's car for his birthday as one of his gifts. Sarah and I kidnapped it from the train station parking lot. We cleaned it completely out, vacuumed the carpets, and had maintenance work done. He never has enough time after work to work on his personal projects (like building a winch to remotely open the gate across our driveway), so we took care of these tasks as a way to free up some extra time for him.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Rooster antics

Sarah with our favorite hen
If males torment girls as a way of showing affection, then Sarah has an admirer who can't get his mind off her.
Our Minorca rooster, Luciano Pavarotti, loves Sarah. He loves to peck her more than anyone else.

He is normally the scaredy-cat who is the first to run from any sign of danger (or even just a loud noise from something not even remotely dangerous). He abandons the hens and runs lickety-split across the yard towards the safety of the chicken coop. Even the docile hens peck him viciously when he has the audacity to try to steal kitchen scraps from under them. He squeals like a girl when that happens.

He's really such a coward. I think he realizes this, and is ashamed.  Perhaps this is why he torments Sarah. It's like he has to prove something to the hens.

He actually makes a point of seeking her out and pecking her without the slightest provocation. For example:

Yesterday Sarah and I were sweeping the driveway. There were no chickens in sight (a strange situation for me). We were happily listening to the birds sing in the trees.

Out of nowhere, Pavarotti came streaking across the yard like a black bullet. He sprinted right to Sarah and without any hesitation, pecked her ankle. Then he cocked his head at her and made all his feathers stand on end, doubling his puny size. It was as if he said in a mocking voice, "Ha! What are you going to do about it? Huh? Huh?" while he danced around her feet looking for a fight.

She squealed and tried to escape his pecking beak, but he followed her in haughty dancing steps, striking at her ankles. He didn't even see me. I yelled one sharp sound that made him leap and squawk in fright, then he was gone. All we saw was his tail disappear under the safety of the bushes where he hid in fear until we went inside. Dumb rooster.

Breakfast time for the poultry

Recently I was outside working on cleaning up the property (still a big project even after working on it for  months!). I heard a strange leaves rustling loudly, or wings flapping, or...what was it exactly? Like feet running through the leaves.

Suddenly our entire flock of 30 chickens came running from around the corner of the house. They ran at full speed straight for me, where they surrounded me, looking up at me expectantly for kitchen scraps. As I walked to the barn for regular chicken food, the flock followed me like a group of ducklings. Strangely, that made my day. It was so fun having chickens following me around the yard.

Usually I give them plate scrapings from our mealtimes (who wouldn't love Nathan's cooking?). They have been developing a discerning palate and they much prefer human food to chicken pellets. Can I blame them? Not really.

Now whenever they hear my voice they come hopefully running. They come no matter where I am on the property.

Yesterday I was painting our driveway gate posts (they transformed from being ugly, rusted, and dirty color to being clean and white!). I sang while I worked, so naturally the chickens heard my voice and congregated around me. Soon they were investigating the gallon bucket of oil paint I was using. Afraid that they would knock the bucket over, I quickly turned to chase them away. In the process my hair flew right into the wet paint on the gate post. Did I mention it's permanent white oil paint? Drat.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Matt's first real painting

Matthew has decided he wants to be a professional artist when he grows up. He has spent months drawing animals and making art projects in much of his spare time. His room looks like an art gallery. Seriously. He has like 50 pictures hanging on his wall.

I finally decided to let him try his hand with real acrylic paint (instead of Crayola's watercolors) and a real canvas (instead of printer paper). I spend an entire afternoon with him, teaching him different techniques (like how to do that mottled background) and answering his questions.

He's so proud of his finished product. I personally was just happy to spend the day in my pajamas making art alongside my son! (The painting I started is a study of Renoir, and won't be finished for a while, so no pictures are up for my own art.) His love language is 'quality time', so this was a perfect day in his eyes. He gave me the biggest hug and kiss that evening. That completely made up for all the neglected housework that day.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Cage Fighting

We watched a cage fight between Bella and a raccoon at 4:00AM this morning. Bella caught the raccoon inside our chicken coop. 

Bella was declared the winner by default as the coon forfeited after a couple encounters with Bella's teeth. There were no fatalities. Unfortunately.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Canadians sound like what?

We recently purchased "Homesteading for Beginners". It's a 3-DVD set teaching homesteading skills.

The DVDs are so interesting! They are made by a homesteading family that live near an Amish community. Read how they became started in homesteading here.The family learns and shares a lot of 'common sense' treasures from their Amish friends. Isn't that SO NEAT? I always wished I had Amish neighbors! (That's the one thing Texas lacks- no Amish communities!) They even sell clothing from their Amish friends and old fashioned kitchen tools for a farm kitchen. You can see their website here. 

The videos teach things like:
-how to butcher a pig or cow and preserve the entire thing in ONE DAY (remember, the Amish have no refrigerators so they HAVE to do it quickly.)
-how to make a variety of breads without yeast or sugar (How cool is that for food-storage freaks like me?!)
-how to home-can almost everything (even bacon and sausage- YUM!)
-how to milk a cow (which I've never seen done before, this was so valuable to learn!)
-lots of ways to garden and preserve your harvest for later (right up my lane!)
-how to make maple syrup (this made me wish we actually lived up north, where is actually snows and sugar maples grow!)
-how to make your own daily multivitamins from powdered plants(okay, this clip is seriously funny. It looks like she is making a witches brew, with green and red smoke raising out of the pot! We couldn't stop laughing!)

My kids have really loved watching these videos with me, and we have learned so much! Now we are so excited to begin experimenting with some new ideas (This is where I became convinced that I wanted to own a Jersey cow instead of goats.)

The family has such a cute Canadian accent. After watching these videos for a while, Matthew said, "These people talk so weird....oh I know what it is! They sound LIKE MUPPETS!"


Friday, October 7, 2011

Home Remedy- Chamomile

I'm always very fascinated with home remedies (not the old wives' tales....I care about the ones that WORK). Medical care is a lost art in homes these days. I often think of my ancestors....they didn't have accessible doctor clinics. What did they use? I love asking my grandparents for treatment recommendations they remember from their childhood. I am passionate about learning how to use natural remedies and recording the ones that are effective.

Last year three of my children all had pink-eye at the same time. If I took them all into the doctor, that would be $90 of just co-pays, let alone the prescription fees. I wanted to at least attempt to treat it myself.

I had read in pioneer journal accounts (dating around 1850) that chamomile fixed eye infections.

I steeped chamomile tea bags in just 4 tablespoons of water. I used such little water (instead of an entire teacup) so the chamomile would be more concentrated. I soaked cottonballs in the chamomile tea, then placed them over my own eyes to see if it stung or irritated my eyes in any way. I didn't want to try it on my children until I knew what it felt like so I didn't harm them. It didn't feel like anything other than soothing hot water on my eye.

I had the children all lie down in a row and close their eyes. I placed cotton balls saturated with the chamomile tea on each of their eyes. We left them in place for 5 minutes before removing the cotton balls and rinsing their faces. I did this once in the morning and again at night. Every sign of infection was gone in 2 or 3 days! In the past when I had gotten prescription eye drops for pink eye, it took 3 days to heal. I was impressed that this natural remedy worked just as well as the prescription.

I loved that I only had to pay $1.99 for a big box of chamomile tea bags, instead of $100 for the doctor. Now we always keep chamomile tea on hand for any eye infections.

This came in handy again this month when Daniel's cornea was scratched. I was worried about infection in this wound, but the chamomile treatment kept his eye free from complications and it healed completely in 2 days.

I feel so strongly that the Lord created many plants with useful properties that we can use for our health and healing. I'm so interested in learning about more of these plants and applying them in my family.

It was pretty difficult to know where to begin learning about healing plants. So many online sources were tainted with ridiculous claims and it was difficult to sift through the outrageous stories to try and find the credible treatments. Honestly- how could anyone think that tying a dead fish to your feet will make your cough go away? Or that wearing a bead necklace will cure tooth pain?

I found a book that I absolutely love on this topic. It's written by a BYU professor. It's called "From the Shepherd's Purse". It lists the helpful plants and has directions for extracting the beneficial oils from each of them in various ways. There are directions for various ways to apply the plant extracts (oral syrups, teas, lotions for skin ailments, poultices, etc.) It also has a chart for calculating dosages based on the patient's weight.  I love it!

I thought I should start sharing the home remedies that we have used so others can benefit from this information.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Why Homestead?

(This is part of a two-part post. Read HOW I am making a difference in our family's food here.)

Am I crazy?

Some people have asked if I'm crazy in my desires for self-reliance. It's so much work. It can be tedious or boring. Don't I have loftier goals for myself?

It's hard to explain all the reason's why I feel so strongly about the food we eat and where it comes from. There is so much to say. There are entire books on this topic alone. Here are the summarized points I want you to consider (there are a lot of links so you can explore the topics more in depth):

1- What are the ethics behind your food? Did you know America's sugar is almost exclusively made by slaves?  The sugar for your candy is made by modern slaves in the Caribbean, and they are owned by AMERICAN companies. Try finding an ethical source of sugar- I tried and had a very hard time finding it. Learn about the corporate practices behind your food labels. So many of them are ravishing the environments or spewing poisons. Animal products are processed in the most disgusting ways. I don't like the idea of supporting meat companies that are so cruel to animals. Simply put, I don't want my consumer dollar to support any corrupt companies. 

2- What is the health cost behind your food? Many foods are contaminated with harmful or deadly bacteria due to the unclean practices used on the corporate farm. What are you ingesting along with your salad? What pesticides are on it? Did you know the fertilizers are often sewage sludge? (Doesn't that explain why there are so many food recalls from contaminated produce?)What about E coli? Salmonella? Read more about food safety issues from the Union of Concerned Scientists. What is in your milk? Did you know that milk is tainted with steroids, harmful hormones, and antibiotics? (Lactating mothers know they can't breastfeed their babies while on antibiotics because the medicine crosses into the breast why are people okay with giving antibiotics and other drugs to dairy cows?) You can find good food in your area by clicking here or here. See why Jersey cow milk is healthier than the store-bought Holstein cow milk here.

3- What do you spend on food? As fuel prices increase, so does the food price. Remember all the oil used to grow the food? Farmers have to increase their produce price to compensate for their increased fuel costs. In the next year alone, the grocery prices will almost double, according to Marjory Wildcraft. Watch her lecture here to see why.

4- Food politics are a nasty thing. I feel like it's SO IMPORTANT to grow my own food or support local farms and avoid inadvertently giving money to Cargill and Monsanto (read or watch just about ANY food documentary and you'll learn about these corporations. It's too corrupt and too in-depth for me to try to share any of the issues here about those companies. You'd probably never come back after reading one of my lengthy tirades against bad food politics...politics like this.)

5- Why are you eating GMOs? Genetically Modified Food, aka Frankenfood. These have so many problems! In America these products aren't labeled, so you don't realize that the Kraft mac and cheese on your table contains GMO ingredients. These foods have been proven to cause health problems, and GMO foods are banned in most developed countries of the world. Japan's stance regarding GMOs is essentially "we'll watch what happens to America's children after eating GMOs for several years before we allow it in our own country. America can be the world's guinea pig". Aren't these red flags to you?

6- Do you realize what would happen if there was an oil embargo or trucking strike?  America would starve. Our food is produced almost exclusively with fossil fuels. Tractors are used to plant, fertilize, pesticide, and harvest the food. Tractors require a LOT of fuel. Then consider all the shipping fuel required to transport the food from the farm to your grocery store. What would happen with a trucking strike? Grocery stores would have empty shelves in less than 2 days. What would you do for your children? Do you really want to leave your food security in the hands of others?

I didn't used to think about my food, beyond the decision of what to make for dinner. I was first exposed to the concept of food origin (and it's accompanying politics, ethics, and health issues) in a book club. Then I learned some more in my own library digging.

In every book club I join I now recommend "Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan. He was several books published about food, but this is a good one to start with.

I opened my mind to moving on a farm only after I read "Animal, Vegetable Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver. (It's the second book I recommend to friends.) Her family ate only what they could produce for themselves (or buy from a farm within a 5 mile radius) for an entire year, just to see if it was too difficult to be a lifestyle choice. It's a fascinating (and entertaining) read. Nathan and I enjoyed reading it aloud together in the evenings. She's a great writer. Her bibliography at the end lists a comprehensive list of books to read regarding the differing aspects of food safety, sustainability, and politics. There are too many for me to list here. Visit her website here.

"Fast Food Nation" is a great one to read particularly regarding meat-processing plants. I thought  most things had changed since the writing of Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle". I'm not as correct as I had thought. There are still so many glaring problems with just the food safety issues at these plants, let alone employee treatment.

I highly recommend you check those books out from your library and peruse them. It's so important to at least be educated about food issues so you can make your choices without ignorance. As the parents of our homes, we are the ones selecting the menus for our children. They trust us to do what's best for them. How can I encourage my loved ones to eat contaminated food?

If we don't know how to produce our own food, we are irretrievably chained to corporations. We lose freedoms. How? We depend on these companies for our own lives, literally our daily bread. Get to know your food. I'm a fiercely independent person and I refuse to be enslaved to company greed. I am not just a number in a statistic for their marketing teams to analyze. I am a free person, and I refuse to partake in the mass consumerism gripping our nation.

The answer for me was to be as self-reliant as possible. Not everyone can do that, but You CAN make a difference.  Learn how here. Learn more about food safety here. Those of you who prefer visual documentaries should watch "Food, Inc." to learn more about food issues.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.     ~Margaret Mead

If you have learned something new here, share this post online with others. Facebook. Twitter. It's so important that we know where our food comes from!