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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Final Stretch of Destination Imagination

One week until our little band makes it to competition! Yay! There is light at the end of this tunnel! 

During crunch time, we've had our DI team come over several nights each week to finish preparing for their big day. They have been busy painting backdrops for the performance and constructing a unicorn. 

The boys worked hard at painting the village Sarah sketched onto a bed sheet:

The girls labored over the finishing touches of CandyLand. Again. We've working on it for WEEKS. Why? Cause we wanted to be original and took the pointillism approach to paint it exclusively with thumbprints. Sigh. It seemed like such a good idea at the beginning... but over 100 hours of work later, we no longer thought so. It took weeks to finish this one backdrop, and it's not even worth very many points. 

Ah well. At least it looks cool. And -who knows?- maybe the judges will love it and grant the award for extra creativity.

We also worked on gluing together a unicorn costume for Matthew. Here is the beginning stage of the costume:

After hours of work and a bit of play followed with lots of pizza, we were ready to call it a night.

Oh- did I mention what date we did this crafty meeting?

It was Valentine's Day.

Forget candlelight dinners or roses for me when competition looms.

Instead, I was given giggles and hugs from these darlins:

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Nature and Science Center

My kids beg me to find excuses to drive into 'the Big City' just so we can visit this magical place.

What is it, you ask? In a nutshell, it's an educational complex nestled in the heart of the sprawling metro park in downtown. 

It has a mini nature museum (which is all hands-on for kids...the 'awesome' points just skyrocketed for that detail), a small zoo, nature paths to explore, a dinosaur dig for kids to excavate giant fossils, and educational activities. Did I mention it's all free?

If you time the trip just right (which we make a point of doing), you can catch the professional Naturalists who staff the center.

They host a super-nifty area called the Trade-In desk.

Kids bring treasures they've found in nature (sea shells, fossils, rocks, bones, bugs, etc) and learn more about it with the Naturalists. 

Here Sarah shares some of her recent findings from our pasture- some animal bones. She was able to learn what animal each bone came from and what type of bone it was. 

Can I just say, we LOVE the Naturalists here.

 They never just straight-out tell a child what the object is. They help the kids discover for themselves all the information they can. 

Instead of saying, "That's a raccoon/possum/deer/cat skull", they show the child a dozen different skulls and ask them to find out which one their sample matches the best. When they have a match, they learn what animal it belongs to. Then they discuss in detail what every little orifice is for, or why the teeth are shaped the way they are to accommodate dietary habits, or why the eyes sit on the head a certain way, or a million other details about zoology you ever wondered. 

Our kids love the exploration process here! Here Sarah and Matthew review their notes to figure out what animal they discovered.

The naturalists make exploring nature a grand adventure with their contagious enthusiasm, and even grown-ups enjoy listening to the details. 

Kids can trade in their treasures for points which they use to 'shop' the Naturalists' store. 

The store is a wall of shelves stocked with all the treasures other kids have brought in (see the background in the pic above? That's part of the store.)

Here Matthew and Daniel deliberate over potential prizes to cash in their points for. This is the hardest part of the visit as they agonize over their choices. Which is better: polished rocks or fossils? A huge cow skull or butterfly collection? Should they just save points for a bigger prize the next time we visit? 

Usually my kids have collected animal skulls, turtle shells, and various antlers or horns. 

For years Sarah also had her heart set on getting the most expensive prize- a preserved butterfly collection.

For years she had been saving up points for this goal.

Today was the day she finally earned it. 

We have one VERY happy girl.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Glimpses of The Big Top Candy Shop

We recently visited our favorite-ever vintage candy store in Austin: The Big Top Candy Shop. 

With Grandma and Uncles in tow, the children were eager to share their favorite items on each shelf.

We spent a day together exploring Austin's eclectic South Congress district, home to our favorite costume shop, weavers shop, antique stores, and eclectic toy stores.

Here are some quick glimpses of our time perusing sweets and selecting treats for the day.

The men waiting patiently for the Littles to make their selections:

A new morning routine

Each morning this week, my sweetheart and I have worked side by side in our garden before he headed into town for his 'real' job behind a desk as a software engineer. Each day, the sun beamed on us brightly and the trees overhead were filled with songbirds welcoming the new day in song.

It was so unbelievably peaceful and rejuvenating. 

I've decided it's the perfect way to start a day. 

Dwarf Nigerian whether, dwarf nigerian doe, texas goats

We worked together in the soil preparing garden beds and seeding the pasture with hardy grasses. Nathan built watering troughs and inspected water lines. We cared for fragile seedlings, 'spring cleaned' the chicken coop, fixed fences (again!), and collected eggs together. Our hearts felt full as we worked with animals and plants alike. 

I love partnering with my sweetheart on projects. There's something magical about working side by side with the one you love, creating something that was only imaginary until your hands started to work. It's very bonding and rewarding, don't you agree? The joy I feel is 

I've been thinking about the principle of work for a few days now. I think work is a spiritual necessity as it trains our spirits to overcome the body's natural laziness and be increasingly self-disciplined.

I found a wonderful quote by Elder Neal A. Maxwell that says, "There is something holy about work; even in times of plenty, it is a necessity. While work is not all of life, it nevertheless can keep us mindful of our blessings." 

I've noticed that I'm always much more aware of and grateful for my blessings after I've been working hard. I feel a deeper joy in appreciating what the Lord has generously blessed me with- even little things that normally are taken for granted, such as abundant clean water to wash up after a messy hour in the garden, or warm sunshine on my back, work gloves to protect my hands, or even my soft bed when I'm ready for an afternoon nap.

We always head outside to work after our big kids have already caught the bus to school, so we bring Diego outside to play near us. When we have lots of work to do and little time to keep an eye on him, Nathan straps him into a baby backpack. He is cheerfully carried on Daddy's back as we make the rounds checking fences, checking the orchard, caring for animals, etc. Usually Diego is perfectly content to take in the view from his high vantage point. Every so often we let him down to explore and play.

He tries so hard to be helpful, imitating our actions by digging with a miniature shovel or carefully handling tools. It's very endearing to watch his chubby little fingers hold a heavy hammer and clumsily try to tap in nails.

He also loves to explore the seed pods left clinging to the tips of last year's weeds in the pasture. 

As I watch Diego's efforts to duplicate my actions and build something useful, I wonder if God feels the same way about my attempts to create a garden. I'm sure my untrained efforts to build a successful farm look clumsy to the Creator of the entire Earth and its complex ecosystems.

I think part of the deep satisfaction I feel in gardening must come from the fact that I'm creating something useful and beautiful where there previously existed only weeds and barren ground. Does our soul feel accomplished when we try to imitate our God through creating a beautiful space with purpose? I think so. 

In other news, our fruit trees in the orchard are starting to bud. Yay! Check out the baby leaves on our new pomegranate trees:

The beensy leaves are so exciting to see! The signs of life surrounding us are exhilarating!

I wondered today if this is a bit of the joy Adam and Eve felt as they worked in their Garden of Eden. What a happy existence it would be, tending a perfect garden and watching the fruit of your labors come to harvest.

We really are so happy on this little plot of land. I never regret moving to the country!

PS- Sarah is learning how to edit photos this week. I heard her giggling as she worked on her first picture. This is what I discovered when I checked her project:

Definitely a keeper.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Our first livestock

This week we brought three Nigerian goats to join the farm.

Aren't they cute?

Nathan found these goats on craigslist. Surprisingly they were free (goats normally cost $150 per head) to any good family that would keep them as pets. These were bottle-raised pets from a small ranch nearby. It was a perfect fit for us- we want live lawn mowers to keep down the weeds and poison ivy. And boy howdy, do these girls LOVE poison ivy! They snarf it down like there's no tomorrow. 

You'll have to imagine the comical way we transported these new friends to our house. We have no truck. (I can hear the local ranchers saying, "Gasp! How is that even possible in Texas? Shouldn't that be illegal?") 

Yep, it's the sad truth. Our trusty minivan is put through a lot of abuse as our truck substitute. (We've filled it to the ceiling with loads of compost, landscape rocks, fruit trees, boxes of chickens, furniture purchases, etc.) This was the first time we tried moving livestock in our Toyota Sienna. 

We took out all the van seats and lined the interior floor and sides with a ginormous tarp to protect the upholstery. The children were delighted at the prospect of riding in the van with goats. They went along with Nathan to act as a barrier between the driver and the livestock. (I could just imagine these goats trying to clamber into the front seats and causing all sorts of problems on the highway. Not happening.)

We had dinner guests arrive the same time Nathan drove up with his van load of goats. Let me tell you, there's a fantastic way to make a great first impression! (Just in case you can't tell, I'm dripping with sarcasm here.) 

As soon as the door opened, goats streamed out into the yard, bleating in panic and confusion. 

We had a lively evening chasing goats together to round them up into the pasture. The goats promptly discovered several weak spots in our fencing that needed to be immediately patched. Nathan repaired fences as the sun set while I served dinner to our guests inside the house.

The next day I ended up chasing goats twice as they broke though a gate and headed for my new fruit orchard. It was only after an hour of frustrating attempts to outrun and outwit the little goats that I had the brilliant idea of letting our Great Pyrenees farm dog, Bella, do all the hard work. (I have no idea why I didn't think of that before.)

She was very eager to help (being a natural herder helps a lot!) and made short work of it all. The goats thought they were scheduled to be Bella's dinner and were suddenly very eager to return to their pasture. Bella was invaluable in herding these rascals back to their proper space. Her position on the farm just went up a notch. How does one promote a dog?

Each morning before he left for work last week, Nathan and I spent each day working together strengthening fence lines to protect our orchard and vegetable garden.

Now that the fences are reinforced and gates are secure, the goats are happily mowing down our pasture.

Sarah bestowed them with new names: Paprika, Rosemary, and Cardamon.

Each day after school, our Littles eagerly pull on galoshes and tromp outside to the pasture, where the goats come running to greet them. Our kids love petting and brushing the goats or having races with them across the pasture. They have become delightful new friends on the farm.

Photography challenge

I decided to do some creative photography involving my favorite things.

My favorite clothing item is a knit hat looks like a rainbow exploded and landed....well....on the hat. Goofy tassels and a floppy pom-pom complete the light-hearted look. 

Diego was happy to play with my hat while I snapped some playful pictures. 

(Okay- I know they are totally out of focus. I'm a very beginner photographer at best and my lighting wasn't very ideal so I didn't get crisp images. Sigh. But Diego is so cute I just had to keep these.)

Friday, February 15, 2013

Lover's Day

The children woke up this morning to a breakfast table covered with love notes to each of them. These were my Valentine cards to my Littles. I wanted them to know how I admired them. I wanted them to know what talents I can see in them. I wanted them to just feel LOVED.

Breakfast was heart-shaped pancakes (just like every other cool family in the world on V-day....I'm not feeling original this week.) covered in fruit and served on our elegant Sunday dishes with hot cocoa served in tall goblets.

Did you know Valentine's Day is my wedding anniversary? Cheesy, I know. (Actually, if I could go back in time, I'd tell my younger self, "I know right now you think it's such a romantic idea, but don't do it! Resist the urge to get married on Valentines Day!  There will be one LESS day of the year to celebrate your marriage and love! Everyone else will have TWO days to celebrate their relationship (Valentines plus an anniversary somewhere else on the calendar), but will have chosen to roll those two precious days together. You'll be cheated!"

Then I remind myself that we don't technically need a special occasion to celebrate our marriage. We can make everyday special. Lucky for me, my heartthrob husband is wonderful about making me feel like a queen every day.  He showers me with sincere compliments and thoughtful gestures every day. He is my Prince Charming for all seasons, not just V-day. Take that, Cupid!

Here's a look of our love-notes we have had hanging up all month. They've been so wonderful to read each day! The house is filled with hearts in every room!

Today Nathan and I enjoyed a lunch date to a local Asian diner, then we purchased our anniversary gift together. I wanted a new Sunday suit for my man, because I have such a weak spot for men in dashing suits. I go weak in the knees every single Sunday when I see my husband emerge from our room dressed in his finest suit. His previous suit had been worn to bits and couldn't be patched anymore. (But 4 years of regular wear is not bad for the life of a suit, right?) Anyway, I am totally doing my happy dance over this gift. I can't wait to see him wear it on Sunday.

I couldn't fit everything I wanted to say to Nathan on a beensy little Hallmark card from the store, even though I tried.

Instead, I filled our bathtub with balloons.

The balloons are each filled with notes telling Nathan one of the things I love about him.

Matthew made a handy weapon for Nathan to wield in his quest of freeing the captive love notes. Matt taped thumbtacks to the end of a wooden ruler and left this carefully constructed weapon next to the card I wrote to accompany the balloons..

Here are a few of the notes from my list of  45 Things I Love About Nathan:

3- I adore your singing voice- it melts my heart

4-You look so cute when you hold the guitar in your lap, and your music is lovely

6- I love it when you cook with the kids and make them feel special

7-I love it when you brush my hair! It's so relaxing!

9- I love it when you rub my feet. You make me feel so special!

13- I love how you enjoy cuddling with Diego

14- I appreciate it when you lead our family in prayer or Family Home evening

15-I really love that you honor your priesthood- this means SO MUCH to me!

16- I love hearing your spiritual insights. You teach me so much!

17- I love hearing you bear your testimony to our family. Thank you for your good example!

21- I love the fact that you love my natural beauty instead of a face hidden behind makeup

22- I love hearing you play the piano and filling our home with real music

23- I love your ability to fix everything! I admire that so much!

24-I am so impressed at the way you teach yourself anything you want to learn. 

25- I admire your talent in writing poetry- thank you for sharing that with me!

26-I admire your incredible strength! You are SO strong it's amazing!

28- I love the way you make my heart melt with a cock of your eyebrow.

31- I love the way you treat me like a lady and open doors for me. Thank you!

32- I love the way you hold out your hand to help me out of a car. It never fails to make me feel like a princess descending from a carriage

33-I love it when you put your arm around me on the back of the church pew. It's so perfectly loving!

35- I love it when you tell me I'm beautiful. Thank you for boosting my confidence!

36- I love your sense of humor! You're fun to be around!

37-I love your laugh! It's so contagious!

38- I love working together outside in the morning with you! It's a great way to start my day!

39- I love the way you can design and build anything. 

40- I love the fact that you involve the kids in building projects. I will always remember their joy in working with you on the ladder for the treehouse.

41- I love your bread! Thank you for always making bread for our family to enjoy!

42- I love your flair in the kitchen. You have such talent for making dishes go from 'blah' to 'beautiful'

43- I love going to the temple with you and looking in your eyes in the Celestial Room.

44-I love your spiritual strength- you are often much more in tune to the Spirit than me. I truly admire that strength.

45- I will always remember each time you held one of our new babies in your arms. You steal my heart away when you gaze into their new tiny faces with such unbridled adoration and joy.

I love you, my darling!!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Hogwarts reading fort

Okay, I'm finally catching up on posts I promised and never delivered.

Here is the scoop on the Hogwarts reading fort I sewed  for our kiddos this year as a Christmas gift. 

Hogwarts fort, reading fort

The original pattern was supposed to fit over a card table.

After sewing for hours, I had the sinking realization that something was terribly wrong.  

There was no way it was going to fit even one of my kids (unless it was Diego). 

Boy was I hopping mad! 

Look at the picture on the pattern:

Notice how the fort is as tall as the kids shoulders, and the top of the door is higher than his waist.

That looks like there is plenty of space to accommodate a ten year old, right?


Check out the height of the real product next to my real ten year-old kid:


The door is only as high as her knees and the roof is as tall as her waist.

Only one child could squeeze into the original fort.

So I decided to take drastic measures to save my creation.

We opted to skip the card table supports and build our own structure with PVC pipe, which would allow us the luxury of expanding Hogwarts and making it any dimension we wanted.

I doubled the size of the for by sewing two more walls and adding them as a back wing. 

Now everyone can fit inside the fort nicely.

homemade reading fort, kids fort, sew fort, reading tent

Take a peek inside the fort. 

We have a long rug and comfy cushions creating a cozy and welcoming space.

We also ran indoor lighting inside Hogwarts. To avoid creating safety hazards, we opted for the rope lights instead of regular Christmas lights with the little bulbs. This way there are no bulbs that could be smashed, exposing live wires and creating perfect conditions for a fire.

 (Live wires +dry felt=the perfect tinderbox)

I used velcro cable ties from Lowe's to hold the rope lights securely in place around the interior of the fort. 
The fort sits rights next to an electrical outlet on the wall, so it's an easy thing to plug in the lights when children want to lounge and read. 

interior lighting of tent, fort lighting, kids fort lights

Yesterday they all squeezed inside and called our Pyrenees dog to join them! 

They all fit perfectly. 

I'd call this a success.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Weekend Wrap-up

Boy, am I glad to see Monday finally here! Our weekend was busy.

Saturday morning dawned bright and early as I drove an hour to our Stake Center to attend my favorite church meeting of the year: Stake Women's Conference. It was truly a spiritual feast. I learned so much about the attributes of God and how to develop them in myself or apply them in my parenting.

I was on a spiritual high all morning. 

The other reason I love this conference is because it's like a family reunion of sorts. Nathan and I have lived in four different wards of this a result, we have dear friends scattered all over the county. It's such a pleasure to see all our old friends together under one roof. There is such a deep joy in reuniting with sincerely good people who I have loved for years. I think I get a little glimpse of heaven on these occasions- surely there is a wonderful, heart-felt reunion in heaven when we arrive after our journey on earth.

I have so much to ponder from this conference and I feel motivated again to train myself into a better, kinder person. Perhaps I'll share some of my thoughts/insights on this blog later. Perhaps not. I still have to decide if it's too personal to share on such a public forum. We'll see. Most likely I'll just forget to type it all up anyway and will paste my notes into my handwritten, personal journal.

After the conference, I made a speedy exit to race home in time to meet our DI team. Along the way, I picked up pizzas and supplies from the hardware store.

At home we had 7 kids all ready to work on our DI performance. After donning everyone in old painting clothing from  my art closet, the children began to paint their backdrops in earnest. We had two teams working on two huge canvases (actually, the canvases were old bed sheets stolen from my linen closet).

We had another team of boys constructing a 3-foot tall unicorn costume out of boxes, foam, pipes, sticks, and lots of hot glue. The chaos was intense, but at least they made progress. Our team meeting was a whopping four hours long, so we had a pizza picnic together on the floor for dinner (the tables were all draped with drying paintings, so the  floor was our only option).

After dinner we tried to write the script. Oh. My. Goodness. Never try that at home!

It was like pulling teeth trying to get them to focus. After a laborious hour of discussion, we had a whopping 10 lines written for their play. Oh dear. I think my facial expression looked like a deer in the headlights at this point. Wide-eyed and vacant.

Competition is in just a few weeks. Oy.

After everyone left, my brain was fried, so we had a family movie night to chill out. Never so much had I looked forward to a quiet Sunday with my family.

The boys begged me to take pictures of them in their Sunday suits, so here are a couple of the shots we snagged before church:

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Ten things you're just dying to read

I love the trees in our front yard. On the other hand, you love my sexy shoes, right? 
1- Daniel was arguing with Sarah in a different room. As he stomped away in frustration, he retorted, "This is  how I appreciate you: Thpthpthptpt!" Nathan and I laughed so hard tears filled our eyes and we have quoted this line ever since. "Ever since", means a whole 4 days.

2- I spent hours relocating limestone blocks from all over our property to construct an outline our little garden plot. Now my garden looks so nice and edged.

3- We ignited our massive weed pile while the children danced in glee . For a moment I worried the jumping flames would spread to our 3 feet-tall dead weeds that densely populate our pasture from last summer. It was a perfect tinderbox waiting to explode in flames. Luckily I fetched the hose quickly enough and doused the area well enough to prevent burning down our neighborhood.

4- Sarah has been in heaven in our garden this week, determinedly digging through the dirt searching for earthworms to add to our home made vermicomposting bin. Each time she finds a worm, she exclaims in delight as if she's struck gold. She cradles them tenderly in her fingers and places them lovingly in their new home.

5-  I hosted our book club group in my home for a night of treats and stimulating discussion. The book I chose was Lies My Teacher Told Me. Look it up. Seriously. You'll be shocked to find out what you always thought was true was...well....a lie. I know you're asking, "How do we know?" Historians actually read the journals of historical figures like Christopher Columbus to discover what they say about their own experiences. The journals do not match what textbooks teach. Sometimes they tell a story drastically different than the ones we've been taught. If you are an American reader, I highly recommend you check this book out on your next visit to the library. It just might make you decide to home school your kiddos.

6- My darling built me a grow light and set up an area in our garden shed to start seedlings. I planted hundreds of seeds this week in little planters I folded out of paper (more on that later, whenever I remember to post pictures of it). We have little sprouts showing now! I'm looking forward to our spring crop of New Zealand Spinach, Malabar Spinach, Mignonette Bronze Lettuce, Red Cinnabar Romaine, Muscovy Carrots from North Africa, Parisienne Carrots, Flat Egyptian Beets, Red Wonder Beets, Sugar Snap Peas and Wando Peas (for you gardeners who care to know which varieties we are using in our Texas gardens).

7- Matthew's scout pack hosted a Blue and Gold banquet to celebrate the scouting program. The theme was Wild West, so they arranged for an experienced rancher to come demonstrate lasso techniques. The boys had so much fun running around pretending to be sheep for the rancher to catch.

8- A dear friend from Estonia sent us a surprise box of gifts this month! She is an author so she included a copy of her recent book (but it's all in Estonian, so I'll have to wait for my brother-in-law to come visit and read it to me. He volunteered to serve a two-year mission in Estonia and is fluent in the language.) The box was full of gourmet Estonian chocolates and exotic fruits and lovely letters and necklaces for Sarah and me. It was like opening a pirate's treasure chest! It was such a delightful treat. We love you, Merike!

9- We invited our adopted granny Nana Precious come over last night for our Family Home Evening. If you ever feel the need to be humbled, invite a friend over for FHE. The kids are pretty much guaranteed to be at their most contentious, least polite, least obedient selves. Oh boy, last night was tough. Sarah slammed Dan's fingers in the door during an argument, so he was wailing during dinner. Ironically the lesson for the night was all about LOVE. We salvaged the evening and wrote dozens of beautiful Valentines to each family member, then hung them up all over the house so our home is literally filled with love. We carefully packed a bag for Nana Precious stuffed with love notes from all of us so she could hang them up at her house. She was delighted and said it's been years since she had a Valentine.

10- I'll explain the super-sexy shoes in my picture. I have falling arches so my feet always hurt unless I wear certain shoes. I have some really nifty, super-expensive metal inserts in those tennis shoes that help my feet feel better. Sigh. No more high heels for me, ever. Now I look just drop-dead-gorgeous at church when I wear old-lady dress shoes. Ah well. I needed more character anyway, and this is a good serving of Humble Pie.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Ambrosia on a fork

After tasting your first bite of this concoction, you'll find yourself hiding in the closet, furtively eating the entire pie all by yourself and hoping no one discovers your hiding place. Or you can do what I did- bake two pies so there's enough for everyone. One for me, one for them. 

Seriously though- this dish works beautifully for a healthy and delicious after school snack. Serve with a glass of milk. Or pair it with whole-wheat toast and cut seasonal fruit for an amazing breakfast that will have your kids singing praises. At least mine did.

I love serving treats or desserts that are at least a bit healthy, and with less than one tablespoon of sugar per slice, this pie is definitely a keeper in our home.

You will need:

1 9-inch unbaked pie shell

1/2 cup sugar

2 cups chopped carrots

2 eggs

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (or pumpkin pie spice for more flavor)

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3/4 cup milk


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Press the pie crust into the bottom and up the sides of a 9 inch pie pan.

Bake the pie shell for 3-5 minutes, just to firm it up, them remove from the oven and set it aside. Place carrots in a saucepan with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil and cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain water and mash carrots until smooth using a potato masher. Or put them in the blender and process until smooth.

In a medium bowl, mix together the carrot puree, sugar, and eggs. Mix in the cinnamon and vanilla. Gradually  stir in milk. Pout the mixture into the partially baked pie shell.

Bake for 10 minutes in the preheated oven, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Bake for an additional 40-45 minutes, or until the pie is firm. This carrot pie can be served either as a side with dinner or as a light dessert.

For dessert, try topping slices of pie with freshly whipped cream and some freshly-grated nutmeg. It's heavenly!