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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Fiction in the real world

Imagination is a powerful weapon. 

As a child, I loved the book "A Little Princess" by Frances Hodgson Burnett. My favorite character in entire world of fiction is Sarah Crewe (this is a big part of why I named our daughter Sarah). She had a truly noble spirit, heart-felt charity, and strong imagination. Her imagination was a coping tool to transform her depressing circumstances into an exciting fantasy full of wonder.

All my life, I've used Sarah's tricks to change my own perspective. 

When I walked to school in the freezing winds in Idaho, I'd be chilled with numb cheeks and frozen fingers. The fierce wind would cut through my scarves and coat, embracing me with icy fingers and robbing my warmth. Oh I hated walking to school! With a mile left to trudge through snow, I'd play mind games to cheer myself up. I'd pretend I had been traversing the Sahara desert for days, and the sun had been blisteringly hot. It made the snow suddenly appear as my welcome cooling friend rather than a freezing enemy, and made my lonely daily travels more tolerable.

When I was in college, our apartment shower had problems and would only let out a trickle of water no matter high we turned on the water. There was absolutely no water pressure, so the water just rained down on us weakly. At first I was very frustrated. Then I imagined I had been hiking through the steamy jungles of Brazil on a science expedition  I pretended I had just crossed a muddy bog and was covered in sticky grime. There were no rivers around, but luckily I found a small trickling waterfall I could bathe in. I didn't care how little the waterfall was- I was thankful to have any water at all! Suddenly this trickling shower was seen as a huge blessing instead of a source of frustration.

When we moved into our farm house full of problems, I played more mind tricks to cheer me up. The house was too filthy to live in, had a rotting roof and holes in numerous walls, had really really ugly paint in every room, the plumbing didn't work well, and everything in general just LOOKED bad.

To make the best of things, I pretended I was an American pioneer who had just crossed the plains in a handcart. After months of strenuous work and living outdoors, I finally built my first cabin in the West. Suddenly my house was wonderfully luxurious! I had indoor plumbing and didn't have to fetch water from a stream! I had a solid roof over my head rather than a thin wagon cover! I didn't have to sleep on the ground at night! I had the miracle of air conditioning to cool the hot Texas summer! I had clean tile instead of a dirt floor! My family was well-fed and healthy! Life improved so much by changing my perspective.

Well, this week our water heater stopped working. It's been three long days since we had hot water. I tried my mind games again when I had to bathe without the blessing of hot water. I ran a tub of cold water, then heated several pots of water on the stove to add to the tub, hoping it would be warm enough to be at least comfortable. As I prepared the hot water, I pondered our ancestors and felt thankful that at least I had a large luxurious tub instead of a little barrel to bathe in. After emptying the contents of my steaming pots into the cold tub, I hopefully tested the water. Yikes! It was barely warm at all! I closed my eyes tightly and pretended I had been walking across the dusty plains for a week without a bath, imagining dust and grime all over me. I revved myself up by thinking what a luxury this was going to be- hurrah for cleanliness!


It didn't work nearly as well as I had hoped. Washing long hair in a tub is no picnic, and the water was still unpleasant and the chilly air bit my skin, causing me to gasp involuntarily. My imagination must be getting rusty.

If you need me, I'll be hiding and reading a good book. 

(Okay, not really. I don't have time to read right now. Wishful thinking perhaps...)

Joseph enjoys a tree swing on a brisk cold morning

Monday, March 18, 2013

Muddled Updates

When I read over my previous blog posts from last month, I realized how empty it sounds. I don't share much of the interesting details of our life because I always feel like there must be a photograph to accompany each post. I'm too busy to snag my camera for pics of each neat experience, then upload the pics and edit them. So. Here are some thoughts on my mind, with no photo to capture the moment. (Other than these pictures of Sarah that have nothing to do with the blog content. She's just cute, that's all.)

I absolutely love swinging on our tire swing under our big oak trees with my baby in my lap. We lie back together and gaze upwards into the stretching branches of the tree above us, pointing out bird nests in the process of being built or squirrels playing tag among the leaves. It's beautiful, peaceful, and it feeds my soul. The slow movement of the swing is hypnotic and we sway back and forth listening to cheerful birdsongs over our heads. I wish you could experience it. My heart is so content on afternoons like this. I try to capture the moment forever, closing my eyes and memorizing the smell of Diego's skin as he nuzzles against my cheek and the sound of leaves dancing in the breeze. 

Last weekend our family drove through the scenic hill country to reach Sweetberry Farm, where we spent the afternoon picking baskets of strawberries. We spent hours playing and harvesting together. Diego became an expert at picking the prettiest ones and popping them into his mouth. His face and hands were covered in red berry juice when we left. My sweetheart and I spent hours washing, sorting, and slicing fruit to dehydrate. Our dehydrator ran all weekend, filling the house with the delicious aroma of ripe strawberries. The smell was so powerful I expected the air to look pink! 

We had a lovely trip last weekend to Louisiana. This is our first time really visiting Louisiana (because passing through on a road trip doesn't count, you see). Nathan's parents live there in an enchanting house built in the 1930's, which is SO fun to explore. My heart loves old buildings, and I delight in imagining the lives and stories of the people who lived there long ago. The entire neighborhood was picturesque with historic buildings as far as I could see. I loved it! We ate gumbo for the first time (and would you believe it? it's delicious!) and crawfish (well, only Nathan ate crawfish. I'm not a fan of anything that looks like insects, thank you very much.) Our family enjoyed the visit and left rejuvenated and inspired. I love being around people who feed my soul.

Have I mentioned we started selling eggs this month? We deliver eggs to the nearest town twice each month. There is a food co-op there that buys everything our hens can produce. We just received a shipment of plain egg cartons to sell our eggs in, so whenever I get time (right...there's a good joke!) I can design our family label for our product. It's kind of fun to finally sell our eggs in our own cartons rather than reusing mismatched store brand cartons. It's very satisfying.

I do feel more and more like a 'farmers wife' the longer we live here. I'm not sure how I feel about that. I do feel so strongly about the importance of being self-reliant and producing our own food, but it's not glamorous one bit. It's easy to romanticize the 'simple life' idealized by country living, but it's really not simple at all. It's much more work than city-living was, and mucking about in dirt or manure is not very feminine. I spend so much time working that I don't really care anymore whether I have makeup on or whether my hair looks nice. (Why put on makeup when the only creatures likely to see me are the chickens? Not happening.) When friends stop by for a visit, they see the unadorned me, wearing plain working clothes.At first I felt the sting of humility when I greeted them at the door. Now I find that it really doesn't matter. I am feeling much more confident and comfortable in my own skin. 

I've been teaching Sarah and Matthew how to knit on a knitting loom this month. Matthew in particular really enjoys this activity and has been busily making a blue hat. He is so proud of his work and spends hours happily working on it. I enjoy watching them learn new talents. 

I've been busy planting lots of veggies for our garden. We have lots of plants growing right now: lettuces, spinach, pumpkin, squash, basil, carrots, peas, beans, beets, onions, etc. We'll see if any of them last long enough to harvest. We keep having animals eat them. Last week my goats figured out how to open the garden gate, and they partied like there was no tomorrow. They ate everything in sight and trampled the rest. I had the /delightful/ task to replanting my entire garden that afternoon. That was the day I bought an electric fence. 

Even with drawbacks like that, life is good. Really good. There are certainly mundane things about it, but it's a life still full of joy (even when I muck out the chicken coop I feel joy. Seriously.) I am filled with overwhelming gratitude to the Lord for the life I live. I'm thankful for our property and home and don't mind the loads of work it requires.  I am surrounded with beauty and that feeds my spirit. I try each day to reach out in service to others, and I am happy. I have been pondering this thought- material goods do not bring true joy....real joy is found in doing what is right in the sight of God. It's so true. My happiest days are when I forget myself and serve someone else. 

I hope you feel joy today. Life is too short to live without it. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Regional Results

Our team, The Venomous Vipers, scored higher than 22 other teams to come in second place! 

We never expected to do so well, especially since we were competing against the Gifted and Talented programs from all the area schools. Our team was the only non-school-affiliated team, and had less access to resources for our projects. We were an independent team made up of students from 3 separate schools and one home school student.  

I'm so proud of how they did in all areas of the competition!

Here are some snippets of our long day at the tournament:

During our morning pep talk, we agreed that no matter what the judges thought, they were winners because they did their absolute best. I pulled out some blue-ribbon medals I had ordered for the team and passed them out. The children were so delighted! They tucked the medals under their shirts as a good luck token and wore them all day. 

The picture below is the finished backdrop for CandyLand. The team designed it so the clouds are cotton candy, the trees are lollipops, and the mountains are topped with ice cream and peanut brittle.  The judges really loved this part of the project!

Here the team is interviewed by a judge before they go onstage for their performance. They were questioned about all their creations (mostly to see if the kids REALLY made it all themselves.)

Here they wait in the Launching Area for the judges signal to begin. 

Here is a shot of the performance in action. Actually, I thought I was videotaping it. I wasn't. Drat! I pushed the wrong button and missed recording almost the entire play! 

Here is Lydia, the rat character. 

After the performance, the judges come onstage to ask the kids questions about their work. 

Whose idea was this?

How did you make it?

How did you learn  how to do this?

Lydia was our seamstress all year, and the judges were floored by her contributions. They had a hard time believing she sewed everything (she even made her own pattern for the witch costume!). 

The judges also really loved Thomas' kinetic art that was used by the character Death. He spent weeks making it. The judges asked incredulously how he was able to cut through all the metal, and he said matter-of-factly: A knife. The slits of metal were then folded together to make wind-catchers. Thomas spent weeks on it. When the judges expressed disbelief that a child could make this, Thomas proudly told them how many band-aids he had to wear after making this project. 

He had two judges enthralled for several  minutes as they inspected his careful work.

Here is a shot of the unicorn costume the team built together.

The kids had wanted a team prayer before going onstage, so we huddled and prayed in the crowded hallway. I tribute our success to that prayer. 

You see, when we practiced our script on the long drive to the tournament, kids consistently forgot their lines. We  never made it through the script without memory problems. Then they discussed several changes they wanted to make. We didn't have time to rehearse again at the school, but they NAILED it perfectly! 

I was beaming and trying not to giggle while I observed the entire performance. They did WAY better than I've ever seen! They knew they did an exceptional job and were literally dancing in glee afterwards, exclaiming, "I LOVED performing! I LOVE DI!"

After their successful performance for the judges, team dad Jaun Mendoza treated the entire team to cotton candy. They were SO excited and wanted a team picture together with their treats.

After a quick lunch, we started warming up our minds for the next part of the competition: the Instant Challenge. These are short challenges that a team must solve by working together to accomplish a certain task. It requires creativity, usually some engineering skill, high levels of communication, and exceptional teamwork. 

This part of the competition is tricky, since you have  no idea what type of challenge you will be given by the judges. Will you be building a tower out of index cards? Performing a commercial with ping pong balls and pirates? Writing an original song about the worlds best toothbrush?

It's a little bit stressful since you only have 4 minutes to finish the challenge, so teams work all year on conflict resolution skills to deal with this.

We practice different challenges all year at team meetings so they can learn skills to use in the competition.

I was worried about this portion since our team had never successfully completed a challenge during our practices. They always required a second attempt in order to complete the tasks. 

Here they work on a challenge during our break time:

When we did some warm-up challenges during lunchtime, our team totally fell apart. They argued and hurt each others feelings, then failed to do the task they were given. The team was falling apart, and I realized they needed to go run outside to burn off some stress hormones. I challenged them all to a big race and we played and played. After enjoying the outdoors, I called them together for a pep talk, reminding them how well they did in their performance and pointing out they had a strong score.  They were STILL angry. Erg. I explained that I had done everything I could to help them be friends. I failed as a coach if they were fighting. 

After a thoughtful silence, I said, "Do you think Heavenly Father is proud of the way you performed for the judges earlier? Yes, He is. Do you think He wants you to succeed? I think so. Do you think He has power to change your hearts to remove the anger and replace it with love and teamwork? Yes he does! What can we do to invite His help right now?"

The team huddled for a group prayer and the children took turns praying, asking the Lord to remove their contentious feelings. Then it was time for us to compete our Instant Challenge.

It truly was a miracle. 

They worked together in a way I've never seen them do before. They were amazingly organized and had clear minds to quickly solve the challenge (they even finished BEFORE time was up!). They nailed it, and they knew it. 

While waiting for the day to end and the awards ceremony to begin, we headed out for a quick dinner. 

The awards ceremony was a giant party, with hundreds of kids dancing to the music and having a great time.

After our successful awards ceremony, we stopped for ice cream to celebrate our victory.

Yesterday we received the good news that our team was advanced to the state competition!

The kids are ecstatic.

I'm shocked and excited.

I thought the chapter of DI was closing for the year, but now we have a month to improve for the state level. 

I'm cancelling my plans for a quiet Spring Break this week with my family.

Instead, I have 18 hours of team meetings this week to improve our projects.

We also started some fundraisers to help pay for the state registration fees. 

The kids are working hard cleaning houses in our neighborhood and doing yard work to raise money. We have other activities in the works as well- garage sales, bake sales, etc.

Want to help? Every dollar counts!

Check out one way you can help the team HERE. 

I'll love you forever if you do. (Well, I'll still love you even if you don't.)

If you don't see me much on the blogosphere, now you know why. I'll be elbow-deep in DI kids at least two days a week, and knee-deep in paperwork for the state competition.

What about my housework? We'll just pretend my dirty kitchen doesn't exist, mkay?

Friday, March 1, 2013

Little Things and weekend plans

This post is just about life's little things. The little things that make me happy. The little things that make life interesting. 

Daniel loves his bike! He rides it everyday (as long as it's not raining). He REALLY loves to ride bikes with Daddy on the quiet, scenic country roads in our neighborhood  The bike is too small for him and it's made from pieces of different bikes. See the front tire? It's spray painted black to cover the previously pink paint....we reused the wheel from a thrift-store princess bike. Daniel doesn't care. He's just happy to have a bike, and -boy!- does he ride it everywhere! He takes his trusty bike all over the property, racing with Matthew to see who can off-road across the yard the fastest.  His birthday is next week....maybe it's time to upgrade his bike to a brand-spanking new one? 

I LOVE how colorful our farm eggs are! I feel a little blush of joy each time I glimpse these rainbow eggs perched on our counter. The wire basket they sit in is shaped like a rooster, isn't that perfect? It was a gift from a dear friend and I think of her every time I see it. I started selling our pastured eggs this month in town. Our chickens are happy to forage all over the pasture in the dappled shade under our oak trees. They don't even respect fencelines, so they head over to our neighbors regularly until the neighbor's dog chases them home. 

Look at the gorgeous colors the eggs are naturally made each day! I feel like it's Easter with those green eggs smiling at me. It's almost a shame to crack them open. My favorite eggs are the dark brown ones. We call them 'chocolate eggs'. Who wouldn't want a chocolate omelet for breakfast? Mmmm.

This shot was taken at the Dinosaur Pit in Austin's Nature and Science Center. Daniel is such a kind big brother. He's often found doing creative things to help Diego explore the world or enjoy life. I love moments like this.

And I just love this picture. This scene totally warms my heart. There's something magical to me when an innocent baby explores part of their world. It reminds me how wondrous life is every day.

Sarah and Matthew are heading to the regional competition for Destination Imagination tomorrow morning. 

We'll be gone before the sunrise and returning home hours after sunset. They've worked hard for four months preparing for this competition. 

Earlier this week our team was very chaotic at our team practices, especially when our scenery kept falling apart any time it was touched. Frustrations! I'm not allowed to solve any of their problems, so it was really neat to see them pull together and work as a team to fix their unexpected mishaps on stage. 

I've been amazed at the personal growth they've each shown this year! They've learned some amazing life skills, made wonderful friendships, and had a good time creating their presentations for the Challenge. Sarah and Matthew are already talking about doing it again next year. 

Now we're off to bed so we can rise bright and early for the competition. 

They are competing against 14 other teams. Yikes! That's so many!

Wish us luck!