For a Quick Reference

Friday, May 31, 2013

Fun Free Summer Reading Program

I made a new summer reading program for our kiddos (because let's face it, the library programs are such a hassle to record- yes, I'm that lazy- and I always misplace the reading logs anyway. Then there's the prizes. The toys are always cheap trinkets that break within a few hours or worse, disappear in the corners under the boy's beds and add to the household clutter. Not my cup of tea.). 

Here's how our summer reading program works:

The first day of summer,  each child receives one of these handy printed sheets to hang in their bedroom: 

(Actually, the kids are begging me to let them have the poster now rather that make them wait an entire week until school is out....I suppose that's a good sign, right?)

The goal is to cross off every word before the end of summer. How does this happen? Allow me to explain.

Each time they read a book, they can cross off a topic that occurred in their story.

The words are open to interpretation to cover a wide variety of books. This is where we can get really creative with things.

For example, let's look at the word 'Revolution'. They could read a book about the American Revolution, the Green Revolution, the French Revolution, the revolutions of the planets or stars, revolutions of gears in a Steam Punk novel, revolutions of dancers doing the waltz at a royal ball, etc.

Each book can be used to cross off no more than two words on the poster.

As the summer progresses, they'll be looking for specific books to cross off their remaining words. This will encourage them to read a broader ranger of topics instead of sticking to the same series (or comic books!) all summer.

I tried to include a wide variety of topics so it will be a bit like a puzzle to find all the books. I'm hoping this will spur some great dialogues between the child and their librarian as they seek help in finding random books to fill in the gaps on their poster.

At the end of the summer, each child who has their list completed will get to participate in our Family Literature Celebration.

We haven't decided what the celebration will be yet- the jury's still out on that one. The kids are helping choose a fun family activity for the reward. I'm thinking a fun camping trip to a lake, or a weekend trip to visit Grandparents in Louisiana.

Anyway, what do you think? Is this something your family would enjoy or not? How would you make it better?

Priceless Gift

With his little hands tenderly cradling a fragile flower, my son looked deeply into my eyes.

With a sideways impish grin, he dramatically lifted the flower in the air as if it was an offering.
The rose was beautiful, with perfect petals framing the bright yellow center. There wasn't a single spot of imperfection on the silky petals.

Matthew solemnly announced, "This is for you, Mom."

I gasped in delight and exclaimed, "It's gorgeous! I didn't realize we had roses!"

With a goofy roll of his eyes, Matthew said, "Of COURSE we have roses! They're in the back of the property and I've been checking them everyday after school to find a good one for you. It's taken weeks of hunting, but I finally found a perfect rose today!"

I was speechless.

His words touched my heart. I had no idea he was searching for flowers for me. For weeks.

This gift from his heart spoke volumes to me.

At this moment, I see how motherhood brings life's greatest joys. How lucky I am to be his Mom!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Messy Birthday Party

Here are some glimpses of Matthew's Messy Birthday Party...and a super short summary. I'm too busy lately to spend much time on blog posts. So. Here's quick the run-down:

We invited his entire class at school and church, so we were swarmed with 25 guests. I've never had this many kids at a party, but it worked out well since we have plenty of space for them to spread out and play. Only half of the children participated in the games because so many children just wanted to pet goats in the pasture, play with chickens, or climb trees. I was content to let the kids play wherever their hearts desired, since most of them don't live on farms. I think it's so nourishing to the soul to play with animals or climb trees, and the kids had a great time.

Instead of birthday cake, we have cupcakes and let the kids decorate the frosting however they wished, encouraging messy artistry with a variety of sprinkles and toppings.  We also served Worms'N Dirt cups, which I think I could eat all day if given the chance. I have a serious weak spot for Oreos!  Nathan cooked spiral-sliced hot dogs for lunch, which look pretty crazy and are super fun to eat.

We had several games and stations for kids to experience.

Our giant pan of Ooblek Slime was a huge hit. Just mix cornstarch, water, and food coloring (and I'm seriously too lazy today to look up the actual recipe right now....) until it makes a slimy mess. It's so fun to play with since the ooblek is both a solid and a liquid. I think we used 3 or 4 boxes of cornstarch, and the kids just loved playing all afternoon at this station.

The most popular activity was shaving cream on the trampoline. The kids were laughing the whole time. They had so much fun getting messy, and they were surprisingly silly with this activity. Everyone had a good time, and this activity is definitely a keeper for future parties. The kids entertained themselves for ages, which let me off the hostessing hook a bit! 

We also had silly relay races with cooked (and heavily-oiled) spaghetti noodles. I had two giant pans of noodles at the starting line, and teams had to pass the slimy noodles from person to person to reach the finish line. A large pot waited at the finish line to see which team collected the most noodles at the end. It was an absolute mess, and the chickens were very happy to help 'clean up' any stray noodles on the ground. 

I also had a three-person slip'n slide set up on the lawn. When guests were too sticky or messy, they'd take a dive down the slip'n slide ride to clean off a bit before heading back to the messy fun. 

Canvases were lined up outside for kids to create messy abstract art. Children dipped cooked noodles into paint and threw the colored noodles onto the canvas to create designs. 

We also staged a flour fight. We filled large socks with flour and tied a knot on the end. Children would run around swinging theses socks and blast opponents with clouds of white flour. We also armed kids with spray bottles filled with water-based paint to spray on each other. (Don't worry, the guests all wore old clothing to the party and the parents knew we'd be getting paint on everything!)

The toddlers really loved the spray bottles as well. They were so cute, spraying the plants, the balloons, and the sidewalks. 

Nathan pushed kids really high on the tire swing while some guests tried to hit the riders with flour socks. It was a great way to end the party as guests slowly disappeared to head home with goody bags.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Random Updates on the Farm

Pretty eggs, ready for customers.
Random Updates:

Yesterday Matthew and I were raking leaves when we were interrupted by enthusiastic notes of music above our heads. Looking for the source, we found a brilliantly-colored cardinal perched on a branch. He'd sing heartily, then pause and cock his head at us before beginning his song again. It was as if he was checking to see if he had a captive audience. Matthew and I stood still in the shade, watching the bird and enjoying his performance. It was such a lovely little moment that filled my heart with joy.  

We've been selling eggs in town to a food co-op. It's actually pretty rewarding to deliver our eggs in our cute cartons. The demand for free range, organic eggs far exceeds our supply, so we are looking forward to when our young pullets will start laying in a couple of months.  I feel so spoiled since I no longer have to make house deliveries one at a time! I love to tie a raffia bow around each carton to give our eggs a rustic touch of love. 

We now have 5 goats in our pasture. We are storing 2 male goats for a friend while he repairs pasture fencing. It works out perfectly since we needed a buck for our does anyway. The buck is named Beau. How perfect! The new herd is getting along nicely, and the kids have such a great time feeding and brushing the goats. We are hoping to have baby goats late this fall, isn't that a fun prospect?

Yesterday we enjoyed our first harvest from our veggie garden. Sarah and Matthew were so eager to help with the harvest and delighted in twisting the tender squash from the vines. The summer squash and zucchini were so delicious steamed with butter and salt! The darn goats have broken into my garden more than once this year, effectively ravaging most plants of any harvest. Luckily squash vines recover pretty fast from  hungry goats!

Our fruit orchard is doing well and growing the first pomegranates of the season. It's such a treat to walk through the orchard with my sweetheart, checking on trees and appreciating their progress. I'm so thankful to have enough land to plant as many trees as my heart desires! 

Our girls love to explore the front yard.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Bucket List Item- The Color Run, my first 5k

A group of ladies from church decided to form a team for the Austin Color Run, and I eagerly jumped a the chance to cross off a minor bucket list item. I also thought commiting myself to a 5k would push me to be more diligent in my exercise routines. Yeah...that totally didn't happen. That's okay, I still didn't finish in the last half of our group (but that's not exactly saying much since we had ladies recovering from back surgery and broken ankles......).

We almost chose the team name, "The Stormin' Mormons", but didn't want to exclude any friends of other faiths from joining the we settled on "Dyed and Gone to Heaven". It wasn't until we arrived at the race that we discovered the event is a fundraiser for cancer....oops! There's a politically incorrect team name if ever we saw one! Ah well. 

Before the race we were a pretty clean crowd.

That didn't last for long. Colors flew along the route in thick clouds of powder. See the pink cloud behind me?

We came back dirty and happy at the end of the race. I'm in the sexy pink socks and Hawaiian leis. Super-stylish, right? 

After the race was a large party, with more color flying than ever before. Crowds crushed close to the stage where singers performed and DJs threw packets of color into the audience. The air was like a rainbow kissing our skin while people danced under bright blue skies.

Even our team mascot, baby Iver, was caught by color. Look at his pink hair!

On the way home from the race, Nate called and asked me to stop by the grocery store for a few items. Ha! There's a sure test of confidence! Just waltz into the store an appearance like that and pretend nothing is odd. It was pretty fun watching the varied reactions!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Weekend Plans

texas wildflowers

What are you doing this weekend?

Early this morning we are volunteering for a couple hours to clean our neighborhood park, even though we never play there. It's a good service project we can do as a family, so we're happy to contribute! I love opportunities to serve with my children, and am thankful for a chance to serve our own neighborhood. It's also a nice way to meet new neighbors, don't you agree? There's a special kinship forged through working together.

After we clean up, we're heading to a sprawling sheep ranch an hour away to meet with friends for the afternoon. My kids are looking forward to the large swimming pool and picnic. I'm looking forward to finally meeting my friend face-to-face. One of the miracles of technology is this: Jessica and I have 'known' each other for a couple years as we've both ventured into country life....but we've only met online and shared text-based conversations. We met through this blog and found much we had in common. After sharing emails for years, we decided it's high time we finally do something together.

After a day of playing in the sun, we head back to our own part of the county just in time for a dinner party and Nathan's performance with the Baghdad Boys Barbershop group. The lead singer has just graduated with his PhD and is celebrating with his professors and colleagues. This is a bittersweet farewell party to a dear friend as he prepares to move to Utah and begin his career.

It is a full day, but we get to do everything together as a family. It sounds pretty perfect to me. I have really cherished time with my Littles lately. My heart has been fed as we share stories, play games, and cuddle together. I'm so thankful for these days we get to share, and it makes me consider returning to home schooling again.

Thursday, May 16, 2013


Billowing black clouds enveloped me in hot waves the moment I opened the door. The blast of heat stunned me for a moment and made the skin on my face tingle uncomfortably.

My barn was on fire. 

I had never seen anything like this before. Long fingers of dancing flames clawed greedily at the walls, the posts, the pine shaving bedding on the barn floor. Flames climbed hungrily to the ceiling. Smoke was escaping through every teensy crack, vent, or window, choking me with greasy fumes. Several chickens escaped out the open door into the fresh cool air, squawking in terror. Through the smoke I could see dead hens lying on the ground inside the barn.

All of this was registered in my mind in a flash, but it felt as if time had slowed down dramatically. 

My heart leaped into action, surging energizing adrenaline through my veins. I dropped my basket of eggs and ran frantically for the garden hose, which was located far away on the other side of the yard. I was wearing my favorite white skirt, and it severely impeded my rapid sprint to retrieve the hose from our garden plot. With a growl of frustration, I gathered my skirt in my arms and held it high above my waist, allowing my legs to freely move in long strides. I didn't care if anyone saw me flashing my underwear to the world. 

I threw the hose over my shoulder and hauled it quickly to the barn before racing full tilt to the faucet and turning it on full blast. All I could think of were the new chicks that were supposed to hatch today, and the dedicated broody hens who had sat so faithfully all month on their eggs. They were trapped in the fiery furnace that my barn had become. 

Spraying water deep into the burning recesses of the barn, I thought this fire must be an electrical fire. I was too scared to step into the barn since water was now covering the ground... I didn't want to have any chance of electrocution. Some flames were too far back inside the barn for me to reach. I didn't know where to shut off the power, and needed help.

Once again hitching my skirt high, I raced to the back door of our house, threw open the door, and burst into a quiet scene of domestic bliss.  We had several friends over for a lovely Sunday breakfast of homemade crepes. I must have looked like a crazy lady as I half-gasped, half-shouted: "Nathan! The barn's on fire! Please help!" Without waiting for a response, I dashed away again to renew the battle with the flames.

Nathan barreled full speed around the corner of the house in his Sunday suit, coming to the rescue. Friends watched helplessly with me while Nathan manned our only hose and fought the flames. 

After several minutes of nervous effort, the flames were finally extinguished. The hot wood crackled and steam billowed from the stall walls. Left behind was a smoking barn, covered in thick soot from top to bottom. The wood floor was completely burned through, and wooden stalls were eaten by the flames.

Garden tools were completely destroyed. Have you ever seen a melted leaf-blower? Let me tell you, the puddle of melted plastic looked neato-frito. Water pipes suspended from the ceiling were melted and draped across the stalls in sagging black arches. 

My seedling flats full of over a hundred plants disintegrated in the heat. Not a leaf was left. The grow light hung crazily at an angle over melted plastic trays. Sigh. I had nursed those seedlings so carefully every day for 6 weeks, and they were gone in an instant.

With a sudden stab of apprehension, I remembered our batches of new chicks and incubating eggs. We had eagerly awaited the hatchlings for weeks. I thought perhaps I could wash the soot off the eggs and save the hatching chicks, but the moment I touched the clutch of eggs I knew it was too late. The black eggs were hot to the touch and burned my fingers. My heart broke when I saw little beaks sticking out through the first holes in the shells. They were taking their first breaths of air when the fire happened. I mourned their deaths and felt a terrible accountability to God for these lost lives. My heart was weighed heavily with their deaths. 

Later, when the smoke had dissipated, we came back to begin the cleaning. 

See the black stump in the top of the picture? that used to be a large wall support and a wooden wall....

Pictures were hard to take inside the barn- the black soot soaks up all the light from my flash and doesn't reflect anything back. The only thing you can see here is the ceiling fan- everything else is coated in soot.

Luckily most of our adult birds escaped into the yard and were only scared, not damaged. 

At first I felt tremendous loss with this fire, but the Lord quickly showed me the blessings and tender mercies that occurred.

First off- it was a miracle that I discovered the fire in the first place. I don't normally go out to the chicken coop so early in the morning and it would have been hours before I went outside if I followed my regular pattern of behavior. If the fire had burned much longer, it would have caught our house on fire since the buildings are quite close to each other. I'm so thankful the fire was contained to only our barn!

Second- There were three large plastic containers of gasoline stored in the barn, less than ten feet away from the fire source. (You can see one of them in the first picture, it's red.) By the time we reached them, the plastic containers were hot and bubbled from heat. They were melting. If the flames had burned just minutes more, we would have had a serious explosion on our hands!

Third- The barn floor was covered 6 inches deep with pine shaving bedding. Have you ever watched pine burn? It's extremely flammable. Here we had a perfect tinderbox waiting to feed the flames. We should have lost our entire barn with this stuff on the ground. Miraculously the water pipes melted and leaked water all over the ground, wetting the bedding and confining the fire before the flames could get out of control. There shouldn't have been water in those pipes because we had turned off the water supply to the barn years ago.

It could have been devastatingly much worse, and I was left feeling extremely grateful for the hidden blessings that I saw. The Lord is good and watched over us even in this unexpected mishap. Once again, I was powerfully reminded of the transitory state of life and our possessions. Once again, I treasured my children more today and held fast to the things that are eternal.

When a sweet friend learned that my seedlings burned, she generously gave me over a dozen tomato and pepper seedlings from her own garden to restart our garden. I was so touched by her thoughtfulness. Life continues, and we are rebuilding our barn.

Even when surrounded with ashes, life is still beautiful. That is the wondrous beauty of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It allows us to feel peace regardless of any earthly setbacks. We are still happy, and I treasure the comfort I find in the Savior.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Moving a mountain

Santa traded out his snowy sleigh for a big bad dump truck this year!

Look what delightful gifts he brought us: soil and mushroom compost!

I'm totally doing my happy dance over this black gold. We've been slowly moving this mountain into our garden, one wagon load at a time. It's a lot of dirty work, but our veggie garden is already showing a big difference.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Closing chapters... State DI competition

Oh boy were we thrashed at the state DI tournament! We had no idea what to expect, but we certainly didn't expect what we were up against.

As we waited for our turn onstage, we watched other teams unload their props and kinetic art. I'll admit, our hearts sank as we observed very complicated and breathtaking works of art pass in front of us. I had a very hard time believing that elementary kids really completed these creations on their own. 

One team made a replica of the Taj Mahal out of wood. It was eight feet long and housed a giant music box that spun and created art. I think my jaw hit the floor!

Our kids were comparing their own creations to what they saw from the other teams, and our projects were sadly left wanting. With team spirits and confidence quickly deflating, I tried to encourage the team and remind them how great they did at regionals. We did some pep talks and helped everyone feel better, but we still took a lot of mental notes on ways we can improve next year.

Here are some glimpses of our team performance:

Matthew acted the part of a chair while the town rat narrated the story. Doesn't he look extra happy with his job?

Here the unicorn and villagers try to convince our invisible character, Black Plague, to come taste a magic lollipop.

They did a great job with their show.

Here they explain their kinetic art to the judges. They designed a home made marble run that would paint a picture on a canvas at the end to reveal a secret clue to the villagers.

After their performance, we caught a team picture outside.

After their show, the kids had a good time playing games and eating and exploring. I loved observing their banter and friendships. This was my favorite candid picture of the day:

I would be surprised if we came in anything other than last place, but we had a grand time and learned SO much for next year. I think they accomplished amazing things even making it as far as state, especially since this the first year any of us have done DI.

I still consider this year to be a resounding success, most importantly for the ways my own children have changed for the better. 

They are designing their own bedroom furniture now and feel empowered to build things on their own. They use their teamwork strategies to solve sibling conflicts without dragging me into the fray as a referee. They don't give up when they encounter a challenge, or even when their first solution fails. They are much more creative and invent new games together.

It is amazing to see the positive changes that have occurred.

Here are some shots we took of other teams. We sincerely praised each competitor
 and asked questions to learn how each creation was made. Armed with new secrets, we are eagerly looking forward to next year's DI challenge.

And here is a last glimpse of the closing ceremonies, a packed party with crazy hats, music, dancing, and awards.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

State DI Pin-Trading Party

Close your eyes. Imagine the floor of the stock market. 

Now replace all the stock brokers with children.

Trade out the money for colorful pins. 

What do you have? 

The Texas State DI Pin-Trading Party. 

Utter chaos and totally fun. This was definitely the highlight of the state tournament for our kids. It was way more exciting than we anticipated. 

There were 5,000 people packed into one convention center, all laughing and chattering and bartering. 

Check it out:

Here is how it works:

Each region creates several different metal pins each year. (Our regional pins were sparkly gold and maroon bats, a nod to the world's largest urban bat colony located in Austin.) Before heading to the state competition, contestants buy as many (or as few) of their regional pins as they'd like. At the Pin-Trading Party, everyone 'shops' from each other and trades pins to build a colorful collection. Texas has sixteen regions, so there are a lot of pins to choose from each year.

Students hosting 'stores' will spread their wares out on the floor for 'customers' to see. There is only one rule: one pin for one pin. High school students are not allowed to take advantage of younger students, and the transactions are all very friendly.

Here some of our boys peruse one collection of pins. 

 It is SO fun for the kids to be in charge of their own bartering and shop around for their favorite pins.

There are always pins to appeal to every taste. The boys really loved collecting monster pins shaped like cartoon zombies. Another favorite pin was a Creeper from Minecraft. 

You never know what you'll find, since contestants trade pins from years ago or from the global competition. There are literally hundreds of designs to choose from since pins come from all over the world. 

Every bit of floor space was filled with traders- even the foyers and halls were packed with students.

Sarah's favorite pins were a purple unicorn, a pink surfing cat, and a fiery dragon. 

The kids had a wonderful time and are really hoping to go to the state tournament again next year so they can trade more pins. This experience was so singular and so positive. They were dancing in glee when we left, exclaiming their delight over their favorite pins. 

It was a fantastic party to kick off the start of competition weekend. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Glimpses of our country egg hunt

I just love these little blue galoshes! Diego wears them everywhere! 

(Old news alert! I'm playing catch-up this week!)

This year I organized an Easter egg hunt that would help the children be unified, rather than competing against each other for eggs. I hate the competitiveness and greediness of normal egg hunts, so I made a way to encourage them to work together. It all has to do with the gold eggs (more at the end of the post).

Here are glimpses of our Easter egg hunt this year. I spread 100 eggs around our property while the children were at school. The school bus pulled up and dozens of noses were pressed against the bus windows, looking at the colorful eggs scattered in the yard. Our Littles were so eager to hop off the bus and begin the hunt. 

The children had a wonderful time and did a great job working together to help each other find eggs. 

At first Diego thought the eggs were just pretty toys to collect, which he dutifully did. He giggled each time he discovered another colorful treasure.

Then he finally opened one. And discovered the sugary goodness inside. 

He lost interest in any other eggs and the world paused for him while he licked out every last speck from the sugar-coated marshmallow chick inside. From then on, he 'got it' and ran laughing from one patch of grass to another, searching for more treats.

 Cutest thing ever.

Matthew found several golden eggs this year, and generously gave a gold egg to each sibling. 

At one point Daniel was disappointed that he didn't have as many eggs as everyone else. Matthew quietly went around the corner, removed several eggs from his own bag and hid them. Then he came running back with excitement and yelled, "Daniel! Look over there! No one found those eggs yet!" 

Daniel was SO excited and Matthew watched with a small smile on his face while Daniel scooped up each egg. Matt didn't see me watching from across the yard. Oh, my heart melted!

I wanted the children to work together as a team this year, so I made a puzzle with clues to lead the children to the baskets. Each large egg had pieces of the puzzle. The gold eggs held the most important parts of the puzzle with the key words of the clues. 

It was neat to watch the children pool their pieces and work together to solve the mystery. Each child contributed to the solution, then they read the clues together and ran away to fetch the prizes. 

It was a delightful day! I hope your day today is full of joy!