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Monday, December 22, 2014

A series of unfotunate events

I'd be kicking myself years down the road if I didn't record these embarrassing stories, and so many people have asked me to write them down. (And honestly, I had intentionally NOT written them down for years because I cringe when I think of what my mother would say. But today we were reading aloud as a family from James Herriot's stories, and we take such delight in them. I thought I'd regret not writing down some of our own unfortunate mishaps to laugh about with others.)

Daniel's Kindergarten year of school was one series of rather embarrassing events after another. It all started with a pair of socks. 

As we tried to encourage and teach independence and accountability in our children, I let the boys wear (mostly) what they chose to school. As long as it fit correctly, was clean and free from holes, it was fine. 

One harried morning, I neglected to conduct the morning inspection before sending children off to school. That afternoon, Daniel came home with a package of new socks. When I questioned where they came from, he shrugged and said his teacher gave it to him since we couldn't afford socks. What?! He had a sock drawer literally overflowing with clean, folded socks in great condition. What on earth brought about the assumption we couldn't buy socks?

 I discovered Daniel had chosen to wear very filthy socks to school (these were looked like he had run though the muddy pasture in just his socks). Heaven knows why he would choose to wear something like that when he had about 30 clean socks in his drawer. I'll never understand little boys. When his teacher commented on the state his socks, he brushed it off by saying we couldn't afford clean socks. During her lunch break, she purchased new socks for him. Oh heavens, how embarrassing that was! Of course I sent a thank you note to the teacher, returned the new socks, and explained the situation to her, assuring her we had more socks than he could fit in his drawer and he just chose not to wear the clean ones that day. 

If only it had stopped there. But it didn't. That year was like a series of dominoes, one embarrassing moment leading to another. 

The next situation involved a little sore on his face. He had a little cut near his mouth, but it wouldn't heal correctly since he had a habit of picking at the sore and reopening the wound. Each afternoon I helped him wash it, cover it with antibiotic ointment, and top it off with a band-aid. But he was self-conscious about wearing the band-aid to school, so it was always removed in the morning right before school. During the slow school hours, Daniel would pick at the sore and it would reopen. So it was that he had this little wound for weeks without any sign of improvement. 

One day he brought home a paper from the school nurse, which instructed me in very patronizing terms how to wash hands with soap and how to do basic care for cuts/wounds so they could heal. It required a signature and a return note verifying I had read the document.  Daniel had told the nurse that he didn't know how to wash his hands. Of course we had taught him how to do this! Yikes, I felt so patronized. You can bet we re-taught the same personal hygiene lessons a million times that month. 

A few weeks later, in the happy morning rush we all love so much as we try to get children dressed/adequately fed/morning prayers said/scriptures read/lunches packed and out the door on time, Daniel told me 5 minutes before departure that his metal lunch box was broken. The little hinges for the lid had bent and would need to be re-hammered in order to fix the problem. Not having enough time to disassemble the lunch box and fix it before school, I told him we'd take care of it that afternoon. We needed a temporary fix to hold the lid shut and prevent his lunch from spilling across the school halls, so I hastily made a large cuff of duct tape to slide over the square lunchbox and hold the lid shut. I even used yellow duct tape that would blend in with the bright red and yellow colors of his Spiderman lunchbox, making our 'repair' less noticeable to his classmates. 

That afternoon, he came home with a brand new lunchbox. His teacher sent one home since we (obviously) were too cash-strapped to own a working lunch box. She wrote his name on the new lunch box with permanent marker, making it nearly impossible to return it without looking absolutely ungrateful. On the one hand, I was touched that his teacher was so observant and cared about her students, but on the other hand, we really didn't need these continuous gifts to be poured on us- especially since school teachers are not known for receiving a generous salary! 

Next came Valentine's Day, that much-anticipated tradition of carefully creating Valentine cards to exchange with school friends. Daniel spent several afternoon laboriously writing each classmate's name on a card, then meticulously stuffed them in beensy envelopes and added festive candy. He was so excited the morning of their school party, and eager to share his gifts with friends. This was a long day when I'd be in another town teaching home school co-op classes with Sarah all day, so we dropped Daniel off at school on our way out of town and picked him up again that afternoon on our way home. 

When we walked in the door, I saw his box of Valentine cards on the dining room table. He stopped short and stared at them, with his mouth hanging open in surprise. He had forgotten to take the cards to school.  I was so sad for him, mentally kicking myself that I hadn't been home that day to notice the missing cards and run them to the school. I gently asked how the party went. He said he just went around pretending to place cards in each classmate's Valentine box. His teacher saw what was happening and gave him lollipops to pass out instead. Add one more tally to the scoreboard of shame I should have felt, but really I was laughing at this point and thinking this was getting pretty ridiculous. All these incidents added together were painting a pretty interesting picture. I wondered briefly what she thought of me- did she think I was a hopeless alcoholic passed out on the couch all day? We never had things like this happen with any other children, and I was surprised so many mishaps were happening with this one child. 

There were more occasions, when he came home with a new outfit or new school supplies, and each time I'd explain to the teacher that there was no lack of these things in our home. Daniel just either forgot to collect his supplies in the morning, or chose to wear his much-loved favorite T-shirts again and again every week even though he had a closet full of nice shirts waiting to be worn.

The incident that took the cake was near the end of the school year. It was a rainy, dreary day. Daniel ran out the door to catch his ride to school with our neighbors, and stopped to collect his backpack from our van. He forgot to close the van door (don't all these stories happen because this sweet child forgot something?) and left it open. 

This was a Monday- Cleaning Day for me. I stayed home, busily addressing dirty rooms and tackling loads of laundry all day. I have a terrible habit of procrastinating until the very last minute, so I'm always ALMOST running late and rushing from one activity to the next. That day was typical, so I rushed to the van to head to school. I met a terribly comical and terribly mortifying sight I'll never forget. 

Through every van window, I could see a multitude of chicken faces looking out at me. My heart sank. We had a flock of over 50 chickens, and they were all taking refuge from the rain in my van. Every. Single. One. Each seat in our van had several chickens perched in a row on the headrests. I opened the driver's side door and was met with the loud crowing of our biggest rooster, who was comically perched on my steering wheel, peering out the windshield. Every seat had dozens of chickens sitting packed tightly together on every horizontal surface. The floor held more hens, feathers fluffed and crouching on the carpet. 

They had spent 6 hours hanging out in my van, walking with muddy feet on every surface and (of course) defecating everywhere like there was no tomorrow. Large piles of wet brown chicken poop marred the leather seats and carpet. Unfortunately some of the birds had some tummy trouble and were evidently being plagued with diarrhea, which was splattered in large puddles here and there like a Jackson Polluck painting. 

Have you ever smelled fresh chicken droppings? Oh it's powerfully horrendous. It's quite potent. The large quantities of poultry poop in such close quarters burned my eyes and made me gag. And guess what? There was no time to do anything about it. Now I was actually running rather late. 

I quickly shooed the birds away (mentally cursing myself for ever thinking free-range chickens were a good idea), and armed myself with a thick stack of newspaper. With no time for anything else, I laid the newspaper over the seats as a protective barrier for myself, and (gritting my teeth) I gingerly sat down. Rolling down all the windows to get some fresh air, I drove the 5 miles to school.

Now imagine this. I'm in the car line at the school, and I pull up to collect my batch of children. Of COURSE it's my luck that the teacher on duty today is Daniel's teacher. I pull into place and open the sliding van door, and (I kid you not) a dozen feathers exit the van and go swirling through the air into the parking lot as the horrendous mess and stench is revealed. I imagined a green cloud of sulfurous fumes blasting out of my van and encircling the poor bystanders. It was impossible to not notice the piles of fecal matter, and I quickly laid newspaper over it while instructing the children to sit very carefully and be very still while we drove to the nearest car wash to clean it all out. His teacher raised an eyebrow at me, the children's mouths hung open, and I blushed bright red while briskly helping them buckle up for the ride. 

We spent a busy afternoon scrubbing, vacuuming, and disinfecting every interior surface of the van (thank goodness for leather interiors! It was SO much easier to clean than fabric! We don't own that van anymore and our current van has regular upholstery- you bet we are VERY careful about closing doors!)

This child has been so often lost in his own little world as the rest of us go by. I wonder what goes on in his head at times, I wonder what adventures are happening in that big imagination that is so distracting from reality. It's infuriating at times, true. It's embarrassing at times, yes. But he's such a wonderful little person. He's so thoughtful of others, and so often the most sympathetic and giving child in our family. 

He loves deeply, and is passionate in his emotions (Which can be good, or bad. Did I ever tell you the story of when Daniel had sticky fingers from eating a sweet pastry, and was convinced he'd die if he couldn't wash them right away? We were on a road trip and had just run out of the wet wipes we usually keep the on hand to clean with. He laid sobbing on the floor with his hands dramatically waving in the air above him as he cried out, "Sticky fingers?! I can't LIVE with sticky fingers!! I'm going to die right now!")

He's a loving child, eager to please and gifted with a special connection with animals. He's such a kind big brother in so many ways, giving his time generously to serve Joseph or read stories to him or build elaborate fancy beds stacked high with a dozen cushions for added comfort while he attentively rubs feet for a loved one.

He's smart, he's musical, he's funny, and so many other things.

He's just so darn forgetful! 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Creative Projects and December Little Things

This month has been lovely. I've been on a creative high all month, sewing homemade gifts like crazy. 

There was an upholstery shop nearby cleaning out a barn full of fabric remnants and scraps, so I filled my van with boxes of fabric and shared them with friends. My van was literally packed. The seats were all pushed down and boxes filled every nook and cranny all the way up to the ceiling. The boxes filled our parlor floor. Sarah was delighted to explore the boxes with me, oohing and aahing over the gorgeous prints. It was a bit like Christmas to open each box since we had no idea what we would find inside. There were silks, satins, velvets, leathers, and more. 

Most of it was material I didn't have a use for, but we did find some gems of the right material and large enough to work with. I kept a box of our favorite pieces, and now I'm transforming some of them into almost-free gifts. It's such fun! I can't wait to finish the projects and share pictures! (I can't post anything specific until after Christmas since my daughter likes to hop on here once in a while and read the blog.) I'm creating several different gifts and am just giddy over them. It's been so delightful to sew so frequently this month. I love to put on a good BBC documentary or TED Talk to listen to while I work. It's such a pleasant way to spend a morning and afternoon the days when Joseph is at preschool. 

I finally finished an impressionistic painting I created with one of the painting classes I teach. I didn't have time to finish mine in the class hours, since I spend most of my time helping the students. So I always have a dozen or so mostly-finished paintings around the studio. One night after tucking kids in bed, I spent a delightful hour finishing this one off.

I really love the abstract nature of this piece! It was such a delight to create!  

I love being able to paint in a quiet house with just my thoughts for company. I like to hum and sing while I paint. This is the type of relaxation that feeds my soul. 

This month has been so lovely to focus on the Christmas season. We have enjoyed many things. Last weekend the children and I worked on a large Christmas puzzle together while chatting and enjoying a veggie tray and cookies. Nathan started cooking up Christmas candies and made delicious fugdes. (Oh! We discovered a new treat so delicious it should be illegal. Make up a cup of hot cocoa, then drop in a piece of homemade fudge and stir it up. The melted fudge makes the cocoa super creamy and rich! The nuts float, and add a delightful crunch!)

Nathan plays Christmas carols on his guitar while the children and I sing and dance and have a lovely time. I love to snuggle with our children on the couch and read our favorite Christmas stories. I love the sentimental stories that tug at my heartstrings. Usually my older children roll their eyes at these stories, but this year Sarah said these are her favorite Christmas stories of all. Our favorites are- The Christmas Dress for Ellen, The Shiniest Star, The Carpenter's Gift, and Christmas Oranges.

Last Friday I took the children to a local retirement home and performed carols for the residents. Several families from church had come together to perform, so it was a group of about 20 children singing. The residents were so enthusiastic in their applause, and the kids seemed to enjoy themselves.

After the performance, we mingled with the audience to chat and make new friends. Oh it was so wonderful! My heart was filled with love for the people I met. I remembered how much I enjoyed volunteering at my local nursing home during my teen years. I used to volunteer weekly in the Alzheimer's Unit and loved hearing the stories these people shared. I get such a thrill from hearing the memories that make a person who they are today. I really enjoyed our conversations that day and felt like our hearts were connecting with these new friends.

Joseph was a total ham, running up to people all over the place. He'd give them an enthusiastic, tight hug and gleefully wish them a Merry Christmas. Little old ladies would hug him close and say, "Oh you darling! Don't ever leave!"

I'm so grateful for our friends who took the time to organize this event. It was so delightful to serve others and we were so happy to join in the fun.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Hot Science: Cool Talks adventure

Here are glimpses of our most recent excursion to revel in hands-on science at UT. 

We were blessed with the company of some good friends for this trip, which made the long train ride even more enjoyable for the boys. Our friends were well-stocked with games to entertain them as the city swept past the windows. 

This month's topic was the science of weather. We had a delightful hour exploring and experimenting with several engaging learning stations. After the hands-on science fair, we were entertained with a 90-minute lecture about weather forecasting, and boy was it fun! The teacher kept kids engaged the entire time. I love these science excursions. It's such a memorable way to learn concepts! 

Joseph loved this interactive mini-tornado machine. We'd place our hand int eh middle of the vortex and watch the storm disappear. 

Other glimpses of random stations.....

This was their favorite station. It involved a neat chemistry experiment to make fake snow. The kids LOVED watching the reaction take place as the liquid rapidly inflated into a big fluffy mass. They each brought home a little baggie of this and played with it for weeks. 

This was the toddlers' favorite station. It's fake snow made with shaving cream and baking soda. It's wonderfully fun to play with, and is a dreadful mess (which definitely increases the fun factor). 

After the lecture, we ran to catch the last bus out of town for the night. We were cutting it rather close on time and were worried we'd miss this bus (okay, actually only I was worried, Nathan was confident we had enough time.) and be stranded in downtown Austin. The bus stop was half a mile away, so we had the delightful adrenaline-producing fun of running through the dark streets laden with backpacks, camera bags, and huge souvenir posters. Nathan carried the two toddlers and several bags, making an interesting sight to see.

We did arrive with a few minutes to spare. The children all fell asleep on the long ride home. It was after 10:00 on a school night after all. After arriving at the station, we started the long drive back to our farm. We made it home close to midnight (and it was a school night!) and bundled everyone directly into bed. They fell asleep with their school uniforms still on.

It's a long night for sure, but is a highlight of the month any time we go. I don't mind letting them sleep in and be tardy for school after such a life-enriching event as this. (And for the record, Sarah was still awake before 5:00am, and roused everyone from their slumber in plenty of time so no one was late for school after all.)

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Craft time

This was Joseph's idea of craft time while I was in the bathroom. Can you tell what he was doing? Gluing ice cubes back into the ice cube tray. Luckily I found this creative craft before he had a chance to fill the entire tray. And boy was he proud of his idea.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Weekend wrap up

This weekend was such a delight. Friday night Nathan and I enjoyed one of our prepaid dates. Tonight's date included shopping together to pick up the last of our stocking stuffers for the children, followed by dinner at Applebee's with 2 gift cards.

We enjoyed strolling through the mall together holding hands while we picked up some pre-ordered gifts at JC Penneys. I don't like malls at all and make it a habit to stay far away, so we didn't linger long here.....just long enough to pick up our items and make one detour to enjoy the smells at Bath and Body Works.

Dinner was a delight as we laughed and talked about the details of our day. I recounted stories of my afternoon spent playing with Joseph and making him balloon animals at home. We turned balloons into silly hats and floppy monsters, then chased each other around the house in a colossal game of tag before ending in tickle wars. Nathan recounted his projects at work and his lunch outing with a friend. I love hearing these little details and sharing joy with him over the little blessings or successes from the day.

Instead of ordering dessert in the restaurant, we like to pick up a treat from the grocery store on our way home. Lucky for us, our store was holding a sale on Ben and Jerry's ice cream. We snagged a pint and smuggled it past the children (well, I should say child. Only one was still awake enjoying their movie night. The rest were sleeping soundly wrapped in blankets on the tile floor. I'll never understand how they can sleep on a tile floor....)

Saturday I was up and away bright and early, heading to a Destination Imagination workshop. I was volunteering for 10 hours as an appraiser to help teams learn how to improve their Instant Challenge skills. What a fun day immersed in creative problem-solving!

While I was away, Nathan took the two littlest boys to the school Christmas Party. He had been asked to perform with Dickens-era carolers.

Saturday evening we all headed to the church building for our ward Christmas Party. The dinner was delicious and the program was well-written and spiritual to focus on our Savior's birth. Nathan had been asked to be the Santa Claus, which is a pretty tall order for him. He's rather an introvert who would prefer not to talk to people in group settings. Crowds make him nervous. Now he was asked to perform (and he's never been in a theatrical performance) in a stifling and uncomfortable suit, wearing a smelly beard that tickled his face nonstop. I was worried for him. I was blown away by how well he got into character and really connected with each kid as if they were his only concern in the world. He would call most of them by name and exclaim over how much they had grown or how much he missed them from last year. The kids were just beaming with the individual attention they received. He was so enthusiastic and his laugh was so authentic. The children were delighted and their eyes lit of with excitement.Some did a little dance of anticipation while they waited for their turn with Santa.

Oh what a treat it was to be Santa's helper that night and watch each child's interaction with him.  It was so interesting to listen to each child's request. Some asked for simple things: a new leotard for gymnastics, a new sketch book, or just a candy cane. Some kids had a long list of wishful thinking. I loved the way Nathan would lean in and ask them what they were giving someone else for Christmas. The kids would pause in surprise, think about it, and mention ideas. Then Nathan would laugh heartily, pat them on the back, and say, "Thank  you for helping me keep the Spirit of Christmas alive!" I loved it! The suit was so hot, and I could tell he was very uncomfortable, but he kept up his cheerful enthusiasm for each child until the long line was done.

This was Joseph's first year meeting a Santa Claus. What a special treat it was to have his first Santa be his own Dad. Check out his delight! What did he ask for this year? A candy cane.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014


For the first time in 10 years, we didn't host Thanksgiving at our place. Instead we traveled to join Nana and Grandpa Kingsley in their historic home in Louisiana on the military base. What a wonderful trip it was! We love visiting the Kingsleys any time we get!

Nana had a creative idea on ways to keep the children busily engaged during the visit. First of all, she lovingly told all the cousins that "Only boring people get bored. There is always something fun to do!"

On each bedroom door was a spreadsheet of children's names and dozens of activities to do.  Each child was in charge of a certain type of activity. Any time a guest wanted to do that activity, that child would get it out and supervise it, then clean it up. Sarah LOVED running the photo booth. She was in charge of picking out and setting up a new backdrop each day. Nana taught her how to use the camera. There was a bookcase stocked well with a variety of silly hats and other festive accessories so people could dress up sillly for pictures. Sarah was the photographer, and she loved taking pictures for hours. Most pictures were taken on Nana's camera- I only had one on mine.

Daniel was in charge of the Bocce balls, which were played in the long hall upstairs (in the early 1900's this was the servant's quarters when the residents used to keep household staff). I love imagining the history of old buildings, and this portion of the house is my favorite one to imagine. I wonder about the lives played out in this space. 

Matthew was in charge of Nana's large magnetic toy collection. The boys spent hours playing with this, creating all sorts of shapes together.  

We were blessed to spend the holiday with cousins that we rarely see. It had been over 5 years since we last saw the Church family, but the children quickly became best friends and were inseparable the entire time. Luckily each child had a cousin near the same age, so they were perfect pairs for playing. They had such a wonderful time with these new friends, and it was heartbreaking to say goodbye after three short days of friendship.

Paulina and Sarah transformed Nana's office space into a girls' retreat where they played and spent the night every night together. 

The evenings were filled with late-night games and laughter until the wee hours of the morning when we all crept quietly past sleeping guests on our way to bed. 

Nathan cooked up a storm with Nana all day Wednesday, preparing the feast for the expected influx of guests. Before we had left Texas, Nathan smoked a turkey with wood from our oak trees. We carefully packed it in ice and brought it along for the feast, and oh it tasted heavenly!!! 

They made 16 pies (2 are not shown here....they wouldn't fit on the counter). The food was amazing and the house was filled to the brim with 14 relatives, half-a-dozen church friends, and 12 missionaries. 

Later that evening, Nana brought out her homemade pipe bells and we all played music together. Oh this is such fun, and is a cherished highlight of any Kingsley visit. We all love playing Christmas carols and singing together. The missionaries were (mostly) quick learners and we had a good time for an hour or so. We advanced from easy selections to more difficult music and ended with the most difficult one- The Carol of the Bells. Many missionaries visited again for dinner the following day, so the bells were brought out again for another delightful evening making music together. 

Nana leads the music for the musicians. Each bell was assigned a number, so the music is played by numbers rather than by notes. It makes it much easier for children and beginners.

Sarah and Paulina used the leftover pie crust dough to bake up their own little tarts. They were so pleased with their creations and eager to share with willing taste-testers. 

On Black Friday we didn't go shopping. Instead we stayed home and Nana baked up a storm of gingerbread for the children. It's a tradition to do gingerbread houses at Nana's (she is truly a gifted gingerbread artist and usually creates a rather large masterpiece each year). She built 8 little houses for the children so they each had their own creation to work on.

Watching the gingerbread bake and eagerly waiting for it to be done....

We spent a delightful afternoon decorating houses while watching The Muppet Christmas Carol (another tradition in the Kingsley home- they always watch this when decorating gingerbread). 

The candy houses were centerpieces for the rest of the holiday week.

Grandpa Kingsley loves to do puzzles, and he always has a puzzle table set up during the holidays. He joked that he was slightly OCD about puzzles, and couldn't leave it alone until it was done. 

I did happen upon this rare sort of scene- Grandpa Kingsley coloring with the littlest of the Littles for an afternoon. I love these little moments. 

Here are other glimpses of the holiday:


 What a treasure it was to spend this holiday with grandparents! We cherish the time we get to spend in their home, and love creating memories together. I'm so thankful to be associated with such good people who love the Lord, serve their community generously, and share their love so freely. There is never a word spoken of criticism, and the hours fly by rapidly as we laugh together. This house is just overflowing with joy all the time, which fills my little soul.

I get a glimpse of what heaven is like when I'm in this home- and my heart is filled with gratitude that families can be sealed together forever. What a priceless gift the gospel is.