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Saturday, November 22, 2014

In the Spotlight- Joseph!

Favorite Color-  Blue (except some days he declares "Blue is no longer my favorite color. Today it's Red. Red is so colorful!)
Favorite bedtime lullaby- Winnie-the-Pooh theme song (which is strange since he's only seen t he movie once) and Itsy-Bitsy Spider
Favorite books- Are You My Mother? and The Hungry Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear
Favorite breakfast- Oatmeal! He laughs in delight any time we serve oatmeal.
Favorite lunch- Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich
Favorite Dinner- Oatmeal (we don't let him pick dinner very often!)
Favorite movies- Blues Clues, classic Sesame Street episodes, and Kipper the Dog
Favorite game- Cranium Hullabaloo (but when he plays by himself, he cheats. When the game announces which pad is the winner, he quickly hops onto it then dramatically gasps and acts surprised before shouting, "I won!"
Favorite thing to do outside- ride the tire swing or dig in the dirt. I can't tell you  how many household objects have been smuggled outside and re-purposed as shovels. Spoons, butter knives, screwdrivers, and even paintbrushes are common sights in our dirt patch.
Favorite chore- Collecting eggs. It's like Easter every day, and he never loses the thrill of discovering fresh eggs.
Favorite past times inside: Building train tracks, reading books, playing with playdough, or painting. (Unfortunately sometimes he climbs my studio bookcases to the top shelf, sneaks into my professional acrylics and turns his body into art. Luckily so far he's been meticulous the 2 times this happened, and paint didn't stray onto any furniture but stayed nicely confined to his body.)

Some of the things we love about Joseph- He is almost always happy, and lives life with exuberance. His laugh is a full-body laugh, with his head tossed back, knees bent, and hands clutching his stomach in glee. He laughs over the most mundane things, making life delightful. For example, no matter how often I serve PBJs for lunch, he always laughs in delight and acts like it's a rare treat to be savored.

He knows he's cute, and knows how to maximize that power by deliberately striking adorable poses or using cute voice inflections. (Actually, when strangers comment, "You're cute!" he usually replies with a nod, a shrug, and in a matter-of-fact voice and says, "Actually, I'm cute and adorable."

He loves scripture time and always gets his own little Book of Mormon when we gather to read (even though the rest of the family is currently reading together in the New Testament, Joseph still insists on bringing his Book of Mormon and pretends to follow along with us on random pages). He waits very eagerly for his turn to read, then pretends to read a verse (which he actually ad-libs). If I try to whisper the words to a real verse in his ear to repeat, he often gets indignant and states confidently that he can do it on his own. He loves to listen to scripture stories in the car while we commute 20 minutes to the school when we pick up the Big Kids each day.

Random fact- When it's time for bed, he has a particular way of sleeping with his special blanket. He lifts up his shirt to expose his tummy, then carefully places the blanket on his naked skin and pats it lovingly into place. (His special blanket is a soft sheepskin-style blanket that was a gift from his Aunt Lamby. This blanket was originally white and grey, but it's now looking more like light grey and dark grey after so many trips through the laundry and adventures with a busy toddler!)

Friday, November 21, 2014

Cold weather, toddler art, and a tangent

Today the cold front arrived with a will. Our poor little chick-lets were super cold this morning as they ran around with their  mother. They don't have enough adult feathers yet to stay warm in such cold conditions. As the children were leaving for school, Daniel brought in a chick with a worried expression and begged me to help it. It appeared to be dying. I thought at least I can make it die in comfort, so I cradled it in my hands in front of a heater while it twitched and spasmed in my hands, it's cold feet tickling the palms of my  hands. After several minutes, the twitching slowed down but the chick wasn't dead yet. So I prepped a little box for it in front of the heater and went about my morning chores, checking on the chick occasionally. After a few hours of being fed and watered near the heater, it appeared to rally and behaved normally. So we fed it again and set it free outside to rejoin it's mother.

With the cold weather here, I thought the children would enjoy hot cocoa each day to warm the body. So Joseph was my eager helper to make homemade hot cocoa mix, thanks to the great recipe from Alton Brown. It only took 5 minutes to create the mix. Joseph was so happy to help, and was even happier to taste test a cup of steaming coca afterwards. It's really good!

Today Joseph drew his first dinosaur. He asked me to draw a quick one for him to copy, then he quietly worked on his version for several minutes in deep concentration. Not too shabby for a three year-old! He has the spinal plates, one dangling foot, two big black eyes (floating in the belly...somehow the head was not drawn separately from the body), part of the belly stripe (in the lower left corner), and a decent tail. He was so proud of this creation!

To be efficient with our energy consumption, we love to do a lot of bottling in the winter. It's the best time of year for it, since the summer is so shockingly  hot and bottling (or cooking) anything in the summer months is just a really bad idea. So Joseph and I cooked up a huge pot of beans and bottled 7 quarts of black beans and 14 pints of white beans today. We love to use beans in our family recipes, and I love the convenience of having bottled beans on hand. It works so well with my bagged dinner method, and I like to have spare bottles of beans on the shelves for impromptu use.

Today Joseph cuddled with me while I read books to him. His head was in my lap and I played with his hair with one hand while holding the book up in the other hand. I love the way his eyes get droopy and unfocused as he drifts off to sleep. It was such a treat for me to hold his sleeping little body and listen to his slow breathing. I kissed his soft hot cheeks, flushed with sleep, and held him for two hours while he napped.We were all snuggled deep in our favorite blanket- a plush zebra blanket I've had since high school.

That reminds me! My high school bedroom was so eccentric, decorated with animal print on everything and a large collection of exotic crafts from around the world. My walls were thickly covered in wooden African masks, various Chinese fans, and assorted folk instruments from Romania, Peru, and China. Every flat surface was filled with Mexican pottery, exotic animal sculptures carved in stone or wood, and handmade dolls from Russia, Australia, and Uruguay.

These were mementos from all the years of participating in the Idaho International Folk Dance Festival, when a dozen folk dance teams from around the world would live in our little town for 2 weeks of daily performances, parties, parades, street fairs, picnics, and tours. We often hosted dancers in our home and built unique friendships that spanned the language barriers (they usually did not speak any English). In my teen years I was blessed with the service opportunity to be a Team Manager of the Mexican dance team. We formed such close friendships as we spent all day, every day together.

What fond memories I have of these festivals! Truly, it was a wonderful experience of overcoming differences to share humanity's common love of music and dancing. What a cultural celebration it was! I dearly miss this and each summer find my self longing to be back in Idaho with my children to share with them the magic of the festival.

Oh heavens, what a long tangent this was! Yikees!

Monday, November 17, 2014

October Little Things

Matthew had a chance to accompany me to another corporate gig this month. I worked for Intel's Corporate Offices during their Fall Fest and brought Matthew along as a line manager. He was so excited to come along and was a great helper getting our station set up. I was told to expect around 500 guests during our 4-hour gig, but the event was surprisingly much slower than expected. Most of the time, Matthew didn't have any clients to interact with, so he became frustrated that he couldn't do his job. Luckily one of his best friends arrived with his family, and our friends invited Matthew to join them in the festivities. Boy howdy was he excited to spend a day enjoying the carnival games with his little friend. From my vantage point near the office, I could see the little group of boys running from one activity to the next, enjoying cold slushies, winning cool prizes, and sword-fighting in the obstacle courses. It's nice to take along a child with me when I work; I love the opportunity it provides for one-on-one time during our commute.  On our long drive home we were able to chat about so many things: his interests, his concerns, his hopes.

In October our family painted mini pumpkins for one of our FHE activities. It was such a delightful evening together, crowding around a table that was loaded with paint supplies. Everyone was so creative and we used the pumpkins as decor all month long. Matthew was particularly attentive to Joseph and helped Joseph with many aspects of the project. My heart thrills when I see my Littles helping each other, and I cherish these little glimpses of love in action.

Daniel mostly enjoyed mixing colors. He'd keep adding new colors to his palette and mixing them all together until he ended up with brown. He had a great time watching the swirls of color blend together.

The pumpkins were lined up along the windowsills of our front windows, peeking out at any guests arriving for the day.

Unfortunately many of our little pumpkins were eventually damaged by little toddlers using them for bowling balls, so only a couple were still picture-worthy at the end of the month. Here we are:

I LOVE Sarah's pumpkin on the right, painted with a spooky cemetery and bats. These were such fun to create. 

I need to mention Sarah's amazing babysitting skills. She is such an excellent babysitter and really throws her heart into her job whenever I hire her. She always plans out the funnest season-appropriate crafts to create with Joseph, so they always have projects to show me when I get home from a date night with my sweetheart. This is what they created during my last temple trip:

There is a hand-print spider with wiggly eyes, skeleton hands made with Q-tips glued onto white handprints, and a puffy ghost made with cotton balls. Joseph is always so excited to show me the neat creations he makes, and he just adores Sarah. 

One time I came home to discover a little special necklace created from one of those round, lidded plastic containers that delivers prizes out of cheap vending machines. You know the kind I'm talking about? You buy a little ring and it comes out of the machine in a little bubble-shaped plastic container. Anyway, Sarah cut a slit in the lid and threaded pretty ribbon through it so the plastic bubble hung like a medallion around his neck. Then they went outside and caught the most perfect roly-poly bug they could find. The bug was carefully placed inside the plastic bubble, and Joseph was able to wear his pet bug all afternoon. He felt so in love with this little bug and named it (although the name he chose currently escapes me). He carried it all over the house and would hold his necklace up high so the bug could have a better view of his tour. Sometimes they would open the necklace, take out the bug, and play with it in their hands for a while before carefully putting him back inside his temporary home. After a few hours, Sarah encouraged him to let the little bug go free again so it wouldn't die. Oh what a heart-breaking thing this was! Joseph was so disappointed to see his little buddy disappear again, and he wept after the bug was gone. When they later made a craft octopus, Sarah asked him to name the creation. He excitedly chose to name it "Roly Poly" in memorandum of his little friend. 

Another night for FHE activity, we played Scripture Charades. This is a game we created where a person mimes any scripture story of their choice and the family tries to guess it. What a delightful activity this is! We laugh together at each other's antics and enjoy each other's company. I'm so grateful for FHE and the way it provides regular opportunities to create lasting memories, instruct our children in Christ's teachings, and strengthen our friendships. What a blessing it is!

I haven't really posted anything about my art classes on this blog, but wanted to mention it. I am teaching four art classes one day a week while Joseph attends preschool at a nearby church. This semester I've taught Art 101 (a class exploring a variety of mediums: ceramics, pastels, painting, collage), Beginner Acrylics, Advanced Acrylics, and another Art 101 class. I haven't remembered to take pictures of the class projects most of the semester, bummer. I finally remembered to snag a snapshot of a couple of paintings before they went home with students. These two students are aged 6 and 8, and their art looks so fantastic. I love seeing what these little girls can create. 

Thursdays are my Crazy Day, when I really have no down time from sunup to sundown. After I help the Littles get ready for school and packed off with Dad into town, I spend the morning cleaning up from last  night's DI disasters. 

Our DI team meets at my house on Wednesdays after school from 4:30-7:30, so there is no time for my Littles to do their regular chores that day. They squeeze in their homework time after DI and before bed, but there's no time for anything else (other than family prayers and scriptures). And there is no time Thursday morning for chores due to an early-morning orchestra class that begins an hour before school starts, so the kids leave for school at 6:40 AM. There's just enough time to eat breakfast, pack lunch, and get ready for school. 

I clean for 2 hours to get the house ready for clients, then they arrive. I scheduled my classes back-to-back so I can maximize the hours Joseph is in preschool. Each wave of students arrives just as the previous ones leave. I usually don't have much time to eat breakfast or lunch on Thursdays, so I usually fast until dinner or grab a quick bite between classes while I'm cleaning up from one class and setting up for the next one. It's pretty busy. After the third class, I pick up Joseph from preschool and head into town to pick up the Littles from their school. We drop off carpool friends and arrive home just in time for the next art class, and I teach another hour while my Littles either join in the class or babysit Joseph or work on homework. After the final class ends at 5:30, we have one hour to eat dinner, finish homework, and do chores. Then at 6:30 we head into town for the church youth activities (Sarah attends Young Women's and the boys attend Cub Scouts). We arrive back home around 8:45 PM, past the kids' bedtime. To maximize our commute time, we usually listen to an audio recording of scripture stories on the way home to speed up our evening routine for bed. We walk in the door, everyone quickly brushes teeth, we say family prayers, and tuck everyone in bed. Whew! (Next semester I've switched the art classes to a different day so it won't be the same night as the church youth activities- that should make things MUCH easier!) 

And here  is a late post of the First Day of School picture. I realized I shared it on Facebook, but not on my blog. And since I keep intending to print my blog into a hardbound family journal, I need to share it here as well. This year the kids are attending a charter school based on the classical education model. Daniel is entering third grade; Matthew enters fifth grade; and Sarah begins sixth grade this year. 

Here are other Facebook notes I've rediscovered that shared Little Things that I don't want to forget: 

Today I had the most lovely time Visiting Teaching an elderly sister in our congregation. I love visiting her home each month and helping her understand how much God loves her. I can't really put it into words, but our souls connect in a very deep way, and I just feel overwhelming love for her. We laugh together and pray together and read scriptures together (and occasionally I can convince her to let me help with the dishes). I am so thankful for the inspired Visiting Teaching program and how it perfectly helps us do as the Savior asked and 'feed His sheep' by serving and loving people one-on-one. Today was beautiful beyond words.

Oh heavens my heart is full today. I feel full of peace and God's love for all His children. I love the power of the Spirit when I help do family history work! It's such a blessing to me. Today I had the privilege of finally printing off my accumulated research so I can take it to the temple this week. I am joyful beyond words for these precious souls, and I feel such a connection to so many of these people that I've been blessed to serve. I hope you have a truly wonderful day!

Fun thing...Joseph just had a HUGE epiphany. He realized there are ABCs all over the house, not just in books. He's squealing in delight and running room to room, pointing out with ecstasy all the letters he's finding on things. And singing the ABC song on the top of his lungs. He just screamed/laughed crazily when he found letters "even on my BICYCLE??!! MOM! They're EVERYWHERE!!!"

We picked up two violins today after school for the boys' orchestra class that starts next week. Matt is already busily watching online tutorials and learning how to play a song. I'm surprised he is so excited about playing violin- I hope the novelty doesn't wear off any time soon!

Blech. Today I'm feeling so sick. I'm staying in bed with Joseph, reading to whatever books he picks. When I made this suggestion, this sweet boy squealed in delight and begged me to read illustrated scripture stories. I love his choice of literature. Maybe I'm doing something right as a parent after all.

I'm driving down the road. A nice new truck pulls up next to me, matching my speed. I glance over at the driver, and it's a teenage boy (who must think he is cool since he was shirtless?). His body language and revving engine imply he wants to race with me. I roll down the window and ask him: "Really?!" Yep. Lucky for him I like games. I left him in the dust. I felt a little bad he had a cab full of friends: they all saw him get beaten by a 'soccer mom' in a minivan full of kids. Suh-weet.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Sarah's Birthday

In our house we have an early-morning tradition regarding birthdays. Nathan and I wake up extra early to decorate the birthday child's door with balloons, streamers, love notes, or other decorations. When the sun rises, the entire family sneakily gathers outside the bedroom door and sings a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday to wake up the birthday child. Then the lucky one gets to run through  the streamers just like a runner crossing the finish line in a race. Sarah makes this tricky, since there is no way on earth I am waking up before her. This girl wakes up at 4:00 AM every day, and I am lucky to get out of bed by 5:45 AM. When I crawl out of bed, she's always dressed and ready for school, with her lunch packed, hours of home work finished, and often has spare time to read a riveting fantasy novel before it's time for breakfast. She's such a chipper morning person, and I'm such a stubborn night owl (no matter how much I try to change my sleeping habits, I'm just NOT a morning person.). So the night before her birthday, I decorated her door around midnight and gave her strict instructions to stay in her room until we sang to 'wake' her up. She cheerfully obliged and we had a happy morning celebrating this tradition with her.

Breakfast today happened to be apple pie because the grocery store was doing a promotional and giving away free apple pies. Score! The pie was actually supposed to be the treat for Family Home Evening the day we bought it, but the pie took MUCH longer to bake than we thought (it was a frozen pie), so we fell back on enjoying home made mint chocolate chip ice cream for the FHE treat, and saved the pie for breakfast. I tell you, were these kids ecstatic about having PIE for breakfast. Life doesn't get much better, if you ask them.

After breakfast Sarah opened her birthday gifts. This year her first gift was a much-awaited Percy Jackson book. She was so eager to peruse the pages! She also received the book titled, Beauty, by Robin McKinley. As a bibliophile after my own heart, she was ecstatic with these gifts.

Books! (Here I close my eyes and inhale deeply, imagining the tantalizing scent of book pages). She also received a nice sweater for her school uniform (and was so happy to wear it today- the first real cold front of the year arrived today!). Nana and Grandpa Kingsley sent a fun Lego Friends set and a package of birthday cake Oreos. Sarah and the Big Boys were so excited to work together on assembling the new Lego set. Joseph was also eager to help, but was banished from the room since he kept stealing and losing the pieces. All the parts were meticulously found and secured back in place and Joseph was entertained in another room with story time.

This afternoon was our last riding lesson of this semester. It was pure delight! Sarah and I are confident enough with horse handling that there was never a moment of uneasiness or fright while we rode. Once again we played and explored in the large park near our home. The air was crisp and cold, numbing my ears and fingers. The setting sun was beautiful, and the late-blooming wild flowers were gorgeous. I absolutely love horse-riding, and loved watching Sarah in control of her steed. Her long hair was unbraided and glinting in the golden sunlight while flowing in the breeze. She looked like a girl from a fairy tale. What neat memories we created today playing in the woods.

Dinner was her favorite meal: chicken pot pie. She could eat this every day I think, and never tire of it. Since it was a nippy day, we brewed a big pot of home made Aryuvedic tea to accompany the meal and warm us up. I love the recipe we use! (Thanks again, Ashley, for the great tea set and recipe!)

Sarah's birthday cake was a humorous affair. Yesterday Nathan, Sarah, and I worked together to create a frozen cookies and cream ice cream cake, made with layers of cookie, rich fudge whipped cream, vanilla ice cream, and cool whip. It had three layers of everything, and was frosted with cool whip and crushed Oreos before being carefully placed in the freezer. Well, somehow this free-standing cake got the wiggles overnight, and slumped over, sending layers of gooey ice cream cake over the edge of the cake board. What a site we saw today when we opened the freezer! The cake looked like it had gotten very tired, and leaned over for a rest. Joseph was mortified and was convinced someone sat on it, so we laughingly claimed it was a cake delivered by Hagrid (remember in the Harry Potter books, when Hagrid accidentally sits on Harry's birthday cake?). Sarah didn't mind at all and was just excited to eat the cake. So we carefully placed the twelve - TWELVE!- candles and sang Happy Birthday.

Everyone adored the cake, and agreed the flavor wasn't compromised in the toppling-over it had experienced.

Tonight after we read scriptures and said family prayers, I read to the children excerpts from our collected family history stories. I have several bound books and binders filled with pictures and stories of our ancestors. It was a delight to read aloud and share some of their life stories with the children. They were so interested in these stories, and eager to hear more about our past. I'm so thankful to the many family members who spent time collecting and typing up these stories for us to cherish.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Halloween, multiplied by four

Halloween wasn't celebrated once this year; instead we had four wonderful Halloween events to enjoy.

1- Our ward Trunk-or-Treat kicked off the season the weekend before Halloween. I didn't get pictures of everyone, but  there are a few snaps I shot before people ran off to find friends.

Nathan loves Halloween, and loves making creative costumes each year. His birthday is in October, so when he was a little boy he thought Halloween was his special holiday.  This year he created a costume of Han Solo encased in carbonite. Then he created the bounty hunter's helmet for me out of several sheets of cardstock. Yes, cardstock. That man spent hours carefully cutting out dozens of helmet puzzle pieces with an exacto knife the weeks before Halloween. Then he carefully folded and glued everything to create this helmet. That, my friends, is true dedication to the holiday.

Sarah went as a vampire, Matthew was a masked ninja, Daniel sported a pirate costume, and Joseph wore the cuddliest lion costume ever. Don't judge me on the face painting here, I had literally 5 minutes to do everyone before we dashed out the door.

Joseph was hilarious. Anytime we dressed him in the lion costume, he'd lay on the floor and just stroke his costume. It was silky-soft, and he loved cuddling with it. He would hug himself and whisper, "It's SO soft, oh I love how soft it is! It's like my blankey!"

One night it was actually a bit of a trick to convince him it was worth getting up to attend the festivities

We loved enjoying our traditional chili dinner (Nathan spent 6 hours creating his white chicken chili, and it was the first pot empty at the dinner) outside in the cool fall weather. The trunk-or-treating was such fun and the children loved sorting their treasures and trading with friends under the glow of a street light. Matthew's favorite candy this year is Twizzler licorice, so he happily traded away all his chocolates to get a hefty stash of licorice.

2- Our neighbors invited us to attend the Halellujah Night at their church on Oct 30th, so we did. I just can't say 'no' to an event that happens so near our house- the Cowboy Church is less than a mile away. When everything else is such a long drive away, I am grateful to support a local event. We had such a lovely time playing carnival games and winning prizes. The Littles tried the cake walk many times, and Daniel was the winner from our family. He was SO excited to pick out a prize from the table heavily laden with full-size cakes. His choice was a large cookie-cake made with chocolate-chip cookie dough. We have enjoyed this cake for 3 days now!

Sarah's favorite carnival game was a Puppy Rescue game. There was a dog crate tightly filled with various stuffed animals, and the door was locked shut. Children were handed a large key ring packed with dozens of keys, and they were allowed to pick 3 or 4 keys and try to open the lock. If the lock opened, they were allowed to choose a stuffed animal for the prize. If  a child failed to open the lock with their first couple of tries, the grandmother hosting the game would whisper sideways from behind her hand which key to use, so everyone eventually won a prize. Sarah was delighted with her stuffed pink poodle.

3- Halloween night itself was a bit interesting. I was hired to paint faces at a library in another town, but the timing to things meant I was forced to take my kiddos along. Yikes! I've never brought my entire family to hang out unattended at a job site, but there were simply no other options for me that day. We live so far away from the kids' school that it wasn't an option to take them home before heading to work. So.

I felt super unprofessional having a family of four kids with me, and even made a game plan to pretend they weren't with me. I entered the library first, and the kids had instructions to enter several minutes later, pretending they were there alone (or maybe their parent was in another section of the library). I worked in my corner of the kids' area, and the kids read books in another area of the kids' section. Sarah and Matthew did an AMAZING  job of watching Joseph for 90 minutes in the library while I worked.

The librarians put two and two together and realized they were my kids at the end of the gig when we were the only people left. They told me that the kids were all so helpful with the activities and well-behaved (there's a huge sigh of relief!) and said the kids were welcome to come every time I was hired in the future.

We decided to skip the door-to-door trick-or-treating since we already had large bags of sugary treats. After we arrived home, we enjoyed a family picnic in the music room with pizza as we enjoyed a festive family movie. I remember Hocus Pocus being so funny as a child, but I was seriously unimpressed this time. I'm not sure why I ever loved that movie, but it's definitely not a keeper for us. I'm glad we only rented it instead of buying! We also stayed up playing Spooky Charades as a family, and enjoyed Daniel's prize cookie cake for dessert.

4- The highlight of our Halloween season is always our neighborhood hayride. Nobody goes trick-or-treating here on Halloween night....the  houses are too far apart and the driveways are so long and dark, and the property gates lock out potential visitors. Instead, we all gathered for a neighborhood hayride on Nov 1. Residents volunteer to hand out candy at different locations in the neighborhood, then 8 large trailers full of hay bale seats pull the families around to each location. Oh heavens, it's such fun!

We all met at the park to load up the trailers, then each trailer began the trail about 5 minutes apart from each other. This year I was handing out candy at one of the stops. It was such fun to wait in the dark for the children- the stars are very brilliant here since the cities are so far away. The night sky is one of my favorite things about living here. I sat quietly looking at the stars and listening to owls until I could hear excited children's voices approaching through the thick trees. My family was on the last trailer, so I eagerly climbed on and joined the ride after passing out treats to the final group of children. Usually I miss this tradition each year since I'm always working for Halloween parties. Since it was scheduled the day after Halloween, I was available to join the celebration. What a treat it was to create these memories with my family!

The families in our neighborhood decorate their houses in such fun ways for this night, lighting the long path up their driveway with strings of orange or purple lights. Some houses looked very spooky as we pulled up through a long dark driveway with huge, dark oak trees touching branches over our heads like a tunnel,  blotting out the sky. One house hosted a haunted trail the the local teenagers created for the night. They crafted a spooky story and teen guides led groups of people through the dark woods to be spooked by hidden zombies and monsters. Another house served hot apple cider along with the candy, and everyone loved warming up with it.

The night was nippy, so near the end we cuddled down in the hay and watched the stars overhead as we rode between houses. There are only about a dozen stops for the night, but this hayride takes over two and a half hours to complete. We enjoy every bit of it, and the children love laughing and chatting with new friends as we creep along the dark country roads.

We're so thankful for all the neighbors that volunteer each year to help run this event. It's so life-enriching and we  look forward to it every year.

Oh, here are parting glimpses of a few of our festive decorations for the month. I love re-using the potion bottles I created last year for Sarah's Harry Potter party. We had run the party as a Day at Hogwarts, filled with magical classes. The Potions class was everyone's favorite, and the bottles work well for Halloween decor.

This year I've delved into sewing again. It's been such a treat to be creative with fabric after a year off. This month I made a few festive table runners with quilted fabric. I love the splash of color they add to each room!

I made them reversible so they can just be flipped over for the Thanksgiving season and I don't have to get out a new box of decorations for November. I love it! I hope to make reversible table runners for more holidays. 

Here is the back side of the runner, ready for Thanksgiving.

I also finally finished these spooky place mats this year. I had purchased the fabric 3 years ago, and just never had time to finish them. So we always just put the cut fabric in all it's raw-edged glory on the table under the plastic table-top. This year I finished them with a reversible pattern on the back so -you've guessed it- we can flip them over in November for some festive color. 

Friday, November 7, 2014

October General Conference

Playing catch-up again, as seems to be the normal way I run things around here. General Conference in October was a wonderful weekend for us full of family traditions, delicious food, and uplifting words by God's prophets. Oh how I look forward to this weekend every year! I like to say it's like Christmas for the soul!

We cook up a feast for the weekend every conference, adding to the celebratory spirit of things. Nathan cooks up delicious crepes that we enjoy for breakfast each day, topped with sliced fruit, yogurt, whipped cream, Nutella, or peanut butter. Our family favorite is a chocolate crepe topped with banana, peanut butter, Nutella, and whipped cream. Oh it's delicious! 

Every year we put together a family puzzle while listening to one of the sessions, and this year the puzzle was a lovely Eric Dowdle painting that was created to pay homage to his favorite band (which we also happen to really love), Imagine Dragons. We really enjoyed working on this creation as a team. Puzzles are such a great way to help the children listen quietly to conference, and we love the bonding time.

Each year we have different ways of helping the children pay attention to the words being spoken, like Conference Bingo or other activities. This year we did a snack bar labeled with words. Each time they heard 'temple' spoken, they could collect a piece of cheese popcorn to put in their snack bowl. Each type of snack or treat has a label, so they are usually picking up a snack every minute or so. 

They loved collecting a variety of snacks and enjoyed eating them while we listened. Joseph was really excited for this activity and would get SO excited every time he heard words from our list.

Then Nathan decided to secretly add a bit of humor to the snack bar.

I absolutely love these two days of spiritual feasting. What a privilege it is to live in a time when God's prophets speak again. Oh heavens, how I delight in General Conference!

The words filled my soul, uplifted and encouraged me, and helped me see more clearly where I need to repent and improve. I cherish these words and study them for years afterwards. This week I've enjoyed listening to these talks all over again on my MP3 player while I clean or sew. I don't think I will ever tire of re-visiting the same talks over and over again, pondering the wealth of wisdom and trying to live a better life.

I am so thankful we have these conference twice each year, creating a weekend of intense learning and worship. It initiates some introspection and reminds me most powerfully who I really am and why I'm here and where I want to be going. It's such a pleasure to shut out the noise of the world and focus on the things of God for an entire weekend.

Today I am blessed with the chance to go worship in the temple with my husband, and boy howdy am I excited! I've been looking forward to this day for weeks (October is always too busy for me to sneak away to the temple- it's the busy season for body artists.). This school year I have been doing genealogy work each Tuesday while Joseph is in preschool. Today I will have the privilege of taking in over 350 names I've found in the last few months.

I am excited beyond words! I have felt the Spirit so strongly with some of these names as I searched and searched for their vital records. It's a bit like detective work, or a delightful puzzle, trying to piece together the story of a person's life through government records. And there is such euphoria when I finally find the missing clue that lets me piece together a family at last. I have truly felt the exhilarating Spirit of Elijah in this work, which I am very thankful for. That spirit transforms a service that sounds rather boring (hours of research and paperwork) into something vibrant, exciting, and personally satisfying. That alone is a miracle, I think.

I really believe that some of these people have been eagerly waiting to be found and have the opportunity to have their temple work done. I have felt such a deep spiritual connection, and a love, for many of these people. They are not ever just names on a paper to me. I am so thankful for the technology we are blessed with today that allows me to do this work from the comfort of my own home, instead of requiring long trips into town to visit the Family History Center.

I'm positively giddy with excitement to take these names to the temple today! I have the privilege of reuniting families that have been separated for centuries! My heart is just bursting with joy for these families who have waited so long. What a marvelous opportunity for service. Life is wonderful.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Baby goats

There are few things in the world more delightful than fresh baby goats! One of our neighbors is a goat breeder, and she let us come play with her new batch of babies. She has over a dozen little goatlings less than a week old- squee!  They dance and prance and flip in the air and just a riot to watch. The barnyard was dotted with goats in every direction and it was the cutest sight we were blessed to see in October. 

The boys adored these little babies and had so much fun playing with them. 

I feel so privileged to live in a place where our Littles get to experience such fun things as this. Life is so full of wonder and joy, and today I was reminded yet again how it's the simple things that make life amazing.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Horse Riding in our Neighborhood

We are coming to the close of our horse riding lessons, and have really enjoyed the privilege of this experience during the past two months. Sarah needed horse riding time as a therapy to strengthen her core muscles, and we were blessed with an opportunity to swap riding lessons for art lessons. I was pleased as punch that I could join the classes as well- I was obsessed with horses as a young girl, but never owned any. It was a rare treat to ride horses on my aunt's farm in Idaho, so I jumped at the chance to  join Sarah's lessons. 

My kind neighbor has been a fabulous teacher and has really helped Sarah gain confidence. Check out how excited she is for our lesson:

This week was the first time we were riding without supervision, so we decided to explore the riding trails in our rural neighborhood. Our community park has several trails mowed through the undergrowth, making a fun place to explore. For most of our riding time, I rode without a camera....but near the end I snagged it from the horse trailer so we could get a couple shots during the last few minutes. 

This has been SUCH a delightful time for us. Sarah rides an older, more sedate horse while I ride a young barrel racer who competes regularly with it's owner. It does make it a bit exhilarating to have a peppy horse full of energy, although I do still get scared sometimes when she gallops, so we usually stick to a brisk trot and only occasionally gallop. Sarah sticks to walking and trotting, and she seems to enjoy the fun of trotting.

It's such a treat to ride and we are hoping to find more ways of letting Sarah have more horse-riding time to continue her muscle therapy. Luckily we live in an equestrian neighborhood, so we will be exploring options of riding horses for neighbors who don't have time to regularly exercise their horses. We'll see what happens...

Monday, November 3, 2014

Stamps Galore

This month we've been enjoying a lovely unit study all about postage stamps, thanks to the awesome free resources provided by the USPS. The USPS is currently doing a trial for their new curriculum initiatives using stamps in the classroom.

When my home school friends suggested this program, I was expecting to get a little envelope with a couple of lesson plans and a few stamps. I was quite unprepared for what actually arrived. We received a rather large box, heavy with a hundred lesson plans/posters/books, and loaded with hundreds and hundreds of stamps to use in the guided activities.

What a delight it's been to explore every subject with the aid of international stamps! The lessons are very engaging for everyone. We placed several large cookie sheets on the table and poured an ocean of stamps into each one, so they could be sorted easily without and stamps falling to the floor. It was so fun to carefully dig through each pile of stamps, oohing and aahing over the lovely artwork.

One of the activities was to find 10 stamps of the same color, then look up the location of each country where the stamp was originally printed. The kids had SO much fun sorting through all the colorful choices and admiring the stamp artwork. They also enjoyed the challenge of locating some of the smaller countries on our globe.

Other lessons included grouping stamps by science commonalities (find 10 mammals, or 10 insects, or 10 birds, etc), or finding 10 stamps that each display a different form of art (painting, pottery, the portrait of an author or poet, ballet, movie references, etc.). It was such fun hunting for each topic and discussing what each person found. 

One  of the English lessons was a creative writing project. Students had to randomly select 5 stamps, then make up a story that incorporated all 5 of the images from their stamps. This was delightfully fun for everyone. 

Many years ago, I gave Sarah my childhood stamp collection and forgot about it. She was so excited to bring out my old wooden box full of stamps to compare the old and the new. 

 After each lesson was completed, the children were allowed to each choose 10 stamps to add in their personal collection. They had SO much fun selecting their favorite stamps, and the most popular ones were always printed in the Middle East. These lessons were a lovely way to spend a Sunday evening learning together.

Now the children ask me when we can do more lessons with stamps, and they look forward to the next time I pull out our big stamp box.