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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Best friends

I rediscovered this picture recently- it's a selfie of Nathan hiking in the Appalachian Mountains during one of his business trips to Virginia. He sent it to me to share the beauty of the Smoky Mountains. (He might be mortified I shared it, but I do so love this picture! If you're reading this and the picture is gone, you'll know I took it down just for him.)

I just have to say how much I love this man. I'm so blessed to have him as my eternal companion. He is constantly showing his love for me, and I am humbled to be the recipient of so much affection.

He takes delight in serving me in the most delicious ways. He loves to cook, but more importantly, he loves to cook me any dish that can dazzle the senses. I really dread cooking. I'd rather scrub toilets than cook on most days, so I really appreciate his knack in the kitchen.

He loves to make wonderful meals for the family when he's home on the weekends, and he delights our taste buds with amazing breakfasts every Saturday. This week Saturday breakfast was hot homemade biscuits topped with fresh lemon curd, peppery-and-sweet glazed bacon, hot herbal tea, and a fresh fruit salad made with apples, bananas, pineapple, dried apricots, almonds, and Greek yogurt. Scrumptious! It makes every weekend feel like a special holiday to be enjoyed.

Today I was in the mood for a hearty lentil soup to accompany the dark rye bread he made yesterday. He wasn't particularly in the mood for lentils, and wasn't even hungry- but he spent an hour making a delectable soup just because he knew I'd like it. He didn't even have time to eat any before leaving for his barbershop practice this evening. When I expressed my embarrassment that he made this meal without any intention of eating it, he swept me into a kiss and said he is happy just to give me joy. If lentil soup was what I wanted, that's what he'd make, personal preferences aside. How did I get so lucky?

He makes hearty homemade wheat bread for our family at least once a week- 6 loaves at a time. We all adore hot bread fresh out of the oven, topped with a bit of melting butter and a drizzle of honey.

I really appreciate the way he leads our family in spiritual matters. He has been so lovingly guiding family scripture study each night as we read the New Testament together. He is such a gifted teacher, and he does a great job of engaging the children in the verses and helping explain how Christ's teachings apply to our lives today. I love the way he leads with love and encourages our children to follow the Savior's example. I love holding hands with him every night in couple prayer and feeling our souls drawn together as we talk with the Lord. He is such a spiritual strength in our home, and I truly cherish this aspect of his character.

He makes life so fun in a variety of ways. He makes me giggle by doing an exaggerated pirouette when I'm feeling cantankerous. He livens our house with his playful guitar music. He is so enthusiastic about enjoying the magical moments with our kids each time they are proud about creating something new. He makes chore time fun, dancing and laughing with everyone while we clean the kitchen together.

He makes me laugh every day. He makes me feel beautiful and cherished every day. I adore him!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Day at the Beach

I was blessed with a fun client this month- a library near the beach hired me to perform in their town. Since my travel fees are the same whether I drive alone or whether I take along the entire family, we decided to have Nathan take the day off work and join us for a family excursion. What a treat to have a free family trip!

We've lived in Texas for ten years, but have never taken our family to a Texas beach. Appalling, I know. There's no excuse, really. So away we went to create fun memories. 

After my performance, we all drove to a pleasant beach in Rockport, Texas. The beach here is raked daily, so there is no washed-up seaweed, jelly fish, or lingering trash. It's also located in a very shallow lagoon, so there are no rough waves to contend with. (Matthew had a nasty encounter with a fierce wave the last time we were playing on a beach in Delaware. He came out of the water with a scraped face and very bloody nose- no fun!) 

We loved how gentle the water was here, and the lagoon was very shallow so we could wade out into the water for a hundred yards and still have water only four feet deep. We really loved this beach and decided we simply must come back again in the future. It was SO family-friendly, dotted with playgrounds, picnic tables and shade umbrellas. 

The kids played in the water for hours, riding the waves and catching all sorts of fascinating crabs along the sandy ocean floor. They begged and begged to take home some hermit crabs they caught, but luckily for the crabs the children agreed to set them free again. 

The birds here were a riot. They had a keen eye for anything that could possibly be edible. There wouldn't be a bird in sight until we opened a container of food. Then the air would be filled with dozens of seagulls, hovering right over our heads and waiting for any chance to steal a bite of dinner.

We brought out some stale bread to feed the flock, and had great fun letting the birds eat out of our hands. I always love close encounters with wild animals (although it's debatable how 'wild' seagulls are). It was almost magical watching the birds hover right over our heads. We couldn't stop laughing....even though after a while it was slightly creepy having so many birds watching you for their dinner. 

Nathan and the Big Kids all ventured out to play in the ocean, and Joseph was terrified of the water. So I stayed on the shore to play with him. We set out to build sandcastles for a happy hour. We built entire villages of little sand houses, then Joseph would growl like a monster and stomp all the houses down. He would act like a T-Rex in a growly voice, then switch to a teeny high-pitched voice to represent the villagers and say, "Aaaah! Run away!"

Later Sarah joined the fun and helped make several sand towers for Joseph to stomp down. He thought this was the best game ever. 

Nathan fired up a grill and we feasted on a picnic dinner we had carefully packed that morning. It was a bit of a trick eating dinner without losing any food to the daring seagulls, but luckily they weren't too aggressive. They would only close in if we weren't watching them. Here Joseph is keeping a careful grip on his last bite of dinner while the birds watch and wait. He'd walk away from them, but the flock would steadily follow him anywhere he went. 

We enjoyed beach-combing together, collecting pretty shells as if it were a grand scavenger hunt. Daniel and Matthew found the most lovely shells of the day. 

I am so thankful we finally had a chance to go to the beach, and we really enjoyed every bit of our stay. We played and played for hours until sunset, then started the long 4-hour trek back home. I wish we lived a bit closer to the ocean and could do this more regularly, but I'm immensely thankful we were able to visit even once. Days like this are such a privilege. I'm very grateful we were able to share this experience together and create memories. Life is such an adventure, what a blessing we get to share it!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Joseph's birthday

We started a new tradition this month with birthday cakes. Instead of piping on the phrase "Happy Birthday", we are piping on a phrase that the birthday child says often. It's a fun way to personalize the cake and make it unique.

The phrase Joseph uses the most lately is "Just kidding", and he'll laugh like it's a great joke anytime he says it.

It wasn't until after I piped the phrase that I realized it looked like we were playing a mean joke on him. "Happy Birthday, except we're just kidding. It's not really your birthday. Tough luck, kid." He loved it though.

His passion this year has been digging in the dirt, so we made a dirt-themed cake for him. (By the way, did you know it's pretty much impossible to pipe frosting onto a crumb cake? You probably did. I didn't, which is why the letters look kind of creepy and wobbly....there was no way on earth that frosting was going to stick to the cookie crumbs covering the cake. Live and learn...)

We added gummy worms all over the cake and made a worm border around the base.

This morning he loved running though the streamers we hung from his bedroom door...except at first he tried to keep them nice and perfect by carefully crawling under them. It took a bit of convincing to get him to run through them.

The birthday child gets to pick the  meals all day, and this funny boy really adores oatmeal. Matthew kept trying to convince Joseph that he'd really prefer fruit crepes compared to oatmeal.....but Joseph knew well enough what he wanted. So, oatmeal it was. The bigger kids weren't so enthusiastic about breakfast (we have oatmeal almost every day, so it's not special to them), but they ate it anyway.

The big kids all worked so hard making birthday presents for Joseph. In particular, Matthew and Sarah worked for days creating a giant castle playground out of some large boxes. Darn it all, I didn't get a picture of it, but their attention to detail was interesting. Matthew cut out construction paper bricks and built an entire fireplace and chimney inside the castle. He even cut out a brown roast chicken and made a turning spit for it, then carefully made layers of flames in yellow, orange, and red paper. It looked so great, and he worked on it for days. Another creative feature was a large framed portrait of a person, titled "Our Noble King". The face was cut out so Joseph could stick  his face in the hole and be the King. On the outside portion of the castle wall this cut-out hole was framed with a poster saying "Wanted. Huge Reward", so Joseph could be the bad guy if he wanted to switch characters. So fun.

They hid the huge box in my bedroom while they worked on it, then dragged it out into the family room on the Big Day so Joseph could play with it. He was SO delighted and they all played for hours.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Reading, reading, and treatment updates

We've been doing a lot of reading the past few days- the kids read their fiction and I have been reading everything I can about scoliosis cases and treatment options, bracing difficulties and the psychological impact of bracing a child. I'm feeling much better-equipped to be Sarah's advocate as we move forward with treatment, and I'm understanding better exactly what we have ahead of us for the next few years.

I've been reading a gem of a book called, "Straight Talk from the Curvy Girls: Brace Yourself for What you Need to Know". (Love all the puns in the title!) It's full of individual stories by several teen girls who have scoliosis and addresses all their struggles, successes, and worries. It's also full of informational chapters, which are packed with helpful insights.

When I read some of the memoirs, I cry when I think of Sarah's upcoming journey with scoliosis. It's tough to know she has a rough road ahead, but I'm finding comfort and strength reading how so many girls found this experience to end on a positive note- after years of struggles, they learned such confidence and gained a powerful inner strength. I'm hoping Sarah will have similar self-discovery.

I have faith that this journey will help her grow and become the strong person a loving God wants her to be. I know He gives us trials tailored to our needs, and He is trying to help us grow into the beautiful person He sees inside us waiting to be awakened.

I am reminded of the allegory of the fruit tree that was painfully pruned but needed the pruning in order to reach it's full potential. I believe this is why Sarah was given scoliosis as her trial, and I hope our relationship grows to a new level as we walk this path together. Already we've been blessed with many bonding moments as we've researched together, talked about her concerns, and made a game plan for treatment.

I have tried to keep things positive as much as possible. We don't often buy clothing new- thrift stores and garage sales are our routine way to get clothing. However, the body brace makes fashion VERY tricky, and there are some necessary purchases that just can't be done second-hand. So earlier this week we had a Night Out shopping for the mandatory special undershirts that will help protect her skin from abrasion with the brace. It was so fun for her to get to shop at the mall and find colorful seamless tops that will work (Have you ever shopped for seamless shirts? Super hard to do! She can't have any seams under her brace, and requires a shirt with sleeves to help protect her underarm area from getting scraped.) After hunting in several stores for several hours, we finally found what we needed, and she is looking forward to wearing these tops.(Thank goodness J C Penny had exactly what we needed!)

She will be wearing the brace for 22 hours each day. That's such a lifestyle change and the brace puts severe limits what she can do. Clothing is VERY tricky since most clothing just can't be worn with a body brace. We are planning another shopping trip for the day she gets her brace in 2 weeks. I'm hoping that will help make a difficult day have a pleasant ending she can look forward to. (Getting braced for the first time is emotionally draining and sometimes traumatic, and it hurts for the first few days. Tough stuff to face.)

One thing we discovered is that any time she spends in a pool doesn't count against her hours out of the brace. The water supports her body, so Swimming Time = Freedom Time. We also learned how important it is for her to be strengthening her back muscles to help counteract the atrophy that happens with scoliosis (one side of the back grows bigger and the other side atrophies, which makes the spinal curves worse). So we have started a YMCA membership this week.

The kids are so happy to have access to pools and water slides, and we all have been enjoying our time there. Wednesday we were there for 4 hours swimming and exercising. Sarah, Matthew, and I enjoyed swimming laps for about an hour- I was surprised at how much they enjoyed racing me over and over. Yesterday we were there for another 4 hours- there are so many neat group classes to attend that I am reluctant to leave!

We have decided to use a therapy used in Europe for 90 years called the Schroth method. It's hard to find doctors in the United States that practice this, since it's still 'new' to this hemisphere and the common 'treatment' here is to just wait and see what happens, then do spinal surgery to fuse the spine when the curve gets really bad. I don't agree with the Wait and See philosophy, and have extensively  researched this method of helping scoliosis curves remain stable. The Schroth Method is customized for each patient's spinal curve and works on strengthening the necessary back muscles to help straighten the curve. It doesn't cure scoliosis (there is no cure), but it can help prevent surgery. It's not a guarantee that she won't need surgery, since some people have curves progress no matter how hard they work to prevent it- it's a genetic aspect of scoliosis that is out of our control. But we're going to do our best to improve her chances of success as much as possible.

The nearest doctor we can find practicing Schroth Physcial Therapy is located several hours away in Houston. That sounds so far, but it's actually a huge blessing-  the next-closest Schroth therapist was in Boulder, Colorado! We were very grateful to find this doctor so relatively close to us! Appointments are done daily in an intense 2-week period.So we are working out logistical plans right now trying to decide how to make this work before moving forward. Wish us luck!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Cheery Cherry

I wanted to take an art class to further my talent development, but the nearest community college is a 40 minute drive away, and one class would ring in a hefty price tag of nearly $1000. Add in the price of gas, and it's even more jaw-dropping. So I searched online for courses in a variety of universities, but came up empty. Art just isn't offered as a correspondence course anywhere I searched.

After some more perusing, I found an online art school taught from England. His first lesson was free, and it was this still-life study of a cherry:

This project was painted with acrylics on a 9x12 mounted canvas.

I really enjoyed creating this piece and learning new techniques. I started it late one night after the kids were in bed and finished it around midnight. It took around 2 hours to do, which is very fast (for me) since he did all the analyzing for me and just told me which colors to use in each part. It's the thinking that takes so long for me....when I paint, it's around 80-90% thinking and 10% putting the brush to the canvas.

Anyway, I'm excited to do more classes and stretch more. I view myself as a very rudimentary artist and I'd eager to grow in ability and confidence.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Sunny Blossom summer library shows

I've really enjoyed performing my "Reading is Magic" show at various Texas libraries this summer. I've discovered I enjoy performing the silly magic shows much more than I originally thought I would. It's such fun being onstage and I love the exaggerated body language of slap-stick humor that the children find so side-splittingly funny.

I enjoy being goofy and making the kids laugh, and there's such a positive energy that comes from a live audience. It doesn't feel like 'work' at all for me, which is delightful. I get paid to have fun, score! I really enjoy doing magic shows that have a positive message. 

Here are some glimpses from my summer shows this year.

Sometimes one simple comic gag can have the kids literally rolling on the floor with laughter. It's so fun! This is a snapshot of my favorite part of the show. Any time I bring out my magic rabbit, Mr. Bingley, he steals the show. The kids love his silly antics. I say Mr. Bingley has been reading books about magic because he wants to be a magician. Then he tries to do several different magic tricks, but he's always trying to cheat and the kids catch him in the act over and over. 

Then he does a Disappearing Balloon trick that is pretty funny and  not at all magic. This part of the show is really just a comedy routine, since no magic  happens with Mr. Bingley. 

I love to use lots of onstage helpers, and I try to use silly costuming as much as possible since the kids think it's hilarious. Here is a glimpse of our Magic Recipe trick, where we mix several silly ingredients to try and bake a cake together but it turns out to be worms instead. 

With her special Clothing Protection System, Hair Protection System, and Eye Protection System, she's ready to bake. Now add a magic wand (or two or three....I LOVE the multiplying wands) and she's ready to work some magic. 

After the show I sign autographs, give out publicity prizes to the kids, or take pictures with audience members. 

This boy was so shy he was almost crying in terror, but the mom was really really wanting him to pose for a picture with me. He wouldn't have any of it and she was really insistent, so I pulled out Mr Bingley. 

I haven't met a kid yet who didn't want to take a picture with Mr. Bingley- little girls even ask if they can hug or kiss him. He works wonders. (I've smuggled him to church in my Sunday bag and had him join the Nursery class I teach, and he's always welcomed with adoration there, too.) Puppets are such effective tools for working with children, and I toy with the idea of adding another bigger puppet to my show. 

After the shows I usually give out miniature balloon dogs made from beads instead of balloons (they are super cute and never pop). I tell the kids to find my magic phrase on my Sunny Blossom Facebook page, then they line up to tell me the secret words and choose a prize. The secret phrase is sually something along these lines: Reading is Magic, or Every Book is a Magic Book, or Books Are Like a Magic Carpet, or Read to Succeed. They love picking out a beensy little poodle to take home!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Family Portraits

One of my art students had a parent who runs a photography business. We agreed to swap a semester of art lessons for one full family photography session. Boy howdy did I want to do this swap. Our last professional family portraits were shot almost 4 years ago! It was far past time to update our walls.

We shot pictures in a town nearby where there was a lot of variety for quaint urban scenes, and my friend did such a great job working with the kids. I'm so excited to print these babies off and use them in our home.

So we learned an important lesson during this photo shoot: always shoot the family group photo first. The next picture was taken at the VERY end of the shoot, when we had been taking pictures for over an hour during a hot Texas summer day when we'd all rather be indoors in the AC. The bugs were inescapable and biting like crazy by this point (see Daniel scratching his leg with his foot?), people were thirsty and the water bottles were all empty long ago (see how disgruntled Matthew is about that?) and we were all 'done' with taking pictures.


I won't be hanging this one on our wall, and it's a shame I can't crop the picture so it just is a snapshot of Sarah and Joseph, they look so cute.

Maybe I'll get lucky and I'll get another art student with a photographer for a parent and we can swap again. We'll see.

Overall, I'm still quite pleased with the portrait session and I'm thankful we had the chance to do them. I'm printing off our favorites today and mounting them on our family picture wall. It amazes me how quickly these Littles are growing! 

Cleaning Day memories

Today was a Cleaning Day. While the family worked together on Kitchen Duty, Matthew and Daniel asked if they could mop the floors together. They spent half an hour or so laughing together and working side by side.

I put on some cleaning music and they were doing interpretive dance as they scooted around the kitchen scrubbing the floor with their feet. They were boogie-ing all over the place and really getting into it, so I ran to fetch my camera. When I arrived back on the scene, a new song started. It played a slow, dramatic ballet this is what I caught:

They continued dancing, giggling, and cleaning for several more songs. Not wanting to be left out of the fun, Joseph also found some rags and came to party. 

Look at these little legs! I love the stories these legs tell. They are dirty from spending the morning climbing trees and playing in the dirt. They have bug bites from exploring the underbrush in the goat pasture. They have scrapes from running and playing and bumping into things while they enjoy life's adventures. I love it!

These boys are always finding ways to make life more fun and eliminate the mundane. I love the way they see life's little pleasures in every thing we do. They sure has a gift for making little events more memorable- I really love their enthusiasm for life!