Thursday, December 13, 2012

Family Gift Guide

With Christmas less than two weeks away, I'm feeling the pressure to finish up my shopping.  Family gifts aren't hard for me, Grandparent and bachelor brother ones are. Hmmm, I wonder why? :)

Need a gift for a family on your list? Read on. Here's a compilation of a few things our family has benefited from.

Coming from the mom perspective, this mitten tree I received for my birthday is a must-have for any family living in a snowy wonderland.  No more wet hats and mittens lying all over the floor, and no more wet mittens when its time to head out into the cold again.

1. 2.
1. Our summer vacations usually consist of  road trips, and I have to say this family car organizer looks like something that would be worth it's weight in gold.  I hope I am not the only one with a cluttered, messy van every road trip that thought.
2. Our portable DVD player was a life saver on road trips (now our van has one built in).

1.dinner games2.3.

1. It has a funny title, but this is the one game my kids request regularly, whether we're at the table or not.  Dinner Games gets everyone involved (even my anti-board game hubby!), creates lots of laughs, and encourages creative story telling. We received the beginner version as a gift years ago and still love it.
2. Family game nights are a great idea, so why not create a box or basket to get the party started?
3. Outdoor games such as croquet or bocce ball are great ways to get everybody moving, from the littlest ones to the grandparents.


Reading before bed is one of my fondest memories as a child, and one I am passing on to my own children.
1. We love reading about life on the prairie in Laura Ingalls Wilder books.  I'm love re-reading this series.
2. The Magic Tree House series is something that interests both my four year old and my eight year old.  And the fact that these books are educational as well as fun is like icing on the cake.
3. Highlights and the new High Five magazines get devoured in this household. Or rather they did. I need to renew our subscriptions!
4. Who doesn't get a laugh out of The Family Circus or Baby Blues comic library books?!?

1. 2.Limited Edition CamelBak Groove Water Bottle (Blue)
1. These crazy straws look like pure fun.  I would not like to clean them, but I know my kids would love to drink from them (and now I can't find where these are sold)!  Birthday party anyone?
2. Staying hydrated is a constant challenge around here. I've found (especially in the summer time) that it works best if each kid has their own special water bottle to tote around when we're out and about and when they're just playing in the back yard. It means less trips to refill (water bottles pictured from, tupperware, and camelbak).
3. We don't have these plates, but I know they'd be a big hit.  I wonder though, how many moms get fed up with the kids playing with their food on them? :)

Memberships to local zoos or museums are a great gift for a family that will get used over and over again and will be enjoyed by everyone.  You can't beat the gift of an educational experience!

So there you have it, a list of some of the things my family loves (or would love).
I hope it's inspirational!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Four Books

I think I recently said that I hardly ever sit down with a good book anymore.
Well that didn't sit well with me.
I need to take the time to do the things I enjoy.
Its how I maintain my sanity.  Its how I manage to continue on, and to do so happily.

Sometimes taking the time to do something I enjoy means shopping for fabric and pulling out my sewing machine.
Sometimes it means finding a quiet place to sit and write.
Sometimes it means palming some sandpaper, then a paintbrush to breathe life into some piece of furniture.
Occasionally it means I make a mess in my kitchen baking sweet treats.
And rarely, it means I come home from the library with a stack of books.

This week I read four books in four days.

Somehow I still managed to bring every child in for a teeth cleaning, run the Sunday School Christmas program practice, babysit for a friend, bake some bars, fold some laundry, and make dinner every single night (and that's saying something! Dinner is not my strong point).

It's kind of a wonderful feeling.

My house is crying for my attention now though (goodbye books. For now).
Especially as I am hosting a cookie exchange this evening.  Fun times ahead!

Enjoy your day and your weekend! Treat yourself by filling it with something you love!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

November Wrap-Up

With the kids eager to "deck the halls" tomorrow when they get home from school, I need to put November behind me.  And I guess one way I am doing that is to play catch up in one big blog post. 

We've been busy.  But I feel like I can say that every single week now.  I have these lovely images in my head of a new quilt on my bed, home-sewn stockings hung, a little kitchen update that involves sawing boards and paint, and well lets just face it - I simply don't have the time for it all.  I hardly ever sit down with a good book any more as it is.  And that's saying something. 

This put a smile on my face. Even if its not me sitting down to read. :)

So back to our month of November.  We woke up to snow one morning in mid-November. The kids pulled in all the totes of snow gear, played outside for hours, then left my dining room draped in wet clothes for another few hours. I vowed to myself that I would get a handle on wet snow gear this winter.  And two days later, an early birthday gift arrived in the mail! It's a mitten tree and I don't know why I didn't think of one before.  Thanks Mom!  I'm one step closer to wrangling winter paraphernalia.

Freestanding Tubular Steel 14-Branch <em>Mitten</em> Drying <em>Tree</em>

Then I blinked and two weeks flew by.  And it was almost time for the church fundraising craft sale as well as Thanksgiving.  So I spent a couple days sewing up some corn cozies.  

I don't think many sold, but we love ours. We heat them up before bed and put them at our feet; I always keep one in the freezer for tight neck muscles that bring on migraines, and they are the best sore back relief when heated.

With the kids home from school on the day before Thanksgiving, I decided  we all needed a break from my pie baking (I actually only had to make two pies so I guess we were just getting out). We headed out to the woods near our house for a picnic lunch.  

The simplest of things, like a picnic in the woods, 
are sometimes the best things.

We enjoyed our Thanksgiving and being with family that weekend.
And you already know how much I enjoyed my birthday.

Now I am ready for December and all the fun, crazy, and sugary things that means.
I decided not to send out Christmas cards this year (I'll send them out every other year) and I don't know if that is a contributing factor to my enthusiasm-without-the-stress I'm feeling this Christmas season, but I'm going to enjoy it (come to think of it, perhaps it has a lot to do with the fact that my baby is 14 months and not 2 months old)!  So bring it, December, I'm ready to get my Holiday on!

A not so-very-safe but oh-so-funny
way to share a candy cane with
your baby sister.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

My Birthday

I have a bunch of things I want to post about, oodles of pictures to share, and not a whole lot of desire to sit here on the computer.

But the one thing that keeps popping into my mind is my birthday (it was on Black Friday).
And the fact that my hubby baked. me. a. cake.
Yes, he baked me my favorite cake - a Texas Sheet Cake!

While I was out for a hike and lunch with a few friends, he was baking.  Dean, the guy who enters the kitchen only after a meal is done. The guy who claims to only know how to cook breakfast foods.  The guy who usually picks up an apple pie or cheesecake from the store every couple years for my birthday.

And the fact that he planned a party for me, invited my friends, and saw to everything...lets just say I felt very spoiled.  I still do actually. I am blessed with wonderful friends and family.

That sure beat the typical day of mothering and housekeeping.  I could go for a few more birthdays landing on Black Friday.  Since that is one of Dean's work Holiday's, I get to run around by myself. And it keeps me from seriously considering the ads. ;)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

What I really am thankful for

I'm keeping it real. Some days it's all I can do to just get through the day, or the hour. That's all I'm going to say in advance about today's post.  So beware.

We decided to keep our five year old home from school this year.  We just didn't feel he was emotionally ready.
Oh my heavens, I don't think I was ready! For the long, exhausting days you have with a bored five year old. Seriously, I knew I would have to work extra hard at keeping him occupied and challenged.  The boy counts to one thousand for fun, for pete's sake!  But I had no idea it would be this challenging.  And wearying.

He's already tired of all the worksheets and workbooks.  They keep him occupied for about half an hour.  That leaves 7 1/2 hours to fill until the school kids come home from school.  I'm already tired of the constant queries of "can I play nintendo?"  My answer remains the same "no, you know you cannot play except on the weekends".  I wonder how long till I crack and allow it again (which I know from experience will cause all kinds of other behavior problems).  He plays about every day. I'm scrambling to find what else we can fill the days with.  Perhaps its time to attempt story hour once again. Or order some science and math kits.  Or something. Because he keeps me on my toes.

And some days I want nothing other than to take a nap.
The other day I lay down in bed after putting the pizza dough to rise, if only to rest my eyes since I swear I'd been up hourly each night for the last week with one sick kid or another.  It wasn't too long before I heard three children in the bathroom, one of whom was saying, "Donny should we put your toothbrush in the toilet?" Yes, that would have been the five year old.  The same boy that stuck a long bead up his brother's nose. Where on earth do they get these ideas!?!? 

Before I could tell them to get out of the bathroom, there was a crash and I heard the two remaining frames above the toilet shatter on the tub and floor.  Now I added "and shut the door behind you after you come out of there!"  I resigned myself to the fact that there is no such thing as naps for mom who has three pre-schoolers. I resigned myself to the fact that a bored five year old will usually resort to physical stimulation, especially my five year old who loves nothing more than to wrestle and rough house with his shrieking little brother. They were going to run and screech until I sat them down to supper. 

The busy bee boys

As I cringed, waiting for the inevitable bump of head onto floor or sharp corner, I vaguely remembered that I was supposed to be being thankful. It crossed my mind, albeit briefly, that I should be thankful for healthy, robust boys.  But before that thought could lodge itself too firmly in my mind, I looked at the clock and sighed with relief.  Thankfully, Dean would be home in only 40 more minutes. The clock couldn't tick fast enough.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Thankful People are Happy

The best kind of weekend is the one where I'm surrounded by my own little family.  When my hubby's at the kitchen table studying, the kids are at the counter sipping hot chocolate, and I'm pulling cookies out of the oven.  Oh, and classical music is playing while snow is falling gently outside, powdering the ground.

Okay, okay, I admit that these kinds of weekends are rather storybook.  And they are rare for us.  I mean how often do we get snow, and how often are Dean and I not feeling pressured to get this or that done, and how often do five kids coexist peacefully for an entire Saturday at home!?

Yet storybook our weekend was.  And it was a welcome respite after a week of sick kids and a month of busy weekends. I couldn't help but pull out my camera every few minutes and try to capture what I was feeling.  How does one photograph contentment? Happiness?  Better yet, how does one bottle it up for the less than perfect days that life doles out? 

I did try to capture my beautiful day.  And these images might as well be bottled for the feelings they bring me when I look at them.
This is my family.  This is my life. 

For this I am thankful.

I came across a quote today that makes me wonder if I just might have it all backward.  I was feeling content and oh so happy with my life.  The happiness led me to pick up my camera.  Seeing the images made me realize how blessed I am.  
Should I not be thankful every single day, whether it is a perfect day or not?  Will being more thankful lead to more happiness?

This month, I will work to be more thankful.

 It is not happy people 
who are thankful.
It is thankful people 
who are happy.

Friday, November 2, 2012

When I Hike the Grand Canyon

Tonight my love is sleeping at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
In a two person backpacking tent. 
Without me.

Ah, but I hope he is having a good time.  And that he's safe and not too sore.

I am good here at home.  I'm good staying behind and holding down the fort.  

Because before he left, I tried on his pack.  And I about died.  At the thought of carrying that thing ten miles down the Canyon and what must feel like 50 miles back up again.  

As we don't own a scale, I have no idea how heavy it was.  Lets just say that it was heavy enough to make me certain that my legs would be limp noodles after only an hour of hiking if it were mine.

I think if, I mean when, I hike the Grand Canyon, we'll be making reservations to stay in a cabin at Phantom Ranch.  I have a bad ankle after all, I couldn't risk carrying a heavy pack.  And I'm a slight build, I couldn't possibly carry something that is half my weight without seriously injuring myself.  I'm used to carrying babies around on my hip, not something three times that weight on my back!

Makes sense, right? Are you with me?  I'm not acting like a pampered princess, am I?  :) 
Maybe don't answer that.  
Instead, enjoy these pics from one of Dean's previous Grand Canyon trips.
I'll be sure to tell you all about it when it's my turn to go and I get carried down the Canyon on a mule.
(Hey!  Now that's an idea!)

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Giraffe Kisses

Have you ever been kissed by a giraffe?

Brant has.  I wasn't fast enough with my camera to capture it, but here's his immediate reaction afterwards.

If you want bragging rights too, go to Out of Africa Wildlife Park, hop on the safari ride, and stick the giraffe treat in your mouth.  You just might be rewarded with an 18 inch black tongued giraffe kiss.

Yes, the park is that cool.  Check it out some time.  We had a blast.

Top right and bottom pics taken from the safari ride.  It's an ideal way to tour a zoo. No walking!

Monday, October 29, 2012

A Cowgirl Birthday Party

Oh my, I just had a bit of Christmas.
Christmas as in family filling my home.
Family sharing our space and kitchen comfortably- sweeping up, doing the dishes, emptying countless trash bags of paper plates and cups, holding babies. Family filling our yard, adults visiting, children playing.
And Christmas as in piles of gifts.
Except these were birthday gifts, and they weren't mine.

Aubrey and her cousin Aliisa share a birthday.  Yesterday we threw a cowgirl party for them.

Birthdays around here are usually pretty small affairs, but this time I couldn't resist making this fun invitation. Or the sign for the front door.

I had a ton of fun setting up, and imagined taking pictures of all the little details.  But once we arrived home from church with guests already waiting...well, lets say I wasn't running around taking pictures as much as I was running around hostessing.  The day literally flew by (and looking back, I'm glad Aubrey and I had a few hours together, just the two of us, shopping and eating out the day before the big party. I got to enjoy her and be more present).

The day could not have been more beautiful'! It was great to see everyone relaxing in the sunshine in the back yard, visiting or running about, hollering and shooting their toy guns.

We ordered fun paper products and a dozen colorful bandannas for all the kids. For games we did a balloon boot stomp and played pin the tail on the pony.  Then a couple of Daddy sheriffs walked up with Wanted posters and "arrested" the birthday girls for growing up and being so cute.  Poor Aubrey gets embarrassed as easily as I do!  I don't think she'll want to be thrown in jail in front of everybody at any future events.

All in all, I count it a successful day.  Especially if everyone else had as much fun as I did!

Now I'm wondering how long till our home can be filled with family once again, because it was wonderful.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Letting my kids know they matter

I now consider my family large.  Somehow, going from four to five children has qualified us as an officially "large family". At least in my mind.  Because this is the point where I shake my head and wonder how other moms make it look so easy.  How other moms don't lose their sanity managing such a large brood.

To the strangers I meet at the grocery store, I have my hands full, lots of helpers, the patience of a saint, and my own basketball team. And about a dozen other sayings that I'm sure many of you have heard.
None of them are true! Except maybe the basketball team one... in five years when they can all get the ball into the hoop.

No really, none of them are true.
I do not have it all figured out.  I do not have all the answers. And no, you should most definitely not bow down to me.
I'm just a mother trying to do her job, and trying my hardest to keep my head above water and stay half a step ahead of the pack.  I make mistakes all the time. I say and do things I regret. I want to crawl into a quiet hole to recoup and actually think clear thoughts on a monthly basis. Okay, make that a weekly basis. Daily?

My recent ponderings have me mulling over my children and how being a part of a large family affects them.
You see, I want each of my children to feel valued and loved.  I want them to know that they are special and unique. I want them to know that I believe in them, and I want them to believe in themselves.

But I have five children.  It's not that I can't love each of them, for I certainly do.  They each are so different, they each bring different joys and gifts to our family.  Its that I hardly have time to think clear thoughts, let alone remember to act on them.  When the school children come home, the amount of noise and activity in this house increases ten-fold.  When its time for dinner, it increases twenty-fold.  Bedtime, 50-fold.  I have all I can handle just trying to keep some peace as I feed the brood, get homework and chores done, ready them for bed, and finally, quietly slip out of their dark bedrooms.

And it is the school children I worry about most.  I demand a lot from them, as they are the most helpful and responsible. The youngest ones demand so much of my time and energy that I worry that the oldest ones feel lost in the shuffle of daily life that equates to busyness and sometimes chaos in a large family.

How do you show your children, especially the oldest ones, that they matter?

This question keeps swirling around my mind as I try to praise them and thank them for their help.  I try to schedule Mom and Child dates.  I occasionally slip notes in their lunches. I try to really listen when they are telling me about their school day.  I try to give lots of hugs.

Some nights I lie awake and wonder, is it enough?  Do they feel as important and cherished as the babies?

Do they feel confident?  Do they feel worthy?

I am not naturally a physical or demonstrative person.  I am working hard to change that with my children.
It is slowly becoming easier, slowly becoming second nature.

Last night, as I was in the kitchen, Aubrey and I were talking about a song she liked called "If I were a mother, for just a little while".  After we sang a few fun made-up versions of our own, I surprised myself by thinking clearly for a change and making up a song, special for her.  I sang that if I were Aubrey, for just a little while, I'd hug my mommy daily because I know she loves that, and I'd keep on being so beautiful and so cute just as I was.  Basically, if I were Aubrey, I wouldn't change a thing - I'd just be me.

And my heart still clenches at her reaction.  Her smile, her beautiful smile, turned kind of shy and kind of pleased all at once.  My heart sang and my inner self jumped and cheered, chalking up one point for this busy mom. Ideally, I'd get five points in a day, but I'll take this victory.  I'm getting there.

My prideful self is gloating at my humbled self;  I'm making up for a past grievance.
Last week, with a few crabby toddlers at my feet and supper sizzling on the stove, I lost my temper and snapped at my oldest.  I caused tears to pool in his eyes.  I made my little boy (because at 8 he really is still so little) feel bad.  My humble self frowned at me (heavens how I try to avoid giving my kids that look, though the disapproving look slips out so easily!), shook her finger in my face, and crossed her arms.  She made her point, quite clearly.
I sometimes move forward one step, then fall back two more.  Am I ever going to come out ahead?!

But you know, perhaps I worry too much.
The other week Aubrey said to me "Do you know where my favorite place is to be? Home!"

My prideful self is fist pumping again and chalking up yet another point!
My humble side is thanking God for these precious children I get to call my own.

Mother's Day 2010.  I need a new picture of me and my kids!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Instead of laying on the beach

Once upon a year, Dean and I were able to run off to the beach on a whim.  I remember one Thursday I came home from work (as a Nurse's Assistant at the hospital) and told Dean that I wanted to go to the beach.  The next afternoon we were on our way to San Diego.

Last week, I wanted to go to the beach, and on Friday night, we started looking for hotels.  It actually was a perfect time to go.  I was all caught up on laundry, I had cleaned the van inside and out, and the forecast for Monday in San Diego was sunny and 90 degrees! But my hubby talked me out of it. Gosh darn his practicality and his full plate at work! We were so close to throwing swimsuits and clothes into our suitcase! Oh how I wish I was posting beach pictures...

Instead, we spent our weekend exploring around home.  Saturday we went for a family hike to Red Mountain - one of the coolest places we've been to.

Sunday we drove out to Wupatki Ruins (I forgot my camera).  On our way home, and after spending two hours in the van, Dean asked me if I got road tripping out of my system. :)  
Yes, by the way, I did. But I did not get the beach out of my system.
I'll be checking the forecast in San Diego again in another week.

From our Red Mountain hike:

The trail is actually a dried out wash leading up to the Red mountain, a cinder cone that is shaped like a U, exposing the inside of the volcano.

My little hiking buddy trekked the first mile and a half on foot.  He cracks me up with his backwards binoculars!

This trail is perfect for kids - it's 3 miles round trip and the destination is well worth the hike.

The place is like a mini Bryce Canyon.

Our kids climbed and explored until their hands were chafing from the rough rock.
The motley crew:

Well, some of them anyway.

On the trail back, we had a view of the distant San Francisco Peaks.
I love that I can associate them with home.  Is this view not gorgeous?!

Hike it sometime!

Monday, October 1, 2012

The one year old boss

You'd think I'd have this whole parenting gig all figured out by now, but no, this little girl continues to make me doubt myself.
I think you could safely say she has me wrapped around her little finger.  And as it's a very tiny finger, I wonder how she managed that?! Maybe that says more about me than her, so maybe we won't go there!

She's one year old (Oh, where did the time go?)!  
She's an early riser.  She started walking a week before she turned one.  She loves to look at pictures of faces. She knows how to sign 6 words.  She leans in for a kiss when Dean leaves for work. She waves goodbye to any bus or garbage truck she hears. She melts my heart on a daily basis with her smile.
She's still nursing, and I love our bonding time. 
I only wish she didn't love it so much and that she would eat more real food.  My problem is that I'm thoroughly wrapped around that little finger of hers, and when she signs that she'd like to nurse, well what's there to do but take her out of her high chair and settle down and nurse her?  Never mind that we're trying to cut back on the nursing and never mind that there is food for her on her tray. And never mind that some day we are actually going to have quit. 

It's not that bad, really. I think she signs 'eat' and 'more' just as often, if not more often, than she signs 'nurse'.  So she does eat, but she's just so picky.  She wrinkles up her nose at just about everything I put in front of her.  This girl won't even drink apple juice! I've found that I just have to wait her out, and she'll eventually eat.
She reminds me of another girl I know that asks for a peanut butter and honey sandwich for her lunch every single day.

This girl loves her baby doll.  She signs baby by clasping her hands together in front of her then moving her clasped hands back and forth.  Cutest. thing. I've. ever. seen!

Perhaps I should teach her to sign 'sleep'.
Nursing sometimes feels like such a conundrum.  I love the quiet moments we have while I'm nursing her. But part of the problem is that I nurse this girl to sleep. At 7 pm, the last thing this household needs is mama hiding out in the bedroom for 25 minutes to nurse the baby to sleep.

Sleep.  You'd think I'd have it figured out by now, but no, baby number 5 is still the boss, just like all my other babies have been, even at one year's old.

She's a pretty darn adorable and precious boss, though.  I'll keep her.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

When Goodwill's ugliest chairs take up temporary residence in my home

One evening a month or so ago, as I was out and about by myself (rare!), I swung into Goodwill.  It was a spontaneous stop (I had just read about and seen pictures of some crazy amazing junk transformations) and my purchase was even more spontaneous.  Because I really wonder if I would have bought these beaut's if it had been a normal day of the week.
But no, it was a day I was feeling antsy to get my hands dirty and make something beautiful.  A day I craved a creative challenge.  So...
I came home with Goodwill's ugliest chairs.

No seriously, they were ugly!
I got into my van and actually laughed at myself.  I couldn't believe I was bringing Goodwill's ugliest chairs home.

Behold the peeling, faded, 80's-upholstered ugliness.

Really, the pictures do not do them justice.  They looked like they had been on your Grandma's neighbor's back patio, covered in cobwebs, beaten by the sun, and washed in the rain for the last 30 years.

But I thought I saw their potential.  Aren't those curvy lines the coolest?  And get this - they swivel!  And they're actually pretty comfortable. At $5 each, I just couldn't pass them up. I had an itch, remember?  I couldn't wait to transform them!

The first thing I did was wash, then lightly sand the frames.  They each got primer and a few coats of white lacquer spray paint. In all honesty, they probably could have used another can each, but I'd already emptied three cans onto each chair!  My fingers were sore, and I was trying to be cheap!

The next step was fabric. I was picturing a modern fabric in blue or green with white lines, perhaps mimicking the lines of the chairs. Something like this Waverly fabric:

But alas, I live in Flagstaff and our fabric pickings are slim. Plus, I was trying to find something on sale.  I came home with something I liked well enough, but wasn't in love with.

When it was time to reupholster the cushions (btw, I have never done anything like this before), I thought I was being so clever and so meticulous to take apart the cushions, trace them onto newspaper, and carefully plan out the placement for each "pattern" onto my fabric.

I thought that was the hard part, since I had opted to do without piping or zippers.
I thought that was, until I started sewing.
Once again, the curves had me muttering under my breath something about putting square objects into round holes.  I do not have any idea how the original cushions edges looked so smooth because mine were filled with ripples and puckers.

Anyhow, behold Goodwill's ugliest chairs now:

I'd say they are a lot less ugly.  Kind of pretty, actually.  

If I could do it again though, I'd go with an off-white paint, or a fabric with crisp white in it.
I was initially less than pleased with my upholstery work, but once I quit staring at them so closely, like I was when sewing them, I got over it.
So, not too shabby.  
But then I realized they wouldn't work in the space I had imagined them in.  I just don't have the room in my sitting area, or out on the patio, for two chairs.  Darn!

I moved them outside for a while, but got tired of the cluttered patio.  
I put them up for sale on Craigslist.
It is with slight reluctance that I will watch them go.  
I put a lot of hours into those chairs. And I do like them. 
But not enough.

Next time, I will buy the fabric I love.  
Actually, next time, I will probably leave the upholstery work to the professionals.