Thursday, October 1, 2015

my baby is NINE

Nine years ago we were watching General Conference (a semi-annual church meeting we can watch from home) counting contractions, waiting with baited breath for the grand arrival of our fourth little girl coming our way.

A few hours later she arrived, the sweetest little bundle with eleven toes and two "angel kisses" (birthmarks) and the most calm little spirit you could ever imagine.

Little did we know back then how much this girl would bring into our lives. So incredibly grateful for how she has changed us all for the better and for how much we all adore her...despite the fact that that initial "calm" spirit burst out with some serious personality over the years:

So grateful for her feistiness that has helped her get places in life so far!

Soooo many things I love about her but here are NINE to celebrate her NINE years.

1)  She has personality.  She's not afraid to say what she thinks or to celebrate the things she loves.  I love how she feels comes right out in her face, no holding back:)

2)  I love her eyes.  I love how they help her express things that she doesn't even say.  I love that they have given us so much to be grateful for those beautiful pools of blue can see so much right now.

3)  I love how she devours words.  LOVE that she seems to always be holding a book.

4)  I love how hard she works in school.  She was so worried about multiplication this year and instead of just shrinking back because it's hard, she has worked hard on it and is doing really well.

5)  I love how particular she is.  Sure, sometimes it's frustrating when she has to have everything just so, but there's so much I adore, like how she has to say good night at bedtime.  It has to be in a certain order:  hugs and kisses, turn all the lights off, close the door, yell "I love you" in Chinese, taking turns saying each word, then say "Goodnight Lucy!" in a really slow, energetic way.

6)  I love her air hugs she gives me when she leaves for the bus.

7)  I love how social she is.  I love the friends she has picked who are so incredibly sweet to her...and she is equally darling to them.  I love the make-believe worlds they make up and to hear them talking when playing with Legos.  Lucy's friends are golden.

8)  I love her art (as evidenced by the multitude of posts on this blog about it...sorry!)  I love how it is filled with love and vibrant colors and that it helps me see how she sees the world.
9)  I especially love that that last picture because it depicts her relationship with her Savior.  It's a friendly one.  I love to hear her prayers and thoughts about the gospel and to watch her faith grow.

Two posts with my favorite pictures and thoughts about Lucy are HERE and HERE.

Oh boy I love that girl of mine.  Often I marvel at how Heavenly Father knew we needed her.

Love you forever Lucy Lu!

Thanks for all you teach me and for putting up with all of our continual hugs and kisses.  We all adore you forever!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

scripture study

Just like Saturday jobs need to be re-worked over and over again (back here), my scripture study habits sure do too.

Oh boy.

I've always held scripture study in pretty high regard.  I mean, quite honestly, whenever I'm in a pretty regular habit of reading/studying each day my days just seem to run better.  Somehow even the smallest little nugget of spirituality makes me react differently to stress and all the hoopla that comes along.  I'm more happy.  My family is more happy.  

Now, that may seem like kind of an over-glamorization, but I'm telling you, it makes my life better.  So why does it always need to be re-worked?  Why isn't that the central focus point of my day every day?  Why do I let life get in the way?

I don't know.  

But it does.  

So I work at it.  And re-work at it.

All the time.  

We are pretty good with our family scripture study during the school year.  It happens every morning and I love it.  But I'm talking personal scriptures.  That time when those wonderful stories wash over me and teach me things that "fix" what's going on in my life.

I have a couple coinciding stories to tell that relate to my latest scripture study that is working (for now).

The first is that for the last little while some of the local leaders in our church have been encouraging a new way to study..."read your scriptures for thirty minutes for thirty days."  "It will bless your life," they claim. 

They've mentioned it a few times in a few different meetings and I didn't bite.  Each time it's been mentioned I have thought, "oh, that would be nice, but how the heck am I going to find thirty whole minutes to study scriptures?  This is too busy, too long.  They must not have kids at home.  Sure I can read for a few minutes, but thirty?  That's a whole lotta time!"  Blah blah blah.  You know the excuses.  I'm good at them.
Ok so fast-forward to this one day back in the glory days of having all five kids at home (ha, they’re still glory days, but you know what I mean) that we were sitting at a volleyball game.  It was the first game of the state tournament and we were all a bundle of nerves and excitement (I told a little about that game back in the volleyball wrap-up back HERE).  

We took the first two games single-handedly. 

Then we gave away the next two in some heartbreak points.  

The fifth game tie-breaker (which only goes to 15 points and you have to win by two) was neck and neck.

4-5, then 5-5.  5-6, then 6-6.  When it started getting up to 13-13, all of us parents (and the whole student section) were biting our nails in worry.  We couldn't lose this thing!  We wanted to win state for crying out loud!  We were a really good team!  We couldn't lose in the very first round of state!



I started saying little prayers.  Please!  Get that block!  Yes!  Nice kill!  Oh please!  Come on let's take this!  (Have I mentioned Dave and I were crazy fans during volleyball and tennis season?  I'd think there was something wrong with us until I got to know the other parents who were in the same boat...parents of high school athletes are funny, including us :)

And then, in the midst of all the commotion and hand-wringing and pleading for a win, that little encouragement from our church leaders came back to me:  Thirty minutes for thirty days.

15-16, 16-16.

17-16 for us.

And right then and there I made a little deal with God.  If they could just win this game I would do it!  
I would do the thirty for thirty.  Please just let us win.

And guess what?  We won.

We won that game and it was like we had won the state championships with how that crowd erupted in jubilation.  

As did my heart.

Now, I have to back up here with a little disclaimer: I don't really believe that God is in the business of "making deals."  Some equally crazy mother on the other side of the court could have been offering up the same kind of "deal."  I don't think we won that game that day simply because little old me was throwing out crazy desperate prayers.  Ok, maybe a little, because they were pretty heartfelt I tell you! :)

But I do believe that win or lose that day, that little desperate moment was somehow a perfect time for me to get a little jump start to my reading going.  I'd like to think that if we lost I would have done the same thing I did because we won: buckle down and read that kind of pearly wisdom and beauty that can only be found in the scriptures.

And guess what?  Those church leaders doing the encouraging were right.  It did bless my life.  It made me think so much more clearly.  It made me happy.  I wasn't perfect, I missed two days of those thirty but made up for them doing sixty the following days.  And it made me happy.  Those scripture stories came to life and taught me things...things I had been pondering about...answers to parenting things...helped my days run more smoothly.  I felt that love of God with more clarity.

True to form, even after all that my scripture study needed to be re-worked.  I was better every day in general, but boy, why do I let life get in the way so dang much?  

At the end of the summer with Max leaving and getting ready to head on his mission Dave and I thought it would be pretty great to read the Book of Mormon as a family before he left (on his mission, not to college).  We decided it would be a pretty great way to kind of prepare for that mission right along with him (I hope in some ways we can go right along with him in our hearts).

Right around the same time our annual Book of Mormon challenge with our local congregation came up.  When they asked if we were in, we whole-heartedly said "yes!"  Even the kids.

And it has been pretty great so far.

It combines family scriptures with personal scriptures which I kinda like.  Because family scriptures need to be re-worked too.  Last year we decided, in trying to get our kids to contribute more to the discussion, that they could each have their own day.  Max was on Mondays, Elle on Tuesdays, etc.  Each morning they were to come with a gospel question.  And we would look up answers to those questions in the scriptures. Most days we had to help come up with the questions.  Some days it led to awesome discussions, other days not so much, but it was kind of nice to mix things up from just the normal taking turns reading verses every day.

And this year, since we've all agreed to the "Book of Mormon Challenge," we all try to read the passages leading up to that day and then have a discussion about what we've been reading during family scriptures.

We borrowed the child-friendly scriptures Dave kind of grew up on from his mom for our kids.

There are tons of volumes and I kind of love them.
Sometimes I'll help the little girls catch up at bedtime.

They often try to remember to bring them to read during church.

And I love the new system.

Sure, some days are better than others, but I love the discussions and questions that come up.  Here's the schedule if anyone wants to jump in and join us :)

True to form, I'm a little behind right now.  But I'll catch up.

Because I love having all those stories and wisdom wash over me and give new meaning to the every day things that come along.

By Christmas we'll be ready to send Max off to Taiwan all spiritually ready.

Then maybe we will start on the New Testament next.  Or the Old.  We'll figure out some new way to shift things up.

Send any great spiritual study ideas on over if you have some.  Heaven knows we need them!  But I'm convinced if we keep at it life just turns out better and I'm filled with more love and understanding and joy than I am without those wonderful words influencing me each day.

Friday, September 25, 2015

chocolate chip pound cake {our traditional birthday cake}

One year when Dave and I came home from Virginia for Thanksgiving years and years ago, his sister made him the most delicious birthday cake I had ever tasted.

I got that recipe lickety-split and I swear I have made it hundreds of times since then.
I don't know if that's when it was introduced to Dave's family or if it has been passed down for a lot longer, but it has kind of become a traditional birthday cake for all of Dave's sibling's families now.

It is so darn delicious I figured I better post the recipe here because in my opinion when something is this good, it should be shared.

(Plus I want to be able to look up this easy recipe from anywhere with out searching through my "pride and joy" which needs a little sprucing up lately!)

So here you go:

1 box yellow cake mix
1 pkg. instant chocolate pudding (3.9 oz)
1/2 c. sugar
3/4 c. vegetable oil
3/4 c. water
4 large eggs
1 (8 oz.) carton sour cream
1 c. semi sweet chocolate chips

Combine and whisk together all dry ingredients, add other ingredients and mix until smooth (but don't beat).

Stir in chocolate chips.

Pour into greased and floured bundt pan and bake at 350 degrees for one hour (plus or minus 10 minutes depending on the oven).

And there you have it: the best chocolate chip pound cake you'll ever taste.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Saturday jobs that work

A while back we revamped our Saturday jobs.

And I've been meaning to share the new system ever since because it works!

I've always been a big believer of what I call the "three P's" of cleaning:   

1) PRINT out those jobs so that kids can see what needs to be helps to know there's an end in sight and to see the whole picture of what's expected.
2) Have PATIENCE.  It takes a long, long time to teach kids to do jobs the right way, and to stay calm through all the complaining.  It helps to remember these kids are young, and it's ok if it takes months to learn how do things like clean a bathroom.
3) Be PERSISTENT.  Don't give up.  Once a system is in place stick to it so those kids know that's just "what we do," and we may as well just get it done.

I'm here to say that after eighteen years of mothering the job thing needs to be tweaked and tweaked over and over again.  But I love having a system in place that I can work from.

For years we had long lists of Saturday jobs I would write down according to what needed to be done.  I'd draw my little circles for the kids to fill them in as they go (something passed on by my dad when I was young).

Then we figured out how miraculous it would be to print those things out each week, which we did for years.

Just this year I decided the kids needed more detailed instructions so I wrote down every detail I could think of, things like cleaning out the trash can after you take out the trash or washing inside the microwave, not just the outside, etc.  (since my kids are "old" now they can handle more details).

I printed out five lists, put page protectors on them, and assigned each child one list each month.  At the beginning of the next month I erased those names and rotated the jobs.  

I know that seems simple, but it was revolutionary for me because it stopped all the nagging, stopped the weekly need to print them out, stopped most of the complaining, and things get done.
I just pull those little puppies out of out and stick them on the counter on Friday night (or the kids pull them out if I forget) and they get to work knowing exactly what they need to do before they hang with friends or watch a movie or lallygag (why is "lallygag" such an awesome word??).

They mark off everything they need to do, check in with me so I can inspect their work, and then we wipe off their marks and they are ready for next week.

***note: These lists don't include their bedroom and bathroom jobs they do automatically now.  Sometimes I think I should write all those down too, but I don't want the list to seem so daunting and they have been doing those things for so many years I think their bodies go into auto-clean mode on those things by now.

Claire and Lu were the only ones around when I pulled my camera out the other day, so here they are all smiles that they finished (although I already erased claire's check-offs that day).
At first Lucy's jobs stayed the same, and her list was a little shorter because I'm trying to make sure she's trained properly.
 She's getting pretty darn good at her original list so I am starting to train her on another list.

I still need to tweak these lists...some still need more details, but man it's making our Saturdays pretty awesome.
Teaching kids to work is a tough job.  But once they start to get things down it feels a little bit like magic to me.  Sure, as soon as I feel like I've got things down to a science everything falls apart and we have to re-vamp (take our daily job charts for instance that have remained blank for five weeks...).

But right now this system is a little dreamy to me so I figured I'd share.

Happy cleaning!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Lucy's latest creations

Buckle your seatbelt and get ready for some rainbows.

Because I'm pretty sure Lucy likes those things :)

I know I'm biased, but I have a very deep love for Lucy's art.

Maybe because I've noticed more and more instances where she can't see things that are very obvious and I'm holding on to what she can see for dear life.

Maybe it's all the color she meticulously draws in.

Maybe it's her cute handwriting spelling out some pretty hilarious things.

But I'm pretty sure it's all of the above.

So I have to share.

This one is old, but we came across it when we were cleaning out her stuff for her box from last year.   It's a whole card for her friend Crew who broke his collarbone.  This is the front:
 ...and the middle panels:
 "My mom feels bad for you" with the frowny face is my favorite.

I guess this was when she was in the phase of teaching her class Chinese.
And really, we better calm down on all the gabbing :)

Here's the back:
 Oh man I love her.

I mentioned before how Lucy has a growing collection of toilet paper tubes in her closet.

I've tried to throw them away a few times much to her horror.

Every once in a while she pulls them out and does a few creations with them.  Here's her latest collection:

(This was after we watched "The Incredibles")...Violet, a dog, a cat, and a rainbow unicorn with a little dream balloon up above him.  Not sure what he's dreaming about...maybe another rainbow unicorn?
 Let's get a closer look at Violet:
 Here's the back:
 (Gotta label those things...)

Every year we have "Grandparent's Day" at the school.  And I think there's only been one year that we've had grandparents in town for it (what a grand year that was!).  But when they're not in town I get to be the "grandparent" and I must admit I really like it.  More about that later but here's the note Lucy wrote to me this year...she was SO excited.
 We were "laughing the whole entire time" for sure :)
And you gotta love that she added the little birthday wish in there (I did ask after all).

I had a meeting with Lucy's teacher a couple weeks ago.  I never quite know how much to tell teachers before school starts so I kind of let them figure her out before I make an appointment to go meet with them.  Once again, Lucy has the best teacher we could ever ask for.  Claire had her in third grade too so I knew we lucked out as soon as we saw the class list.  She let me know that Lucy is catching on to math pretty dang fast which was great to hear after Lucy had been so worried about those ominous "x-equations" as Lucy referred to them (multiplication), and that she's in the top reading group.  There are some worries too along with the good stuff, but that stuff made me so happy.  I love seeing papers like this come home in her backpack:
 (she's quite meticulous with how she writes things up just like with how she draws)

Lucy really likes her teacher "Queen Schmidt" too.

A diagram of her bedroom (before she got to adding hair it looks like...):

And then a bunch of rainbows galore:

Did I mention her hands and face are always covered with marker?

Last but not least, this is my favorite thing as of late.  

She's so excited about her upcoming birthday that she decided she better write herself a little note.
"Who old are you?"  Oh boy, I hope she writes back to end the suspense before the big day on October 1st :)

She's right, she is awesome.

Sure, she's sometimes a little bit of and 8 going on 18 drama girl who lets us know "this is the worst day of her life" or that her sisters are "the meanest ones in the whole world" (with a little door slam) every now and again,  I sure do like that little artist of ours.  

Friday, September 18, 2015

high school football season

Normally I wouldn't take a whole blog post to write about football season, but seriously, I have no choice in the matter when there is as much hoopla surrounding it as there is ;)

We missed football season last year.

We missed all the hoopla of the school mascot skydiving into the middle of the field at one game, the crazy crowds, Homecoming, etc.  We weren't here, but we sure knew a lot of details from every form of social media.

So I think it feels extra exciting for these kids that they are here for all the hoopla.  And the fact that Grace gets to join in too?  Extra bonus.

It's extra fun for her that she knows so many of the seniors who are friends with Elle.

There is some serious school spirit going on which makes it so fun.  The kids were SO pumped up about the first game of the season.  I stole these pictures from Elle's phone after the first pep rally.

Grace cheers at the freshman games which are on Wednesdays, so she's free to get into the crazy school spirit with friends for the varsity games.

I mentioned in another post that Dave and I took Claire and Lucy on a little date to the first game of the season (to check it out and to spy on our girls :)  Ha!

The dress-code-call was all black and the students didn't disappoint.

It was fun to see Grace in the program.

Max HAD to come to that one and only game he was going to be in town for, despite the fact that he just got his wisdom teeth out that morning.

The next game was "everyone wear green" in honor of a family who just lost their Dad.  From what I understand, green was his favorite color.
 They got crazy into it once again.
And since we have a college boy, we better sure as heck talk about college football for a minute because how about those last two games?  I think Max being in college and those couple awesome plays are going to turn me into a college football fan after all :)

Max camped out with a whole slew of friends for two nights to get great seats at the first home game.  A blog reader sent this little snippet of them camping out: (in the video at the very beginning)

Thanks V!

And then another friend sent this picture of our kids when she caught them in the audience on ESPN:
White face paint and all :)

Thanks Brigitta!  I LOVE that my boy is hanging out with so many of my college friends' kids.  It's kinda crazy!

Win or lose, it's shaping up to be a good football season all the way around.  
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