Friday, December 26, 2014

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

our crew 2014

Hello!!  I meant to write about our children in my last post, and I got a bit carried away.  So here is our update for this year as it is quickly coming to a close!

Our kind-hearted, reticent oldest is fast approaching the teen years!  Natalie turned twelve this year and grew at a somewhat alarming rate.  She is now a good five inches taller than me, and she passed me in shoe size long ago!  She's adjusting to middle school life and being responsible for a large amount of homework and projects.  I'm thankful that she knows what needs to get done and finishes it with little help from me.  Although she is growing up, I love that she still happily joins in on going ice skating, bike riding, to the park, and this year she was nearly as excited as Hallie about Disney on Ice.  She spent a very busy summer going to church camp in Kentucky, going to the beach with her friend Caroline, and then going on family vacations as well.  She also spent the summer volunteering at a therapeutic horse farm.  She's not old enough to help lead the horses yet so she was mainly just cleaning stalls, but she got to be around horses so she was happy about that.  She's still helping me and Michael every other week in the two year old room at church. She is so good and patient with them, and she usually chooses to stay behind while we go to worship to clean up and set up snack.  We usually have a few favorite kids we get excited to see, and then we're quite sad when they celebrate a birthday and have to move on.  She has also been the most enormous help to me when I go on photo shoots.  She'll hold the reflector for me, trek through fields with my little step stool, help make kids smile, blow bubbles, and when I have a bit of a drive she keeps me company. Currently I pay her with some sort of treat (froyo, ice skating, Starbucks), but we dream about making more money and taking an extravagant trip to Paris or London.  I think she helps set a fun tone for shoots, and a few weeks ago a sweet family gave her a $10 tip!  She can be pretty quiet with company, but when she opens up I think she has a pretty fantastic sense of humor and wit.

Our thoughtful, lego-loving, hard-working Ben turned nine this year.  He is mostly patient with the two sisters he's been sandwiched between.  They are friends as long as Hallie doesn't touch his legos, and no one steals the treat he's been saving.  He loves playing with the neighbors,  shooting his Nerf guns, playing baseball, and running around outside.
While Natalie galavanted off to camp and beaches during the first part of the summer he was hard at work taking reading classes, doing homework, and memorizing multiplication facts. Henry Huggins and his dog, Ribsy (Beverly Cleary's fictional characters for those who haven't met them) will forever have a place in my heart for being the ones to entertain Ben long enough for him to finish his first novel on his own.  Although he was working hard he still had a lot of time to relax and have fun this summer.  One morning, while we were in Hilton Head, Ben and I left the girls sleeping to go on a bike ride.  The light was streaming through the Spanish moss, the birds were swooping in to the water to fish, and the world seemed perfect and at peace.  He took the lead and kept looking back at me with a huge, excited smile.  Also, I finally got to take him to the fort in St. Augustine I first visited two years ago and couldn't wait to show him.  He did think it was pretty cool, especially the cannon fire reenactment, but way cooler than that was the alligator farm we went to after that.  It was quite a fun day!  I prayed all summer for him to have a great teacher and for his friend (from primary school), Andrew, to be in his class.  I did a little dance in front of the school when the classes were announced, and I think he's really blossomed with this teacher and having a good friend in his class.  I've been helping with science labs, and he really got into the owl pellet dissection (um gag) and the motion one was really fun (and much less gross).  When I visit his teachers every year they always say that he is kind and a good friend.  I don't think there is a higher compliment for a person.  I hope he is always those things.

Our captivating, energetic youngest turned four this year.  Hallie is perceptive, loving, funny and can start up a conversation with just about anyone.   When any of us is hugging anywhere in the house you will hear the uncanny tiny footsteps running towards you so she can take part in the hug too.   She has a flair for the dramatic, but I love the zest for life she carries.  At the end of her ballet season in the spring she had a recital.  She was not so excited about the routine or her itchy costume that day, and she fell asleep on the way to the theater.  So she really surprised me when she got on stage and flourished in the spot light.  She missed her cue at the end, and everyone laughed and said she stole the show!  She gets really excited about sparkly clothes and costumes. She found a ridiculously sparkly, hot pink dress at my sister's house in Kendall's closet.  Since Kendall never wore the dress she passed it to her, and Hallie wore it nearly every day for a month.  That was followed by a hot air balloon dress, a ballerina costume, a Russian nesting doll dress, and a bee costume that she wore in rotation for months.  The recent cold weather is the only thing that has forced her to add new clothes to the rotation.
She does gymnastics at the local Little Gym (sometimes in a bee costume) and looks forward to that every week.  I enjoy the time reading for one guilt-free, beautiful hour while she gets worn out (sort of).  Earlier this year I found a big tub of Little Pet Shop toys saved from when Nat was younger. If I need time to do something I bring it up from the basement and she entertains herself playing and talking to those little plastic guys for hours.  She loves to watch videos of people making things with Play Doh and then trying it for herself. She told me recently that she wants a color mixer and to add it to her Christmas list.  I asked where you find this and what it is exactly.  She told me with a passive wave of her hand that Santa would know all the details so I wouldn't have to worry about it. Right. Hmm.  If you meet her you will surely fall for her charms.  As exhausting as she can be a this age (she drew all over the carpet in blue crayon recently because the carpet "wasn't colorful enough"), she is a sweetheart that never fails to put a smile on my face.

Love to you and yours!!  We hope you have a warm and wonderful Thanksgiving and a very merry Christmas!!!

Friday, November 7, 2014

the year of dreams

“Prayer adds an element of surprise to your life that is more fun than a surprise party or surprise gift or surprise romance. In fact, prayer turns life into a party, into a gift, into a romance.” - Mark Batterson

The year isn't quite winding down yet, but in anticipation of all of our holiday plans I thought I'd write up a re-cap of our year now while it's on my heart.  So there's this book, The Circlemaker by Mark Batterson, I've seen it many times and never picked it up.  Maybe that is not a coincidence because this year I was in just the right season of life for it.  My heart was so inspired to start dreaming, to ask and hope and imagine.  You can ask any of the people that knew me as a child, and they would tell you they knew I would be a mom and wife someday.  It's what I've always wanted. It was my dream.  My dreams came true, and I've loved loved being a stay at home mom for these twelve years.  So while I was reading this book I realized I have more dreams, and I had to ask myself if it is fair after having what you've always wanted to ask for more.  I have had a love for photography ever since I got my first camera, a Nikon Smiletaker, the Christmas I was ten.  My poor brother, I would dress him up and semi-force him into photo shoots.  I think my favorite one was him in pajamas and robe reading a newspaper.  I've been taking photos of my own kids, friends, and their kids for several years for fun, and in the past few years it has slowly morphed into a very small business.  I started to get frustrated with my photos, and them not turning out how I wanted.  Part of that being because I didn't know how to properly work my camera.  So after reading dozens and dozens of photography articles and watching online free classes I realized I needed to take a class in person, but I was afraid to ask for such a thing.  After reading The Circlemaker I found a new bravery and excitement in my heart to pursue photography, and I remembered a few people over the past few years suggesting these non-credit classes at UT. So I looked them up and with them being once a week night courses for a reasonable fee my heart starting beating with immense excitement that this might be something I could actually do.  So I asked Michael what he thought, and he...well really I can't capture in words this moment.  He has been so enormously supportive of me, and so I shouldn't have been so surprised that he thought I should absolutely do this and he would happily pay for it.  Then, the fear set in thinking of having to find a seat among strangers, parking in a parking garage at night, finding out I have zero talent, taking time away from my family...the list goes on.  Facing those fears has been the most liberating thing about this entire year.  I found friends in my classes, and in fact am going on a weekend class with one of them in a few hours.  I found a new voice, a new independence and a new passion to create art.  Since my first class, I started dreaming about more classes and my parents have generously said they will pay for me to finish my certification (this is 160 hours worth of classes and I currently have somewhere around 70).  I'm not sure where this is going exactly, but I do know I have loved pursuing this.  I have been photographing families, high school seniors, newborns, children, and I even got to do a shoot for a boutique.  So, speaking of dreams-- Michael got a new job this year!!!  Actually, he just started this week!  He is working with the same company, but in a different division.  He is working at the corporate office and he will also be traveling.  This job means so much to our family because he will be home a lot more- hurray!!  This means no weekends of working and more time off!  He has worked so hard in the different parts of this company and the experience, in my opinion, makes him so perfect for this job.  I know I wrote so much about me, and I'm writing so little about him but he doesn't like for me brag on him (which only makes me love him more).  Just know my heart is bursting for him and with the appreciation of what God has done for us this year.  I was going to write about what the kids are up to this year, but I will have to save that for the next post.

To my awesome and amazing friends and family, thank you for supporting me. I have literally wept with thankfulness for many of you.  Dream on dear friends, I wish you a year of dreams for yourselves!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

crazy for cranberry

 Yes, it's winter and Christmastime is here! Yellow was the color I was crazy for in the fall.  Now it seems I'm noticing beautiful shades of red amongst the generally neutral background of this season. It's a burst of life when everything else is lifeless.  It's joy!  It's festive! Swoon!
Because of my new found color love I made my first cranberry sauce. Hello! It's so amazing and it's sooo easy!  A bag of cranberries, an orange, a little shugah and cinnamon boiled down a bit and voila! So yes I'm a bit enchanted with this season, and (as I do every year at this time) I've been going over thoughts and memories from this year.  I thought I might update you on the birds in my nest.

Natalie, my sister always says, is a carbon copy of me.  I don't think that's so true because she is so very logical, and that is an attribute most definitely from my husband.  She is her own unique blend.  She is intuitive, a creator, a tender heart.  She was on swim team over the summer and took some ice skating lessons last winter, but her real love has not strayed from riding horses.  She plays the trumpet in band.  She makes the best scrambled eggs I have ever had.  I find her in bed every night avoiding bedtime deep in a book or crossword puzzle or sometimes a text conversation.  She started middle school this year.  When she was a toddler I saw infinite time with her.  This new stage has started a clock for me.  I feel my time with her is defined and not nearly enough. I wonder if I've taught her enough, and I feel the time pressing against me as there is so much more I want her to know.  I love that she is old enough to have real conversations with, and I love her sense of humor.

Ben is our dreamer.  In so many ways he is still a mystery to me.  He keeps so much of what he is thinking to himself, and then surprises me with a brilliant thought or a sweet comment.  He spends a lot of time building Legos, and I think in those times he's in a whimsical world all his own.  Sometimes I like to go there with him.   He plays baseball and golf.  He loves to have Nerf gun fights with the neighbor boys.  One day, while he was lying down in a neighbor's yard amid a war, I passed by him in the car and yelled hello.   He opened one eye and said, "Mom!  I can't talk. I'm supposed to be dead." Ah, of course.  He just spent a majority of the evening fighting off ninjas with the leftover cardboard tube from the wrapping paper.  Then when it uncoiled he pretended it was nunchucks.  I treasure his snuggles, and have spent many nights watching him fall asleep as a few tears slide down my face as I realize he is growing up and will not be a little boy too much longer.

Hallie is our shooting star.  She hurls herself at life in a way that's inspiring.  She is bright-eyed, sunny, and possibly a bit too friendly to strangers.  She is curious about everything and eager to learn.  I often find that she has undressed herself from her day clothes, and redressed herself in her ballet outfit and shoes.  Similarly, I often find her dancing and twirling around the house and then pointing her toe in a grand gesture.  Frequently I find her hiding something, cutting up something, or talking to something imaginary.  She has a fondness for ugly toys (like Trumphia the purple, rubber elephant).  She has a stubbornness that is annoying and endearing because I love that she already knows how to stand her ground.  Her love sometimes takes my breath away.

We've had a very full and very blessed year.  We've had time I do not take for granted with family, with old friends, and with new friends.  Natalie asked to be baptized this summer after camp, and we celebrated with her on a Saturday in July.  Michael's brother, Philip, married Mary on a beautiful day in May.  My sister, Alison, married Jason on a beach in September, and I now have two step-nieces (cousins!).  My brother, Michael, proposed to his girlfriend, Merissa, so we have another wedding this coming year.  We had Sophie come stay with us from Germany for three amazing months, and now have a new friend (yay!) across a very big ocean (boo!).  Natalie celebrated our birthdays at Biltmore with Sophie in September, and I couldn't have asked for a more perfect, magical day.  We went to Disney in October, and that was full of memories none of us will soon forget.  We went to Destin with Michael's family at the end of July.  I took the kids to Hilton Head with my dad and Merissa and my sister came up for a few days too.  So, like I said, it's been very full and very blessed!  May this new year bring you many blessings as well!  Happy Christmas season everyone!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

the post about Disney

I'm writing this so when someone asks advice about Disney (and I think with Disney you need all the help you can get)  I can direct them here.  Or I can direct myself here because you tend to forget everything, and chances are we won't have another Disney trip for a very long time.  Okay so... where to stay.
There are pros and cons with staying on Disney property, and depending on what type of trip you are doing and your budget I have different advice.  We stayed at Fantasy World Resort only about 3 miles from Disney property.  To stay at the cheapest hotel(s) on Disney (our travel agent was pricing us for the World of Sports one) it was $1,000 more than this resort.  I was pleasantly surprised by how nice and clean it was.  Finding a room for a family of six was a challenge, and this resort has 2 story condos 2 bedrooms/2 bathrooms and a queen size sleeper sofa.  They also had a washer/dryer,  a nice, updated kitchen, and water slides/lazy river/splash pad in the pool area.  The negative to this place is that the shuttle times were very inconvenient.  For example going to Disney we had to catch the 8:30 am shuttle and the next one wasn't until 11 and that night the pick up times were 5:45 and 8:45- the park closed at 7.  So the first night we took a taxi home and after that we took our car and parked there.  It is $15 to park and that is good for any of the parks all day.  If you have the money the Contemporary Resort would be great b/c the monorail runs right through it. If I had a baby (and the money) I would stay there.  It also takes ages to get into Magic Kingdom b/c you have to take two monorails.  It's like getting in Ft. Knox.  Ok, not like that, but when you have eager children awaiting Mickey and rides and princess and Disney galore it drives you a little nuts.  It took us over an hour to get from our hotel shuttle stop to the actual entrance to the park.  If I was dreaming up a vacation with no budget I think I would stay in the Animal Kingdom Lodge.  That place looks!!  You also might want to check out "friends of Disney" hotels that shuttle you to the park.  There was a Doubletree we passed across from Downtown Disney that looked really nice and close to everything.

The parks-- they are overwhelming!  We only had one day in each park (actually only 3 of the parks) b/c we are cheap and the park hopper is not.  So, my husband would like to go with no plan and just ride what you come upon.  I, however, do not work this way.  At least not with a mixed gender group of all different ages-- 15, 11, 8, and 3- ha!  No, for me it was like a military operation- divide and conquer!  So yes, we split up several times so the big kids could ride say Splash Mountain while the little princess met with the princesses.  Fast passes are awesome, but they also require strategy as you can only get one during one time period.  So there are some lines you are just going to have to stand in, so we tried to pick rides to stand in line for the move quickly- like Small World and the Magic Carpets.  Also, I made a big mistake, and did not realize we were there on one of the day designated for Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween party so you needed an extra ticket to stay past 7 p.m. which meant no fireworks for us, and sadly that's my favorite part!
Okay a few tips if you are cheap like me.  The Target in Orlando has some Disney shirts/souvenirs much cheaper than you will find in the parks.  I took Natalie for her 4th birthday and she wanted a little plastic crown for $10 and I found it at Target than night for $3- that was 7 years ago but you get the picture.  It's worth checking out. I also found some Minnie ears and a Minnie shirt for H at our Target a month before our trip.  I bought journals in the dollar bins at the art store before we left and some stickers to decorate them for autographs.  While I was there I bought a tube of glow in the dark bracelets for a dollar that the kids loved.  I had envisioned them wearing those during the fireworks, but they liked wearing them just to walk around in the dark.  I also read somewhere that you can order old Disney pins on Amazon for really cheap.  I didn't think my kids would be very into the pin trading that you can do with Disney employees, but by the third day that's what they wanted as their souvenir and the cheapest pin is $8 at the parks (if you don't know about pin trading Google it).  I also gave my kids some money before we got to the parks.  I think that helped them decide if it was really something they wanted.  I thought the fan/spray water bottle was a waste of money, but Natalie bought it with her money and ended up using the lanyard part of it to display her pins (a nice man walked by with a whole ziploc bag filled with pins and gave her a handful to trade with), and we were all begging to get sprayed with her water fan.  It was 95 degrees that day- in October!! Something to think about.  

Food--  Disney let's you bring in backpacks /snacks/ water bottles.  They check your bags and there was no problem with my goldfish and sandwiches.  I've heard you can't bring in juice boxes with straws to Animal Kingdom.  We did not buy the Disney meal plan.  We had breakfast and dinner in our condo and ate lunch in the parks.  If you want to eat in the castle with the princesses or at the new Be Our Guest restaurant get reservations way ahead of time.  It says on one of the Disney websites how far in advance, but one month is not nearly enough in advance.  We did get reservations at the Rainforest Cafe in Animal K. I have no idea what the normal wait was, but we still had to wait about 20 mins. (with reservations a month in advance!).
What we loved-- I loved The Festival of the Lion King in Animal Kingdom.  Hallie and I saw that while the others went on Everest and the Rapids rides.  It was like Cirque de Soleil for kids.  I so wished the others could have seen it, but it wasn't until the end of the day that I discovered it.  Splash Mountain was a big hit with my older two.  The characters are so great, but when my older two were little they were terrified of that sort of thing.  H absolutely loved them, and some of our best memories are with them.  Test Track was perfect for my son and even H loved it, but we went to get a fast pass for that about 10 a.m. and our time to come back was 7 that night!  Dinosaur was much scarier than I thought, and Hallie hid under blanket and cried.  Yeah.  That ride is all in the dark with lots of huge dinosaurs that pop out at you.  Perfect for B though, and the girls loved screaming the entire time.  In Epcot they have a Phineas and Ferb secret agent thing you can do.  Ben really loved it, and he chose to do his in Mexico.  It was so busy that day, and it was very hard to maneuver around all the people.  That said, it was very cool.  The phone you have directs you to different places and gives directions for your clues. For instance, we had to stand at the fountain and find the pinatas.  When we got to them and pressed the button some secret numbers flashed out of the pinatas for about 5 seconds.  We also about jumped out of our skin when a mini skeleton started talking to us before realizing it was the clue.  Anyway, the kids get way more involved in the countries when they have a mission.  The girls, meanwhile, sat on the fountain waiting for him to finish up looking extremely bored.  It took us about 30 mins. but you can do more than one if that's your thing and you have the time.  They also have an adventure book thing you can do in Animal K if you have the time for it the kids could get into that.  Once again that was more Ben's thing.  In Epcot they have a place called Club Cool.  It's a Coca-Cola store that has several stations set up to try sodas from around the world (for free).  So we all had fun being taste-testers though some got dumped out really quickly.  I think the ginger-ale ish one was the winner for them, but I loved one I think from Mexico that wasn't so sweet and was fruit tasting.  I think maybe it was watermelon.  Anyway.  Oh, I also like the Dole pineapple ice cream booth across from the Swiss Family Robinson tree house.  If it is your birthday/anniversary/first time at the parks tell them at the ticket booth and they will give you a free button to wear.  That was so unexpected and nice for N's birthday b/c so many park employees (including characters) would say sweet little happy birthday type things.  She even got serenaded by a little band.
Okay, I think that's all the advice I have.  The first time we went I stayed with a friend and spent one day in Magic Kingdom for N's 4th birthday. I had no plan, and it was the perfect day.  So really it's amazing there, everyone is so nice, and you will have a great time!!

Thursday, September 5, 2013


I'm in a strange place right now.  We still feel the heat of summer but all the responsibilities of fall.  I really just want to head to the pool and forget everything for the day, but I have school pick-ups, dinner, homework, and baseball ahead of me still.  So for a few moments I'm savoring Pinterest and falling in love with art again.  I found some boards of illustrations that I just love.  I've saved them for Natalie (and probably really myself, and maybe Ben and sometime Hallie)  to let our imaginations run free with.  This reminds me of Hallie so very much...
I'm still working on this place of having a preschooler along with older ages and very different interests.  I do enjoy Hallie's age so much.  Her new ballet class is the cutest thing I've maybe ever seen.  My heart feels so full watching the girls with high buns, messy ponytails, or tight curls dance ( I use this verb loosely) around in their little pink tutus and ballet shoes.  Then I have a new 3rd grader, middle schooler, and for now we have sweet Sophie (with us from Germany) in high school.  I love all of these ages for different reasons, but it's something that I'm working on to have my head in all of these different places- ages- interests- emotions- schedules (!).
This summer has rejuvenated me and left me in a bit of a dreamy state.  I let schedules go and chores relax and I so enjoyed my kids and let my imagination roam.  We listened to and read books, we played on the beach, we learned through adventures.  This is why I think I was in a state of shock when school started again, and I wanted to dig in my heels ( in sand preferably), and refuse to begin all the strictness of a school year schedule.  After a few weeks of adjusting and reflecting on summer and how it's filled my heart I think I'm ready now.... here comes fall, and I'm thankful for new seasons.
I found this verse this summer and love it so much.  I see a woman that is free and so happy, and I imagine what we all could do if we lived without fear.  "She is clothed in strength and dignity and laughs without fear of the future." Proverbs 31:25