Fall Family Fun

Life has been full these past few months, and I’ve gotten behind on blogging. This blog serves several purposes, one of which is a record of sorts for our family. I love to look back and see where we’ve been, what we’ve done, and where we are now, and I hope that my kids will one day enjoy these records, as well.

And to that end, there are some fun memories I’d like to make sure I document this year for us!

Naturally, I am an introverted, intellectual homebody. My idea of a perfect day would have to include some time curled up on the couch with a blanket and a mug of tea and a good book. But I’m trying to grow in being more of a fun mom, creating memories for my kids and having special outings and adventures, and this fall we had several.

We took a morning and went with some friends from church to Hickory Ridge Orchard and took a tour and visited some animals. The chickens were a bit over-enthusiastic in their pursuit of the food Atticus was carrying, and he was not pleased!

The girls took it more in stride 😊

And then we enjoyed what was definitely a highlight for us – apple picking!

Having 5 apple-pickers, we’re able to get quite a few pretty quickly, and we came home with a respectable haul, to be used to make apple pie, applesauce, apple butter, and other assorted apple items!

Another Saturday this fall, Matt had to work, so the kids and I made the drive out to Longmeadow Rescue Ranch, where our friend Courtney works training horses, to enjoy one of their Wagon Days. We saw Twister paint…

…we enjoyed some of the biggest slices of pizza we’d ever seen from a food truck there for the afternoon…

…each kiddo got to enjoy a pony ride!

The littles, in particular, were thrilled with that experience. They’ve watched their older sisters taking horseback riding lessons, and they loved getting to participate in something similar. Atticus talked all day long about how was now a horse rider, too, and FangFang now refers to the pony she rode, Pal, as her best friend.

We also enjoyed some snow cones…

…and a wagon ride…

…though Miranda was not thrilled about having to wait for the wagon ride, and her expression shows it!

We walked around and visited many of the animals at the ranch, and the chickens were a particular favorite.

Miranda made this drawing of her favorite chicken on the way home!

The next week, we took an even longer trip, this time venturing up to Wisconsin to see the China Lights. In recent years, each fall a group of artists from China have decorated Boerner Botanical Gardens with lanterns, and this year the theme was pandas. FangFang is obsessed with pandas, and we knew she would be beside herself with excitement to see the exhibit, and it was taking place around her birthday. We’d looked at our calendar to see if we could fit in a quick trip to Wisconsin to make it work, but Matt just didn’t have any free blocks of time to do it. Courtney agreed to go with us, and plans were made! The trip was almost de-railed last minute, as three of our kids came down with strep throat (everyone but Madeleine CaiQun), but we were able to get everyone on antibiotics before we left so that they wouldn’t be contagious, and though we had a bit of anxiety about it, we went ahead with the trip, and we were really glad we went. There were some hard parts – sleep wasn’t great for kids who had sore throats (or their mama) – but it was neat to see this exhibit, and I always love giving our family the opportunity to experience different aspects of Chinese culture – and we got to see my mom a bit!

The next weekend, my dad and his boyfriend and my brothers and sister-in-law all came to Columbia for a visit, and we crammed in several fun fall activities! We all went out to Peach Tree Farm, went on a hayride, saw animals, and looked at some gigantic pumpkins.

That afternoon we had some fun at home, with Atticus using my brother Danny as a jungle gym and FangFang practicing her independent standing with my sister-in-law, Sharon!

Matt led the kids in their pumpkin carving endeavors, and the results were much more impressive than if I had been involved with the process 😉

We also enjoyed some outside time – David raked leaves with the big kids, and Danny taught Miranda how to ride her bike without training wheels – a big milestone for her!

We also took in a visit to the big tree.

Close on the heels of that visit was our Halloween fun – this year we had a dinosaur, a cat, a dragon, and a panda – pretty adorable!

I hope you had a fall full of fun activities, and I’m looking forward to seeing what our next season will hold for us!

Summer 2015 Goals – Mid-Summer Update

It’s the middle of July, so we’re about halfway (or more!) through the summer, so I thought it would be a good time to take a look at how I’m doing with these summer goals! See my initial thoughts about this season’s goals here.

1. Work with the girls on moving toward learning how to swim.

Yes! We joined a pool, and we’ve been going multiple times every week, weather permitting. Both girls did great with their swimming lessons and definitely grew in their comfort with being in the water. Miranda in particular has been growing by leaps and bounds even since then. Earlier this week she was celebrating her ability to put her head under the water unasked and without plugging her nose by doing it over and over again. I’m really happy that they’re making progress toward swimming, and we’re all enjoying our pool time!

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2. Be consistent in working with the girls to develop self-control, kind words, and gentle hands.

We’re working on it! One encouraging development has been that we’ve been having some times in which the girls are really playing well together without my constant refereeing. I’ve been honest about the fact that we’ve been in a difficult season of parenting, and it has been very encouraging to me to see these glimmers of hope.

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3. Work through 4-6 weeks of school curriculum.

We’re doing pretty well with this! Our summer has been pretty laid back so far – on most days we work through half of a day’s worth of curriculum, so we’re almost halfway through our 3rd week, which puts us on track to have about 4 weeks finished by the end of the summer. I’d love it if we were closer to having 6 weeks done, but really, we’ve been enjoying our weeks of summer, and we’re all learning and growing, so I’m not going to sweat it 🙂

4. Get set for a mobile baby – and some days, 2 mobile babies! 

We’re working on this – in actually a much bigger way than I’d anticipated. I mentioned to Matt one day that I had an ideal vision in mind of what I’d like to do, but I wasn’t sure what to do in the meantime. When I told him about what I really wanted to have long-term – essentially floor-to-ceiling built-in shelves in the playroom – his immediate response was that we should just build that now!

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We (and by “we” I really mean Matt) are actually quite a bit farther along than this picture shows. It’s all coming together really nicely, and it’s going to be such a huge help to me!

5. Organize the playroom.

See above! Right now the room looks like a total disaster – toys piled on top of each other, tools all around – but we’re making real progress, and I’m excited about the room’s potential.

6. Blog!

I have pretty much dropped the ball on this. Between the playroom bookshelf project and doing some extra work to train a friend who is starting to work for my company, our last few weeks have been very full, and there just hasn’t been much free time. I’m hoping to get a few more posts written during the last half of the summer, though!

7. Read more, in particular the parenting books I ordered this spring.

I’m working on this one! After finishing No Drama Discipline, I started Ruth Beechick’s The Three R’s, and I finished that a couple weeks ago, and I’ve now started How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, which I’m enjoying. Matt bought me Wish You Happy Forever: What China’s Oprhans Taught Me About Moving Mountains for our anniversary, so I’ve also been reading that. Its author founded Half the Sky, an organization that worked in the orphanage Madeleine CaiQun lived at, and I’m so thankful to them for the benefits I know she received from their care. My heart is feeling increasingly drawn back toward adopting from China again.

8. Make it a priority to have fun. Say yes to things like walks, time at the park, and time at the pool.

We’re definitely having fun this summer! Spending time at the pool has been a big way in which we’ve been doing that, but we’re also having popsicle picnics on the porch, reading books, doing science experiments, and just playing together. This afternoon the girls and I rolled around on the living room floor, and I tickled them and gave them airplane rides – we all had a blast simply playing, and this evening at dinner all of us listed that as the “high” from our day.

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9. Enjoy Atticus.

Of course there is always more I could be doing to enjoy our little guy, but I think I’m doing a pretty good job of taking time to snuggle him, play with him, laugh with him, and generally enjoy him. He really is such a sweet little boy, and even though parenting kids over a larger age range feels like more of a challenge than just having our close-together girls, this boy is such a blessing for our family, and I’m so thankful he’s here.

10. Write in each child’s journal at least once.

So far I’ve written in Atticus’s journal but not the girls’ – I need to get to theirs soon!

11. Finish writing and sending thank you notes to people who blessed us around the time of Atticus’s birth.

I’ve written a few more of these but still have a lot to do.

12. Go on at least 2 dates per month with Matt.

We did this in June, and we’re scheduled for another date night this week, so I just need to plan one more for July, and we’ll have hit this goal for 2 months in a row!

13. Replenish our savings.

We’re working on this! Thus far it hasn’t been so much of a replenishing of savings as much as earning enough to keep up with the playroom update expenditures, but we’ve been able to do that, so I think it’s a win so far, and I think by the end of the summer we will have been able to put more money away in savings.

14. Build a more consistent prayer life.

Honestly, working toward this goal has been one of the most encouraging parts of my summer. I think, as a mom of littles, I am constantly seeing new areas in which I need not to let the “perfect” become the enemy of the “good.” What I would like for my prayer life is to have a long period of totally uninterrupted time each day to read my Bible and actually write out prayers to God in a prayer journal. That just isn’t going to happen right now, but that doesn’t mean I should throw in the towel. I realized that I do have multiple periods of the day that are quiet and somewhat solitary – when I’m nursing Atticus before he takes naps and goes to bed at night. After he would start to drift off to sleep, I’d been using those times primarily for checking my Facebook feed, but, wonder of all wonders, when I made Facebook less of a priority, there was more room for prayer! I’ve also been re-reading David Powlison’s Seeing With New Eyes with some friends, and I’ve found his words about prayer to be particularly helpful and encouraging. I’ve also been faced with daily reminders to pray as a young man from our church came down with a sudden illness a few weeks ago and had to be life-flighted to a hospital 2 hours away and is still fighting for his life there, and our church family has been praying for him continuously. I’m praying more often with more depth and am feeling anew my dependence on God and the contentment that comes with that realization.

Overall I’m pleased that I’ve been able to make progress (or recruit my husband to make progress!) on a number of these goals, and hopefully I’ll have more progress to report at the end of the summer!

reflections from a week of solo parenting

Matt was incredibly excited to be invited to be part of Wakonse again this year, and we both knew it was a great opportunity for him. Last year he found it to be invigorating, encouraging, and helpful for continuing to refine his teaching, as well as a good opportunity for networking. I knew a week of parenting our 3 young kiddos would be intense without him, but I agreed that the trip would be good for him, and so, a little over a week ago, he boarded a bus headed for the shores of Lake Michigan at 6:00 a.m.

During the time that he was away, I found myself reflective. How should I view my week at home with our kids? What was the marriage and parenting context in which I was setting it? What did it look like to love and parent well during that time?

I preached to myself over and over a truth that Matt and I always make sure to discuss with young couples when we meet with them for pre-marital counseling – marriage is not a 50/50 proposition. Viewing it that way is a set-up for disaster. You’ll find yourself keeping score, tallying everything that you’re doing and comparing it to what you see of your spouse’s contributions, and it’s nearly inevitable that you will see him or her coming up short. It was so easy to start slipping toward making a list of all that I was doing during this week that Matt was away – changing diapers, making dinners, putting 3 kids to bed each and every night, and on and on and on; meanwhile he was obviously not here and thus doing none of those things. And I would find myself thinking of the rewards that I felt I deserved for my hard work…only to have to hit the brakes hard. This is my family, the people I love more than anyone else on earth. It is an honor and a blessing to care for them. And what I’m called to and what I’ve committed myself to is very different from putting in 50% of the work required to sustain our family; it’s putting forth 100% of what I can, looking for ways I can love and areas where I can serve, and doing so joyfully. That is what our marriage is about.

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Another realization I found myself having over and over again was that, often times, proactive parenting is what constitutes good parenting. All of our kids had a hard time with Matt being gone, more than I expected. It felt like our days were often off course before they even began. I realized very quickly that, particularly within that context, I needed to be proactive, to spot potential difficulties before they arrived and do what I could to steer us around them. The sensory bins came out on multiple occasions.

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We kept up with our structure as much as possible, doing school most days. We turned errands into adventures. I said “yes” when I could and tried to set us up for success.

On a related note, I reminded myself multiple times that I was making choices about the narrative I was telling myself about this time. I could choose to focus on the hard – and there was a lot of it – or I could choose to focus on the opportunities for fun. As much as possible, I tried to keep the positive narrative at the forefront of my mind, to see the blessings of our time and to plan fun activities for us. One huge blessing was that my brother David joined us for the week. While no one can take the place of a parent, having an extra pair of hands and some adult conversation is undeniably helpful! In part because he was here, we were able to pack a lot of fun into our week without Matt. We visited multiple parks, which was so good for everyone.

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We all enjoyed being outside, and as an added bonus, the kids’ energy expenditure made them significantly more receptive to bedtime in the evenings!

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Another well-received activity was making homemade popsicles and then enjoying them out on the porch during a rainy afternoon!

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We really did have fun together!

Of course, I was still counting down the days until Matt’s return…which, of course, led to high expectations of what that homecoming would actually look like. I think probably the lesson I’ve most consistently needed to learn from Matt’s travels has been that homecomings are not all they’re cracked up to be. Yes, it was great to see Matt. No, he didn’t waltz in the door proclaiming his undying love and expressing profuse thankfulness for my efforts at home during his absence. And when I build up the moment of his arrival, counting down to it for days, I set us all up for disappointment.

All in all, it was an exhausting week, but it was great to get some time with my brother, and he and I and the kiddos really did have some good, fun times. And being jolted out of our normal routines gave me an opportunity for reflection – and, hopefully, growth, that I wouldn’t otherwise have had!