Friday, December 26, 2014

Merry Christmas!

We had a lovely Christmas, and I hope you all did too! Although we missed being with family this year, it was also really, really nice not to have to travel, especially since we were all just sick.  We needed a vacation where we just stayed home!
 We went to the Christmas Eve service at church, and I coerced everyone into a group picture, since we were all dressed up at the same time, a rare occurance indeed.  Unfortunately our church doesn't do a ton of decorating, so there wasn't really a Christmas-y place to take a picture, except in front on one pretty small tree that you wouldn't have even been able to see with all of us in front of it, and it was surrounded by people anyway.  So instead we opted for this lovely wall.

Bob and I stayed up way too late Wednesday night finishing up the wrapping and food preparation, and trying to get the main floor clean.  And it was clean--for one night at least.  My little Christmas miracle!

But our kids aren't the early rising type (whew!).  The girls got up at 8:00, and I got up a little later so I could start breakfast cooking and shower before nursing Verity (she's not an early riser either--yay!).
 Here we all are waiting for Nathan and Luke.  Drew and Micah would have still been sleeping at this point too, if we hadn't woken them up, and Drew did not take very kindly to the intrusion.  The day before, I had gone through the tubs of too-big clothes in Caleb and Jonathan's closet, and we found these big sleepers in there.  Nathan and Luke used to wear them, and Caleb and Jonathan decided they should wear them in a nod to Christmas morning tradition--everyone should open stockings in fleecy footie pajamas on Christmas morning, right?
 Before eating, we took this rather big selfie of all of us.  I saw on facebook that someone's relative had given "selfie poles" to people, and that is definitely what we need to get everyone in!  For breakfast I made cinnamon rolls and a ham/hash brown breakfast casserole.  I was worried about the cinnamon rolls because when I made the dough the night before, the jar I retrieved from the back of the fridge had a "use by" date of May, 2012.  Whoops!  Clearly I have not been doing much bread-baking lately!  It did proof, so I went ahead.  The rolls probably weren't as fluffy as they would have been with fresh yeast, but oh well, they still did rise, and they were yummy.
 While opening presents, we had the present-opener (going from youngest to oldest) sit in this special chair while everyone else sat on the couch and watched (except when they wanted a better look so they crowded around).  Here you can see Anna was totally thrilled to receive a pair of boots again this year--her big wish!

 Actually the system did work pretty well.  With this many people, and still so many young ones, there's really no great way for calm, orderly present-opening that doesn't take an entire day.  I like what my friend Carri, who also has 10 kids, does:  each kid distributes their presents to their siblings on one day (as in one kid per day), so the focus is more on giving than on receiving.  Maybe next year!  Probably the thing I enjoy most about exchanging presents is seeing what the kids choose to get their siblings.  They all love to get gifts for everyone else!  It was so helpful to have Nathan driving this year, so he could ferry some of the kids around.  
 Bob and I were really excited to receive these incredibly neat carved coasters my dad brought back from South Africa with him, as well as carved salad tongs with giraffes as handles.  If we have you over, I'll be sure to serve salad so you can see them, because somehow they didn't make it into the picture!

I actually received my favorite gift last Friday--a new dishwasher!  Yes, it *finally* made its way to Lowes while we were at Great Wolf Lodge, so Bob picked it up Friday afternoon after work.  He stayed up super late Friday night to install it.  I'm so thankful to be married to such a handy guy!  *He* is actually my favorite gift--this year and every year!  The dishwasher, a KitchenAid this time, is working well so far.  Give it a few months of our heavy use though . . .  I definitely do not miss washing all those dishes by hand.  A wonderful Christmas gift indeed!
 After presents, we sent the kids outside to play because it was a lovely 55 degree day.  Bob took them to a nearby field to shoot bows and arrows while I got dinner ready.  As we were waiting for dinner to finish cooking, my brother called--he and his girls were skyping with my parents, and they wanted us to join in on the call!  We got the 3-way skype to work (it's free now--up to 10 lines!), and we had a great visit.  My dad read the portions of Scripture that we always read in our birthday party for Jesus, and we sung the carols together.  Not as good as being together, but better than nothing!  My sister-in-law Melinda was not there.  She was with her brother who had flown out to TX to visit them, along with her parents.  But her brother had to be admitted to the hospital Christmas Eve, and will need surgery there in Texas, it looks like.  We're praying for him, but also for all of them, with all the decisions that need to be made, and with an unfamiliar team of doctors in a different city.
In this somewhat out-of-order picture, Drew and Micah are proudly displaying their gifts from Nathan and Luke.  Back in 2000, the Winter Olympics were held in Salt Lake City.  We were still stationed in Colorado Springs, and for Christmas 2000 we drove to Salt Lake City to spend Christmas with my Aunt Claire and Uncle Jim, and my Nana and Papa, who were living with them.  My parents drove out from Ohio, and my brother came from CA, and we were all together for such a wonderfully happy Christmas--never to be repeated, since Papa died the next spring.  He and Nana gave Nathan and Luke these bears, with symbols for joy and peace, from the Olympics.  Nathan and Luke loved the bears, but the past few years, they have lived on the top shelf of their closet.  So Nathan and Luke decided Micah and Drew would probably really enjoy them, so they gave the bears to them for Christmas.  The bears have a new life!  I love that Micah and Drew have a connection to the Nana and Papa that they will never meet this side of heaven!
 Verity is modeling a headband from Aunt Ann, who also gave her 2 very adorable hats!  Verity was watching us play a new game for us, Pandemic.  I heard good things about the game on the Well-Trained Mind board, and I really liked it a lot.  The premise is that there are 4 different plagues sweeping the globe, and you have to work with the other players to cure/eradicate the diseases before the outbreaks overtake everywhere and humanity is lost.  So instead of competing directly against the other players, you are all working to defeat the diseases.  It was fun!
And lastly we sang "Happy Birthday" again to Jesus, and ate birthday cake in his honor.  This is a ceremonial picture with our giant spatula.  This spatula was a gift from our friends Jerry and Louise.  Louise actually won the spatula a few months ago because she is an excellent cook and won a chili cook-off at our church.  Alas, they simply could not find a use for this practical utensil, so they generously passed it along to us.  We like to take pictures with it because it is really funny.  Actually, we did finally realize the perfect use for this spatula--flipping over a turkey.  On Thanksgiving, I like to roast the turkey breast-side down for the first while, to keep the white meat moist, and then flip the bird over so the breast isn't a sickly shade of white.  The boys and I struggled to turn the 24-pound bird over, and after we had accomplished the task, albeit not very gracefully, we realized that what we really could have used was a gigantic spatula--AND WE HAD ONE HANGING FROM OUR POT RACK!  So next year, we will be ready.  In the meantime, the giant spatula just gets ceremonial shots.

Merry Christmas!  May you all be able to find places in your house for all the gifts you unwrapped!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Christmas Break!

We've actually been on break since last Friday, after I taught the last Latin class for this year.  It hasn't been all that relaxing of a break so far, however, because we've been battling some head cold/fever thing.  My friend Emily posted this article to my facebook timeline, and it definitely describes our house, except that we're really not sick all that often.  Except right now.  And we're all passing the germs around.

  But still--we're on break!  And Wednesday at 11:00 we left for Great Wolf Lodge with Rivendell!  After we stopped for lunch, Luke drove the big van for the first time the rest of the way to GWL.  Now he is in complete agreement with our assessment that the big van is the most fatiguing and uncomfortable vehicle to drive.  He did great though.

Once again we had 2 rooms.  It works really well, with the younger 6 in with me, and the 4 older boys with Bob.  Unfortunately, I was not at the top of my game, packing-wise, since I really wasn't feeling well at all on Tuesday or Wednesday.  After we checked in and had pulled around to the door closest to our room, I told everyone to bring inside whatever they had in the van.  At that moment, it dawned on me that I had completely forgotten Micah's and Drew's blankets, even though they were clearly written on my list at home.  Oh, I just wanted to go home right then!  My head hurt, my nose was dripping, and the idea of a sleepless night of temper tantrums was more than I could bear.  Luke said he was sure it would be okay, because the boys would be so tired and they would just go right to sleep--but I knew that over-tired boys could certainly go the other way, into full-blown tantrums!  So the whole trip started off with a deep sense of dread for me.

 The waterpark wasn't too crowded, and everyone had fun.  We hardly saw the older boys at all.  The 3 girls hung out with Elena or Abigail.  That left Micah and Drew to go between the kids pool and the wave pool, while I followed with Verity in the stroller.  I wore my swimsuit bottom but just a regular t-shirt that whole time so it would be easier to nurse.  I knew I wasn't going to be getting all wet!

We left about 6:45 to go to Golden Corral for our traditional dinner.  The McC's called ahead--4 families, 30 people!  I will be glad when all our kids can go through a buffet line by themselves, though.
 Here is Caleb McC doing his famed re-enactment of the classic Beowulf and Grendal with gummibears.  Everyone was quite enthralled with his epic story-telling.
 We got 10 sets of fuzzy wolf-ear headbands, one for each kid.  I meant to get a picture of the older boys wearing them, but somehow that didn't happen . . . Drew looked really cute in them though!  This is Drew in his pajamas, and I am so pleased to report that in fact Luke's assessment of the situation was accurate--Micah and Drew miraculously fell right to sleep without their blankets with no fussing at all. Whew!  Such an answer to prayer!

 Thursday we paid for a late check-out of one room, which was nice, because after I nursed, I went back to sleep while Bob did all the breakfast stuff and took everyone down to the waterpark.  It was great for Verity to have one nice nap in her pack-n-play, since she didn't really have a good nap the entire rest of the day.  Drew and Micah came back up mid-morning, and they would have been pretty happy to just stay in the room, playing on the ipad, for the rest of the day, had that been an option.  Micah melted down when we packed up all the stuff in the room and told him he had to put his swimsuit back on!
 Here Drew is demonstrating his lovely cooperative attitude, with Jonathan modeling it alongside, just for good measure.  The little boys were definitely done by lunchtime!  It will really be nice in maybe 5 years, when all the kids are good swimmers, and no one needs an afternoon nap anymore!
 Look, a picture of me, to prove I really was there!
 Here's our group photo that a nice lifeguard took.  She took one on Christine's camera, and also one on Michele's.  For Michele's picture, she waited until the big bucket was dumping all the water--that shot will definitely make the yearbook next year!
One last family shot in the front of the fireplace in the lobby, which looks really evil and haunted in this picture, but is actually really nice and cozy.  It's sad to think Nathan won't be at GWL with us next year!

We left at dinnertime and drove straight to Cracker Barrel for dinner.  The Cracker Barrel is actually right next to the Golden Corral we ate at the night before, and Caleb was lamenting that he didn't ever even remember eating at Cracker Barrel.  We used to stop there fairly regularly on long trips, and Nathan remembers always ordering the kids chicken and dumplings meal, but then not eating very much of it, because as it turns out, he doesn't love their chicken and dumplings.  It just sounded good whenever he ordered.  He must take after his grandma and her great love for the idea of clam chowder!  Anyhow, we had a delicious dinner, even though Micah kept telling us he didn't want to eat--he just wanted to go home.  And eventually we did make it home around 10:30.  Today we're trying to dig out from the huge pile of stuff we dumped in the entryway last night and then ignored completely!

Sunday, December 07, 2014

The End of the Road

Our 2000 Honda Odyssey has served us faithfully for almost 15 years now.  It went over 200,000 miles last week.
Back in 2000, the redesigned Odyssey was a very hot commodity.  We knew about them from the internet, but there weren't any in Colorado Springs to even test drive.  We had to drive up to Planet Honda in Denver to see one in person, and it was the lowest stripped-down model.  That didn't matter--we loved the van, and we knew it was what we wanted, since it was the first Japanese full-sized minivan.  So we put our name on the waiting list at a few Honda dealers, and we had to wait 3 months to actually get one.

Planet Honda gave us a call, and we happened to be on our way to Utah to go "camping".  Bob was stationed at USAFA as an air officer commanding, or AOC, the officer in charge of a squadron on cadets.  USAFA was on spring break, and we had planned a trip to Arches National Park (where we "hotel-camped" with the L's--hey, we brought crockpots and made our own meals!) and then on to Salt Lake to visit my aunt, uncle, and cousin.  So we packed up our Pathfinder, drove up to Denver, waited around for several hours to do all the paperwork (L's waited patiently with us, even watching Nathan and Luke for us).  Finally we got the keys, transferred all our stuff to the new van (so much room compared to the Pathfinder!!) and drove off to Utah in our brand-spankin' new van.
Here is one of the scrapbook pages from that fun trip.  You can see us having a picnic out the back of the van!  Also, you can see Nathan and Luke as toddlers.  Look familiar?

We put a lot of miles on the trusty minivan, PCSing to Ohio and just traveling around the country visiting family and friends.  Eventually we PCSed to VA in 2004, and when Anna was born in 2006, we filled up the van.  So when we found out the shocking news that we were expecting Grace a year after Anna was born, we knew we would have to find something new for us all to fit in.    We ended up heading to Laurel, MD, where the Carmax dealership sells new Toyotas.  We bought a 2007 Sienna in what had to be the smoothest, most-hassle-free car-buying transaction ever.  I love, love, puffy-heart love the Sienna.  We decided on it as opposed to another Odyssey because it had 3 full seats in the middle row, seats that all could fit carseats, since obviously we had a lot of carseats to fit, and the middle seat in the Odyssey was a little one.  I still love driving the Sienna.  It is a wonderful van.  We have had absolutely no trouble with it, while we did have to replace the transmission on the Odyssey.

Anyhow, when we bought the Sienna, the Odyssey became the second car, racking up 10 miles of driving a day, to and from the bus stop for Bob's commute.  And eventually we had Faith and needed to buy the big van.  Once Nathan started learning how to drive, however, the Odyssey came out of its life of retired leisure, as he became its primary driver.  It faithfully carried him to cross-country meets, Civil Air Patrol meetings, college-related interviews, and even down to VMI where he drove himself to an overnight.  But it was definitely showing its age.  Then we had to get a yearly inspection for it right before Thanksgiving, and it failed soundly.  It needed at least $2000 in repairs, and that just didn't seem worth it, especially when there were other things, like really squeaky brakes, that also needed some attention.  But what would we do??  We really need 3 cars at this point, with all the running around everyone is doing, and especially with Nathan taking classes at the community college 3 days a week.  And we still need the flexibility of 2 minivans, since we still have so many people to transport.

So we started thinking about buying another minivan.  We pretty much assumed that we would head back up to Laurel to buy another new Toyota Sienna.  We wanted to buy a new one, since we were planning on having it for many years, and many, many miles.  Used Siennas are still expensive!  But before we drove up to MD, Bob wanted to check out the price on a new Sienna from the dealership that works with Costco.  Saturday night Bob, Verity, and I went to that dealership and met with the Costco guy there.  We were not that impressed with the Costco price--not anywhere near as low as the Carmax price--but what I was surprised at was how not impressed we were with the actual Sienna itself!  The new Siennas have a really little middle seat in the middle row.  It's too narrow for a carseat (and not flush with the outer 2 seats--it's a lot lower), and it's also too narrow for an adult/teen to sit there.  Also, it's physically attached to the left middle row seat, so it doesn't come out by itself.  So what you have is a seat that is only useful for kids between the ages of 8 and maybe 12 that you can't take out if you can't use.  Honestly, we couldn't figure out what car designer from what planet figured this Sienna design was a step forward.  The 2007 one was so perfect!!!  (Note to potential used Sienna buyers:  Toyota redesigned the Sienna to this new crappy design in 2011.)  We left the dealership very disillusioned.

Just for due diligence, Bob had also contacted the local Honda dealership that works with Costco.  We decided that since we were out, we should swing by there to see what the new Odyssey looked like.  I had very low expectations, since I knew it used to have the non-carseat middle seat.  When the salesman showed us the van, however, we instantly fell in love.  What a great van!  So many neat features!  And a middle row that can fit 3 car seats!  So after some hours of negotiating, we agreed on a price last night.  This afternoon we dropped our old Odyssey off at Carmax, where amazingly they gave us money for it.  Then we headed back over to the Honda dealership where after 2 hours of waiting and signing papers, we got the keys to a new Odyssey!
So out with the old, in with the new.  I can only hope that this new van will be as faithful as the old one!  In the meantime, we have tons of new-fangled computer-y things to figure out.  Bob will be driving it to and from the bus stop during the day, and then we'll use it to ferry people around in the evenings and on the weekends.  The kids can't wait to ride in it!  Micah and Drew don't realize I'm not really planning on moving their carseats into it though, LOL.

In the meantime, I used all the time this weekend that I had planned on writing an anatomy exam to shop for cars.  Tomorrow is going be a long day!  I feel like I need a weekend to recover from this weekend.  Only 1 more Rivendell until Christmas break . . . We did also buy a dishwasher last weekend, although so did everyone in VA, so we're not going to actually get it until maybe Dec. 15.  So that just leaves cell phones/plans to shop for.  And all the rest of our Christmas presents . . .

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Happy Birthday, Drew!

Drew turned 2 on Sunday.  I can't believe it's been 2 years since Drew was born!  He definitely thinks he is a big boy now.  When we came home from our trip to Ohio this summer, he stopped sitting in the high chair.  He's talking up a storm now.  If only he would show the slightest interest in potty-training.  Next summer for sure . . .
We already had his cake at Bible study 2 weeks ago, but we did have ice cream Sunday night.  Drew seemed a bit thrown by the "birthday" concept, although he was all about the ice cream!
He really wasn't sure what to do with his presents.  Finally he opened them with some help.  We got him this little train thing which folds out and is really cute.
I also dug around in closets and found this blow-up F-15.  We actually bought a bunch of these back in December 2000 from the USAFA gift shop before we PCSed from there (I found the receipt in the bag!).  This one had been blown up before and was just stuffed back in the plastic store bag, being saved for . . . this moment, I guess.  Caleb blew it up, and Drew really likes it, even though it doesn't look like it in this picture.  I don't expect it to last all that long, as I seem to remember the other ones deflating after not too many days of play.  We used to have F-16s in Thunderbird colors, as well as F-15s.  As Nathan pointed out, you can tell how old this is, since F-15s are obsolete now.  How nice to be able to recycle gifts like this!  Practically antique!
And here's a bonus picture of Verity, just because she's a sweet cutie!  So happy and smiley, and such a good sleeper!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Practicing Thankfulness

Yesterday we celebrated "2nd Thanksgiving".  The only problem with going to someone else's house on Thanksgiving is you don't get all the left-overs!  So we do it all again on Friday.  I made enough sweet potato casserole (15 cups of mashed sweet potatoes!) and cran-apple-pear sauce on Wednesday, but even though I made 15 pounds of mashed potatoes, there weren't enough left-over from Thursday to have Friday.  So I made 10 more pounds of mashed potatoes, dressing, gravy, asparagus, and a 24 pound turkey!  Once again I used a rub on it Thursday night, then roasted it at a low temperature all day Friday. It was soooo good.  Next year I'm going to try "spatchcocking" the bird.  That should help even a big one cook more quickly.

The only flaw in the day was discovering that our poor dishwasher is no longer pumping water up onto the dishes.  Water still goes in and out, but it just sloshes around the bottom, so nothing actually gets clean.  We googled for help, but nothing worked.  SO it looks like once again it is time for a new dishwasher.  We are really, really hard on dishwashers, it seems.  Bob and I went to Lowe today to attempt to get one, along with everyone else in Northern VA, it seems.  They are out of most dishwashers, and can get one to us in 2-3 weeks!  Whee!  I forsee lots of paper plates in our future.  First world problems, I know, I know.  I am definitely trying to be thankful and not getting frustrated with my little problems.

Sometimes the little problems just stack up in a way that is kind of paralyzing, though.  We got our Honda minivan inspected last Sunday, and it failed royally.  It needs at least $2000 of work on it--a 2000 Odyssey with 199,900 miles on it.  It seems like pouring that much money into it would be pouring money down a drain, but then, we don't know what we should do instead.  With Nathan driving to community college classes 3 times a week, we really do need a 3rd car, but looking for one seems so overwhelming with such limited time.  We don't usually move on things like this very quickly . . .

We're also trying to figure out cell phone plans.  Currently we have Verizon, with 1 smartphone (my iphone, which I love) and 3 dumb phones.  We're done with our 2 year contract, so we could go with another carrier, but my phone won't work then.  What we know for sure is that Verizon is the most expensive for multiple smart phones!  So should we all switch to Sprint, buying each of us a new (but not all that expensive with another 2 year contract) phone?  Or buy phones for Nathan and Luke to use with Straight Talk or something like that--but do the monthly savings add up to more than the cost of the phones?  There's so much information out there--it's paralyzing!  I want to just bury my head in the sand and not make any decisions.  Could I please go back to the 1800's?

But I am thankful we have options.  I'm thankful for all these fun kids.  I'm so thankful we don't have to worry about basic necessities.  I'm thankful for all our family and friends who are so supportive and loving.  I'm thankful for sweet little baby girls, with sweet little smiles, and for bigger girls to take cute pictures!
Verity is thankful for a thumb that is magically attached to the end of her arm so it is there when she needs it.  Happy baby!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving Break

Happy Thanksgiving!  I'm thankful for . . . a working internet connection!  I sat down to blog last night and discovered our internet had just gone out.  It was supposed to come back on by 4:00 this afternoon, but it didn't, and I had to call to get instructions for resetting our router.  But it was actually nice without the internet--people played board games last night and this morning, with no distraction from computers!  Then we went over to the L's house for our usual Thanksgiving dinner.  There were 41 of us this year!

Before we prayed, we all went around and said what we were thankful for.  I said I was thankful for Thanksgiving break.  I am *really* enjoying this week of break, which is pretty pathetic considering I taught for 4 weeks in September, had a baby and then 5 weeks of maternity leave, and then taught for all of 3 more weeks before this much-needed break.  Whew!  I just have to make it 2 more weeks, and we'll be on Christmas break!

So what have we been doing on this break?  Not really relaxing, that's for sure.  But it's not school!

*Jonathan, Grace, and I went to the commissary Thursday afternoon, our first time back since the beginning of September.  We couldn't park in the "stork parking" space, but on the other hand--hey, I'm not pregnant!  Ha!
*Caleb baked birthday cakes to celebrate his and Drew's November birthdays for Bible study last Friday.  Unfortunately we had found out last Tuesday that his first basketball practice was Friday, so he missed his own party!  He also frosted the cakes, although I helped with the shaping of them and some of the detail frosting.  They were delicious!  We saved him some "hockey rink".  As you can see, Drew helped with quality control, especially for the blue frosting.
*Friday I got to visit with my friend Lynnea.  It seems that with the busy-ness of teaching at Rivendell, plus just normal homeschooling, chatting with friends is the first thing to go, so it was so nice to just relax and catch up.
*I started doing some organizing.  I boxed up books in the study to make more room for high school science books on the shelves.  I still can't bring myself to actually get rid of the books though!  I also worked down in the basement storage room, going through little boys clothes.  I donated a bunch of 12-18 month clothes, but . . . I still couldn't get rid of the newborn boy clothes!  Maybe in a while . . .  I'm hoping to do more organizing/decluttering during Christmas break.  Goodness knows there's still tons more to be done!
*It ended up being good that I cleared some room in the storage room.  Monday night Bob and I bought a used bowflex from someone on our homeschool email loop!  It took the place of our weight bench, which took up a ton of room.  This thing is really neat--you can really do a lot of different things with it, and there aren't all those weight disc-things that go on the end of bar bells all over the floor.  Here Faith is demonstrating using it as a rowing machine.

*I got to visit with another friend, Kimberly, Monday afternoon.  We used to meet every week for a Bible study, but now we are trying to see each other at least once a month.  It was so nice to catch up with her too!  I have really enjoyed these times to just chat this break!
*Verity had her 2 month well-baby appointment Tuesday.  It was a horrendous drive to Bethesda, filled with construction and traffic, but Verity is all the way up to 10 pounds, 14 ounces, which is the 50th percentile!  So no more worries there, and everything else looked fine, praise the Lord.  Verity also got her first shots.  She was not a fan, but she's over it now.  There were 2 female techs giving her the shots, and they couldn't believe Verity was #10.  We had a nice conversation, and one of the techs said that Verity was so lucky that she had so many people to love her!  That is definitely true!  Verity has found her thumb now too, and she looks so cute sucking it.
*My parents drove in Monday night!  They wanted to avoid the bad weather forecast for yesterday.  My dad left today to fly to South Africa for a world conference for military Christian fellowships.  My mom will be here while he's gone.  At least he got to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner at the L's house before heading to the airport!  The past 2 days he started reading the third "Rush Revere" book to the kids:  Rush Revere and the American Revolution.  He read the first 2 books while they were here for Verity's birth, and the kids really enjoyed them.  This latest book is particularly good, since we just visited Boston this summer!  It's nice to be able to picture where the book is describing.
*Lots of board games have been played--starting even before the internet outage!  The boys played Settlers of Catan yesterday while I cooked up mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, cran-apple-pear sauce, chocolate pecan pie, and chocolate peppermint cookies for the meal today.  Then they played Puerto Rico this morning, which is complicated but fun.

Today felt like a Saturday, but hooray!  It's only Thursday!  There's still a few more days of break!  And only 2 more weeks until Christmas.  I can do this . . .  Happy Thanksgiving!!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Verity Update

Verity was 7 weeks old on Wednesday, and by our bathroom scale she now weighs about 10 1/2 pounds with her clothes on . . . or in other words, she now weighs what Micah weighed at birth.  No wonder my poor pelvis was so sore with him!  But anyhow, Verity is gaining nicely now, and she's gotten much, much faster at nursing.  Yay!  She's also smiling a lot more, and doing some cooing, to the great delight of whoever is lucky enough to be holding her.  She is still a great sleeper at night, much to the great delight of her mother, LOL.
She's had some special visitors lately!  Bob's sister Rose came down from PA to visit as part of a work trip to D.C.  She brought some things her girls (who are high school and junior high-age) were done with, so it was like Christmas!  Anna, Grace, and Faith were busily occupied putting together a new puzzle, making lip gloss, and playing with these 2 little rolling hamster things.
And Bob's sister Ann and her husband Wally came up from Richmond to visit with Rose, visit the Capitol and  botanical garden, and take a tour of the Pentagon with Bob.  They spent Thursday night with us, which made the kids very happy, since originally they hadn't planned on staying another night!  Ann brought the girls some supplies to learn how to decorate cakes.  Ann has taught classes for years, so she is a real pro!  The girls can't wait to try some things, and fortunately Drew has a birthday coming up, so they'll have some cake and frosting to practice with!

Everyone else is doing well too.  Bob spent Veterans Day taking out our old french doors and installing a new sliding glass door out to our deck.  Our old one was letting water in under it (requiring Bob to switch out some wood as well), and it was pulling away from the wall, so it was definitely time for a new one.  We decided to go with a sliding door instead of another french one because we don't have any extra room in the eating area, and getting rid of a door that swings in sounded wonderful to me!  The new door has a lot more glass--when I walk by it, I keep thinking the door is open because you can see so much more out of it!  We had contemplated getting a door with blinds built into it, but we ended up deciding that there was no way on God's green earth that those blinds would not break with all these kids trying to open and close them.  So no built in blinds.  But hopefully this new door will last another 22 years, like the last one!

Tuesday was a busy day--Bob was home, installing the new door (and it was a gorgeous day, weather-wise--a perfect day to have a gaping hole in the side of your house), we still had our co-ops, and Caleb got his first promotion that night at Civil Air Patrol!

Not everything is rainbows and roses around here, of course.  I've been so distracted the past 2 months, and I am just now feeling like my brain is coming back online.  But in the meantime, we are reaping some fruits from me being so distracted, as far as attitudes and actions.  We started a new book for character time this year called Character Building For Families.  We worked on the character trait "obedience" for a little while, but now we have moved on to "honesty", since that seems to be the problem for several people lately.  Drew has started acting like an almost 2 year old, with liberal use of the word "no" and some tantrums to boot (although not like Micah, the king of tantrums, thankfully).  Faith and Micah are experts at pushing each other's buttons, leading to loud wails (Faith) and angry shrieks (Micah).  Plenty of character issues to work on, and there is never a dull moment, especially when I am nursing or otherwise occupied!  We're all looking forward to a short Thanksgiving break and a longer Christmas break.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Back in the (Co-op) Saddle Again

Yesterday I taught at Rivendell for the first time since the day before I had Verity.  I was worried about a lot of things, the main one being that my brain would simply not function, but everything went really well.
It helped that for life science, we are starting the unit on genetics, which is probably my favorite one, thanks to great genetics teachers in high school and college (thanks, Mr. Norvell and Dr. Phipps!).  We covered mitosis, modeling the phases with yarn "chromosomes", and then the boys modeling DNA with Twizzlers and gummi bears (since I couldn't find gum drops, even though I looked at 2 different stores!).

Amazingly, Verity was incredibly cooperative.  She woke up at 7:15 to nurse, and then I fed her again while the boys were making their DNA, a little before 11:00, which was about as ideal as I could have imagined.  Maybe she won't be as difficult a child as I was imagining, after the way she started out the first 2 weeks!

Next was anatomy, and since I wasn't finished nursing when class was to start, I had them go around and share about the disease they had written a paper on over the maternity break.  They had to pick a disease that affects either tissues, the integumentary system, or the skeletal system.  It is always interesting to hear about rare diseases that are out there.  I was reminded that I used to follow a blog by a mom whose son had one of these rare diseases, the one Celia researched, a skin disorder called junctional epidermolysis bullosa--"EB"ing a Mommy.  The mom's faith during a tremendous trial was so inspirational.  It is mind-boggling the small things that genetically can go wrong, and wow, the pain and suffering that can ensue.  Heart-breaking.
Next we talked about the skeletal system.  Over the summer I researched small skeletons to buy, but they were really pretty expensive and no one got really great reviews.  But then I found this "bag of bones" on amazon that were rejects from all sizes of skeletons.  I thought that might actually be better, as far as bone identification.  It was actually kind of fun to go through them all and see what we'd gotten!  Plus, it was easier to see the fossa, tubercles, etc. on bones that were not attached to a skeleton.  It was definitely a random assortment though, and we got things like the left femur, but the right side of the pelvis.  Oh well.
Here is a picture of the assortment we got (and note the varied sizes!), but you could never assume to get the same ones.  I think they do include a skull in every bag, and it is pretty nice--the mandible opens with springs, and the top of the skull comes off.  There were several duplicates of bones though.  We got several tibia/fibula sets, for example.

The day went well, anyhow.  In the afternoon was memory work, but Michele, another mom whose oldest child is in life science, has been helping lead that in the afternoon.  That has really been so nice for me.  I stay around and help, but if I have to nurse or whatever, she can lead.  I think once Verity gets onto a more predictable schedule, then we will take turns or something.

Today was Latin class, but we had that last week as well, so I had already gotten back in gear there, sort of.  Fortunately we are just starting the 3rd declension, and I am still pretty confidant about those, so I can kind of coast.  It's moving into the 4th and 5th declensions that I become much less familiar.  Also verb tenses that aren't present, future, or imperfect.  I don't look forward to getting into those again--nothing new sticks well in my brain anymore!  Maybe by the time I'm teaching this class for Verity, I'll really have the pluperfect and all those other weird tenses down.
Before Latin class, Caleb whipped up some frosted banana cookies, his favorite.  And he should have been able to make his favorites, because today was his 13th birthday!  He felt like he should not have had to do any school, but such is the life of a junior-higher, LOL.  At least he got to celebrate with his friends who come over for Latin.  Latin class is just like a party, right?!  We all enjoyed the banana cookies, as well as the chicken packets, brussel sprouts, and cabbage salad that he picked for his birthday dinner tonight.  And ice cream of course for dessert!  We'll celebrate both his and Drew's birthday at Bible study later on this month--no word on what the dessert choices will be yet, however.  Caleb did open his presents before ice cream, and he got a Lego set, a new book, some Swedish fish, and a remote-controlled flying helicopter thing, which is charging right now.  Fun stuff!  And now we have 3 teenage boys in the house, plus one 12 year old.  I can't believe how old everyone is getting!

Caleb has been thinking a lot recently about what he'll be when he grows up, even though I've assured him he has *plenty* of time to figure things out!  He was really shocked to realize a few weeks ago that he most likely will be unable to go to the Air Force Academy, with his asthma and nut allergies.  I had no idea he ever even was thinking he might like to do that, since I had never heard him mention it, but apparently he just sort of assumed that's what he would do.  So now he's sort of recalibrating.  He is really a hands-on person, whose love language is definitely touch, so I suggested considering something like becoming a chiropractor or physical therapist.  I think he'd be great (and how wonderful would it be to have a chiropractor in the family?!  Maybe I can steer one of the kids to be a massage therapist as well--they could go into business together!  I'd be there all the time!)  Yesterday he mentioned that maybe he'd like to go to culinary school.  I can see that too, as he's always been interested in cooking.  He and Jonathan especially love watching the Food Network, and all the cooking shows on there, like Chopped.  So he's got plenty of good options!  I told him that as he goes through high school, hopefully he'll start being able to figure out where his interests lie, and what he feels the Lord is leading him to do.  I can't wait to see how God uses him!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

How Far We've Come

Back on Oct. 6, 2008, I wrote a post about "dysgraphia", which is something that Nathan struggled with when he was younger.  He had such a hard time getting onto paper any thoughts he had in his head.  In fact, one reason I did not end up putting him in the co-op that is associated with our elementary co-op is because I was really afraid he wouldn't be able to do well there.  I knew I wouldn't put him in the 7th grade composition class, for sure.  That year, instead, we ended up doing Classical Conversations, which led to Christine and me getting the idea to start Rivendell, and the rest is history.

But Nathan did struggle for awhile, and I really was worried about how he would do in high school and college.  But the Lord is good.  Nathan has excelled in high school classes, even AP ones, where he had to write essays for the big test!  And we just got back Nathan's scores from the last SAT he will ever have to take, and he got an 800 on the critical reading part--and a 700 on the writing section!   Back in 2008, I would never have dreamed that even possible!  I'm so proud of him!  I was just thinking back, and I thought I should update here, in case it might encourage others who are struggling with things with their younger kids.  Sometimes time really does help work out problems.  I am so thankful we were able to homeschool, because I am sure that being able to do things our own way, instead of being tied to how one teacher wanted or expected things to be done, was really helpful.  We could do a lot orally, for example.  Most of all, I am thankful that the Lord is faithful, and we are excited to see what plans he has for Nathan, and where he leads him next year.  

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Lessons to Learn

Well, things are finally looking up in the nursing department.  Verity is still a slow eater, but she's gotten tons better at nursing, and from our scale at home it looks like she is all the way up to 9 pounds.  Yay!  I would say she is about 2 weeks behind where my other babies have been at this point, so she's taking as long as a 2 week old instead of a 4 week old.  But things are getting better!  She is a good sleeper, especially at night.  I've been feeding her around 11:00 (so putting her down about midnight because she takes so long!), and then she hasn't been waking up until 7:00 or even 7:30.  So I personally am feeling much better and less foggy-brained, giving me hope that I will be able to get back into teaching and everything else!

But it has overall been a more difficult post-partum month.  A lot of that was because of my expectations.  I fully expected to recover quickly and get right back into our routine, and really, I *did* recover quickly!  I didn't have an infection like I had with Drew or anything like that.  But I completely failed to even consider the possibility that my baby would not cooperate with this plan, so it was hard for me to let go of my expectations, especially as far as school went for the younger kids, and just relax.  I started reading Unglued by Lisa TerKeurst, and the book has been helpful for me right now.  I love her sort of "theme" in the opening chapter--"I can face things that are out of my control and not act out of control."  Because I know that God is in fact in control, and I can trust his plan.

God has given me several little reminders of his sovereignty over the past few weeks.  One is regarding our Rivendell schedule.  When I wrote up the syllabi for anatomy and for life science, I planned on starting teaching again on Oct. 28, figuring that would be plenty of time.  I did not plan on teaching on Dec. 9, because the elementary co-op was supposed to be performing a play that day, and I wanted to see it, as well as have the older boys go and support their younger siblings.  But at our kick-off meeting in September, we got the surprising news that the lady who was going to be in charge of the play had decided to drop out (we miss you, Michelle!), so now Dec. 9 was just going to be a regular day of co-op.  Now I didn't need that extra day--but I really could use another day on this end.  So I am going to take one more week of break, going back to teaching on Nov. 4 instead.  What a blessing!  I really want to take some time to just enjoy this last newborn stage.  I think it will be easier to do that, now that nursing isn't quite the battle every time!  I always tell new moms that even thought it *seems* like this phase takes forever, it really is over so very quickly.  So now I need to follow my own advice!

Another little sign was that I found my exact same nursing pump (well, quite a bit newer and less used, LOL) on craigslist for $10!  From a person who lived about 5 minutes away!  (Remember, my pump had no tubing or anything--all parts are dishwasher safe, so it's really not yucky or weird.  Plus, all I really needed was the motor.  I can just use my own bottle and the part that goes on the nipple!)  So that was a real blessing as well.  Hopefully this one will be able to make it for a year or so.

The people from our church have been such a blessing too.  When Jacob emailed me after Verity was born to set up the takethemameal schedule, I almost told him to just not worry about it.  We were fine!  And I didn't want anyone to feel like they had to cook up a ton of food to feed our crowd.  But I didn't say that, and it has been so wonderful to have meals from friends these past 4 weeks.  SO much good food!  Enough for leftovers!  And how lovely to not have to worry about cooking.  That probably would have sent me over the edge, LOL.

Also, one of my friends from church, Holly, gave me a bag of adorable newborn girl clothes right before Verity's birth, passing them down from her daughter.  I was so thankful, because I really didn't have very many newborn outfits at all, but I did think, "Well, it's so sad that these will hardly get any use at all, since my babies are all so big . . ."  Ha!  Verity will be 4 weeks old tomorrow, and we are still wearing the newborn clothes from Holly!  Maybe next week we'll be into 0-3 month clothes.  So what a blessing that bag of clothes has been!

It will be interesting to see what lessons are in store for the next few weeks!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Some Good News!

Verity had another weight check this morning, and she was up to 8 pounds, 6 ounces--a gain of 5 ounces since Friday!  Yay!  And while we were there (it wasn't an actual appointment, but just a weight check with the lactation consultant), I nursed her on one side only, and she weighed 2 ounces more afterward, so she is definitely transferring more efficiently.  The lactation consultant was very happy with it all, so I think that will get them off our backs for awhile.  I'll keep weighing her on our scale here at home, though, just to make sure.  I do think Verity is going to be skinny though, like Grace.  Grace weighed herself today, and she is all of 46 pounds at almost 7 1/2 years of age, putting her at the 5th percentile for weight.  Verity is just not going to be a chunky monkey, gaining weight rapidly, no matter how much she eats!  She'll be happy with that metabolism when she gets older though, LOL.
I was glad to have some good news because my morning did not start off on a good note.  My faithful Medela Mini Electric breast pump died a sad death!  It still makes noise, but it no longer actually provides any suction.  I loved that pump!  I said on facebook that it was almost 13 years old but as I think about it, it's actually just 11 years old.  I used Amy's pump after Caleb was born, and I liked it so much that I bought the exact same kind for myself when she and I were both pregnant at the same time in 2003!  I really don't want to spend $150 to replace it for the 10th baby, but for anyone looking to buy a breast pump just for casual pumping (not because you are returning to work and will need to pump all the time or anything), then I highly recommend this little pump.  It has worked so well for so many years, and it is really easy to clean (dishwasher-safe, no nasty tubing or anything) as well as being really portable.  So there is my recommendation, for what it's worth!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Still Small

I'm sure everyone is waiting with bated breath to hear how Verity's eating has gone this past week.  By last Sunday night she was really fighting the nipple shield, so I stopped using that, and she was fine.  By Monday night, I noticed that she was knocking the supplemental feeding tube out of her mouth with her tongue, so that the extra milk was dripping slowly down her neck, instead of to her tummy.  But she was sucking so well that I decided we could try nursing without anything.  So that was Tuesday and Wednesday.  Verity nursed well, slept well, was happy, and even pooped more.  Yay!  I weighed her on our bathroom scale Wednesday night and Thursday by weighing myself with her and without her--and discovered that she was about 8.2 pounds with her clothes and diaper on.  Hmmm.  That really wasn't much of a gain, considering she was 7# 15 ounces stark naked last Friday.  Christine re-suggested syringe feeding after nursing, so I started doing that again Friday morning.

She had her 2 week well-baby appointment Friday afternoon, and sure enough, she was 8 pounds, 1/2 ounce.  That was after I gave her a bottle of 2 ounces of pumped milk in the car when we got there (and of course she promptly had a huge poopy diaper, of all the times to poop, grrr).  The doctor wasn't too terribly concerned, since she looks and seems so healthy, but I have to go back in Wednesday for another weight check at the lactation clinic.  I've continued with the syringe after nursing, but she will only take about 1/2 ounce.  She really isn't hungry anymore after she finishes nursing, and it seems like she is getting good feeds from me.  I can tell her latch is good and her suck is strong, and she is swallowing the way it is supposed to be.  I easily pump about 5 ounces in 15 or 20 minutes, so I know I have enough milk.  Weird.  So it's still taking forever to feed her.  I need to weigh her again tonight to see if there's been any improvement since yesterday.

I also had my follow-up appointment yesterday afternoon.  Bethesda is trying a new thing--instead of a 6 week post-partum check, they are doing one at 2 weeks, in conjunction with the 2 week well-baby appointment.  So Verity got examined first, then a tech took her to do her 2 week metabolic screening, and I went across the hall where an OB doctor was.  Since I didn't tear or anything, there was really nothing to examine or even talk about, but I think it is a really good idea to combine appointments like that!  As the doctor said, they found that most women, if they were going to have questions or problems, had them in the first 2 weeks, and by 6 weeks were pretty much over all that.  And I am all about not having to make extra trips to Bethesda!  (Although apparently Verity didn't get that memo, LOL)

In the meantime, everyone else is keeping busy!  Bob's sister Ann drove up from Richmond yesterday afternoon, braving the crazy Friday afternoon Beltway traffic.  Bob, Ann, and the 3 girls drove up to PA today to celebrate their mom's 88th birthday.  Ann made lots of good Polish food, plus a cake--sounds like a party!

Nathan was also off early this morning, on his way to take the SAT for the last time.  Unfortunately, there was no Polish food, no cake, and definitely no festive party atmosphere there at the high school.  But now it's done!  Yay!

My dad took Luke and Caleb McC to their cross-country meet, also this morning.  It was cold and rainy, and everyone got very muddy.  Thankfully, Christine was able to go watch the race and bring the boys home.  I wish we could all have watched the race, but it was not a good day for babies to be out!  So instead I spent the morning nursing and syringe-feeding, which is actually how I have been spending most of my time, LOL.  Maybe next weekend!

Sunday, October 05, 2014


Verity has had a lot of attention lately; let's talk about Nathan now!
A week before Verity was born, Bianca, a friend of the McC's, took some pictures of Nathan at a local park!  This was one of those last-minute brilliant ideas I had, ever since I saw some of her pictures on Christine's newsfeed.  Nathan was not very excited about the prospect, but he dutifully went as a gift to his poor, pregnant mom.
But it was actually fun!  Bianca is an absolutely amazing person, beautiful inside and out.  She taught herself English as well as photography, and she has buckets of courage and interesting stories!  She was very easy to talk to, and even Nathan admitted it was better than he thought it would be.
And I was thrilled to have some pictures of Nathan!  My hope is to have family pictures taken in the spring, when Verity is old enough to smile and pose, but before Nathan leaves for college.  However, I am terrible about getting things like that done, especially since I never can figure out what to dress everyone in that looks nice and reasonably coordinated.  So now at least we have some great pictures of Nathan!
Bianca even took some pictures of me, even though I kept telling her I did not particularly want my heavily pregnant stage memorialized!  But I'm glad she did--I've never had pictures taken when I was pregnant before, so it will be good to look back on!
And she took a picture of Nathan and me too.  I love it!
So what has Nathan been up to lately?

  • He took his "candidate fitness assessment" on Sunday, Sept. 21.  We finally found a middle school that had all the facilities needed--a basketball court, pull-up bars, and a track, all in close proximity.  Thankfully Nathan is not even an inch taller though, or the pull-bars would have been too small for him to dead-hang without his feet touching the ground.  The CFA consists of 6 events, done in order, with specified start, stop, and rest times.  It is designed so that you have finished the first 5 events and started on the run within 30 minutes.  First is the basketball throw, which is weird (you kneel and hurl a basketball with one hand as far as possible), but Nathan read some good posts about how to improve this event by using physics and your core.  Second is pull-ups, then the shuttle run, and then sit-ups.  Next is push-ups, and last is the mile run.  Nathan had taken a practice CFA at the USAFA Summer Seminar, and he did pretty much the same here as he had done there, except that one was not run as an official one, so there was more rest time in between events.   He did well, and yay--that was the last big thing to finish for his USAFA application!
  • He got word that he is "qualified" from the DoDMERB board, which means he passed all his medical stuff.  They ask a ton of questions on all the paperwork you have to fill out before the actual appointments, so you have to dredge up stuff from long ago.  In Nathan's case, it was a contact allergy to metal he had when he was really little.  I had to sew material over the snaps on his onesies so he wouldn't break out in a little rash, but we never saw a doctor for it or anything.  And more recently, he had a rash when wearing a cheap watch from Walmart.  So DoDMERB wanted clarification on that.  Fortunately, he didn't have to see a doctor or anything, just write about that in the follow-up paperwork they sent.  We were glad that they didn't have any further questions, and that he is medically cleared now!  That qualification is good for 2 years, and it is good for all the service academies, as well as ROTC.
  • He interviewed with our congressman's nomination panel Wednesday night.  He thought it went well.  He felt prepared for the questions, and he felt he was able to get across the points he was trying to make.  I think he is becoming more comfortable interviewing, what with all this practice he's getting!  He has an interview with a senator coming up as well.  I thought they had to interview everyone who put in an application, but that doesn't seem to be the case for the senators, only the House of Representatives member.  So it seems like this interview is definitely one of those "It's an honor to have made it this far" deals, since there were over 700 applicants, and possibly as few as 45 interviewees.  We haven't heard from the other senator, but actually, it doesn't sound like the VA senators give nominations to people who already have Presidential nominations, so it is probably a moot point anyway.  But more good interview practice, for sure!
  • He's taking his very last SAT on Saturday, missing a cross-country meet to do so, which does not make him happy.  But then he's done with high school standardized tests, except for APs in May!  Yay!