Monday, December 31, 2012

December 2012

We're doing really well. We had a round or two of the stomach bug here. Ben seems to keep getting it repeatedly. But despite that, we've managed to stay on top of our schooling.

Something you could be praying about for us. Two doctors have now diagnosed Ben with neurofibromatosis (NF1). We have a genetics appointment scheduled for mid January in Houston to confirm the diagnosis. If it is neurofibromatosis, then it could be a very serious thing. He doesn't show most of the indicators that he falls on the more harmful end of the spectrum, like seizures, migraines, speech impediments, or learning disabilities.  It seems that as the child gets older though, more problems could arise. Please pray against this for Ben.  NF1 is defined by tumors, called neurofibromas, which grow along nerves in the body, or on, or under the skin. As the tumors increase in size, they can press on vital areas of the body, causing problems in the way the body functions. Ben has lots of brown cafĂ© au lait spots on his skin which have been spreading steadily the last couple years. The first spots are now becoming raised. These distinctive spots don't hurt or bother him in any way, but they are indicators of a problem.  Hopefully they don't turn into anything more serious than spots that can be removed.  We’ll keep you posted.

We had a really good time picking out our Christmas tree this year from a Christmas tree farm.  It was fun watching the boys do the work of cutting down our tree once we all finally agreed on the very best tree of them all.  I liked the bluish hue the tree branches had.  It was really beautiful.  It lasted a really long time, which was awesome.  I’m wondering if we’ll ever do that again though, because decorating it was an immense pain.  It was super sappy, and besides covering us in sap, it also covered our hands and arms with painful and itchy rashes.  But…it was especially beautiful.  Maybe if we wear gloves up to our elbows next year?

Christmas was great!  My parents came up for a visit and we had a really nice time.  The big gift this year was a trampoline for the kids.  They were soooo excited!  We had it still in the box, hidden under a blanket outside.  Just when they thought the Christmas goodness was done, we told them they had one more present.  I love the overwhelming excitement that hit the kids, especially Caleb!  He was so excited that he leapt into his Daddy’s arms!  Awww!  It melts a Mommy’s heart.  Caleb is usually so mellow and calm.  I love that the boys ran outside barefoot and in jammies despite the freezing winter weather.

The other big gift was a banjo fund for Jon.  The boys and I can’t wait to see what he picks out.  The boys even contributed their own money to the secret banjo fund for Daddy.  We’ve been saving for a long time and hunting music stores in case we found a good deal.  I’m really impressed that Ben didn’t spill the beans.

My parent’s Christmas trip got derailed when Mom got injured jumping on the trampoline with the boys.  X-rays showed that she broke her foot in two places.  I felt so bad that happened.  And extra bummer was that Dad caught a bad cold here at the end of their trip.  What a horrible way to have to make the long drive back home from Texas to California!
We love you all tons!  Thanks for being a part of our lives!  Merry Christmas!
The Hartshorns

Friday, November 30, 2012

November 2012

We had a great Thanksgiving with cousin Aaron and the Rusch family.  I’m thankful they’ve taken us in like family.  I successfully made my first pumpkin pie, my first pecan pie, and my second sweet potato casserole (last year’s was a bust).  They turned out great for our 2nd Texas Thanksgiving.  It's kind of bizarre that I'd never made these All-American classics before.

I think we have a new after Thanksgiving “Texas” tradition – the corn maze!  I never imagined I'd find myself racing through an enormous corn maze:  Aaron and Ben, versus me and Jon, versus Caleb going solo, and it was soooo fun!  We had the best family day and topped our adventure off with a stop by the Blue Bell Creamery Ice Cream Parlor. 

After Thanksgiving, I purchased a P.E. program.  I’m very impressed with it so far.  It gives me 30-60 minute lessons that build on themselves.  I see a big improvement in both boys’ coordination and strength, even though we’re only getting to it once or twice a week.  Caleb has even noticed feeling happier after a lesson, which makes me a happy momma.  Way to go endorphins!  It works muscle groups, coordination, reaction time, spatial awareness, etc. in intentional ways.  The kids are getting much more from this program than they were getting from just playing outside as their exercise.  Plus it gets me out there playing and engaging with the kids in a new way.  Overall, I’m hopeful that this will impact the health and fun of the Hartshorns, as well as teach the ability to take care of oneself - a skill I'm not great at. I want better for my kids.

Caleb is growing like crazy! He is a quarter of an inch taller than 25 days ago!

I decided to attempt to propagate some of my herbs and to over-winter the parent basil plant since I live somewhere now that experiences actual winter and freezes.  The propagating worked really well for my pineapple basil and my rosemary.  They love my window sill and are rooting splendidly.  Additionally, I learned that if I put the bottoms of grocery store green onions in some water and set it in my window, they’ll grow! Now I can just trim off what I need when cooking, plus they're cute.  I’m thrilled with all this new gardening knowledge!

One Friday and Saturday we really packed in the fun!  Ben had his Fine Arts Friday classes, we had new friends over for a fun afternoon, and we spent the evening at a birthday party at a gymnastics studio.  Then Jon and the boys spent the whole night lake fishing on a boat with our neighbor.  Then we went to a pecan farm festival in the morning, shortly after the boys walked in the door from fishing.  We enjoyed watching a potter work on her pottery wheel at the festival and took an informative and relaxing 45 minute wagon ride through the orchards.  It was a gorgeous fall day.  After we got home the boys crashed hard and I decided to make some pasta from scratch.


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

October 2012

October started with a visit from Granny and the grand entrance of the beautiful crisp Fall weather.  The trip highlight was having friends over for the first campfire of the season and dining on Granny's super delicious chili, cornbread, and fried pies.

We went camping at Guadalupe River State Park with the Ruschs, Ericksons, and cousin Aaron.  On the drive there we were entertained by an authentic Ranchero showing off his lasso tricks while his gas was pumping.  We were a pump over watching with big grins.  It was so awesome and somehow made my Texas life more complete.....  Definitely crazy camping weather; sometimes muggy, overcast, and humid, sometimes raining, and sometimes perfect!  Caleb had a great first day camping and he was super excited that we let him stay up with the adults by the campfire as late as he wanted for the first time ever.  Sadly, he came down with a cold the second day and was a big pile of mopey sadness.  We tried to express that you can have a good attitude even while you feel sick, but he just couldn’t kick the floppy body language and frowny face; with the exception of the couple rounds of the Settlers of Catan board game he got to play with the grown ups.  He loved that and it was enough to distract him from feeling bad.  So Caleb and Jon had to sit out on our big river float, which was a bummer.  Ben and I really loved our first river float.  The adults were outnumbered by small children, each on their own floatation devices.  It was interesting keeping track of all the kids, but we managed.  I mostly kept track of my Ben.  I was in my tube with my legs hooked over onto Ben’s tube.  He grabbed my feet to doubly make sure he didn’t float away.  He was nervous, but excited.  He did great until we got to the small rapids section of the river.  He was not okay with that.  We had to get out while I tried to talk him into trying it with me.  I decided, kind of stupidly, to squish Ben’s partially deflated tube into the center hole of my tube.  The beginnings of the currents were very shallow and I was trying to increase our buoyancy so we didn’t have to combat scraping our behinds up on all the rocks, while simultaneously trying to keep Ben having fun.  I sat him on my lap for us to brave the rapids together in my double tube invention.  Our tubes totally tipped and dumped me on top of Ben.  The currents + the rocks + a scared Ben + a smashed Ben under a Mom = a terrified, bleeding, scraped up Ben.  Epic Mom fail!  So, while the rest of the group played in the rapids for the next hour and half, Ben and I sat on the side lines.  But, just about the time we were all ready to leave, I finally got Ben to try the rapids.  It helped a lot that he had been watching all the other kids going down the shoot over and over and over.  Also, the men delved into their inner child and went nuts rearranging the boulders to make the most ideal rapids shoot possible.  This is really the reason that Ben finally felt comfortable enough to brave the rapids.  Yay Ben and yay Justin, Jay, and Aaron!  Once Ben got going, he really loved the rapids.  I loved it too.  I’ve never done anything like that before and it was a blast!  I was so bummed that Caleb and Jon missed out.  We brought the gang all back the next afternoon though.  I forced Caleb to try the rapids a couple times, but he just didn’t feel good enough to be able to enjoy it.  He spent most of his time sitting around.  At least he was sitting around in gorgeous scenery.  We set up a table in the shallow rocks and the group played another round of Settlers of Catan, which brightened up Caleb’s afternoon.  I spent some lovely time with my camping chair set up in the middle of the river sunning myself after a few chilly rides down the rapids.  It was so perfect.

One day Ben’s Friday school needed me to volunteer as the teacher's assistant. Each parent has to volunteer twice throughout the school year, but since we started a little late, all the spots had been filled.  I’m the backup if someone has to cancel.  It was a fun and random day.  I had all the art classes. It was great seeing what Ben does in school because I haven’t been able to get much info out of him when I pick him up from school.  Really, hardly anything at all; and no work had been sent home with him either.  I was getting very curious.  It was exciting to see what art projects he’s been working on and what he is like in the school setting!  He is very cute, in case you were wondering, although I know I’m partial.  It was a great day, but I was running on low because Caleb had been sick since our camping trip and I’ve had to get up a lot during the previous few nights to help him.  That particular night I missed many hours of sleep.

I finally figured out a plan for Caleb’s English curriculum that works for us.  It’s a bit of this and that.  I found some stuff in the education store in town and some I improvised.  Caleb is no longer doing busy work or using curriculum that doesn’t fit his learning styles – he’s learning and that makes me glad.

Near the end of the month we had a fantastic Saturday; the best day!  We got a ton done in the house, Jon repaired his lathe machine, Caleb and Jon began making a new board game, Quoridor, Jon taught Ben how to play catch, and we even got a game of tennis in! Then we finished our night off with friends, roasting chili cheese dogs, and eating ice cream around a campfire in our yard.

Caleb first saw the game Quoridor in a teacher supply store when I was looking at homeschool curriculum. He was super interested, so he and Jon made plans to make their own.  I am so amazed and proud of Caleb and Jon for their creativity, perseverance, and ingenuity.  In one weekend they created their design, cut out the board/walls, turned the game pieces (1 representing each member of our family - guess who is who in the photos), sanded, and varnished it all.  We are so pleased with how fun the game is!  It’s very addictive.  Here are the game rules if you’re interested.

We very much missed our annual Halloween party at Jared & Claudine Allen’s home and trick-or-treating with the Flores and Jenkins families.  We miss our California friends an extra measure at times like these.  But we were still able to have a good time.  A couple days before Halloween, I asked the boys to look through our costumes, to see what they could come up with to wear.  Caleb just wasn’t satisfied with anything.  He has exhausted what we have and is too big now to be impressed with anything Target has to offer.  So we brainstormed and decided to tackle making him into a Lego minifigure, which is the little Lego person.  He really got excited!  It took two long days to make the Lego costume. I knew, yet didn't know, what I was getting myself into. It's amazing what cardboard, styrofoam sheets, glue, tape, and paint can become. Oh, and some PVC for the hands.   It really turned out spectacular. 

We joined the Rusch family at their church’s Harvest Festival again this year.  It was pretty much the same as last year.  Caleb turned a lot of heads as we walked in.  Sadly, he quickly became disoriented, overheated, and wilty in his costume.  It was very stifling in the styrofoam head, with very limited vision, and he couldn’t bend his knees to walk.  It turned out to be a very impressive, but impractical costume.  He ended up sitting out on a lot of the festivities. Meanwhile, Jon and I took Ben around to play the variety of carnival games for candy.  We dined on chili dogs, cotton candy, and popcorn.  We got to check out all kinds of prehistoric looking creatures, went for a hayride, and Ben got a balloon snake made by the balloon man.  Caleb had fun doing the costume contest at the end of the night.  Funny enough, there was another little boy in line with him in a homemade cardboard box costume that he had designed to be a transformer in its vehicle mode.  He was a nice little boy about Caleb’s age and I was later telling Caleb that he should go find that boy and try to make friends with him.  Caleb wasn’t interested in doing that of course, but I was internally pining over this potential friendship.  I could just tell that they would be great friends.

Later on, one of my new friends showed up.  I was surprised to see her because we know her from Caleb’s robotics class.  Her son and Caleb had hit it off in class and we had been over to her house once for a play date.  It turned out that her brother brought her son Lucas to the Harvest Festival because she had taken her youngest to the hospital.  So the little boy I had been pining over ended up being Caleb’s friend already!  We just didn’t recognize him out of context!  So funny!  I have no doubt that these friendships will grow and grow.

Caleb was very excited to win the costume contest for his age group.  He has now won two years in a row.  Last year he had put together a very random assortment of bits of pieces from our dress up box and called himself Captain Random.

We're considering finishing up the details that we ran out of time to add to the Lego costume, name him, and then photograph him in funny places around town over the next year. We were cracking ourselves up with our ideas on our drive home.  I’m kind of hoping we do, I think we’d have a good time. 

I’ll end this entry with a super new tasty dessert I discovered.  It’s perfect for Fall and I’ve even made it twice because they are so yummy, and I rarely care about treats.   Here you go…welcome to the world of Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with cream cheese frosting! 

Whoopie Pie Recipe (disregard the frosting portion):

Frosting Recipe (You need to double the frosting recipe, and although this whole recipe is tasty, you only need the frosting portion for the pumpkin whoopie pies):

Tip: When you drop the cookie batter onto the cookie sheets, you need to use a spoon and swirl them into a flatter and smoother shape. They pretty much stay the same shape as they are when you put them on the cookie sheet.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

September 2012

We started September off with a day trip to Gibbons Creek Reservoir.  I like finding all the little fun spots around us.  They had a roped off swim area and we took our neighbors canoe out to do some fishing.  It still gives me a burst of cheer to get paddled around pretty nature spots by Caleb and Jon.  I love sitting behind Caleb and watching him paddle; he’s growing up right before my eyes.  It’s crazy!  How did he get so big and capable all of a sudden?  I especially enjoyed all the gigantic and beautiful lily pads, the stunning cranes perched on tree stumps that were intermittently coming out of the lake, drinking my coffee while my boys rowed me around, shoring up on the back side of a fun little island for a bit, and tying off to one of the random stumps so Jon could bait the fishing lines with super, super, super stinky bait.  Good memories.

Caleb had a great 11th birthday.  He wanted pizza and bowling with friends.  Easy to do, perfect!  Especially since his last birthday was such a bust.  It had been his first birthday in Texas and he missed his CA friends and traditions, on top of being too sick to even want birthday cake. I’m so glad he was able to have a great birthday this year.  Grandma Cheryl even came to celebrate my sweet boy.  I love her new tradition of flying in to visit for the boys’ birthdays.  We appreciate the tangible act of love.  Thanks Mom!  We are also so appreciative of all the thoughtful birthday gifts from friends and family.  Thanks everyone.  It made my heart happy to see how our new Texas friends have really gotten to know Caleb and found things that they knew he would love.  I’m very thankful for friendships, new and old.

Homeschooling is going well with Ben in 1st grade and Caleb in 6th grade.  This year we had the means to have the boys involved in some extra classes, which I’m very glad about.  Last year we were new to the area and didn’t really know what was available, plus we didn’t really have any extra money.  We tried a gymnastics class for Ben and I expected that he would love it!  He is constantly rearranging my living room into a giant jump zone.  They had a special homeschool class that was during the day with other homeschoolers.  How perfect, or so I thought.  I was surprised that Ben was so scared.  He was okay at first during the warm up and stretching portion of the class.  But then they jumped right into hard stuff without much explanation.  Turns out, the downside of the homeschool class was that it had all ages and experience levels in one class.  It terrified him. I was watching him standing in line waiting for his next turn to run and jump on the spring pad to launch him onto the huge foam block, hoping for him to see the fun in the activity.  But then I saw his fear try to break though and I saw him try to hold back the tears and be brave.  He kept this up through his whole wait in the line.  He took his turn with no enthusiasm, and then he very adult-like held up a “just a moment” finger to his teacher, and ran over to me in the viewing area.  And that was that.  He let it all go and I had one tearful boy on my hands.  I convinced him to go out and try it again, to be brave in the face of fear.  I thought we were in the clear when he agreed to give it another try.  He ran back into line and tried again.  He did his run (at a very slow speed – a meandering jog perhaps), his jump, and his assisted fall onto the huge foam block.  Then he bee lined it for me.  He broke down into a sobbing pile of distraught sadness! He absolutely would not go out again.  We watched the rest of the class from the viewing area.  We practiced everything we saw at home so he would be ready to go for the next class.  The next week, he got a big pep talk and the promise of the treat of his choice if he tries everything and stays in class.  He seemed agreeable until it was time to join the rest of the kids.  Another tear-fest!  I’ve never seen him like this and it broke my heart.  I was in such a spot.  What to do?  Do I push him to do something that apparently terrorizes him and teach him to try things and not let fear win, but traumatize him in the process?  Or do I let him off the hook and help him feel better, but in doing so, let him think you can just quit things if they’re hard?  Ahhh!  Well, I really couldn’t get him out there short of dragging him, and I decided that I wasn’t willing to pay primo dollar amounts if he isn’t benefitting from it.  But I did want him to be involved in something so that this fear of the unknown wouldn’t win.  By the next day I had him enrolled in KOR school for their Friday fine arts program. It’s a local private school that does the core subjects Mon-Thur.  They opened their Friday fine arts program up to homeschoolers for the first time this year.  And bonus: the supervisor was able to fit him in to the class with one of his friends, Cole Hamiter.  Yay!  He's taking music, theater, art, and P.E. Each class is an hour.  He was nervous about trying another new thing, so I promised to stay in the parking lot for the whole first day.  I would be there if he needed me.  Poor Caleb and my Mom had to honor the promise with me.  So the three of us sat in the car for 4 hours in the parking lot; a living security blanket.  But, it was so worth it.  Knowing I was just right there gave Ben the security and emotional freedom to be able to enjoy himself.  He had a blast!  From our parking space, we could watch Ben in his final class of the day, P.E.  It was such a sharp contrast to his gymnastics experience.  He was running full steam ahead and thriving in this atmosphere!  I'm so relieved it went well and I’m glad I could watch him for that little bit to see how he was doing.  I'm glad we found the right fit for our family. I’m glad my Mom was here visiting too! It's great that she was here as we figured all that out. She got to see the highs and lows in our homeschooling adventure. We topped our experience off with hamburgers and frozen custard. Yum!

Caleb is taking two really great classes this year that haven’t been offered in this area before.  They are so perfect for him and are challenging and engaging.  The first is a middle school level engineering class.  He has to take notes during the lecture, do homework, and participate in a variety of building challenges.  He is also taking a robotics class.  This class is a lot easier for him, but he is gaining a lot of knowledge he didn’t have before.  He loves them both and he even made one friend, another little boy his age who loves Legos and robots, and whose brain operates very similarly to Caleb’s.  It’s perfect.  We were invited over to his new friend’s house for a play date.  I got on really well with the mom and there was a little girl about Ben’s age.  They played splendidly together.  Extra perfect!  The friendships are still in the beginning phase, but I think they will be good ones.

We also went to the first get together of a group of homeschoolers who plan to meet once a month for a Lego contest, a chess tournament, an art project, and a geography video.  We went and Caleb enjoyed the Lego contest and the chess tournament.  We brought our Simpsons chess board and Caleb ended up with a big group of kids surrounding his game and wanting a turn to play on the fun board.  Ha ha, kids!  Secretly I had wondered if we would offend the local community with our Simpsons board.  They are very conservative around here.  It turned out to be fine, I think?  The art project wasn’t the best and they never made it to the geography video.  So next time I think we’ll just stay for the first two portions.

One neat advancement around here is that I signed up with Scholastic to receive their book club flyers as our own school.  They apparently have allowances to do that for homeschool families.  I had been missing being able to order from Scholastic, as they usually have a really discounted book highlighted each month and new books are often printed in paperback exclusively for Scholastic, when they are only offered in hardcover everywhere else.  Additionally, we’ll now receive the incentives, rewards, and discounts doubly, as both the parent and the teacher.  Yay for double rewards!

Friday, August 31, 2012

August 2012

Most of August was spent either watching the four Rusch kids or keeping up with my own household chores.  It was a full load.

One weekend we spent an absolutely perfect day with our dear, dear friends, the Fillmores!!! They live in South Carolina, but were visiting family in Texas. They were driving back to South Carolina, so we found a random spot on the map somewhere between us and their parents, which ended up being Davy Crockett National Forest.  I finally got to meet their sweet new baby girl and all of our boys got a chance to get reacquainted.  We all used to go to the same church in California.  It turns out that Davy Crockett National Forest is not an ideal meet up place.  The only public section was closed and barred.  We totally made the best of it though.  We drove down a dirt road into the forest, and after concluding that we weren’t headed anywhere, we pulled off the road and just set up a picnic in a clearing we found.  It couldn’t have been nicer.  I cherish our few hours with Paul and Mel!  I love those guys and seeing them only made me miss them more!

For my 33rd birthday, we drove to the Gulf Coast.  On the way, we passed through Houston, and stopped at Corner Bakery for lunch.  Corner Bakery is one of my favorite cafes and we hadn’t been to one since we were last in California.  We all stuffed ourselves full of our favorite familiar flavors.  Yum!  We also got to drive near NASA headquarters.  We’re looking forward to making another Houston trip sometime to check out the NASA museum.  We finally arrived at the coast.  I remember feeling awed by the drive.  We drove as far down the coastal road as we could go and ended up at the farthest possible end of the island.  We drove through some remarkably gorgeous wetlands on the way.  At times, the narrow bit of road was sea level, or slightly below sea level, with a very slim amount of land on either side to separate us from the ocean.  It was bizarre.  A storm was moving in, so we wanted to hurry and enjoy the ocean before the storm hit.  We started just rolling up our pants legs and playing in the waters, but soon decided to change into our swim suits and fully enjoy it.  Unlike the CA beaches, the Gulf waters are nice and warm, which is the only reason it was possible to play in such weather.  Caleb and I got scared off for a little while because Jon was cautioning us to do the “stingray shuffle,” which means to shuffle your feet as you walk out into the water so you don’t step on a stingray and get stung.  Instead, the shuffling motion will disturb the stingray, who will then be more likely to just swim away and not sting you.  This was a new experience for me and something I never had to take this into consideration in CA.  It took Caleb and me a little while to get our courage up, but we eventually did, and enjoyed ourselves.  The Gulf Coast is notable for being shallow very far out.  I have a picture in my head of Jon and I sitting way out in the waters looking around at the eerie view.  I felt like we could have been in a dystopian novel with the crazy pre-storm weather painting everything in an overcast humid haze, painful needles of ocean spray shooting at us from the strong winds with a surprising intensity, industrial factories obscured by the mist far off on the horizon, and a deserted beach that felt like it was at the ends of the earth.  It was awesome and felt like we were the last people alive.

After having our fill of playing in the ocean, we got back in the car, and explored more of Galveston.  We ended up at a huge gift shop and boardwalk area.  The boys hiked down the jetty while I meandered around the gift shop.  Of course that’s when the storm hit, while the boys were in the danger zone far out on the jetty.  I anxiously waited and waited, and finally they got to me.  They were fine and had been close to shore when the pounding rain and high winds hit.  Jon left the boys with me and went to get our car so I wouldn’t also get drenched.  Then we ate at Joe’s Crab Shack for dinner.  That surprised me.  I didn’t know it was a big chain.  We finished off our time in Galveston with wandering around the piers behind the restaurant.  The rain had softened and the sky was turning beautiful colors with the sunset.  There was a historical sailing vessel, sea lions, and sea birds.  It was really nice.

On our drive home, we stopped back in Houston to hit the new Trader Joes.  It was surreal being in Trader Joes again!  I think Jon and I were both a little giddy.  We loaded up on all of our Trader Joes favorites.  We hadn’t been to our favorite little grocery store since CA.  I may have even done a little happy dance in the aisle; what a perfect way to top off my birthday celebration!

We started our homeschooling year the last week of August.  I didn’t really get a break between watching the Rusch kids for the summer and beginning our homeschooling year.  I really needed a transition time, but that was lacking.  What can you do, but just get to it?  I do better when I have time to mentally process what has happened and what needs to happen.  I’m so thankful that our CA school is letting us continue with their program another year and provided me with all our curriculum again.  Opening the text books for the first time on the first day of schooling is stressful for me.  I expected the curriculum to be pretty much the same as last year, and I was hoping I could pull off this no prep work thing.  Caleb’s English curriculum turned out to be very different from the previous few years’ curriculum. I haven’t been happy with it and it just doesn’t work for us.  I’ll have to figure out something else that will fit our needs better.  In the meantime, though, we’ll use it.  Everything I was given for Ben is fantastic and we’re really enjoying it.  All in all, we’re on the right track.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

June - July 2012

We’ve been in Texas for a whole year now!  So crazy!  This prompted a time of reflection for me.  This has been a very strange year with lots of difficulties in the lives of all the friends we’ve met.  I see God using Jon and I in big ways.  He has used us to be an anchor; a stabilizing force.  He has used our home to be a peaceful refuge for others.  I love that!  He even had strangers come up to my door and tell me what the Lord showed them about me, Jon, my home, and what God has in store!  I sat quietly while they shared their words from the Lord.  I wanted to laugh (but totally kept a straight face instead) because complete strangers told me so much that I already know about myself, my gifts, and visions the Lord has already given me.  How’s that for reassurance from the Lord!  But what I liked even more was that they told me what I already know and then took it a step further.  Not only will my home be a place of peace and a refuge…but it will be a place of healing.  I like how the Lord added that on to what He had already shown me.  Not only will we be an anchor…but our lives will go beyond just holding others up, we will thrive!  Our strangers also perfectly described the vision the Lord showed me of how Jon’s journey will go.  How it will not be an ordinary journey to a new career by going to school and doing the 4 year thing.  It will be a wonky path, kind of like a switch back trail, going left and right, but steadily up.  With each shift of direction happening from Jon meeting and talking with someone and that opens the next leg of the path.  It’s a journey based on trusting in God.  There may be a few classes thrown in there, but the four year plan is no longer being considered.  I’m excited!

We started off the month of June with Ben’s 6th birthday!  He had a blast celebrating his birthday with his friends at the pool.  It was a perfect afternoon.  It was great that Sam was still visiting with us for Ben’s birthday.  It made it that much more memorable for Ben.  Thank you everyone who participated in loving on Ben with your time and thoughtful gifts.  He loves everything he was given.  Jon and I have enjoyed watching our kids figure out the pogo stick we got Ben.  Both Caleb and Ben have spent a lot of time practicing to pogo in our living room.  It’s very entertaining for all.

Summer has been unexpected in many ways.  I agreed to watch the four Rusch kids two ten-hour days a week, but that soon turned into three ten-hour days a week.  It has been a very consuming, but worthwhile job.  I’m glad I had a couple weeks to adjust before the third day kicked in, or I would not have made it.  I noticed lots of normal things getting left undone in the first two weeks.  The fresh fruit rotted before it could get cut up and eaten, the laundry never quite got completed, and the huge package of toilet paper from Sam’s Club stayed in its spot in the middle of the bathroom floor, instead of getting put away in the cabinet, until it had all been used up.  When it dawned on me that it was all because I was adjusting to being the caregiver for 4 extra kids who were going through the tough life changes of their mom leaving the home, then it all made sense and I gave myself a break.  By the end of the first two weeks, I was back on track with watching the kiddos and having energy left for my own life’s to-dos; perfect timing for adding a third day of watching the kids.  God knew what I could handle and when.  He’s pretty awesome like that.  So after another week or so of adjusting to the new schedule of Mon, Wed, Fri, I felt up to conquering potty training Jude.  He is 4 and had drastically regressed on his potty training from the emotional distress.  He had been unwilling to even try to go on the potty for a long time.  It was what he could control in life to balance the emotional distress and so he did.  I made him a pretty awesome laminated potty chart that he could take with him from my house, to his Granny’s house, to his own house.  He got so excited about the potty chart and about earning prizes.  Wow!  He blew through that chart in a couple weeks and I’m proud to say I’ve got myself a fully potty trained Jude now!  He is the most strong-willed child I have ever encountered, and so, I feel extra proud of myself.  I also felt adjusted enough to add in positive reinforcement for all the kids.  I had already done really well over all the weeks working with the kids on the rules, discipline, and behavioral issues.  They have been steadily improving their behavior.  Jude especially has improved on his epic stubborn angry tantrums that can last hours.  I have invested a lot into all the kids and into building their character, their responses to their feelings, and their behaviors.  Time outs are a great tool, but I was ready for more than consequences for bad choices, I was ready for rewards for good behavior.  Now they get to earn marbles to put in the marble jar when I see them follow the rules without being reminded or do things that make me proud of them.  There are incremental lines on the jar and they get a small prize from the prize bag when they reach one.  When they fill the whole jar up, we’ll go out for frozen yogurt!  Additionally, a huge factor in the steadily improving behavior, leading to enjoyable kids, is how their Dad interacts with them.  Justin has been very consistent with their discipline and coming from a tender and loving place instead of an angry, tired, or frustrated place.  So awesome, and exponentially more so, since he suddenly became a single Dad of four small children!  So I now have seven year old Jewel, who is such a sweet girl.  She loves dancing and dress up and girly things.  She almost never gives me any trouble.  I have 6 year old Summer who wants to please.  She loves to be a cooking or cleaning helper, so much so, that sometimes I have to make her go play with the other kids instead of being my shadow.  She is prone to being really emotionally sensitive, which we’re working on.  She can be a really chatty one.  I’ve been making it a point to really listen and give my full attention to what all the kids have to say when they want to talk with me, to be fully engaged in the conversation.  If I want my kids to talk with me when they’re adults about what’s most important to them, I have to listen now when they tell me about the frog, or the legos, or the drawing, because that’s what’s most important to them now.  It’s a little crazy trying to do that with 6 kids in the house and still get done what needs to get done.  I’m finding the balance.  Anyway, back to the kiddos.  I have a 4 year old Jude who is the sweetest guy with the sweetest personality and cutest little Texas accent.  But when the flip switches, he can get stuck being angry and stubborn.  I’ve been teaching him tools to help him let go of his angry thoughts.  We’ve come so far!  And finally I’ve got 4 year old Chris.  Chris is a character.  He loves attention and he is not shy in the least.  He loves to perform.  He also can get in the most mischief.  He has a very destructive curiosity.  After enough of my stuff suffered from Chris’s curiosity, I decided that Chris has to always be in my line of sight.  He can also be very sensitive and can turn into a big boneless pile of boy.  These are all things we’ve been working on with him and he too has come very far.  Of course, I have my own two boys!  Caleb is 10 now and is sooooo smart I can’t believe it.  Just the other day I came home and found that he and Jon had gone out and bought a soldering gun and Caleb was sitting at the table practicing soldering on paper clips so that he could soon solder on the circuit boards they pilfered from old broken things.  Caleb is really looking forward to a middle school engineering class and a separate robotics class we have him signed up for in the fall.  I hope he learns some stuff he doesn’t already know.  He has quite a bit of robotics knowledge already from the Lego Mindstorm robotics kit.  This class uses a different robotics kit and is taught by an engineer, so that’s great.  Caleb has adjusted really well to having his home taken over by a herd of small children three days a week.  He is a big help to me and he finds ways to play and enjoy the kids when he isn’t building with legos.  Ben is 6 now and he is such a delight.  He radiates fun and joy.  He is obedient and happy go lucky.  I have to remind him to slow down and be more careful in his rush to enjoy himself.  He’s working on it and I’ve seen a lot of improvement this year.  I’m trying to pour into him to stop and think and make his own decisions; to not just go along with what the group thinks or what the group is doing.  I love all my kids, my 3 days a week kids and my everyday kids!

We bought a summer pass to the city pools.  It’s one fun way to beat the Texas heat.  There are three different pools we can go to, each with their own amenities.  We prefer the big pool with two big slides and a separate deep pool.  I love the fun family exercise we get.  Ben has come really far in learning to swim this summer.  It all started with a mix of two things: 1) he was given a well fitted mask and snorkel for his birthday and 2) a friend ended up with his floaty, but we didn’t know and thought we lost it.  Ben was adamant that he did not want to buy a new floaty and he just wanted to be in the water with his new mask and snorkel.  He was fascinated with snorkeling.  Between the two, he caught onto swimming so fast that I can’t believe it.  He still can’t tread water yet, so he needs a grown up close by if he is in the deep end.  Caleb has also drastically improved his swimming this year.  Just the other day he finally figured out how to dive and not just belly flop!  Seriously, it was hilarious; he would belly flop every time he tried to dive.  But he finally got it now.  I bought myself an itty bitty teenie weenie yellow polka dot bikini!  I’ve been burning off some of my tummy jiggly with all this extra swimming.  I’m almost to my weight/tone goal.  Yay!

We finally switched my phone from Sprint to Verizon.  I loved Sprint, but they have no coverage where I live.  Verizon was the only company that worked here.  My first phone call on my new cell from my house worked so good! No dropped call, no static, no "I'm sorry, the phone cut out, would you repeat that," no "Hello, I can hear you, can you hear me? Hello, hello?" It's been a long year with no reliable phone at home. Whew!  Jon has an old flip AT&T phone through his work now.  He’s anxious to repair the broken iPhone 3GS that he was given by a friend.  We just got the repair kit and replacement parts in the mail, so we’re crossing our fingers that he’ll have a decent phone soon.

We had a great visit with my cousin Kara and her little guy Jude. I’m so happy she was here for our first 4th of July in Texas, which we celebrated with cake balls, fireworks, and friends.  The rest of the visit was fun filled as well.  We had a campfire, swam, and made big bubbles with Caleb's homemade bubble wand creation.  We explored our land for a short bit and played at the splash pad.  It was hilarious that we would both play scramble (a boggle type game) on our phones with each other while she was lying down with Jude in the guest room until he fell asleep at night and I was sitting in the living room relaxing.  I’m so thankful for the evening moments we got when all the kids were in bed and we got to catch up a little.  Thanks for staying up past your bedtime to chat with me Kara!  I love you!

After Kara and Jude headed home, we decided to check out the Brazos Natural History Museum.  It was fun. Caleb and Jon really enjoyed the gravitational waves special exhibit.  Ben and I ping ponged all over. He really enjoyed the dinosaur bones and fossils, the live bees and rotating beehive, and the live snakes, turtles, and lizards. It was super fun to search and find the queen bee in the beehive. They marked her with a couple yellow dots on her thorax. It was really interesting how all the bees around the queen always faced her and gave her extra space.

We got more work done on our house.  We painted the kitchen cabinets black and finally touched up the wall that the entertainment center had been on.  It had a very geometric design with patches of tan painted wall and patches of the original wallpaper that had been hidden behind the entertainment center before we removed it, when we first moved in a year ago.  I can’t believe we didn’t get to it sooner.  It only took a few minutes to drastically improve such a huge eye sore.  The paint was even lying around leftover from the last time the house had been painted when Grandma Jean still lived here.  We’re thankful for the improvements, but still plan to texture and repaint the walls later on.  I also got a slipcover for the couch and made a few comfy down throw pillows (technically they’re down alternative pillows).  Such a big difference!  We’ve decided to do minimal improvements.  We no longer plan to remodel the kitchen.  We don’t want to pour too much time and money into this house.  Our home is getting comfier and comfier, little by little.

I’ve spent a little time gardening and a lot of time cooking.  I’ve been having the Rusch family stay for dinner two to three times a week usually.  I’ve also been keeping up with making yogurt for myself and my family since May.  I end up making it about twice a week.  I love it.  My latest big food challenge was to learn to make gnocchi.  I did and it was awesome!  I made Pastrami Ragu Gnocchi which is fancy talk for a gourmet pastrami topping that was delicious. Now I want to figure out how to make a knock-off of a local Italian restaurant’s garlic red sauce that they use for their gnocchi.  It’s unlike any sauce I’ve had before.  My first attempt wasn’t quite there, although yummy in its own right.

Leigh Goyco and I started a Bible study together, for just the two of us.  I’ve really been enjoying the study.  It is on the book of James and is called “Mercy Triumphs” by Beth Moore.  I like so much about it.  I like that I get to delve into the scriptures in a new way.  I like that the book asks specific personal questions as well.  I like this because it promotes personal conversations and sharing of one’s life experiences and opinions in ways that might never have naturally come up, which is so beneficial to growing my friendship with Leigh.  I’m really enjoying the time spent with her and building our friendship.  She is such an enjoyable lady and the mama of 4 great kids.  I really enjoy her whole family.

Anna Hamiter’s wedding was at the end of July.  I was excited for her, but doubly excited for me, because my cousin, Anna Swink, is her best friend, who I knew would be flying in from Kauai!  I really enjoyed the good cousin time we squeezed in, which mostly ended up being late nights at the wedding venue getting ready for the wedding; Totally a blast, although a lot of work.  Anna was here for two weeks before the wedding and Aaron and Andrew came a couple days before the wedding.  I love my Swinktastic cousins and the fun time we had!  The wedding ceremony was at dusk and so sweet.  The evening reception was perfectly magical and twinkly with lots of dancing.  I even got one slow dance with my non-dancing husband to “our song,” Can’t Help Falling in Love by Elvis.  Caleb and Ben thought the send off was crazy awesome.  All the wedding guests that were left lined up under the tunnel of lights with glow sticks blurring in their hands while they were moving to the beat of the blasting dubstep music (fast electronic dance music).  The couple danced their way down the line and at the climax of the music everyone joined them in a final impromptu dance party under the stars before the couple drove off in their convertible with glow sticks raining down. Ben didn’t want to throw his glow sticks because he wanted to keep them.  Definitely a memorable send off!  I wish the happy couple so much love and blessings!

That’s it.  Love you all!
Jon, Rebecca, Caleb & Benjamin

Thursday, May 31, 2012

February - May 2012

In the beginning of February, my closest friend in Texas had a crisis and left her family.  It’s been devastating on the whole community, but her husband and children the most.  Jon and I both felt torn up over the incredible hurt and loss for the broken family.  We found as many ways as we could to support the family and love on them.  In this process, we’ve really gotten enmeshed into the community here and are walking real life out with our neighbors and friends.  It’s been intense.  But the upside for us is the many new friendships that have quickly moved from acquaintances to deeper friendships through this trauma.  Over the last few months, I am finding my groove here in a new way.  I am hosting lots of meals at my house and am building more depth and closeness with my new friendships.

We are finally no longer cut off from the world of technology.  The local internet company, who denied us internet, got bought out by a bigger company, who had no problem getting us our own internet connection.  So now we have internet again!  Our last internet attempt with burying the Ethernet cable to our neighbor’s house lasted for about 3 weeks before an electrical storm fried that option.  The new connection is good enough to let me check emails and whatnot, but not fast enough to stream anything.  We also have a working land line at home too, thanks to my dad who sent me a Magic Jack.  The Magic Jack gives you a telephone line off of the internet.  It works about as well as the internet, so not that well, but better than nothing.  It’s the price of living in a rural area.  I do like that I can use the data on my phone over wifi now.  It’s much faster than the roaming I was using previously.

Valentine’s Day was low key this year.  In the morning I found some chocolate covered strawberries and my favorite champagne in the fridge. It was really sweet and I was really surprised.

We took a long weekend trip to Missouri to visit my cousin Kara and her son Jude, as well as her parents, my Aunt Dar and Uncle Darrel. On the way we got to stop for In-N-Out in Dallas!  Man, we sure miss our favorite burger stop.  Caleb was excited that he could easily eat it.  He had two loose teeth that have been making eating tricky for awhile, but as of that morning, he had a new toothless grin! Jon had to pull out his two teeth because a collision with Ben left his mouth bloody and painful. They were loose teeth anyway and blocking the new adult teeth growing in.

It's a 10 hour drive to Kara’s from where we live. It's nice that I live close enough to be part of her life again. Her parents live in the house with her too. Aunt Dar was like a grandma to me my whole life, but even more so since my grandma died when I was in Jr. High. My grandma is her sister. She always sends my kids birthday and Christmas cards, plus a gift or money. It’s really sweet and much appreciated.  We haven't really seen them since they moved to Missouri. We used to always do holidays together and have really missed them since they moved. It was really good to see her too! I’m glad Ben, Caleb, and Jude will get a chance to know each other over the years.

While there we went to Fantastic Caverns. I was fine until they turned all the lights off for a full minute to show us what true dark is and how your eyes are unable to adjust in true darkness. I was trying so hard to not freak out. I knew I would have a hard time in the cave, but it was so bad. I am absolutely claustrophobic. I was fighting terror. I didn't fully recover until awhile after we were back outside. Probably only Jon knew the extent of how I was feeling. I'm glad I kept it together. At one point while it was dark, I put my hand on Caleb's knee; to reassure him in case he was feeling scared. He was like, "Mom, why are you touching my knee?" Yah, he wasn't scared. He thought it was so neat, as an experience and as a new science discovery. Ben was fine too. Even Jude, the 3 year old was fine. I'm such a wimp, but not wimp enough to let my fear stop me. Got to be brave for the boys! Want to teach them to be brave in the face of fear!

Kara sent me home with a sprouting jar.  I had never heard of it before, but I love it so much already.  I just put in the alfalfa seeds, soak them overnight in water, and rinse them twice a day. In less than a week I have home grown alfalfa sprouts to eat in my sandwiches and salads!  They are so tasty and I can do it again and again!  I’m itching to start making my own yogurt next.  I use a cup of plain lofat yogurt in my protein shakes every morning.  I would save quite a bit of money making my own, but I want a yogurt making machine to help simplify the job.  I can’t wait!

Shortly after our return home we got to help celebrate the birthday of one of Caleb’s new friends at a roller skating rink.  We all had a blast.  Ben was really shaky and unstable when we started.  We got him this support rail the rink has for young kids to hold on to while skating to stabilize them.  He used that for a while, but it wasn’t too long until he wanted to try on his own.  Each time around he improved noticeably.  We were all super impressed with how quickly Ben got the hang of it!

Jon and I celebrated our 11th Happy Saint Birth-A-Versary (Jon’s birthday, our anniversary, and St. Patrick’s Day)!   We had a full weekend.  We had friends over one night and I got to break in my paella pan.  We feasted on delicious paella, a dish from Spain, which looked as good as it tasted.  Then the next night we celebrated Jon’s birthday with a party at our house, a bonfire, and his favorite meal, chile verde.  Then the next night Jon and I got to go on a date for our anniversary.  It was a really nice weekend.

One weekend we went camping at the Frio River with our cousins Aaron and Andrew, the Ericksons, Jake and Lena Hamiter, and the Rusch family.  I was afraid I wasn’t going to get to go because I came down with a bad cold a few days before we were supposed to leave.  But my fever broke a couple hours before it was time to go, so I decided to go for it.  I didn’t feel very good, but it beat sitting at home alone.  And I’m so glad I went.  It was such a gorgeous place and the weather was perfect.  We went with a good group of people.  Our campsite was right on the river.  It was so nice to hear the sounds of the river while you lay in your tent.  We were right by a perfect shallow area of water, so the kids could play in the river to their hearts content.  I hid in the shade while the other ladies lay out in the sun.  One afternoon, the boys all canoed and kayaked miles down the river.  That was the highlight for Jon and Caleb for sure.  Some of the guys dared the rope swings that were randomly along the river.  Another afternoon my boys paddled me around in the canoe like I was a princess.  That was so sweet.  Caleb is getting to be so big, strong, and capable.  We finished off our weekend by grabbing some tasty Texas BBQ on our drive home with Aaron and the Rusch family.

Our home improvement has been slow going, but we have made some headway on my garden.  First I transplanted my tomatoes to bigger pots and tried some new techniques I learned from a gardener I met at the Farm Patch, a fresh fruit and veggie store. I scratched the stems up with my thumb nail and then planted 80% of the plant under the soil, leaving 20% above ground. This is supposed to promote more root growth. She said to do this process once more and to plant half in sun and half in shade. The plants in the sun will produce until the intense heat of summer, which is when the shaded plants will start becoming bountiful. Great tips for Texas gardening!  Then, we found garden fencing piled up behind a shed on our property, which you need to keep deer and rabbits out of your garden. Plus a neighbor we just met that day gave us wood to build our raised planter beds. I feel like God is totally caring for my wants even though we have no extra money.  So we tilled, built raised beds, and set up one wall of our fencing.  My brother came for a visit and finished putting up the rest of my garden fence!  He is so awesome!  I have roma tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, squash, and a variety of herb seeds planted.  I planted some cantaloupe, but it hasn’t sprouted.  Oh well.  This is all a big experiment anyway.  I sprouted a variety of peppers in my kitchen window until they were ready to be planted outside.  Jon and the boys did a bunch more work on my garden for Mother’s Day.  It’s in really good shape now.

We also got pretty far on remodeling the guest/boys bathroom.  It is transformed!  It previously had mobile home flowered wallpaper and carpet.  The carpet was so problematic with so many little boys coming through my house.  I constantly cleaned, but to no avail.  It always smelled of urine.  So not okay!  I’m so thankful this problem is finally solved!!!  I’m also very happy with how much cuter the room is now as well.  We still intend to replace the sink cabinet, but one thing at a time.

Caleb got to take a trip to California to visit his best friend Sam and to take the CA Star test, which is the required state standardized testing. We're still homeschooling under our CA school. They've been so generous with us in letting us borrow all of our curriculum, so we wanted to honor their request to have Caleb take the test with his class.  He traveled alone for the first time and was gone for 10 days.  I was fine while he was gone even though it was a really weird concept. Mostly sending him on a plane by himself for the first time was when I was worried. But my brother decided to visit and book his ticket on Caleb's return flight! So I had a little extra peace of mind one way and I saved $100. Each way has an extra $100 unaccompanied minor fee. Ben was having a lot trouble with the idea of his big brother being gone. He didn’t want to go to sleep by himself in his room and was just generally worried.  But we booked a ticket for my mom to come visit us the week before Caleb left for CA and she stayed until Caleb returned.  That way Ben had a whole 10 days of Grandma’s undivided attention.  That made ALL the difference!  Caleb wasn’t homesick at all even though he had never been away from home alone before. Here is what Caleb wrote about his trip.

I took a trip to California to visit my best friend Sam.  When I got off the airplane, I was greeted with a squeeze-the-breath-out-of-you hug sandwich.  Sam and his 4 year old sister Vida were so happy to see me, that they had a hard time releasing me from the hug.  I have many favorite memories from my trip.

I got to see my old school friends at the park one afternoon.  Van turned our imaginary game into a stick fight.  I explored my old favorite jungle area with everybody:  Kaleo, Kalani, Van, Luke, and Sam.  It was really fun seeing my friends again.

The next day Sam and I went to a jump house with Romeo and Natasha since they couldn’t go to the park to see me.  We were trying to take a picture, but Sam kept getting distracted watching a television.  I fell off of a slide the wrong way and skinned my elbow.  Thankfully it didn’t hurt too much, but I did get a big scab.

One day, Sam’s mom took me and Sam to the California Science Center in Los Angeles.  By using a lever, Sam and I got to pick up a 2000 lb. truck by ourselves.  We saw space capsules, learned about deep sea vents, and we learned more about earthquakes.  For a small earthquake, it’s safer to be in a smaller building, but for a larger earthquake it’s safer to be in a taller building.

Part of my time there was testing at my school.  The test was kind of fun.  I liked the science section the most.  It was great to see Ms. Robin and my other teachers again.

Sam’s dad took me, Sam, and Vida to the beach one afternoon.  Sam and I built a really cool sand castle.  We had to protect it from the waves by digging moats and building a giant wall between the castle and the sea.  It was a cool and overcast day.  I liked standing right where the waves crashed against me.  It’s kind of like the meaning of my name, Caleb Morgan, which is faithful, bold, and the edge of the sea.  My Mom says that means I will be steady against the storms in life.  That’s what I was thinking about when I was standing in the waves.

I had a great time in California and I can’t wait to go there again.  I love and miss my friends there so much.

We had a lovely couple of weeks with my mom here.  She and the boys did lots of crafts and read lots of stories.  While Caleb was gone, she made some special art to hang up in the boys’ room.  Super cute art!  Having my mom around was really nice for me too.  I enjoy her a lot.  While she was here we got to have our first crawfish boil in San Marcos with Aaron and his friends. It was really fun and super delicious!  We also went on a tour of the Blue Bell Creamery with the Goyco family. They have four kids and homeschool also.  It's a huge factory and was really interesting. A delicious bowl of ice cream ended the tour. Yum! What a perfect way to entertain Ben while his big brother was gone. And bonus: it totally counts for studies!  Before we knew it, the trip was over.  We picked Caleb and my brother up from the Austin airport and delivered my Mom to her plane to go home. I'm happy they gave me and Ben a gate pass. We got to go through security with Grandma and find Caleb and David in the terminal.  It’s nice how it all worked out.

We had a great visit with my brother! We had authentic Texas BBQ and he spent lots of time playing with the kids.  One afternoon he decided that the boys needed new yo-yo’s.  So we scoured the town for yo-yo’s capable of doing tricks.  Then he and the boys spent the rest of the day learning and practicing yo-yo tricks.  Such an awesome uncle thing to do!  He and Jon spent all of one night fishing with our neighbor Ron on his boat.  And to top it all off, he finished fencing in my garden for me. He is a blessing and a sweet little brother.  He really blessed us in lots of ways!

I also got a quick visit with two of my childhood friends, Lorena and Sonia.  I’ve known Sonia since kindergarten and Lorena since Jr. High.  Sonia lives in Dallas and Lorena was staying out there interning for a short time before going back home to CA.  They came and spent a night and a day with me.  We had such a good time reconnecting and catching up.  I love those girls!  And I love seeing people I love!

Jon had to switch his driving license over to Texas and had to take both the written and driving test.  He went through some nonsense in the process, so I wanted to do something special to celebrate once it was all over with.  I attempted to make him a knock-off of Cheesecake Factory's Adam's Peanut Butter Cup Fudge Ripple cheesecake to surprise him with...oreo cookie crust, caramel, fudge, butterfingers, peanut butter cups, and peanut butter frosting rosettes.  It was his favorite cheesecake to order at the restaurant, and it was only possible thanks to my awesome Mom.  We were tight on money, so she bought me the spring form pan and the ingredients.  It was evil in a super tasty sort of way.  Not bad for my first cheesecake.  I need to tweak my recipe a bit for next time, but….ummmm!

The night before Mother’s Day, Ben asked me if I would like it for Mothers Day if he does all the work so I can rest, relax, and not have to work like I usually do. He said I could tell him jobs to do. It was all his own idea with no prompting at all. I love seeing him really think about how to bless and love me.  In the morning I woke up to homemade cards and Dutch Baby pancakes.  Then the boys put rabbit fencing around my garden. I'd lost three pepper plants to those wild rabbits. And Jon plans to make me a tiered pot shelf too! I'm very loved and cared for!  I love my boys so much!  I also got a yogurt maker for Mother’s Day.  I’m trying to get my recipe perfected.  I’m excited and enjoying the process.

Springtime is really nice in Texas. The trees are all blooming and the weather is really nice.  Everywhere I look I see fields of wildflowers.  Every week it seems like a new wildflower is predominant.  One week driving to town Texas bluebonnets covered everything, then some gorgeous pink flowers, then big yellow flowers, and on and on it goes.  I had no idea how prolific the native Texas wildflowers are.  It’s stunning! Birds are very busy building nests and laying eggs.  One morning I sat in my garden on my little green bench watching a mama bird build her nest.  Back and forth, she flew.  Finding twigs and fluffy things to make her nest.  I love the simplicity moments like that bring to my life.  And I love my garden…it’s my happy place.

Random Thoughts & Antics:

I'm shocked to discover my feet fit into Caleb's rain boots! He's 10! I had to borrow his bright yellow SpongeBob rain boots to run to a neighbor's on a super wet and muddy day since I don’t own any rain appropriate shoes yet.

While eating cookies, Ben exclaimed, "I'm the first one to be last!" He was so proud he made his cookie last the longest.  This is a feat for Ben.  I’m happy he’s learning to savor instead of gobble.

I'd been a little distracted one morning. So when I came out of my room, I found that Caleb had been teaching Ben chess. They had made it through a whole game. Ben is only 5! Caleb walked him through each move. Ben has no idea how awesome he has it. Caleb is the best big brother in the universe!

That’s it.  Love you all!
Jon, Rebecca, Caleb & Benjamin

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Jan 2012

Guess who has working internet after 6 months with none! Thanks Beth, Promise, and Ryan for helping us dig a trench and bury 450 feet of ethernet cable in the dark!  We’re running a line from our neighbor’s house to ours until the local provider can give us our own service.  They are maxed out right now, and probably will be for the next year or so, until they improve the local towers or add more towers.

A week into January I hosted a lovely wine and chocolate girl’s night while the men went camping. We got so carried away with conversation that we never even made it to our chick flick.  The guys came home from camping with lots of stories, including how they saved a baby goat!  They named him Cedric and carried him to the rangers. How awesome is that! 

Jon's back and sciatica pain are back to normal now, thank the Lord.  We got a memory foam mattress topper and a contoured pillow. Those, plus the stretching, plus the chiropractor, helped little by little.

Not long into January we got back to normal life.  No visitors, no trips, no holidays, no more crippling back and sciatica pain; just normal life.  We got busy and back into the motion of homeschooling, house cleaning, exercising, cooking, and working. And we finally got into full swing on the weekends. Jon was working on finishing the kids loft beds and their room.  I’ve been keeping busy on the weekends cleaning out, organizing, and purging even more of our belongings.  Now every time I walk into my bedroom, I breathe a deep breath of relief, because there are no longer piles of boxes lining every wall.  And every time I walk into the kids’ room I smile to see their cute new beds!  Their room finally looks like a real room.  Not a work in progress with mattresses on the floor.  We are happily tired.  It feels so good to be making visible progress.

The boys had so much fun sleeping in their new beds the first week! I'm really glad Ben didn't fall off; he's such a wiggly sleeper. He ends up in all kinds of positions. Even with the guard rail, I was kind of worried.  Xena now has to deal with being handled more, which is so not her preference.  We lift her up to put her on the top bunk with the kids at night and lift her down in the mornings.  We alternate who she sleeps with each night.  She loves sleeping with the kids, but she hates being “handled.”

Every morning I get Caleb started with his math lesson.  Then I sit on the couch with Ben for his reading, phonics, and language arts lessons.  The instant it’s Ben’s turn to read something to me, he has to arrange, rearrange, and yet again, rearrange his pillows to maximum comfort.  Then he remembers he doesn’t have his special blue blanket, so he gets up to get it.  Then he has to get comfortable again.  Then the stretchies come.  Oh boy, does he get the stretchies!  Then the yawns start in.  Then a page or two might get read before it all starts again.  It’s maddening and hilarious, all at the same time.  I finally wised up and now I give him a few minutes before we start to get it all out of his system.  This drastically cuts down on all the wiggles, stretchies, and yawns!

Caleb is getting more comfortable with math.  He was struggling for awhile there.  But it’s clicking now.  Yea!  Ben is flying with reading.  It was just at the beginning of kindergarten this school year that he was even introduced to a majority of the letter names and sounds.  He’s got all those down and is reading through beginner reader books easily.  It amazes me how different the reading experience has been for both of my boys.  Caleb took much longer to comprehend the abstract ideas, which is what words are.  Ben just soaks it all in and it sticks so quickly and easily for him.  Caleb always excelled at building, 3D thinking, and concrete ideas.  It is so enjoyable to watch my boys grow and develop!

We are having a lot of new experiences here in Texas.  One morning, I woke up to an intense storm, a scared Ben, and tornado warnings. Poor Ben was scared because his PBS cartoons kept getting interrupted by the emergency broadcasting system with tornado warnings. So I got out of bed and we turned on the weather channel which kept saying, if you live in a trailer, get out and find shelter now, over and over. The electricity kept flickering in and out. And the voices on the television kept going into slow motion, all deep and creepy. Crazy! I began packing to go to a neighbor who lives in a real house and not a trailer like us, when the worst of the storm passed by.  While packing, I was thinking that I should probably be panicking or something, but I wasn’t. I remember thinking that I really hoped we didn’t get caught by the tornado because I took the few minutes to brush my teeth and make my coffee to put into my travel coffee cup. I’ve wised up and won’t take any extra minutes for extra’s next time.  I understand the danger level.

The storm passed through pretty quickly though. I am very thankful I didn't have to haul myself, my kiddos, and my dog through the storm on foot since our car battery died that morning. I’m also thankful the tornadoes didn't come into our area after all.  Jon jumped the car battery when he got home from work.  It’s kind of funny that of all the days for the car battery to die, it does so on tornado day.  After the intensity of the storm passed, the boys ran around outside with their rain boots and umbrellas.  They loved it!  I heard excitement and laughter with each flash of lightening and boom of thunder!  

I found myself a little happy spot one weekend, the Brazos County Master Gardeners Agrilife Extension site with demonstration gardens. It has a decent sized demonstration garden with lots of different raised planter beds, a butterfly garden, a rose garden, a composting teaching area, and lots of trees. Another day I chatted with another shopper at the local produce market, the Farm Patch.  She is a professional gardener who is on a local radio gardening program.  She gave me so many tips about gardening in this climate and so much more!  I am just that much more excited to get my garden going here.  So far, I’ve planted a variety pepper seeds in my kitchen window. I had ordered some fun varieties in the mail. I was trying to figure out which species was the yellow chili I found easily in California, that I can’t buy in grocery stores here in Texas. Apparently they're not just called yellow chilies. I deduced it must be the Santa Fe Grande Pepper. My pepper garden will also have Antohi Romanian, anaheim, jalapeno, long slim red cayenne, ancho, & Hungarian wax. So I have about 2 months while these seeds germinate to build my raised garden beds outside & fence them off to somewhat animal proof the garden area. I'm excited!

Our new espresso machine arrived and is working great!  I’ve decided to only use it on the weekends to watch my calorie intake.  Then I’ll have a yummy latte to look forward to on our busy working weekends.  Getting the bathroom in the extra little trailer house in better repair is next on the list for our working weekends. We are looking forward to getting rental income.  It won’t be much, but it will really help!

I’ve been a busy girl in the kitchen.  I really enjoying trying new things; it keeps me interested.  I got my pasta roller attachment for my Kitchenaid.  It was so fun to use.  I’ve made homemade ravioli with two kinds of pasta dough and two kinds of filling. It was all yummy, but some was better than the rest. I love my new kitchenaid pasta roller!  I love discovering how to make meals we love and recipes that I deem “keeper recipes.”

I attempted to recreate my favorite breakfast dish from Ruby's Diner, Huevos Rancheros.  My version is Huevos Rancheros sans Huevos. I would always order it without egg and with turkey sausage instead. And I intentionally use the French for "without" and Spanish for the rest. That's the way I say it.  It turned out delicious!  I think what most excited me about the recipe was how I made ground turkey into tasty breakfast sausage. Yum!

I also attempted a knock-off Cinnabon recipe.  It turned out unbelievably delicious!  Here's the recipe  I did a few things different and made a few mistakes.  I must have been distracted that night.  I think my "mistakes" made it even better! It was amazing!   I (intentionally) used a packet of regular yeast (not bread machine yeast), which is 1/4 less tsp than you're supposes to have, but it was fine. I put the warm milk, sugar, & yeast in bread machine & let sit for 10 minutes so the yeast was all foamy. Then I added the rest of the wet dough ingredients, then the dry. I used butter instead of margarine. I accidentally added the 2 1/2 tablespoons of cinnamon & 1/3 cup of softened butter to the dough mix, not realizing that it was supposed to be for the filling. Of course I still made the filling. Definitely double the frosting!!!  That night I also made chicken fried steak, bacon, and eggs. Evilly delicious! I ate very small portions, but Jon gave himself a food coma.

Another evening I attempted making Chuy's Chicka Chicka Boom Boom enchiladas. This is my favorite meal from a restaurant we discovered here in Texas.  I couldn't believe I found the actual recipe online, I did a little research and watched the YouTube of the restaurant's chef making it to learn that they use jack cheese inside and on top of the enchilada. The green chilies refer to New Mexican green chilies. I couldn't find any, so I used poblano chilies. The recipe is written in ounces, so 1 ounce is approx 6 teaspoons, which helps if you’re like me and don't have a kitchen scale.  I made some enchiladas with corn tortillas and some with flour tortillas, thinking we would prefer flour. We all very much preferred the corn tortillas, like the recipe calls for.  It turned out soooo good and I recommend it to you!

In case you were wondering, Jon’s beer making was a big success!  He is enjoying his homebrewed double stout beer.  Now we have to get some to Aaron since he spent the day with Jon brewing it up.

Random Ben Antic:

Ben was dramatically "being dizzy" in the living room one morning. I couldn't help but think that it looked very much like a dance Mia Michaels would have choreographed on So You Think You Can Dance. Seriously.