Sunday, June 30, 2013

June 2013

June has been a big month.  Ben turned 7, lost his first teeth, got a kitty, and we had lots of special visitors!

I love that my mom flew in to visit just for Ben’s birthday.  While Ben and I were picking her up from the Austin airport, Jon and Caleb were secretly hunting the town for a kitten for Ben’s surprise birthday gift.  I’m so happy with the cute little guy they found.  He’s a red tabby from the animal shelter, which is nice because the $5 adoption fee also covered a few shots, microchipping, and the neutering costs.  He was 2 ½ months old.

When we arrived home we gave Ben his early birthday gift in a Happy Birthday gift bag.  Ben was so surprised.  He grinned so big, for so long.  Ben asked repeatedly why we put kitty in a gift bag.  That detail was very disconcerting to Ben.  Kitty was pretty nervous the first day, but started settling down quickly.  He slept and snuggled for the whole first week.  Then he started getting bigger and more adventurous.  Ben named him Billy Fuzzy Hartshorn and he's completely in love!

Kitty will be an outside kitty, but he has to stay inside until the cold he caught at the shelter is better and he gets fixed.  Kitty lives in our bathroom for now, unless we're snuggling him.  Caleb and Jon are both allergic to cats.  Caleb has to take allergy medicine anyway, so he's doing okay.  Jon is doing mostly okay.  I think kittens aren't as bad on the allergies as adult cats.  Jon and I are counting down the days until the kitty can stop living in our house.  He quickly learned to jump the barrier we made between our bathroom and bedroom.  Kitty thinks it’s totally fine to hang out in my bedroom.  He also meows non-stop at us if we walk by, go to bed, or go to the bathroom without spending every second petting him.  His baby kitty meows are pretty cute, but after enough of them, they become tiresome.

I'm loving our little kitty as much as the kids.  He's uber snuggly.  I'm kind of shocked at how much Jon and Caleb are enjoying kitty.  I’m really surprised!  I thought Jon would totally shun kitty and I thought Caleb would be indifferent.  I sure hope kitty lives a long happy life because we're all getting attached.  Outdoor kitties in a rural area often don't make it into adulthood.  Getting him fixed will help a lot with him not running away at least.  Jon and Ben made Billy an outdoor shelter and we’re trying to teach him that shelter is his home.  We even put a covered porch on it so we can put his food and water up there, out of reach to the neighborhood dogs that always wander into our yard.  It has an entrance and an exit so kitty can’t get cornered in there by wild animals. 

After two weeks of medicine from the vet for his cold, we took Billy back to the vet.  The vet said he looks really healthy now.  He got neutered and got his rabies shot.  After a week of recovery, we started the transition to Billy living outside.  He seems to like it so far.  We found that we couldn’t put his food or water outside because it drew hordes of ants, so we decided to just call Billy inside for meal times.  He found an access hole under our back porch to open space under our house.  He spends his hot summer afternoons there.  When he wants back in the house, he sits on the ledge outside our living room window meowing at us.  We sometimes take pity, let him in, and snuggle him.  He’s learning to come running when we call him for breakfast and dinner.  Xena and Billy are really enjoying playing with each other now too.  It’s very cute and entertaining to watch.  Billy bats at Xena’s fluffy ears and tail and Xena tries to play bite Billy’s ears and legs.  It’s adorable to watch Billy sneak around a corner to pounce on Xena.  Both animals love having a playmate.  It’s so sweet to see Xena’s happy dog smile after a good tussle.  All in all, he’s turning out to be an awesome addition to our family!

Ben had a super fun 7th birthday party!  We're very thankful for our Texas friendships!  All the kids had a blast playing water balloon games.  We did rounds of hot potato and played egg toss with the water balloons.  Then I had a kit for each child to build their own marshmallow guns and to decorate their own shields.  They each had a bag of ammo to wear around their necks.  They spent a lot of time running around the park attacking each other.  It was so fun!

On Ben’s actual birthday, we went swimming!  It was the first swim of the summer.  The boys had been counting down until the city pools were open.  They had a super fun day swimming and Ben especially loved swimming with his new birthday flippers, goggles, and snorkel he bought with birthday money from Auntie Dar & Uncle Darrel.  Thanks!!!  We topped the day off with breakfast for dinner with homemade cinnamon rolls and presents.

I love that my mom has gotten to be here with us when big changes have happened in our family.  This time it was getting a kitty!  Both boys love special time with Grandma Cheryl.  They did a lot of crafts and puzzles together.  Ben knows she’ll almost always say yes to reading a book to him.  She even came swimming with us one time.  Caleb loves solving Grandma’s puzzle books.  That’s something special they do together.  Jon and I loved getting a night off for a double date when Grandma blessed us with watching our kiddos and our friend’s four kiddos.  We all love Grandma so much!  Thanks for everything!

Ben finally got his first loose tooth!  It was a bit unsettling to him and he mentioned quite a few times that it hurt.  He had the shortest turnaround from loose to lost that I’ve ever seen.  His first tooth got loose on the 6th and he lost it on the 11th.  We were checking out a fabric store in Austin after dropping Grandma Cheryl off at the airport when he lost his first tooth.  It was quite bloody, but all the young hipster ladies working at the store congratulated him and found me a tiny bag to put it in.  He then lost his second tooth a few days later, on Father’s Day.  He noticed it was lost at the end of the movie we went to see.  He didn’t feel it come out, so we don’t know when he actually lost it.  We didn’t see it anywhere in the theatre.  I love his toothless grin!  He is one adorable boy!

We had a great day celebrating Jon for Father’s Day. He's an amazing father to our boys!  We took the day off from working on our projects and relaxed.  He caught up some on his favorite show, The Deadliest Catch, we went out to see the movie Epic, and we ate out at our favorite local burger and ice cream restaurant.  Oh, and he spent the morning with Ben building the cat house for Billy’s outdoor shelter.  Even on his day off, he still got something we needed done.  He’s amazing!

I'm excited about the fabric I bought in Austin and the time for summer projects!  The 2 school years I've been here, homeschooling took most of my time.  Last summer I babysat my neighbor's 4 young kids, which took all my physical and mental energy.  This summer is the first time since I've lived in Texas that I can call bigger chunks of time my own!  I haven’t bought fabric in the 2 years since I moved to Texas, and that is a big deal.  I’ve sketched out a design I like for a purse.  So far it’s very tricky trying to turn a sketch into a pattern when I’ve added so many complicated details, like pleats on curves, into the design.  Hopefully I can pull off making the fabric into the awesome purse I’m imagining.

It’s been really nice not having to water my garden now that I’ve got the automatic watering system.  There is lots of good growth, but I have encountered quite a few new problems that I’ve never dealt with.  It’s a big learning curve and I’m definitely learning!  So far I’ve learned how awesome diatomaceous earth is.  It saved my squash, green beans, and cucumbers from the destruction of hundreds of pill bugs/rolly pollies.  They had reduced the plants to almost nothing.  Now that I’ve dealt with the pests, the plants are finally getting a chance to grow and they’re looking good so far.

I was getting blossom end rot (BER) on some of my tomatoes, so I sprayed a lime/water mix and we’ll see if that helps.  BER is caused by a calcium deficiency.  It was probably due to too much rain.  My green beans are turning yellow and I thought it was from too much water also, but more recently I noticed a whole bunch of brown bean bugs.  I saw ants on the plant and thought they were harmless.  I’ve since learned that the brown bean bug nymphs look like ants, which have now matured.  Some other pest destroyed one of my blueberry plants.  Powdery mildew appeared and quickly took over my zucchini.  I’m using a homemade insecticide/fungicide to solve these problems.  The main ingredient is neem oil and it seems to be doing the trick.  I love that it is a safe and organic solution.  Hopefully the plants can recover from the destruction.  On a different tomato plant I found and hand picked off some potato beetle nymphs.  That seems to have fixed that problem.  One pepper plant got infested with leaf footed bugs.  I hand picked those off over a couple weeks and haven’t seen any for a few days.  It’s so gross having to identify and solve these pest problems.  Hopefully my hard work will pay off and we’ll get lots of delicious produce.

The month ended with a visit from my cousin Kara and her little guy, Jude.  We love having them here and are so thankful they drove out for a visit all the way from Missouri.  I love our new tradition of 4th of July in Texas with Kara and Jude!

Blessings on you and yours!

The Hartshorns


Friday, May 31, 2013

May 2013

May started with Caleb’s trip to California.  He flew solo to spend time with his best friend Sam and to take the CA STAR test.  Caleb didn’t have an ounce of fear about the trip and was nothing but excited.  He was gone for 9 days.  Ben did a lot better this year with Caleb leaving.  He was still pretty sad, but he handled his emotions really well.  I let Ben have the week off school.  We vegged out watching a lot of movies and I taught him to knit.  He’d been asking for awhile.  It was a very sweet time knitting with my Ben. 

Caleb had a great trip and got to reconnect with a handful of good friends.  Juan and Tracy did a lot with the kids.  They got to go to Disneyland, the beach, Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament, and they got to explore a battleship.  Thanks Juan and Tracy for pouring love into my boy!

In an effort to form better deep cleaning habits for myself and the kids, we started following the Fly Lady's zone plan for 15 min per day. 
I also implemented a new laundry system inspired by the idea of doing 1 load of laundry a day.  Jon put in the shelf that made it all possible!  The kids and husband are adapting quickly to learning to sort their clothes into the appropriate baskets.  The space used to be home to 2 tall hampers.  I'm so excited to not have to do the weekly big laundry sort and 2-3 days it took to process the laundry.  I love that I can see at a glance what basket is filling up and is ready for a wash.

Lighting struck our house one night!!!  It was an intense experience!  It was super dramatic, super loud, super bright with lots of sparks and bursting sounds.  We're so thankful that nothing caught on fire!  I'm also extremely thankful I woke up a few minutes before and felt prompted to get out of bed to unplug our computer. Thank the Lord for that!  Sadly, the lighting fried our television, internet antennae, router, some inputs on the back of our reciever, some of Caleb’s video game systems, my lamp, some cables, and my expensive Tivoli speaker that I use to listen to music.  Our house is grounded and everything was plugged into surge protectors, but apparently the electrical surge came through the internet line and the cable attached to the television antennae when both antennas were hit by lightning.  From now on we’ll have to unplug those 2 cables anytime there is lightning overhead.  As an extra precaution, we’ll also unplug the important electronics.  At least we had Grandma Jean's old TV in storage. One electronic problem solved.  Jon jimmy rigged a few other things to get the antenna connected again and to get Caleb’s Wii working again.  We bought a new digital converter box and a new router.  I contacted the Tivoli company and I can send the speaker in for repair for $75, so I’m going to save up for that.  We’re back in business for most of our electronic needs.
I weeded and mulched my garden beds on the weekends this month while Jon was working on other projects.  Hopefully my work will prevent future weeds and help with water retention.  It was so much more work than if I would have done it before planting.  Putting weed fabric down around growing plants was very tricky!  I'll be more organized, prepared, and timely next year.

We finished our homeschool year the last day of May!!!!!  I'm so proud of myself and the boys.  Ben is now done with 1st grade and Caleb is now done with 6th grade!!!  It’s sooo crazy that I'll have a junior higher next year!   I’m looking forward to taking a summer break!  This mama needs it!  I'm so thankful for CHEP, our homeschooling partner in California.


Blessings on you and yours!

The Hartshorns

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

April 2013

What an amazing April!  My mind goes straight to my amazing weekend in Washington DC with my Laurel May.  I don’t think I’ve ever had that much quality time and quality conversation packed into such a short amount of time.  I flew out on a Friday and returned on a Monday.  I was so happy to get a tiny glimpse of her DC life.  We ate exquisite food and drank delectable drinks the whole weekend.  I think gourmet food is officially ranked as my second most important love language right behind quality time.  We also got to prep and plant Laurie’s plot in a community garden she is part of.  I’ve always wanted to participate in a community garden and loved that she shared that with me.  We walked a lot and enjoyed fun little spots all around DC.  The cherry blossoms were blooming and the weather was perfect for all of our meandering.  I love, love, love my Laurel May and I cherish the time with her. 

Meanwhile, my gang of boys went camping with our Texas friends.  Caleb’s friend from robotics class, Lucas, came along so Caleb would have a friend.  I’m pretty sure that camping trip will be a big memory in both Caleb and Lucas’s minds when they reflect on their childhood!  Caleb is rarely as animated as he was driving to and from Dallas for the camping trip.  The boys were nonstop with their chatting and fun.  It made my mommy heart so happy to see.  They dropped me off at the Dallas airport and then continued on to their campgrounds.  The first night camping was just the Rusch family and the Hartshorns; that equals to 2 dads for the adults and 7 kids!  The next day the Ericksons and Hamiters joined in.  There was good rock climbing, but sadly, the lake was too cold to enjoy despite the hot weather.  The boys did manage to corner an armadillo for awhile.  After they picked me up on Monday from the airport, we took a detour at Dinosaur Valley State Park before heading home.  It was so neat!  There were actual preserved dinosaur tracks in the riverbed!  We were so excited that the water level and clarity allowed us to see the footprints.  They are not always visible.  The kids even got to put their feet in the tracks.  The river temperature was ideal and we all had a good swim.  It seemed like too much effort to go all the way back to the car after hiking down to the river, so we just swam in our clothes.  It was the best finale and really made the camping trip complete.
One weekend, we impulsively decided to try Frisbee golf out for the first time.  We had a lot of fun and can’t wait to go again.  It was a good mix of challenge, being outdoors, and family bonding.
The month started off with a trip to Houston.  We woke up at 5am to make it to Houston in time for Ben’s first appointment at 9am.  We were supposed to confirm Ben’s diagnosis of neurofibromatosis (NF1) at the eye specialist at this appointment, but complications came up with Ben's insurance, and we didn't get seen.  We were frustrated because we jumped through a lot of hoops to get the appointment and to get it on the same day as Ben’s other appt.  Additionally, Jon took work off to be there and it would be difficult to repeat everything.  We found ourselves with a few hours to ourselves, so   we headed for the Gulf Coast.  We explored an area new to us, the Kemah Boardwalk.  It was still closed for the morning, so we had the place all to ourselves.  We got to walk around the boardwalk and watch the seagulls diving for their breakfast.  We enjoyed our little family and the salty sea air.  It’s always so refreshing to gaze at the ocean.  We made it back in time for Ben’s next appointment at the pediatric dermatologist at the Houston Children’s Hospital.  We are so impressed with the whole hospital system.  It’s organized and efficient.  They have cared so well for us.  The final result is that Ben's skin spots have now been diagnosed as mastocytoma by the pediatric dermatologist.  It’s benign and the dermatologist believes that it has already peaked and should clear up on its own by puberty.  They drew blood to see if the spots are internal as well.  They were not, which is great, and avoids extra complications.  The dermatologist said we do not need to worry about it being NF1 and no further testing is required.  She wants to see Ben again in 6 months for a checkup.  Praise God!

Blessings on you and yours!

The Hartshorns

Sunday, March 31, 2013

March 2013

Our 12th Happy Saint Birth-a-versary begins!  I am so blessed to get to walk through life with Jon!  I love him so much!  Happy 12th Anniversary to us, Happy 35th Birthday to Jon, and Happy Saint Patrick's Day to everyone!!!!  Italian wine and a dish of homemade Italian Cannelloni's with Walnuts and Fried Sage started the fun off.  It was so amazing!  It had better be after more than four hours of active work.  Good thing I did the bulk of the work a day ahead of time.  I love trying new recipes and I especially love when they taste like a little old Italian grandmother made them.

We had a great celebratory weekend.  The kids got their first Texas sleepover and Jon and I got a whole night and day to just be together!  It was so perfect!  The highlight of day 1 of our 12th Happy St. Birth-a-versary was a wine tour and tasting of Messina Hof Winery.  It was very informative and we got to taste four of their wines.  Before tasting each wine, our host instructed us on how to properly taste, including trilling for white wine and clucking for red wine.  That was fun and surprisingly effective at enhancing the tastes.  I was impressed by the facility, the tour, and the wine itself.  I loved finishing up our last glass lounging by the lake with my husband of 12 years!

We topped our night off with dinner at a little local Italian eatery.  We even brought our own bottle of wine and paid the corking fee, which was a first for us.  That was fun and a dollar saver.

The next day we meandered around a cute garden store and enjoyed their tea room.  How lovely that the tea house serves complementary tea and pastries before you order your meal.  Plants and fancy food are some of my favorite things and I love that we got both in one place.  On our way home we happened upon a very Ranchero swap meet.  Watching a family chase down an escaped rooster sticks in my mind the most.  It was a very strange and entertaining swap meet.

For Jon’s birthday we had a calorie laden dinner with friends.  It was a good time.  The evening was topped off with some fantastic news!  The IRS accepted our offer-in-compromise!  We now owe only a small fraction of our outstanding tax debt that we’d gained from being self-employed in California.  We feel tremendously blessed and know it is the hand of the Lord!  Only with His grace and covering could this have worked out.  We’re another step closer to being debt free!

The good news kept coming.  I was asked to be a moderator at a new homeschool program being set up for the Fall.  I will give 4 hours of my time per week to this job and Caleb will get two free classes in exchange!  I was going to sign him up for the middle school science class anyway, so now that will be free.  I will also get to sign him up for an English class with a very dramatic and passionate teacher.  I’m very excited because Caleb loves science and I’m so thankful to find someone to pour this knowledge into him in a way I can’t.  I’m also thankful for finding someone who is truly in love with English to teach Caleb, as English is the subject that is most frustrating and difficult for Caleb.

Even more good news is that we got a truckload of parts, all FREE, to set up a watering system for my garden, from a craigslist post!  I’d wanted a watering system so badly this year, but we just couldn’t put our money towards that expense yet.  Thank you Lord for working it out for me!  God just keeps letting me know His care and love in tangible ways.  God is good!  Extra awesome is that we used our anniversary gift money to buy an automatic timer for the watering system!  Thanks Melanie!  We got it all set up and we got all the little plants hardened off and transplanted.  I was too sick to do the transplanting myself, so the boys did it for me.  I sat outside to oversee and am thankful I was able to do that much.  I’m very excited that I won’t have to hand water all the beds through the horribly hot summer!  This will be a huge time and effort saver for me!

We had a nice Easter, although we missed our usual California traditions.  I was very sick, so we just stayed at home.  Jon talked with the boys about the meaning of Easter and told the Easter story.  Then we had a fun Easter egg hunt in the yard.  Ben raced around with glee.  He is such a delight!  Both boys had fun and especially enjoyed eating their spoils.  We topped our day off with a family movie and popcorn.  Caleb is really into the Harry Potter movies right now.  We’ve watched one a weekend for the last four weekends.

Blessings on you and yours!

The Hartshorns

Thursday, February 28, 2013

February 2013

We're doing really well.  Both boys are doing great with school and really like the extra classes they're taking. It’s been about 4 weeks since Jon broke his ribs. He's over the worst of it now, but in the beginning he had a lot of pain and had to really watch his movements.

We enjoyed Valentine's Day with a game of Lego Creationary and a warm gooey pizookie รก la mode. Pizookies are big cookies typically cooked in a pizza pan.  I loved how touched the boys were by the special Valentines notes I wrote them.  I also love the sweet homemade cards the boys made me and the flowers from Jon.  Plus he made the pizookie so I could rest.  Then we all got tummy aches from over eating.  Opps!  I should have known that taco night and pizookies are just too much deliciousness for one night.  Will power didn't stand a chance.

I'm getting ready for my spring garden.  I've got seeds starting inside and we've got a big truck load of mushroom compost sitting in the yard steaming hot and stinky.  It’s only $10 a load from a local mushroom company.  I’m trying a couple firsts this year:  I'm starting most of my peppers from seeds I saved from last year's garden and growing all the seedlings under fluorescent grow lights.  I’m excited about the heirloom tomato seed varieties I bought this year!  I also have a few experiments going to see what works best.  I’ve got 3 techniques going for germination and 2 different seed starting soils.  I’m learning a lot. 

Getting our garden beds prepped is my current big project.  I’m still in step 1: Sift an unending amount of soil through the mesh frame Jon made for me, to get rid of all the rocks and debris, before we mix in the mushroom compost.  Thankfully this epic job is a one time job.  I'm super impressed with the boys’ commitment to this project.  We felt like we were doing an archaeological dig.  Maybe we'll unearth something awesome...instead of just the disgusting grubs we've found so far.  We have a long way to go, but I'm feeling really good about our progress.  Hard work leaves me feeling really satisfied :)  Additionally, I had a couple soul replenishing catch up phone calls with dear CA friends this month. My heart is feeling full and satisfied.

I’ve got my ticket booked to go to visit my dear college friend, Laurie, in Washington DC in April!  I’m really excited!  I’ve wanted to get out there for years to get a taste of her life in DC.  Actively participating in the lives of my dear friends is important to me and I’m thankful I finally can put my words/heart into action.   I’m flying out of Dallas, which is about 3 hours from us.  The boys have campgrounds reserved for that weekend near Dallas.  They’re going to have so much fun camping with our friends.

We’ve gone to a monthly homeschool skate day two months in a row now.  We took Ben’s friend Cole with us both times and they’ve had a blast.  It was Cole’s first time last month and Ben’s second, ever, at a skating rink.  It is so fun to see how quickly both boys are progressing.  This time, as old pros (Cole’s 2nd and Ben’s 3rd time), they were attempting to do double skate jumps like the teenagers.  They actually got pretty close with their cute little hops.  There was a lot of “watch me Mom!”  I ohhh’d and ahhh’d appropriately :)  I skated with the kids the first time and took it easy on the sidelines this time, as I wasn’t feeling well.  It’s so sweet seeing Ben and Cole’s friendship blossom right before my eyes.  They stayed close to each other’s side skating or were hanging on the rink’s wall chatting and watching the other skaters.  It was soooo cute!  Meanwhile, I’ve been getting to know some other homeschool moms who come.

I really love the Food & Wine Magazine I’ve been getting!  I got it as a free extra when I ordered my Kitchenaid mixer.  I’ve tried some really amazing recipes from it, such as a very delicious bagel recipe!  This is especially exciting since there aren't a plethora of bagel stores here in Texas, like there are in CA.  Now I can make my own delicious homemade bagels!  Plus, bonus, I very successfully recreated the fillings from my favorite bagel sandwich from a CA bagel shop - homemade spinach egg patties, melted cheddar, homemade chipotle mayo, bacon, avocado, and tomato! Soooo good!

I’ve also acquired some new ramekins that Target was clearancing out.  I’ve made my first pot pie and it was amazing, especially the dough.  It was another Food & Wine find and the secret ingredient is potato flakes!


Thursday, January 31, 2013

January 2013

Ben had his appointment at the Houston Children's Hospital in the genetics dept.  It went really well!  The doctor we saw was so great.  He is a specialist in neurofibromatosis (NF1) and his gut thinks that Ben does not have it.  He wants to do blood work that will confirm officially, but as of Jan 1st, our insurance will not cover that specific code.  They are going to court to resolve this and expect it to be resolved in a few months.  As an alternative, the doctor is referring us to an eye doctor in Houston to look for NF1 characteristics that show up in the eyes.  Ben's muscles, and leg muscles specifically, do not have the typical weakness that is present in people with NF1.  He also doesn't have the typical spots in the armpit and groin area.  The doctor didn't think that Ben's spots have the classic look of NF1, but admits it could be it.  Ben's spots didn't respond under ultraviolet light like a typical NF1 response.  He also isn't having seizures or learning disabilities, which are common among kids with NF1.  So, next step, see the eye doctor.  He is also referring us to a pediatric dermatologist in Houston.  He doesn't have any idea what Ben's spots may be, but hopes a dermatologist will be able to figure it out.  Depending on the results at the eye doctor/dermatologist, we may or may not need blood work at all.  Both appointments are set for the same day in April, which is helpful because it’s a 2 hour drive from our home.

We celebrated Ben being done with the doctor visit with a trip to the Houston Zoo.  Ben was a crack up at the zoo.  He was on a mission the whole time; to track down the next animal he was desperate to see.  Once he found the desired animal, he had no need to linger.  He was ready to move on.  He seemed especially excited to find the Komodo dragon.  He kept covering his eyes while we were walking around, because he wanted to be surprised when we finally found the Komodo dragon.  So cute!  I had to keep telling him he had to be able to see to walk and to look for the Komodo dragon.  We also got to hear a huge tiger making incredibly loud sounds.  I would almost say it was moaning.  It wasn't quite a roar or a growl.  It was amazing!  I've never heard a big cat in person like that and it was such an impressively loud and unforgettable sound.  We also saw a giraffe fight!  So fascinating!  It was a very dramatic and slow fight.  They would swing their necks around, to gain momentum, and then bash into the other's neck with their horns.  Who knew?  One also kept using his back legs to try to pull the other's back legs out.  They just kept taking blows at each other.  It was intense and looked so painful.  We were mesmerized.

We enjoyed some Red Robin burgers and a quick stop at Ikea on our way home.   It’s fun to go to familiar places that we don’t have in our town.

God is good and has kept me in His peace despite some big emotional, physical, and financial stresses this month.   I won’t go into too many details, but I’m very thankful for our God.  I saw one doctor who was unsuccessful with a procedure for me.  It was very painful and took awhile to recover from.  She said I needed surgery and would need anesthesia.  I have no insurance and didn’t know how God was going to work this all out.  Additionally, I felt awkward and uncomfortable with this doctor.  While I was waiting for my referral, some other potentially scary stuff was happening with my body.   There was lots of praying and processing happening.  Peace is something that takes a lot of internal work to maintain, and I’ve been working hard.  Waiting for the next “unknown” step is another stress I had to work through to maintain my peace.  I finally got my referral call, but I had concerns because it was not for a surgeon and it was for an office where I would have to pay full price for everything. Thankfully, we got it worked out and I got an appointment at a clinic, where I get a big price break, with their nurse practitioner and a surgeon who comes in on Fridays.  The surgeon was able to do the procedure without surgery and with much less pain than the previous doctor’s attempt!  The nurse practitioner was so kind and caring.  She held my hands and talked me through the pain and discomfort!  What a different experience than last time!  Praise the Lord that we were able to have all the medical work for me and Ben paid in full, despite me having no insurance.  God totally worked it out!  I’m so relieved at being at the end of the medical procedures for myself, the unknowns are known, the finances are covered, and there is a big likelihood that Ben does not have NF1.  Whew!

One weekend we scoured pawn shops all day so Jon could make use of his Christmas "banjo fund" gift that the kids and I gave him for Christmas.  I love that my sweet kids pitched in their money to bless their Daddy.  We ended up finding a Goodtime Deering banjo at a fantastic price.  It has a great sound.  I love hearing Jon play it.  The kids also got pretty interested in wanting to learn to play.  They lost their interest a week later, but it was cute watching them practice the tunes Jon taught them while it lasted.

I’ve had some really sweet times with the kids this month while we’re schooling.  I’m so appreciative of the life I have.  I’m intensely appreciative of the depth of relationship I get to build with my kids by being there with them so much more than if I had made other choices with their schooling.  I’m deeply glad I get so much more time with them while they are young.  I love snuggling in the recliner, drinking my morning cup o' joe, and teaching Ben about fractions.  I love getting to enjoy the warmer winter days bundled up on the porch doing grammar, spelling, and phonics with Ben.  I love sitting on a sun warmed trampoline reading the latest novel out loud to the kids.  Homeschooling has some pretty awesome perks :)

One weekend we had a lovely day trip at Huntsville State Park with the Rusch family.  We went on a couple hikes and picnicked overlooking a beautiful lake.  It's amazing how good a turkey sandwich tastes after a hike.  The winter weather felt like spring, crisp and perfect.  The landscape was very woodsy and the waters were at times swampy and marshy and other times more of a clear river.  We kept our eyes peeled for the alligators that inhabit the area, but we never saw one. We later got to see and pet a baby alligator at the ranger station.  That was especially fun for the kids.  On one of our hikes Jon and Caleb were having a pine cone throwing war. As they were racing through the woods pelting each other with pine cones, Jon tripped on a big tree root. He went down so hard it literally broke his bones, his rib bones!  He’s continuing on with life, despite his broken ribs, and improving each day.