Garden beginnings

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What started as a simple request to clear a path to the berries, has become the start of my future garden!  Although we have thousands of wild berries growing throughout our property, most of them have been difficult to get to (until now!) Stinging nettles and other wild and unruly plants had entangled themselves in the bramble bushes, making berry collecting a dangerous operation. But who could let all those lovely berries go unpicked? It’s one of our favorite summertime pleasures!

I hadn’t really decided where the future garden should go, but Chris knew it was on my mind. I may have mentioned it a couple (dozen) times. Once he started clearing the way to the berries it all just happened so quickly (he started on the lawn mower but ended up on the bobcat!)- and where the garden should go is now one less thing I need to decide. And it really is the perfect place. Never mind the problem of irrigation, or of how we will keep the wild critters from eating the garden before we can – we’ll figure that out somehow. For now, I’m just going to dream big and get my hands on some good gardening books. We have all summer to prepare for next season, when I hope we will be ready to put the first seedlings in the ground. Oh – the possibilities! I promise to update as I go (because I’m sure everyone is as excited about this garden as I am – right?)

Oh- and not to be forgotten, we carved out the beginning of the prayer garden I’ve been daydreaming about, too! I have big plans…

Future prayer garden:

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Summer goodness and a Happy 14

DSC_0268DSC_0264DSC_0271DSC_0276DSC_0285DSC_0283We’ve spent the last few days soaking up this hot summer weather, as I’m sure many of you have. I don’t always like the heat, but lately I’ve been enjoying it immensely. I just love summer – being able to send the kids outdoors with ease and knowing they’ll (for the most part) stay happily busy for a good, long while.

We celebrated Hunter turning fourteen years old yesterday. We are so, so proud of him. What a gift he is to our family. My heart is so full it feels like it could burst, and there are only so many words and I never feel like any of them really do it justice. They don’t. If you’re a mom (or dad), you know.

We unpacked some really big boxes a few days ago. Of course, they promptly became a fort, which kept the kids occupied most of the afternoon. I mentioned something about adding windows for a breeze. The girls got excited at the idea. Knowing they might need a little help, Hunter quickly grabbed the scissors and spent the next half hour or so cutting out windows.

Did I mention how blessed we are by him?  I can’t wait to see what the next fourteen years bring.

Two years

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With the exception of the first birthday, I’ve grown to appreciate a small and simple birthday celebration (some day you will thank me, kids! ) After years of trying to do it big and get everything “perfect” (read: stressful), I have realized the kids don’t really miss all of that (and neither do I).

And so it was for Gianna’s second birthday. I spent a little time in search of a good push toy for her, but all she ever wanted as we hopped from one store to the next was a ball. I thought I had found something perfect, only to watch her push right past it heading straight for the $2.99 ball bin. Trying to convince a two year old that she should choose the toy mommy thinks is fancier and more fun is a foolish move and will not yield the desired outcome. Wisely, I gave that up after 4 seconds and decided a pink rubber ball was perfect. She loves it.

We ended the day with cake, and I never want to forget the joy in little Gigi’s eyes as we lit her candles and sang the happy birthday song. Precious. You are a treasure, Gianna, and loved more than words can ever tell.

teaching what {really} matters

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I have always sensed that homeschooling my children has been more of a learning experience for me than it has been for them.  Recently that reality became clear to me once again.  I have a child who struggles with math. I’ve been working diligently, day by day, sometimes hours at a time to help him understand.  We’ve made progress, no doubt, but with many bumps along the way.  This particular afternoon I sat down to correct his latest work and was disheartened to find numerous errors – many of which are things we’ve come back to over and over again.  I was alone in the kitchen, the kids having since gone out to explore and play on what was a truly beautiful afternoon. Baby was asleep – the house quiet. Tears began to well up in my eyes as words of doubt and fear crept into my thoughts.  I’m failing him. He’s never going to get this. What’s wrong with him…with me?

I sat in the quiet for a while, sort of blankly staring out the window. I imagined this child outside as he was, hiking through the woods, exploring and imagining…doing what he loves most. I could hear the sounds of the kids’ carefree voices in the distance. I resisted the urge to call him inside.

As I stepped away from the table and the stack of books that lay before me, I began to feel God’s grace wash over my heart. I felt Him speaking gently but clearly…This is not his gift. Focus on his gifts.

Immediately a sense of peace and joy began to dissolve my discouragement, and beauty and love took its place. This child is beautifully and wonderfully created,  I was reminded. My thoughts turned to his many shining gifts, and my love for him wiped away any disappointment I had felt. Perhaps I had been expecting what was never meant to be. Math may never be his thing. It’s okay! Math isn’t everything. For some, it may mean very little at all in life. Maybe there really isn’t anything broken here.

I didn’t ask for it in that moment, and I definitely didn’t deserve it, and yet I was offered grace once again. Thank you, Jesus.

The responsibility of educating my children on my own can feel like a heavy burden at times. I have to remind myself frequently of the reasons I chose this path – reasons that seem to get muddled up and fuzzy in the reality of the long and difficult days we sometimes have.  At times, my own faults and insecurities have led me to unfairly lay that burden on their shoulders as well.  It’s not fair of me to hold my children up to the expectations I have created out of my own experiences and desire to appease those nagging fears.  Teaching isn’t about forcing knowledge upon someone – I’m convinced it is all about discovering the truth and beauty that exists all around us- and in us.  What we are really doing here is forming souls. This child of mine, he works pretty hard at math. Who am I to expect more of him than he may be able to give? It’s there, in that realization, that I need to let go of my own expectations (which are sometimes the product of my own need for self-assurance), and beg Jesus to lead me. Beg Him not to let my own imperfections and brokenness break my children along the way.

I want to help them discover their strengths. I want to celebrate their interests. I want us to enjoy our time together. I want them to have happy memories of homeschooling. I am aware of how fleeting these moments are…the reality of it sometimes takes my breath away.

I realize that math isn’t going to go away, and I’m not giving up. We will keep working, and together we will move along.  Thankfully, through my own growth on this journey of homeschooling – which is all possible through God’s grace alone – my perspective has shifted. Priorities have been rearranged, in which excelling at mathematics (especially with the risk of great cost to ones peace and view of their self-worth) does not rank above knowing and loving the soul that God has placed in my care.  In His mercy, God has reminded me that good math scores don’t necessarily mean success (or bad ones failure), and that real learning happens as we discover our true selves, those traits and natural desires that He has woven into us and which direct us always back to Him. My job (my privilege) is to walk with my children, leading them on a path of love, support, and discovery. A journey that will, God-willing, help them to uncover their God-given strengths and talents, and ultimately the purpose God has for their lives.

Spring

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Hunter was less than thrilled when we asked him to pose for a family picture in front of lots of people after Easter Mass. We made it quick, but a certain toddler wasn't in the mood to stand still.

Hunter was less than thrilled when we asked him to pose for a family picture in front of lots of people after Easter Mass. We made it quick, but a certain toddler wasn’t in the mood to stand still.

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We celebrated Landon’s 12th birthday and the twins 7th birthday a couple of weeks ago. Somehow I didn’t take a single picture of Landon on his birthday. Well, I can tell you that he received the dirt bike he wanted (only after he and Hunter agreed that they would share the gift for both of their birthdays) and he was very happy about it (Hunter, too!) In fact, electric bikes were the theme of our spring birthdays this year.  Maya and Alexa are riding in style on their new electric scooters now, too.

We celebrated Easter at my parents house with the whole family (my three sisters and their families…18 kids total. Crazy and fun! Gianna discovered chocolate and is quite fond of it. She may look most like her dad, but she does have a few of her mamas traits, I guess!

I had an unexpected few hours all to myself (almost) tonight. I dropped the kids off to golf and Chris wanted to keep the twins to practice with them.  They’ve been anxious to start golfing and tonight was the perfect spring night for it.  I headed home with Gianna, not exactly sure what to do with this unplanned gift of time. The house was quiet.  I decided to get a work out in. This time I really had no excuses! Afterwards, Gigi and I went outside to walk the trails around our house, and I remembered to grab my camera. I was looking for the little signs of new life that Spring brings with it, and they were everywhere. I’m so thankful for the changing seasons – and the gift of being able to stop and enjoy them.

I guess I didn’t know how much I would appreciate the time…and especially the quiet.

 

Good Things

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Just a few short weeks ago, this winter felt like it would never end. The boys spent a lot of time snowboarding ( 2 – 3 times a week usually) and I never did get to go along. Chris usually took them, or they went with their good friends (who happen to have three boys nearly the same ages as ours!). The twins and Gigi and I had some quiet(er) time together which was really nice. The boys activities have a way of taking center stage sometimes as they get older and busier. I loved having our “girl” time.  Well anyway, it’s definitely the boys’ favorite thing about winter, and I sure am glad that they spent that time together. I kept telling myself maybe nex time I’ll go with- but as it goes, next time didn’t come and practically overnight the snow is gone and we’re moving into summer. Golf shoes have already been brought out, dusted off, and it’s determined that feet grow much too quickly around here!

I asked the boys to let me take some photos of them a couple of days ago as they waited to head off on their last snowboarding day this season. I’m so happy they were willing. I always intend to take pictures but don’t get to it much lately (a running theme in my life…) I know how fast they grow up, and someday soon this moment will seem to have been a very long time ago.

Gianna loves the snow! She often walked around the house saying “noman?” (snowman) hoping we would take her outside. All the kids loved bringing her out. She loved sledding, too, and we all knew what she wanted to do when she would point outside and say “wheeeee?” I just love toddler language, and especially how it can become like a secret code that only those closest can decipher.

 

2014-Year In Review

*Warning- long post ahead. I may have broken a record with this one, but that’s what happens when you cram a years worth of posts into one. Grab a snack. If you make it past July, I’ll be impressed.

One of my favorite bloggers did a Year In Review blog post and I thought YES! PERFECT! I need to do that! All of those posts that I’ve had floating around in my head that I never got around to actually creating won’t necessarily get the focus they deserved, but I shall give bits and pieces anyway.

Here’s a snapshot of our 2014. It was a full year for this crew.

January~

We moved into our new house! On January 24th apartment living came to an end for us, and not a moment too soon.

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Before it was painted. This is what it looked like when we moved in.

 

Painted! What a difference!

Painted! What a difference!

February~

We started to settle in and get back on a school “routine”. These are the only pictures I took during February, I guess. As you can see, the study loft wasn’t fully in order yet, but we did our schoolwork anyway (with many distractions from a certain cute baby girl).

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She looks upset here, but I assure you she liked the basket.

 

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Love this one of Hunter and Gigi- such love between those two.

 

March~

The twins turned SIX! Whaaaaaaaat?

This is the only picture I took on their birthday?!? Shame, shame on me!

This is the only picture I took on their birthday?!? Shame, shame on me!

I’m so proud of these girls. Both are loving and tender-hearted. Both girls are playful and imaginative. Both love and look out for their baby sister. Man, would life be less wonderful without them. They may be identical twins, but they are their own selves, for sure. When I stop and think about the miracle of their existence and their being twins, I’m still floored. STILL! I think I always will be. THANKS be to God for the incredible gift of my girls. Thanks be to God!

Oh- and I turned 37 this month. This did not make news around here.

April~

Biggest excitement of this month? Landon turned 11, of course! This hardly seems possible to me, but it is indeed true. On top of being sweet and handsome, this kid is a gem. Want a home cooked breakfast? No prob…Landon whips up fried eggs like no other and makes breakfast for many of us regularly. He also eats eight or nine of those eggs almost every morning. Yes he does.

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Second on the list of notable activities of April was the thawing out of our new surroundings. I remember after we bought the property (before building the house) walking around that spring and seeing a million tiny little flowers popping up through the forest floor. This spring I couldn’t wait to get out to discover them again, and everything else about our woods. I was thrilled to discover those little flowers (spring ephemerals) again.

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The thawing ground also meant dealing with mud. A lot of mud. Lots and lots of mud. We didn’t have a paved driveway (still don’t actually) or even a sidewalk to get into the house. No grass, either. Just a lot of  post-construction mess and…mud. We begged and pleaded to our landscaper (I may have cried a little) to bump us to the top of his list of spring projects. Thank the good Lord, he agreed and finally we could set foot on something other than, well you know…mud.

The ground was dry when this picture was taken, but it was actually an extremely wet spring. One of the wettest in history. Not good for the mud situation.

The ground was dry when this picture was taken, but it was actually an extremely wet spring. One of the wettest in history. Not good for the mud situation.

Another stand-out memory from this spring was the birds! We have an amazing variety of birds that call our trees home, at least for a while. I have always loved birds, and it’s officially one of my favorite parts of living in this new place. We have an abundant woodpecker population that live here year-round, most notably a stately Pileated who lives in the huge maple tree in front of our porch. We started keeping a bird log to keep track of the variety of other birds we were seeing. We saw blue jays, white-breasted nuthatch, white-throated sparrow, rose-breasted grosbeak, yellow-rumped warbler, scarlet tanager, ruby-throated hummingbird, indigo bunting, black-capped chickadee, Baltimore oriole, cardinal, robin, mourning dove, barred owl, coopers hawk, ovenbird, wild turkey and I’m sure I missed a few. We lost a few to bird strikes, which horrified me deeply. One was a Tennessee warbler that must have been on migration. Each strike was devastating to me. I hope we can do more this coming spring to prevent it. On a side note…I need a zoom lens for my camera! We were obsessed with the birds, but I have very few pictures because my current lens couldn’t get close enough. I will rectify this before spring comes again.

May~

Braedan received his First Holy Communion! Praise God!

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Also- the twins learned to ride without training wheels!

June~

Two birthdays this month…

We have a teenager in the house. Wow! Hunter turned 13! I’m so excited about this new chapter in life. Watching him grow into the exceptional young man that he is…there just aren’t words for the gratitude I have. We could not be more proud.

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And…Gigi turned ONE!

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Again , when I try to verbalize the impact this little person has had on our family, words fail me. I guess some things are better left unsaid, as they say. Better to keep the perfection of it in the heart, than to taint it with inadequate words.

July~

If I had to use just one word to describe this past summer, it would be GREEN!

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The kids built this fort while the house was still under construction.

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The green “carpet” you see here is stinging nettle. It covered the entire property.

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This is actually a pretty steep hill that has become our sledding and snowboarding hill. It’s hard to tell from this perspective. You can see the hard work that Chris and some good friends put in removing a ton of that itch weed.

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This is the maple tree that our resident Pileated woodpecker lives in.

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The canopy of the trees is pretty thick. It can get pretty dark in the backyard even in the middle of the day!

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Here (and in the above photo) you can see part of the trails that we put around the whole property.

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Another shot of the sledding hill.

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We discovered a ton of different kinds of wild berries all around our woods. I don’t know for sure what most of them are, so the kids were instructed repeatedly to NOT touch or eat any. Luckily, they can get their fill of wild raspberries from the thousands that grow in the bushes in the front yard.

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I was so glad to get a shot of a monarch butterfly on the milkweed that grows in front of the house.

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Evidence of the woodpeckers!

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Preparation for our trampoline...

Preparation for our trampoline…

 

Best. Investment. Ever

Best. Investment. Ever.

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August ~

Braedan turned NINE!

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I’m just crazy about this sweet boy. He’s terribly smart, full of energy and life. I love watching him in whatever he’s doing. Specifically, I love the way he moderates conflict and takes charge. He will be a great leader someday, I do believe. This heart of mine just swells.

This was also the month the kids built our fire pit.

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Building fires occurred daily after this. Landon especially loves making campfires.

September~

We began our third year of homeschooling. I can’t believe I just wrote that.

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September also included a new tire swing!

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October~

Wow- it sure is pretty around here in the fall. Waking up and seeing gold everywhere just never got old. I’m truly grateful for the beauty all around us.

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We ended the month of October with a trip up to Grand View lodge in Nisswa for Halloween. I’ll admit I loved not having pounds of candy from our regular trick-or-treating ventures. Maybe this will become a tradition?

November~

Almost there!

The morning of the first real snow fall inspired me to take the kids hiking to look for tracks. We grabbed our field guide and headed out.

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We celebrated Thanksgiving this year at my sister and brother-in-law’s house with their sweet new baby boy, Declan.

December~

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I didn’t take many pictures this month. I wish I would have. We did the usual advent wreath and really focused on spending family time with the daily devotional. We also did the Jesse tree for the first time. Another thing we did for the first time was filling baby Jesus’ cradle with soft strings of “hay”…one for each good deed we did. This was enjoyed by all, I think. I’m sure we’ll do it each year from now on. We hosted Christmas for my side of the family. Nine adults and sixteen children (Tessa, Joe and Declan, Bovy and Bennett, we missed you!) I’m happy to host family holidays, but I need to find a way to do it and still be able to take photos. I snapped a few pictures of some of our Christmas decorations afterwards, but I really wish I had all those sweet faces to put here. It was a great Christmas, and especially exciting being the first one in the new house. A house really becomes a home once it’s been lived in and memories are made there, doesn’t it?  Even though the best ones aren’t here for you to see, they will always remain in our hearts!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone!