Monday, December 20, 2010

Reminder of the Reason

As we are raising our 4 guys, we are trying to be very intentional about what we do at Christmas.  I've realize that so much we do is based on tradition, but can easily be done without any meaning.  Our goal is to make sure the real Reason for Christmas is what we celebrate in our home, impressing the awesomeness and significance on our children's hearts.  It's not something that just happens in a culture that commercializes Christmas, that feeds the indulgences of humanity, with a passing glance at Jesus in a Christmas carol or two.  As those who have already accepted that Gift, our Christmas ought to be different.  It ought to mean so much more.  So, we are looking for ways to celebrate Jesus on His birthday, in real, tangible, memorable ways. 

A few years ago, I started making a white chocolate candy cane cheesecake (yum!) for Christmas Day, and we put candles on it, and sing "Happy Birthday to Jesus."  The boys love doing it, and it's become a tradition that I hope will last throughout the future of our family.  We pray that that simple way of recognizing Jesus' birthday makes an impression on the hearts of our children.  Children love birthdays, even if it's not their own, and we want to encourage them to celebrate Jesus joyfully.

My Dad always read us the account of Christ's birth from the Bible, before we opened our tree.  (My Mom's from Vermont, and that's the phrase they used for opening their gifts.  We don't actually open up the tree!)  We were never allowed to just climb under the tree and open up our gifts, like you see on commercials. We sat and watched each other as we took turns opening our gifts one by one.  Now, I do the same thing with my family.  I think my parents were intentional about guarding against selfishness and mateialism.  (Mom also wanted to see us open everything, and take pictures, and I am the same way....I don't want to miss the joy of watching my gifts be received!)  I want my boys to view gifts as acts of love, not as things they are entitled to receive.  I'm reminded that the Gift of baby Jesus in that stable was not something I am entitled to.  It is given out of love, completely undeserved and unearned.  God wasn't obligated by cultural norms to give me that Gift.  He sacrificed His only Son because He loved me beyond measure.  I hope my boys will understand more and more each Christmas what love that was, that Jesus was born to die.

"From His throne Jesus came, laid aside Heaven's fame in exchange for the cross of Calvary; for my gain suffered loss, for my sin He bore the cross - He was wounded and I was set free." (Ron Hamilton)

I was inspired this past year to make birthday banners for my boys' birthdays, and they have been a hit.  They boys all loved them, and they were so much fun to create, using the colors and patterns to coordinate wth their birthday themes.  The boys and I thought we should have one for Jesus this year, too.  Being right in our dining area of our kitchen, we see it mutlitudes of times a day, a visual reminder of the real purpose we are celebrating a holiday.

I love these patterns!

Owen wanted a picture with the "Jesus banner" as he calls it.  Isn't that smile precious?  I loved how excited he was to see it finished and hanging there.

I needed an extra square on the second row to make it symmetrical.  So, I made a little gift out of my paper and used the ribbon that is holding the squares together to make a bow for the gift.  I thought that was really fitting to be next to Jesus' name, the Gift that was given to all mankind.
I hope each year we can find more ways to celebrate Jesus' birthday.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Back to School

Our homeschool is back in session!

Looking forward to a great year!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

End of Summer Camp-In

Another thing on our end of summer to do list was to camp out in our backyard.  It didn't work out, so we decided to camp in.  The boys thought it was great, and want to do it again.!

We made s'mores in our fireplace, the boys ate supper on the "ground", we watched a movie, and pitched our tent in the living room.  The boys spent the night in the tent and Mom and Dad slept on an airmattress.  We slept in the next morning (well, if you can call what you do on an airbed sleeping).  

It turned out to be a fun alternative to camping out.
Just one of the ways we were trying to make every last minute of summer vacation matter!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Goodbye Summer

We sensed our summer vacation coming to a close quickly, so we made a list of things we wanted to do before summer vacation was over.  One of the things on our list was to go to "the beach".  We live near a beautiful state park, and for a total of $8 we were able to enter the park, play on the playgrounds, have a picnic lunch, and enjoy the beach.   It was 93 degrees that day, so the water felt really good!

It was just me and the boys, since it was a weekday and Daddy was working. The boys did really well, and they had so much fun.  I'm so glad we got that trip in before summer ended!

Create your own collage - Powered by Smilebox
This photo collage personalized with Smilebox
Click to play this Smilebox collage

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Soccer Camp 2010

Last week was soccer camp, hosted by a local church.  This year, Derek and Carter were old enough to join Evan in the fun.

Good kick, Derek!

Owen wasn't old enough yet, but he had fun playing on the sidelines and making friends with the sweetest black lab puppy.  He's now decided that's the kind of puppy he wants.

Run, Evan! actually I think he was running for water break here :)

Owen passing the ball with Daddy.  One of the days was my birthday, and since Ben took my birthday off of work (love him!), he also got to enjoy watching his boys at soccer camp that day.

Evan loves soccer.
He did so much better this year. 


Evan in action.


Carter missed a day because he was sick, but he had a great time.


On the last day, the church puts on a Victory Night. 
The boys were thrilled with their tshirts, trophies, and water bottles.

Derek and Carter


Little D collapsed on the ground after chasing some girls around the church lawn.

The boys have been looking forward to those 3 days of soccer camp all year!  It's nice to have something that's good for their development, physically and socially, and that is free, and is hosted by people you trust. 

One of the ways we've made our summer vacation moments matter.   Only a week until summer vacation comes to a close, so we're trying to make the most of it!  What fun frugal activities do you do with your kids?  I'm always looking for new ideas!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Goodbye 2s!

Well, I'm a little late getting to blogging about it, (because I have been having technological difficulties), but my baby boy said goodbye to the 2s recently.
I know I say it with every boy every year, but I just can't believe he is 3 ALREADY!

Honestly, I feel like it was just like last week that I first laid eyes on the little fella.

Now he's a walkin', talkin', laughin', runnin', smilin', chattin', cruisin', bruisin' little wonder of a boy.

O-Man picked out a dinosaur themed birthday, specifically Dinosaur Train.  So, I used brown and green and found some cute dinosaur paper for his birthday banner.

Worked out pretty good since we were planning on taking him on a train ride!

Giving his ticket to the "ductor".

Watching the view go by on our 4 hour trip.

my 4 very cool dudes

We had a stop at a ranch where we looked for horses (unfortunately, it was lunch hour and all the ranch hands weren't around, and the horses were all out of sight), but we had a nice little picnic lunch on the banks of the Hudson River and got to stretch our legs a bit. 

Owen's a funny little boy.  For some reason, though he LOVES things sugary and sweet, he does NOT like cake.  I discovered that last year after I went to great pains to make him a Wonder Pets Fly Boat cake, and he didn't eat any of it!  So, I had to be creative this year.  He likes ice cream, so I decided to make an ice cream cake, though it did limit me.  
I put a layer of chocolate chip ice cream in a pan (one container), refroze it, and then added another layer of mint chip, and froze again.  I flipped it out onto a bigger, shallower pan and then decorated it.  I used baking cocoa whipped into Cool Whip for frosting.  I made a rock formation by piling coconut marshmallows on the cake and then covering with more frosting.  I found the cute Dinosaur Train at ToysRUs, as well as a couple extra dinos from the show.  I used green piped frosting to make a track, write the birthday wishes, and surround the cake.  And we had a couple little trees from a train set already, and added them onto the cake.  Oh, and behind the cake is a pond, made of blue sprinkles.  It was not a fancy cake, but he loved it.  But not enough to eat any of it.  :(  New idea next year, I guess.  The rest of us enjoyed it though!  Yum.

O-Man's favorite gift was his new Hot Wheels motorcycle bike from his Grampa and Gramma.  His little legs are just long enough for his feet to touch the pedals, so I guess he'll be able to use it for a long time.

We ended the birthday with fireworks.  Aren't I just the coolest mom?  Hahahaha....ok, I didn't arrange for the fireworks.  But, we did go down to the village at the Yacht Basin and enjoy the fireworks display that our town puts on every Wednesday night during the summer.  I realized then that it was the first fireworks display any of our boys have ever seen in person, (other than peering to see them out of their bedroom windows).  The first blast took O-man by surprise, but he loved them. 

It was a fitting way to end his day.  Owen has been a firecracker in our family.  His entrance into this world was as surprising to us as that first blast was to him.  But, like him, we loved it! And each day his little fireworks display his personality and charm, and we love it.  It is hard to think 3 whole years have gone by since we first held him in our arms,

and brought him home to his brothers.

But at the same time, it's hard to remember life without him, because like a firecracker leaves it's mark in the darkness, Owen leaves his mark daily on our family, and we love it!

We had a wonderful day being together as a family, that's how we made O-Man's birthday moments matter.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Take a Lesson From My Boy

I know I'm a tad bit partial, but I think my first born is amazing!  And I think we all can learn a lesson or two from him today.

Today, I had the rare experience of clothes shopping with all my boys.  It is something I generally don't do, because well, if you have ever tried shopping with 4 active little boys you can imagine why.  :-)

Next week, my husband and I will celebrate our anniversary.  After 13 years of marriage, and getting ready to turn 34, I decided to branch out a bit, and I bought an outfit (awesome clearance sales!) that is something my husband probably would never think I'd wear.  But at this point, I think it's ok to be daring, right?  (Don't's modest, just not my normal style.)  Evan wanted to know why I was looking for clothes.  I told him I wanted to look beautiful for Daddy on our date.  As sincere as his little heart could be, he said, "You don't need to buy new clothes to make you beautiful, you're beautiful just the way you are!"

I told my husband about it at supper and he congratulated Evan on always coming up with the right thing to say, and said, "I think I need to take lessons from you, Evan!"  Evan grinned from ear to ear.  I told him to remember to say these things to his wife someday!

And I'm about bursting with pride because my first born has also pretty well mastered riding a bike today.  We worked on it some off and on in recent months, but he really hadn't gotten it down so that he could stay on the bike for any length of time or get himself started.  This afternoon, we had a brief period of time after we got back from a road trip and before we had to take my mom to an appointment.  Instead of rushing inside to try to use that time to do laundry and all the other things I hadn't gotten done while being gone all day, I moved the van and let the boys ride their bikes and have some fun.  Evan was trying and getting frustrated and wanted to quit.  I told him I wasn't going to let him quit, that he'd get it if he just tried and tried and tried.  Within minutes he was doing so much better.  After supper he took his Dad outside to show him what he could do, and it was like a whole different child on that bike.  He can get on, get started by himself,  keep his balance, and even make turns around the driveway!  I'm so proud of him, and he is so proud of himself.  Mastering a difficult challenge is so rewarding, even for a child.

That gets me to thinking, how often am I like he was this afternoon, facing a difficult task or situation and just wanting to quit.  Too often, I'm afraid.  But watching him today make so much progress in such a short amount of time, was an encouragement to me.  Don't be a quitter.  Finish what you start.  Persevere despite challenges.  Look past obstacles.  And ignore that voice that says, "Quit!"

How did I make my moments matter today?  I spent just a few of them helping my son learn to ride a bike....mostly instilling my confidence in him into him.  Once he knew that I knew that he could do it, and once he knew I wasn't going to sit by and watch him quit, he was determined to keep trying.  We all have that too, don't we?  Even if no one on earth thinks I can do the task, I have a Father in heaven who has all confidence in me....not because I'm so great....but because His strength can do it through me.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

It's Done!

I finished my quilt!  Wooohooo!  It feels good to have it completed! And even though it's far from perfect, I'm happy with the way it turned out.

I took this opportunity to pray for the little girl who will someday cuddle under it's warmth and softness.
Praying for God to comfort her and protect her, to provide her with love, and most importantly to give her a knowledge of Himself.

I'm sending the quilt off to Amy, and eventually it will find it's way to Uganda.  That's a cool thought!

If you know how to quilt, or would like to try your hand at it, I'd encourage you to join Amy in her mission to provide quilts for Ugandan orphans.  I'm so glad I did!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Finishing What I've Started

Well, I picked up a project today that I started a while ago.  I have a tendency to be good at starting things, but run out of time, motivation and energy.  I'm embarrassed to say I hadn't gotten very far on this quilt I committed to make.  I bought the material, figured out a pattern, and cut the squares out.  But, it got stalled there.  Maybe because I've been busy, maybe because it's been almost 25 years since I last made a quilt (yes, I was just a kid!) and I was apprehensive about getting started, or maybe it's because I tend to want perfection out of myself  and sometimes procrastinate rather than finishing and being disappointed with the results because I am not perfect at anything (not a good character trait, I know!).  Maybe it's a little bit of each.

But this is for a great cause, so I determined to get moving again on it today.  I made progress!  All the squares are sewn together, so I have the face of my quilt now in one piece!  I'm putting this on my blog for accountability reasons.  See, if I put it on here, I'll have to stay on top of it and finish it.  :-)

And it isn't perfect.  Not all of the corners meet perfectly.  But character is okay for a quilt, right?

While piecing it together, I tried to envision the little Ugandan girl who will one day snuggle underneath this quilt when it is finished and sent off to an orphanage.  My husband's cousin, Amy, has started working on making quilts for orphans in Uganda, and I'm so glad to have the privilege of helping by making this quilt.

And then I was thinking, blankets are something my boys have plenty of, and I'm sure take for granted; but, to these children, something as simple and everyday as a quilt matters. 
So that's how I made my moments matter today.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Birthdays Matter

Several days ago we had the fun of celebrating our twin boys' 4th birthday.
I've always thought birthdays were a great time to make a big deal about your kid.
Just look at how much they have grown and changed and learned in a year!
I love traditions...I'm sentimental.
And I am a gift giver.  I love shopping for gifts for people.  So, when my boys' birthdays come around, I have fun.  But, I've also found that I don't have the budget I'd like to have when buying gifts.  Who does, right?
So, I've had to learn how to look for bargains and buy gifts ahead of time and use coupons to try to give nice gifts without paying full price.  It's a challenge, but I love a shopping challenge!

We decided this year to get the boys each one big gift, something they would really enjoy....their very first bikes.

Now, if you have shopped for a bike recently, you will know that they are not cheap.  Even these little 12 inch bikes can cost alot.  My goal was to find them each one but stay within my budget.  We made the decision a few months in advance of their birthday to get them bikes.  So, I immediately began noticing sale fliers.  I get ToysRUs sale fliers regularly, and I noticed a couple months ago that they had a sale on bikes...25% off.  On the front of the flier was a $10 coupon.  Between those 2 things, I saved $25.  I got a neat little blue bike and found a cool blue helmet to go with it.  The cashier added on an additional coupon, so I got a great deal!  I tucked them away in my parent's garage until last week.

About a month ago, I saw ToysRUs was doing the same sale again, and again I received a $10 coupon.  Again, saving at least $25, on the little red bike.  They didn't have helmets on sale at the time, but I did find one later at Target that was 20% off.  Not a great deal, but helmets are important.

Best part, I stayed within my budget and the boys loved their bikes.  As soon as this heat wave passes, we can have some fun riding around our neighborhood.

If you have little kids, your home has likely been hit with the Toy Story craze like ours has.  Our boys have been rather obsessed with Toy Story and Buzz Lightyear for the last year.  Now that the new movie and toys are out, they are just loving it.  Of course, Nana hit a home run finding these cute stuffed Buzz and Woody pillows from Avon, which she is a distributor for.  Aren't they cute?  They are big, so they can either be a pillow, or a friend to play with.  Look at those happy smiles.
And Nana and Papa gave them money to go on a train ride (complete with handmade ticket holders and Thomas stickers).  It is something we have been wanting to do with the boys for a while, and plan to do in a few weeks on O-man's birthday.  I know the boys will LOVE the trains!

One thing we have done to make our boys' birthdays matter is to find something special to do on their day.  We haven't been able to take a regular family vacation (except to Grandma's house) since our oldest was a baby, so we let the summer birthdays be an excuse to get daddy out of work for a day and do something fun as a family.  I would suggest to anyone who can do that to do so.  It's a great time, and the kids really feel celebrated.  (Poor Big E, we're still looking for something fun to do on his birthday....winter birthdays are harder.)  My boys look forward to the twins' birthday all year, because they know that we are going to go to Hoffman's Playland (an amusement park just for kids).  We went there for the first time on the twins' first birthday, Big E was 2 at the time, and O-Man was actually only 3 weeks from entering the world.  We were so impressed with the place, and the boys had such a good time, that we decided to make it a tradition, and we've gone there every year since on CarCar & Little D's birthday.  Traditions are good.  They are things kids will remember long after they forget what toys they got for their birthday.  Memories will last, long after the gifts have broken or been outgrown.  I hope these will be moments my boys will always look back on fondly and traditions they will carry on with their children.
Little D and CarCar

I've started 2 other traditions recently.  Last year I started making my own themed birthday cakes.  This year I started making my own birthday banners to go along with the themes.  I saw the idea on another mom's blog, and thought, I could do that, too.  Since we don't have the expense of birthday parties for our boys every year (so far we've just done that on 1st and 5th birthdays), I don't mind spending a little on supplies to make a special personalized birthday banner each year.  The boys picked SpiderMan and Batman for their theme, which was a little tricky for making the banner.  The craft store didn't have any papers to go along with that theme, so I just picked some of the colors from Spiderman and Batman and used cardstock in those colors.  I found some white rope (in honor of Spidey's web) and used that to tie the letter squares together.  It really is easy and doesn't take that much time.  If you like this idea, give it a try, I guarantee your kid will love it!  If you need tips on how to make it, I'll be glad to tell you how I put mine together.  This was the second one I've done.  I did one for Big E for his birthday this past winter and had fun creating that one, too.
This cost me about $15 I think.  Next time it would cost less, because I purchased some supplies that can be re-used.  You couldn't purchase a personalized banner this big for that price!  To get my money's worth out of it, I'm leaving it up for a while for the boys to enjoy more.  :-)  Also, if I want, I can re-use most or parts of it for a future banner, saving more money.

I was a little worried when they said they wanted Spiderman and Batman cakes.  (Yes, I make them separate cakes.  I try to value and encourage their individuality as much as is possible and practical and affordable.  I think the extra time and little bit of expense to give them their own cakes is worth it.  Now if they had asked for the same thing, I would have made them one cake, but as has been the case since they were born, they are 2 very unique individuals.  They do like a lot of the same things, but they do have their own special likes and preferences.  I try to be careful not to lump them together all the time.  It's easier to refer to them as "the twins" on my blog, but in life, we try to generally refer to them by their names, not as a pair.  I often tell people that not only are they fraternal twins, looking much different than each other, but they are in essence just brothers born at the same time.  They are as different from each other as they are from their other brothers, and we have tried from the beginning to remember and consciously acknowledge their individuality.)
Anyhow....I had my work cut out for me because I'm not really up on my superheroes.  :-)  I didn't have a brother, so I wasn't around this kind of stuff growing up.  But in the end I think they turned out ok.  CarCar and Little D loved them, so I was happy.  I am not a professional cake decorator by any means, so my cakes have "character", but that's ok, too.  I have found that it is fun to incorporate a little birthday surprise into the cake decorating.  I find a small toy that goes with the theme the kids pick and decorate the cake around that, actually using the toy on the cake.  Afterwards, I clean it off, and give it to them, and it is part of their birthday gift.  The boys really look forward to seeing what I have gotten to put on top of their cake.  And I know in advance what I'm going to do, so I keep my eyes open for clearance specials, so it doesn't turn into an expensive project.

 I used 2 cake mixes, one strawberry and one chocolate.  I split the batter for each cake mix between the round and square pans.  That gave me a strawberry and a chocolate layer for each of the boys' cakes. 

Carter's was pretty simple. I just frosted the round layers in red frosting (Aldi's had red and blue frosting in inventory because of the 4th of July holiday, so I didn't even have to make frosting and color it this time.  I cheated!).  Then I took white frosting and made lines for a spider web on it.  Spiderman on his ATV topped it off.

Derek's was a little harder.  I used the blue frosting from Aldi's for the square layers.  I couldn't find black decorating frosting at the store, so I purchased an oreo cookie crumb pie crust, and used that for the black part of the bat symbol.  I used yellow frosting to make the oval shape and to fill in the background of the oval to make the bat shape appear from the crumbs.  I have ideas of better ways to do that next time, but hopefully they won't pick Batman again, anyway.  :-)  Batman and his helicopter topped it off.  To tie the two cakes together and include a birthday message, I printed off a banner ("Have a Super 4th Birthday, Carter & Derek!") onto cardstock, punched a hole in each end and used black ribbon to tie an end to Spidey and Batman's vehicles. 

I would suggest this to any mom wanting to add a personal touch to their kids' birthdays.  It is fun for me, and very rewarding.  And I think they love these handmade creations better than the $35-40 perfect looking cakes at the grocery store.  These are one of a kind, unique creations, just like my boys.


CarCar and Little D with their cakes.
The "birthday bug" has bitten Big E, too.  He made his brothers their very own birthday crowns. :-)

What ways do you have of making your kids' birthdays special?  Do you have special traditions, foods, decorations that you incorporate into their day?  What did your Mom do when you were a kid to make you feel honored and celebrated on your birthday?  I'd love to hear!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Grandparents Matter

This not a current picture.  Just one I love.  And look at that sweet baby!  He's getting ready to turn 3!

Tomorrow marks the one year anniversary of my parents moving near us. Really. Near.

Ben and I moved to this area 8 years ago.  At the time, we had been married for 5 years.  The first 3 living in a tenant house that belonged to his parents, and was just up the road from their farm out in the country in the central part of the state.  The second 2 years we lived in SC while he finished up his college career after a 4 year furlough.

It was while we were there that God led us to step out on faith and move to this area.  It wasn't for a job...we came up with none.  It wasn't for a home...we came up to rent an apartment that we put a deposit on sight unseen.  Big mistake.  But that is a whole 'nother story.  Believe me!  It wasn't to be near one we loved or even knew was here.   Our families were both 3 1/2 hours away.

We were blessed to be invited to help our friends as they moved here to start a church.  Thankfully, they arrived a little less than 3 months after we did.  It was pretty lonely here those first few months.  They were our family to us during that time.  Especially once we had our first son, during that second year here.  2 1/2 years later we welcomed twin boys.  12 months after that we welcomed our youngest son, giving us 4 boys... ages 3 1/2 and under. and 2 weeks before that our friends moved away.

People often would ask me then how we did it with 4 little boys so close in age with no family around to help.  (My sister did move here briefly during the time our youngest was born.  But we scared her back to the city. haha.)
Now I look back and wonder the same thing.
But what I do know is God got us through.  But it was hard.  Really hard at times.

But last June 26th, after 5 1/2 years of parenting our boys without extended family nearby, God allowed us the privilege of having Nana and Papa come to live right next door to us.  My boys get to have their grandparents be a part of their everyday life.  I love that.  I always wished I had seen my own grandparents more, and had a closer relationship with them.

And, I must say, it is a huge blessing to have their help.  Thinking about how much I've depended on my mom this last year, it is hard to think about how I did it with out her.  Those lonely years just go to show you that God will never give you more than you can handle.  Because He can handle anything.

old pic of Dad and Mom with the boys, back when they used to have to take a vacation to see them

So, Mom and Dad, happy 1st anniversary of living next door to us.  We hope we haven't driven you completely crazy!  And thanks for all you do!  And thanks for all your loving on and caring for the boys!  They are blessed to have you in their lives every day. Grandparents Matter!