Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Six Year Old Tristan

It's taking me a lot longer than I had originally planned to do these updates.  But hey... better late than never, right?  So... Tristan turned 6 back in mid-September and we had a nice little party for him with our friends and neighbors.  He wanted a rainbow cake and we found a mix that was just right.  It turned out really cool!

He started Kindergarten and is doing very well.  He gets on blue (which stands for role model) almost every day!  Tristan loves school and is learning so much.  He loves to carry books around and "read" although it's still pretty difficult to convince him to try and actually read, I love that he is interested in books in any way whatsoever.

He wears ties and vests to school all the time so we had to go get him some more fancy clothes.  He looks adorable!  Apparently some of his friends are starting to copy his fashion and wear their dress clothes to school as well.  Our little trend-setter :)

He gets chased on the playground by girls all the time and loves it.  They love him too... I saw it in action on parent-teacher conference day.  Tristan is still our "sports" kid.  He is constantly in motion no matter where he is (except for school I guess).  He is always jumping around, riding his skateboard or his bike, racing, throwing, kicking, jumping on the trampoline, sledding.  We are going to put him into soccer or gymnastics or something.  One day Noah took his training wheels off for him and taught him how to ride his bike in about 5 minutes.  Tristan was SO DANG PROUD! and so were we :)

Tristan got a guinea pig for his birthday and he takes amazing care of her.  Since then we got him another one so they could keep each other company (they're used to living in groups).  He does a fantastic job making sure they always have food and water and attention.  We never have to remind him.  He named them Carly and Sam (from iCarly) :)

It used to be really difficult to get Tristan to do anything artistic, but lately he has been painting and crafting with the rest of us.  He gets a little insecure because his brothers are so much faster than he is at creating art.  I think being in school, surrounded by different levels of artistic ability and varying speeds of creativity has really helped him overcome a lot of his insecurities.  His handprint Christmas tree hung proudly on our front door this year.

So, our Tristan is growing-up quite wonderfully.  We're very proud of him and of his great strides towards becoming a self-confident, accomplished little kid.  He started school at the perfect time!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Nine Year Old Noah!

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I'm so very very behind on updating and I figured the best way to remedy that situation is to dedicate one blog post per family member.  Sure, it'll be a long grueling process but, hey... you're worth it ;)  Let's start with the eldest cherub, shall we?

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Noah turned 9 back in mid-August and we had a wonderful time with our good friends and neighbors.  Josh and I had a bit of a revelation when we asked ourselves a simple question.  Why are we saying "no"?  Noah would ask us constantly if he could bake cookies and we always replied "no" and then... wait... why?  I can't tell you how many times we told our kids "no you can't" about something they were perfectly capable of doing, which probably felt a little disheartening for the wee poppets.  So we said yes and we've been holding onto that line of logic for all three of them since then.  It's been amazing.  Gone are the days of "no you can't"... now if we have a real reason to say no we back it up with an honest "why" like "because I don't want you to make a mess right now" or "because I want it to be quiet in the living room" or "I think it's dangerous and it makes me really nervous".  Look kid, it's not you, it's ME.  Let's face it... it usually is US.  Make sure your "NO's" are for real reasons!!  Anyway, back to Noah.

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Since the whole parental revelation Noah has finally been allowed to tackle all of these amazing adventures we'd been holding him back from accomplishing.  He built his own lemonade stand, started baking and cooking breakfast on his own with no supervision (and he very sweetly involves his little brothers in the process).  The only help he needs is the step stool.  I even shared some of my college math with him and allowed him to try some of our grown-up games.  He whittled and sanded his own magic wand.  Josh taught him how to play Magic the Gathering in one sitting.  We let him draw huge Chinese dragons on his wall (it's just the same dragon but waaaaay bigger; it doesn't show up in a photo very well).  They look amazing.  He did it all freehand.  He's flourishing.  He's so awesome!!

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Back to Skewl

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Remember when we used to spell cool like "kewl" because it was unquestionably kewler?  No?  Before your time?  Then you would be very comfortable at college because you're the right age for it.  All you "old folks" like me would be branded as NONTRAD's (non traditional students) and you may even have a professor who is younger than you.  I am not old, but when it comes to college I'm a bit more seasoned than the average attendee.  Lemme paint a picture of my arrival to college life.

My first day of math class went like this.  I arrived early and talked to Bob, the shepherd of the hallway.  He was literally leading students to their classrooms with a long stick.  He was a former professor and retired from Air Force after 33 years of service to which he quipped "I damn near made a career of it" HA! good one, Bob.  Time passed and Bob got a little busy with his flock so I was back to my own devices again.  Standing there all old and moldy, surrounded by people with at least a decade to go before they develop their crow's feet.  I turned and I saw another non-trad.  I swear to you we both lit up like Christmas trees when we made eye contact.  Bells rang, angels rejoiced, trumpets sounded, sparks flew... we are not alone!  So, of course I walked over there and talked to her... nooooooooo.  It's the first day, you guys!  You know I'm like that piece of Voldemort hiding under the bench in the train station when I start something new.  Gimme a couple days!  I was even more (secretly) ecstatic when I saw yet ANOTHER non-trad in the bathroom wearing an Ohio State shirt, no less!  OMG!  Now I am really not alone!!  Then.  As luck would have it.  Both my glorious non-trad soulmates walked into room 143 with me to start our painful reacquainting with the lost art of college mathematics.  Oh that class was... how can I even describe this.  At one point I swear all I saw was a bright light while she was talking.  I couldn't even figure out how to ask a question because I had no idea what she was talking about.  I thought about crying, but took a deep breath instead.  I kept reminding myself it will eventually end and then I can look at it on my own and have Josh help me.  I will survive.  My professor is an amazing woman and she's laid back and fun so eventually my fears subsided and I surrendered to the numbers.  I understood at least one problem.  I got one right answer.  HOLY CRAP!  I GOT IT RIGHT!  More followed.  In the span of an hour I went from not even being able to formulate a question to being able to answer them correctly.  WOOOO!

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Since then I have actually participated in all my classes and talked to my fellow students, nontrads and trads alike.  I'm thoroughly enjoying school and my brain, though tired, is jumping for joy as it gets back into shape.  As I got acclimated to being back in class I finally started talking to people, even my non-trad soulmate who admitted feeling the same sparks and calling her hubby immediately after finally seeing another non-trad (aka ME).  Guess the feeling was mutual ;)  ALSO she happens to be former military like me and we have a lot in common.  My favorite class is Politics.  I have had many conversations with the people in my class, even my professor.  I feel like I have something to offer now that I'm older and wiser.  I've learned a lot about the education these teens have received and I'm actually pleased most days.  I'm not surrounded by dumb kids.  They have opinions and ideas and they are respectful and open-minded.  It's refreshing and inspiring.  I am getting all A's and have already signed up for next semester.  I've switched my degree to Education and I plan on teaching 4th-6th grade.  I'm so excited to get in there and see what the education system is like from the inside.  I'm very passionate about attacking our education problems and I figured it was the best place to start.

There is so much more to talk about.  We have changed so much over this past year, all for the better.  Our family is growing by leaps and bounds and we are all extremely happy with the changes we've made.  We spend a lot of time together playing games and talking.  We have extended Saturday Unplugged to 3 days a week.  We started a chore chart and allowances.  Josh found his dream job and his health has improved due to lack of stress.  Everything is fitting together perfectly.  It reminds me of Tetris.  We spent all this time fitting shapes together perfectly and we finally have our long line to drop.  TETRIS!

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Improvements Complete

After refinancing the house, we decided to use the mortgage payment we saved on some much anticipated changes to help make our house a home.  We painted... well, I painted the boy's rooms while Josh was out working and I did a damn fine job :)  Noah helped a lot with his room.  He did all the taping and most of the brush work around the trim.  They all picked out their own colors.

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We painted the whole entire basement and the main hallway and the bathroom as well.  Everything looks fresh and new and inviting.  It has a nice lived-in feel to it now :)

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We also finally replaced some light fixtures we've never been fond of (like the chandelier in the dining room).  I have a few more framed photos and wall art to hang in the basement, but other than that I think we're done.  Everything feels amazing.

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Sunday, July 21, 2013


We've been busy busy bees lately.  While we do tend to have a lot of visitors we decided that the 2% of our total time they spend with us was not worth having a beautiful, large, empty room in the basement.  So... we rearranged.  Noah has taken residence in his very own room with a queen size bed in what used to be the office.  The office is now where the guest room used to be.  Everything in the basement has been rearranged and feels much more inviting.  I didn't take a completely finished picture, apparently, but you get the idea.  The walls shall be painted soon!

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The office is in a cold place where it belongs (and near where the kids usually are which helps me out).  It's inviting and inspiring.  Josh and I do our painting and crafting in this room now.

Noah has his own space where he can escape the unrequited love of his minions.  We still have some painting and decorating to do, but he's already in love with his door (it shuts out brothers) and his new desk.

Brennan and Tristan love all their new space as well.  They both have little desks of their own now, and have turned underneath the bunk bed into a bunny cave.  Brennan has slept in his cave every night.  Tristan got upgraded to the top bunk, which made "losing" Noah a little easier on him, but he's having a tough time giving up his big brother.  He's getting there though.

We have also been hanging artwork, creating artwork, painting walls, finally putting up pictures.  We have been feeling quite motivated :)  Everything looks and feels fantastic!

We have "time" with Mommy now.  I remember my Mom doing something similar when I was little and I LOVED IT!  I was reading a book and Jeff Bridges was talking about how his Mom would spend one full hour with her kids, making them the most important thing above all else for that hour.  He said it always made him feel so loved and secure and important so I thought HECK YES!  Now, I haven't ironed out the details... last Sunday I did one hour back to back with all three boys and once I got to poor Noah I was so burnt out I felt he got a little cheated on the experience.  I'm trying different variations though (different days, less time at first) and am sure I will find one that works for all of us.  The boys love it already.  Eventually Josh will get in on the fun too.

We have also started a weekly family meeting on Monday's.  We each come up with a personal goal and help think of three steps we can take to achieve it.  Then we have a daily mantra (example: my goal was to have more patience and my mantra is "Today I will be more patient").  We encourage each other throughout the week and then end with an outpouring of gratitude for everything, coming up with as much as we can think of to feel grateful for in our lives over Sunday dinner.  This may also change a bit over time, but overall I am loving this.

BEACHES (not the Bette Midler "cry your face off" kind)

This is the first time in my life that I've lived so close to the beach!  We live a short trip down the highway to the Chesapeake Bay and I've found plenty of stops along the way to enjoy.  The more public beaches like Calvert Cliffs and Flag Ponds are always great, but sometimes can get a bit crowded for this introvert's taste.

 Flag Ponds Nature Park is by far the best beach experience near us.  The beach area is so huge it never really feels crowded.  The walk to the beach from the parking lot is short.  The facilities are well-maintained and conveniently located.  There is a little pond that's jellyfish free that the kids can still play in (little boys who enjoy mud and dirt especially love it).  We bring all our company out to this beach when they come to visit.  In June we've already brought my brother and his family and our friend Rudy, not to mention the few trips we've taken with the neighbors there as well... it's a fabulous place to go.

The 1.8 mile hike through the woods to the beach at Calvert Cliffs can be daunting if you've got "beachy" stuff in tow or it's Maryland summer, which means sweltering 100's with 500% humidity.  It's a long hike to make without knowing if the beach is crowded... and then finding out that it is can be a little disheartening, but the beachcombers are in a constant state of coming and going so be patient.   Also, remember to admire the woods because there is a lot going on in there.  The beavers have made quite an interesting walk.  Late summer to early fall is the magical time of year when the moon jellyfish come out to play with the kids :P  We learned these lessons the hard way after Brennan and Noah were both stung on the same day.  However, that long hike came in handy as we discussed the benefits of the jellyfish and how pretty it can be, how important it is to the Bay and keeping it clean.  By the time our hike was over the kids were super happy, no longer in pain, and ready to climb on the tire playground.  We all still love Calvert Cliffs!

Our exploration took us to a few less-populated areas (by jellyfish AND people) along the Bay.  I followed some signs to St. Clements Island (a park I still haven't checked off my list).  The boat tours weren't running that day, but we found a patch of sand under a tree and I recharged my batteries to the absolute maximum that day.  The clouds, the kids, the quiet, the water... omg I was in heaven.  Clouds are the most ultimately beautiful awesome things to me.  They inspire me in every way possible.  I never get sick of them! :)  As you can see, God was really showing off for me this day.

Yesterday I was headed to Flag Ponds again but suddenly decided to cross lanes and turn towards Jefferson Patterson Park & Museum instead.  Little known fact - there is beach access and a small parking lot near the exit of the park.  While swimming is not allowed, my kids don't swim anyway... they wade and dig.  There is one more spot you can access the beach, but the stairs are eroded away and covered in poison ivy.  Depending on the tide level the beach is either big or just a sliver of sand.  Either way there are plenty of spots with space for a blanket or towel and three tiny bodies to dig tunnels (you just have to get wet to get to them).  Some spots have shade!  We only saw 2 tiny moon jellyfish and NO PEOPLE.  On a day they were hosting a wedding and still, no people.  YAY!  We also found a neon blue-green luna moth wing floating in the water, which I brought home :)

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Calvert Marine Museum & Solomon's Island

I had looked at the Calvert Marine Museum online lots of times and finally on Saturday we had an opportunity to go!  It was just as awesome as I thought it would be, but better.  I had no idea this area was as rich in prehistoric fossils as it is!!  I just thought they had a plethora of colonial artifacts.  Nope!

Back when the world was all one giant continent (Pangea) our present day Calvert Cliffs were touching Africa, right where modern day Morocco is.  Thanks to this and the constant changing of the water level the cliffs are packed with fossily goodness.  They have recovered everything from a huge prehistoric baleen whale skull to a prehistoric camel.  RIGHT HERE!!!  AHHHH!!!! Josh and I were so fascinated by all this.  We could have spent 3 hours in the fossil section of the museum alone.

The museum also has other exhibits, mostly dealing with the Bay... maritime history.  It all really focused on the local area, which made it that much more interesting to us.  I learned that up until 1987 we still had a real live blacksmith living out here.  There are animals to touch and see in a separate section just for kids with a little sailboat and lighthouse to experience as well.  Kids can also practice tying knots.  We didn't bother touring the Drum Point Lighthouse, but it was included in the price of admission (which was very reasonable).

On the way back home we stopped to walk Solomon's Island Pier, which was very short.  However, there was an exhibit hosted by the Marine Museum in the old J. C. Lore Oyster House we checked out that was very interesting.  We learned a lot about the booming oyster business and its history, and what efforts we're taking to restock the Bay.

After all that excitement we went to our neighbors' house for a delicious dinner and played cards.  Freakin' fabulous.  It was a wonderful day.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

God Is In the Rain

Right around dinner time it started to pour down rain at my house.  We watched it while we ate and decided splashing in a few puddles would be the best dessert ever!  So, out we went.  Just as I was grabbing my camera the sun came out, but it was still raining.  Rainbow?!?!?!?!!  YES!!

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Josh called on his way home from work and said "go up the driveway, I can see a double rainbow right over our neighborhood".  And here I was excited enough about the tiny bit I caught from the house.

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Josh pulled onto our street so we turned to head back to the house and just then the sky opened up and rain poured onto my kids as they were running down the driveway in the setting sun.  It was so beautiful.  I have never been so sure that God is in the rain :)  I was also reminded of a Bob Marley quote "some people feel the rain, others just get wet".  We definitely felt the rain today!

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Apparently I was supposed to see all this because everything had to be timed in just the right way.  Minutes later the sun was blocked again and the rain stopped.  But, I will have these images forever and I love them!  I keep telling Josh that God just loves me more than most people ;)  I think it's not so much that per se... I really appreciate the beauty of these moments so I continue receiving them.  How awesome is that :)

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Then my boys flung mud at each other and had a grand old time before a shower and bedtime.  Wonderful end to a fabulous day!

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More Cicadas & More Parks

I love this time of year!  The dragonflies, cicadas & butterflies are all out in full force.  The weather is still pretty bearable and the parks aren't packed with summer crowds yet.  We've been spending most of our time outside exploring.  I've got yet another new park in Southern Maryland that is officially on my top five favorites list now: Flag Ponds Nature Park.  The beach here is amazing!!  That's not all, though.  There are the woods packed with gigantic old sweetgum, oak, pine, and maple trees that you can tell have been alive for centuries.  The trails wound their way through ponds and swamps as we crept closer towards the Chesapeake Bay.  To me, it resembled scenes from Lord of the Rings.

We arrived with the intent of hiking and flying our kites, and we did that indeed.  We had such an amazing adventure!  We found a cactus that Tristan and Brennan tried to pick up and bring home, which resulted in a lot of pain and tears.  We saw some skinks (it's a type of lizard) and fish.  Charlie got to slosh around in the water and sniff plenty of other dogs.

I recently returned with my friend Claire and we saw even more amazing creatures like crabs, herons, tadpoles, and leaping shrimp.  Did you know shrimp could jump?  They can :)  We had a little picnic on the beach and gathered seashells.  We even got our feet wet (and wicked sunburns)!

Back at home we're still having a great time with the Magicicada Septidecim.  We went on a nature walk to collect skins and ended up with well over 100.  Noah was counting, but his claim of 208 I think was a little high ;)  I also took some videos so anyone interested could hear their chorus.

Our buddy Rolando came out for a quick visit and we brought him to Jefferson Patterson Park & Museum.  I never tire of this place.  We found a lot of dead crabs, mostly blue crabs, and one big ol' horseshoe crab.  For someone who grew up in Ohio this was pretty dang exciting for me, even if they were all dead.  I also got my first sunburn of the year, which I perfected the following day at Flag Ponds with Claire :P  I now own sunscreen haha.

We've also made a couple trips back to the Battle Creek and Cypress Swamp, which is also always fascinating.  We're anxiously awaiting the new owl they acquired to be acclimated to humans and placed in her new cage for all to see.  She's a gorgeous bird!  We're also looking forward to seeing the honeybees' return.  Yesterday the boys got to see the tiny screech owl up close and personal, feed the albino snapping turtle (very exciting), and take a look at the live snakes atop the spiral staircase.  The staff and volunteers at all our parks are awesome!  Noah and I also got to look up our new discovery in the reptile & amphibian handbook they had on hand while nestled in a gigantic hollowed out cypress tree.  It was a rough green snake, by the way.  Never did get a picture of him, but he was really thin and about 2ft long.  Very cool little guy to find hanging around the yard.

So, as you can see, we've had an action-packed fun-filled month.  Also of note: my garden is producing a family-sized bowl of salad every 3 days or so.  Yay!! :)

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Friday, May 24, 2013

The Magical Magicicada Brood II

Some women may look at the cicada which resembles a bug-eyed steroid-enhanced ginormous housefly and shiver, maybe even squeal.  Like a girl.  I don't.  A lot of that has to do with the numerous entomology lessons I received from my cousin Sandy when I was a kid.  She turned the creepy-crawly bug into a fascinating adventure into the art of adaptation.  Insects are amazing.  This particular 17 year Magicicada (yeah, that's their Latin name because scientists know they're magical) emergence is one of the greatest examples of the awesomeness of the insect world.  Allow me to share with you my insights and maybe if you see one of these little guys hanging around your house you'll be able to view them with the same awe and respect that I do.

For those that aren't aware, this particular brood has been underground for seventeen years.  That's a helluva long time to just be hanging out underground, waiting for an internal clock to go off and tell you it's time to burrow out and multiply en masse.  Seventeen years ago I was in Middle School, hadn't even gone through puberty yet.  Now I have three children, the eldest of which is nearly nine, and a husband.  Roads were laid, houses built, whole developments thrown together, shopping malls erected... some of it unearthing or blocking these nymphs from making that climb back to the open air.  Who knows how many burrowed up after 17 long years to be met with someone's basement or a parking lot.  Additionally we had tsunamis, hurricanes, earthquakes, wars, terrorist attacks, pollution, floods... still, those cicadas were under the ground just waiting for the proper time.  Still, those cicadas were numerous enough to produce the staggering amounts I see in my neighborhood.

They are everywhere, in every form, turning the ground into swiss cheese as they come out in droves.  My kids are getting the science lesson of a lifetime without having to wait, bearing witness to every insect stage all at once.  They are ecstatic!  We have already collected shed skins and make daily tallies of the adults we can see.  Bonus points if you can find an emerging nymph or an adult in mid-shed!  We seek them out while we wait for the bus and are never disappointed.  They are on cars, trash cans, mailboxes, driveways... everywhere you look!  Some of the trees in our neighborhood are so covered in cicada skins that we stop counting and just stare.  We also enjoy listening to their symphony at night, imagining how many cicadas there must be to produce such a loud song!

Scientists can't figure out why they wait for 17 years, while other cicadas are out there every year singing us to sleep.  Some broods wait for 13 years... why the odd numbers?  They have no idea.  The unknowns are the most fascinating pieces to me.  The only real answer is "because that's just what they do", that's what Mother Nature or God or the Universe made happen.  Flippin' fascinating!!  They do it because they are supposed to and Nature never fails to follow its own rules.  We have only speculations and beliefs as to who or what wrote those rules.  As I see it, nature and its rules are our largest connection to what we each conceive God to be.  I see it all happening, and I feel connected.

Cicadas may not be the most attractive things on the planet, but try looking at them more closely.  Don't see sticky legs or bulging eyes.  Look at their bright coloring.  Look at the intricacy of their wings.  Listen to their song.  Admire their persistence and the mysteries they hold.  Marvel at their numbers!  Be in awe of them because you have absolutely no control over them, and allow yourself that reminder.  Nature should be revered because we're all part of it and should respect that we're allowed to exist with so many amazing and beautiful things we don't fully understand.  We're not better, we're just different.  I think these insects are awesome and I'm thankful I happen to live here, at the proper time, to be privy to this event.  I look at the USA and I look at the cicada map and I feel so fortunate to live in this tiny area that gets to experience this!

So, there you have it.  I hope you enjoyed my hippie science lesson.  Maybe you can appreciate these guys too now ;)  If you still aren't seeing it maybe this video will help!