Tuesday, December 29, 2009

My Woman (by Marcus)

In light of it being Rachel’s 30th B-Day today, I wanted to take the opportunity to be a guest blogger and express why I love this woman so much.

1. Father’s eyes. If any of you out there know the song “Father’s Eyes” by Amy Grant, then you know the woman Rachel is. Where as I have to work up the energy, she gets excited helping and leading others in God’s work. She is compassionate, always taking time to call or prepare meals for individuals or families facing a stressful event in life. She will not hesitate to let someone cry on her shoulder, and knows just what words to say. And she is humble, never wanting to claim credit for her deeds but always hoping that her actions simply reflect God’s love for others.

2. Wonderful mother. Rachel is everything I ever desired in a mother, and more. She was a gifted student and National Merit Scholar, but choose to take the hard road of being a stay-at-home mother. I have absolutely no doubt she could have been brilliant at any profession she put her mind to, but she shares my belief that there’s nothing more valuable in life than time spent with your children. She gracefully maneuvers the hardships in child-rearing making the entire experience look easy (and having spent a weekend or two on my own taking care of Ethan and Caleb I know it is no easy task). She is always organizing educational schedules, optimizing playdates and special outings, and making the best out of the unexpected. She loves my children dearly and would give her life for them without hesitation. I am a very lucky man to have such a caring wife.

3. Cooking. Yeah, so I’m a guy and I like to eat. No surprise. And the saying “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach” fits me perfectly. While my mom made many efforts to cook for me and my siblings when we were younger, I never truly appreciated a home-cooked meal until Rachel came around. I still remember the first plate she made me as I packed to leave for Harding University for the summer (home made biscuits with mashed potato and seasoned chicken). The menu has certainly grown since that time (my favorite now is her lasagna or home-made pizza) and I delight in every little (or usually big) bite.

3. Virtuous wife. Yep, I’m talking about Proverbs 31. If there was ever a woman who knew how to stay busy caring for her home and family, it’s Rachel. Unlike myself who will always choose to sit and relax, Rachel is always on the go. Balancing the checkbook and paying bills, cleaning the house, washing laundry…..okay, those tasks can be described briefly but entail hours and hours of weekly toil. And she does it without complaining but rather with a cheerful heart. The extra effort she makes in her work is an excellent example of worshiping God though seemingly meaningless daily tasks. Her example often convicts me of the laziness I’m prone to and both inspires me to get off my rear end and makes me appreciate what a lucky man I am (wow, I’m saying that a lot aren’t I).

4. Laugh. Rachel has a laugh that is pure and sincere and makes happiness bubble up in me where I thought there was none. Her laugh fills up a room and is unique enough to help her friends find her on a train (she’ll have to tell you the story sometime). She’ll tell you she’s embarrassed of how loud it is, but I only wish my laugh could be so inviting. I see her laugh as a simple expression of the sweet girl that resides inside her…

5. Sweet, innocent girl. One of the biggest things that has always attracted me to Rachel is the pureness and innocence of her heart. Her parents did a great job sheltering her from the harsh world and all its vulgarities. Her heart is a representation of how things should be, how the world would be if not corrupted by sin. Sadly I’ve not always been her heart’s greatest protector, but I do my best now because seeing her gives me hope for how things will be when Jesus returns.

So now hopefully some of you have a notion of why I love my wife. She is a wonderful woman and I am blessed to be married to her. She makes me a better man. She is my best friend and I look forward to spending the next 30+ years walking by her side.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Christmas Cards

This is the first Christmas season that Caleb has really started to understand the "getting" part of Christmas. He looks through the toy magazines that come in the mail, he answers people when they ask him what he wants for Christmas, and he checks his stocking every day to see if anything is in it. To counteract all this "give me" focused energy, I ask him frequently what he would like to give other people for Christmas, particularly his friends. During one trip to Toys-R-Us, my plan sort of backfired, and he was very disappointed (complete with indignant tears) that I wouldn't buy all of the toys he picked out for his friends. After listening to me tell this story, a friend suggested that I cut out pictures of toys and help Caleb make Christmas cards for his friends. I thought that was a fantastic idea, so that is exactly what we did. Last night, Caleb and I went through a toy magazine and cut out pictures of everything he wanted to give to each one of his friends. Then I wrote "Merry Christmas, _______!" on the front of a vertically-folded piece of construction paper. Then we glued 2 or 3 pictures of toys inside each card and wrote a little note that said "If I could buy you a Christmas present, I would buy these for you!" The cards were completed with Caleb's signature (I helped him a little) and decorative Christmas stickers. Caleb is very proud of his little stack of cards and can't wait to hand them out to friends!

Friday, December 11, 2009

My Hubby the Hero

So we had a little drama during the children's play practice at church on Wednesday night. A little girl named Chloe tripped and busted her forehead open, revealing a frightening amount of her skull. One of the teachers took her to the ladies room to try to stop the blood, but both teacher and child were very shaky. Marcus heard the initial shrieks of the girls' friends, and saw the blood trail to the bathroom, so he ventured into the ladies room to offer some help. He took frightened little Chloe from the teacher, checked out the damage, and then applied firm pressure for a long time, until the bleeding slowed/stopped. Marcus said Chloe was wimpering, but not really crying, so he asked her if she was hurting or mostly scared. "Mostly scared," she said. Chloe's mother joined the scene shortly, and phone calls were made to her Dad about which ER to go to, etc. Like most drama, it was over quickly and left lots of shaky mommies in it's wake.

I found out about the whole thing as I was taking my friend's baby from the ladies' class to the nursery. I ran into Kelly, the teacher who was initially doing Chloe's first aid. She was very flustered and blurted out to me "Rachel, your husband is a hero!" She realized from my confused look that I had no idea what had happened, so she quickly filled me in. I was very proud to be married to the guy who kept his cool and knew exactly what to do in the sight of so much blood. I am definitely NOT that person, so I am grateful to be married to someone who is.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Laundry That Never Ends

So before the cooler weather descended a couple of months ago, I was able to do three or four loads of laundry every Friday morning, and that was it. Somehow, the cooler weather has not just doubled, but TRIPLED the laundry I do every week. I'm doing 5-6 loads on laundry day now, and usually 2-3 other loads on other days of the week. I know the kids (and us) are wearing more clothes every day, but I have never noticed in previous years such a drastic difference between summer and winter laundry. I'm sure part of it is probably what a messy eater Ethan is...it seems like even with a bib I have to change his outfit once or twice a day. Whatever the reason, I am really getting burnt-out on carrying laundry baskets up and down stairs, as well as folding and putting away the same clothes multiple times each week.

As a side, here are some pictures of the boys at Harding from our Thanksgiving weekend in Searcy:

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Breakfast With Santa

This weekend, our church's children's ministry put on a FANTASTIC pancake breakfast for the kids and parents. Ethan had spiked a fever the day before, so he stayed at home with Marcus, while Caleb and I spent the morning at the church. A good friend of mine (Marcus's coworker's wife), brought her two kids and the five of us had a great time. The morning started at 9:00 am with everyone in the auditorium sitting around 8-top tables, eating pancakes topped with chocolate chips, powdered sugar, and syrup. (I'm not sure Caleb has ever had so many sweets at once.) At 10:00, the kids and parents rotated by groups through five differents stations: visiting with Santa, making handprint aprons, riding a train around the parking lot, and making reindeer snacks, and sharing a Christmas story. Caleb had a great time, and I actually got quite a few pictures since I wasn't chasing Ethan. Ethan and I get one-on-one time every week while Caleb is in school, but Caleb and I are rarely hanging out on our own, so I really enjoyed spending a fun morning with him.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Ethan (Monthly Update)

Well, Ethan is 20-months-old today. I dislike saying the age 20-months-old, because for some reason, people who don't have little kids always round 20-months up to "almost 2." Why, I don't know, since it is actually closer to 18-months than to 2. The conversation usually goes like this:

"Oh, he's so cute! How old is he?"
"He'll be 20-months-old on Friday."
"Oh, so he's almost two. I have a little niece who is two. She is the sweetest little thing, and so obedient!"
(thinking silently) "That's very nice. Was she sweet and obedient when she was 20-months-old?"

So anyway, Ethan has a new game this month that originated with our November house guest, Aunt Wendi. Not sure exactly how it started, but now it goes like this: Ethan stands still with his shoulders hunched over and his arms dangling close to his body in front of him. Then he cries out with gleeful panic "STUCK IN A BOX!" (His enunciation of this phrase is perfect.) Someone is supposed to run over to him and knock the pretend box away so he can move again. He plays this game every day until no one will knock his box away anymore. It is so extremely cute because he is giddy when someone saves him, and also because he does a superb job of standing still in his imaginary box.

Something else that he has been into a lot, really for a couple of months, is doing Melissa & Doug chunky puzzles. The puzzle pieces are thick and wooden, and there is an identical picture underneath each puzzle piece. So the puzzles are as easy as they could be, but Ethan LOVES them. I think one reason he enjoys them is because they are called puzzles, so he feels like he is doing something big, since Caleb also loves puzzles. He dumps out the 6-9 pieces in each one, and then puts each piece back, chattering all the while. The chattering is always punctuated by intermittent "Mama's!", which mean, of course, that I should turn and say something affirming.

As far as new accomplishments...Ethan can now walk up AND down stairs without holding onto the rail. We do not encourage him to do this, but since our stairs are only six-steps-high and carpeted, we don't discourage him either.

Ethan has continued to be more of a joy than a challenge this month. He loves learning new things, he loves making people happy, and he LOVES to communicate. He's big on reading books right now (which still usually means that he turns the pages and points at things while the "reader" simply labels them). Dancing and watching the Wiggles remain two of his favorite activities. Ranking right up there with them is going to McDonald's. We've been playing at McDonald's play areas quite frequently lately, and now EVERY time we pass the golden arches anywhere, Ethan starts calling out "Mc-don-alds! 'Ease! Mc-don-alds! 'Ease, Mama!" (I do feel bad that my 20-month-old knows the name of a fast food place.)

Here some final thoughts from Daddy about Ethan:

For several months now Ethan has continued to impress me with his ability to talk. He can properly say nearly every common animal name, repeat first time words immediately, and often uses 4-8 word sentences. He also loves to copy words and actions of any older children, especially his brother. My heart has been so warmed seeing them bond over the last few months. Ethan joyfully and shares with Caleb and wants to with him all the time. Recently Caleb was in trouble and wasn't allowed a toy, so Ethan ran over and asked for the toy then immediately gave it to Caleb. Rachel recently blogged about Ethan wanting to share timeout with Caleb. Caleb acts out his love for Ethan by sharing (although not as joyfully as Ethan), and protecting his brother. Just last night we were playing a game where I was an alligator trying to bite people. When I was approaching Ethan, Caleb got a scowl on his face, ran over to me and started pushing and fighting me away to allow time for Ethan to run to safety. Such actions are such a joy to me since I know that so many brothers spend their lives in rivalry. My brother and I have a great relationship and I pray the same for my boys.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Thanksgiving in Searcy

As I mentioned a couple of days ago, the four of us spent Thanksgiving weekend in Searcy with the boys' Nanna and Papa (my parents). The boys had so much fun! My parents still live in the same house I grew up in, and I realized on this trip that it was actually a great little neighborhood to grow up in. Their house is one block from an elementary school with a big playground. Just behind the school is the junior high's track and stadium, along with several huge parking lots. My brother and I spent a lot of time on our bikes doing bike tricks in the parking lots, playing around on the football field and in the bleachers, and of course at the elementary school park. One afternoon this weekend when Marcus, Ethan, Nanna and Papa were all taking their afternoon naps, I took Caleb out on a 1.5 hour bike ride. (He has amazing stamina for a 3-year-old, both for biking and hiking.) He was on his 14-inch bike (with training wheels), and I was walking. We went through several of my old neighborhood routes, and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing my old haunts through my son's eyes.

Another afternoon, my dad, Marcus, the kids and I spent a couple of hours walking around Harding. It was good for Marcus and I to stroll around our alma mater together and reminisce about the years we spent there. It was good to be with my dad, to hear him talk about his love for that school. (He still works in Harding's Advancement Department.) It was good to talk about people I haven't thought about for years...people who played both big and small roles in helping me become the person I am today.

On a different day, Marcus and I took the boys to the playground at Harding Academy and ran into a family reunion of four sisters who I grew up with. They all have four kids each now, and it was very surreal seeing them all with their husbands and their little ones running around. It's an odd aspect of human nature that we unconsciously expect people to remain the way they were when we exited their lives. We of course go through all kinds of changes, but we can't help but be surprised that everyone else does the same.

We ended our time in Searcy by watching the Florida/FSU game on Saturday afternoon. Well, Marcus watched the game while Dad and I took the kids out for one last walk to the park. I had one of the top 10 scares of my life at the elementary school by my house when a car pulled into the paved part of the playground between me and where Ethan was playing. My heart froze for two horrible seconds until the driver spotted him and stopped. It could have been so much worse, but as it was I couldn't stop shaking for several minutes. Anyway, we back to the house and I fed the boys dinner while Marcus and my parents finished watching the game. We had to stay to the very end to watch Tim Tebow make his final lap around The Swamp, so we didn't leave town until after 6:00 pm. Regardless, Marcus made great time and we were at our front door in 5 1/2 hours (a big improvement on our 7-hour trek there). We were also blessed with very tired kids who slept the final four hours, allowing Marcus and I to have the longest uninterrupted conversation we've had in a long time!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Christmas Shopping...or Not

This year, like it has been for many others, has been a very tight one for us financially. One of the budget cuts we had to make this year was in buying Christmas gifts. During the seven years we've been married, we've never bought birthday gifts or Christmas gifts for each other or for our kids. The kids always get presents from family and friends, and they are not old enough to notice that there is nothing in the pile from us. However, we have always been able to set aside the ~$500 to buy gifts for grandparents, our siblings, and their families at Christmas time. This is the first year that even that had to go. We've scaled down to just buying Christmas presents for our kids' five cousins, Bennett, Jasper, Chase, Kylie and Maddie. Although I'm sad that we have so little to bring to the Christmas tree this year, it does take a lot of pressure off to be buying only for children under the age of five. Not that the older recipients are picky or hard-to-please, but I just feel much more confident about choosing something that a preschooler will enjoy, especially since I have two "toy samplers" of my own at home.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Driving to Searcy

About a week ago, Marcus made the call that we were going to pile the kids in the car for another trip to Searcy to spend Thanksgiving with my parents. The last time we all four drove to Searcy was over a year ago in October, for my 10-year high school reunion, and that trip did NOT go well. Let's just say there was lots of crying, whining and misery. The trip I made by myself with the boys back in May did not go any better (actually I thought it was significantly worse), so we set out two nights ago at 4:30 pm with a fair amount of fear and trepidation.

Much to our surprise, the trip went very smoothly. We didn't hit any traffic at all, despite it being the evening before Thanksgiving. And the boys were great! There was actually NO crying and very little whining. There wasn't as much sleeping as we'd hoped, either, but we will definitely take awake and content little boys over awake and whining little boys. The secret of Caleb's contentment was that he got to watch Wall-E for the first time on our portable DVD player. Why Ethan was content (and awake until 11:00 pm), we have no idea. He slept from 7:30 until around 9:00, but then he was just awake and relatively quiet for the next two hours. We sort of avoided talking to him, afraid to alter whatever was keeping him happy. Maybe he thought we couldn't hear him, like when he is in his crib. Or maybe he thought we didn't know he was awake, and he didn't want to blow his own cover. Whatever the reason was, he finally closed his eyes and conked out about 30 minutes before we arrived at my parents house. Both boys transferred fine, and Marcus and I visited for a little while before turning in for our six hours of sleep.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

"Time Out" Buddy

Here's a cute story to brighten your Thanksgiving "Eve." The other day, Caleb was looking at the DVD Mulan and politely asked if he could watch it. When we declined his request, he responded in a burst of anger and tossed the case onto the floor. He was promptly sent to time-out for that display of temper. Ethan, seeing his brother pouting on the floor, trotted over and plopped down beside him. With the righteous indignation that is such an integral part of Caleb's personality, he howled, "NO, Ethan. You are NOT in time-out because you did NOT make a bad choice." Ethan looked sideways at his brother, not at all put off by this outright rejection of his proferred sympathy. Instead, Ethan hopped up, took a DVD off the shelf, and perfectly imitated his brother's flinging misdemeanor. Marcus and I looked at each other and stifled our laughs. I recovered first and sent Ethan to join his brother, which he did with a HUGE grin on his face. Caleb, fairly outsmarted, just crossed his arms and glowered, refusing to awknowledge the brother who was now planted proudly beside him.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Happy 30th Birthday!

This past weekend was Marcus's 30th birthday. Birthdays have always been a bigger deal in Marc's family than in mine, and Marcus particularly enjoys milking his "birthday boy" priviliges for all they are worth. He decided to be "birthday boy" (meaning he calls all the shots throughout the day) on Saturday instead of his actual birthday, which was Sunday. We had a low key day on Saturday...Marcus slept in late, then we took the kids Christmas shopping and went out to lunch. Then we came home, put the kids to sleep, and Marcus watched the Florida game while I made homemade lasagna for dinner (birthday boy's request). After dinner, Marcus went out to get a movie and play video games while I bathed the kids and put them to bed. He got home around 8:00 and we watched the movie he had picked out (it was G.I. Joe, and it was better than we expected it to be).

So when Sunday rolled around, Marcus thought his 30th birthday had already been celebrated. Little did he know that I had been planning a surprise party for him for over a month :) Marcus thought he was going to spend the afternoon helping our friend, Al Pollard, pick up a bunk bed for his 3-year-old boys from a house down in Pelham. Al picked up Marcus around 2:45 and they headed south of town. Al asked Marcus if he wanted to stop and play some video games, since it was his birthday and all. Marcus agreed, still not suspecting anything. They pulled up in front of the laser tag place where I and the other guys were waiting. Unfortunately, he spotted my just-washed-and-waxed car in the parking lot, so the surprise was busted a minute or so before he walked in, but at that point I didn't really care.

The six of us sang Happy Birthday and ate Dairy Queen Reese's Blizzard ice cream cake, and then played laser tag for two hours (five games). I'd never played before, and it was a TON of fun. I was very grateful to Aunt Wendi (who is in town job-hunting for a couple of weeks) for watching my boys so I could participate in the party. All-in-all, it was a big success, and definitely my favorite of the three surprise parties I've done for Marcus's birthdays. My only regret is that I forgot to take pictures!

On a final note, here are some words from the birthday boy, in the form of an email he sent to me and the guys who came:

Hey everyone,
Thanks for the great birthday surprise yesterday. I had a blast! Highlights of the afternoon/evening...
  • being surprised by you guys at the Game Zone in Pelham (though next time Rachel will have to park her car somewhere other than right in front of the store :)
  • ice cream cake (love it!)
  • 2 hours of laser tag
  • feeling like a kid again while racing around a fluorescent maze shooting people (Brad had my number though with 16 hits in just one game).
  • John Mark fake writhing on the floor for ~1 min while Rachel and I continued to shoot him
  • getting a group of 10-year-old girls (on my team) to chase down Al (on the other team)
Thanks guys for really making my birthday.


Monday, November 23, 2009

Caleb (Monthly Update)

Well, it's time for a Caleb update because he is 3 years and 8 months old today. So what is new in Caleb-land? He is over the 100-piece pirate puzzle that he was so into last month. We broke open a new 100-piece puzzle that he has done a few times, but it didn't capture him like the other one. Actually, this may be the first month in a long while that he hasn't really had an obvious favorite thing to do. Part of it is that we have been on the go a lot this month, so he hasn't had as much time at home as in previous months. Another odd development this month is that he seems to have (hopefully temporarily) lost interest in being read to. He looks at books on his own, but isn't nearly as into being read to as he has been, well, his whole life. Maybe he is moving toward being ready to read on his own. Or maybe I've just gone too long without checking out books from the library, and he is just tired of all the books he owns.

On the other hand, Caleb has been much more socially-focused this month than ever before. He is always begging to go see a particular friend (usually Matthew Jones or William Pollard). On days when we don't have plans with friends, he turns to Ethan and they have a lot of fun together on their own. (Despite the fact that the fighting to cooperating ratio hovers around 1:2, in favor of cooperating.) Right now, as I type, he and Ethan are putting their 20+ matchbox cars in a perfect row across the play room floor. Last night after dinner, they worked together to clean up the entire play room.

As I helped the boys pick up the toys, I realized that Caleb has inherited a very bad combination of Marcus and my characteristics: he is particular about where things go and how things are done, like me, but he is passive and reluctant to get up and do it himself, like Marcus. So he sits on the floor telling Ethan that he is doing it wrong. This is really a horrible combination, so he is either going to have to loosen up or get to work. Being anal and hard-working is forgivable, and so is being passive and easy-to-please, but it does not work to hold onto the bad side of both of those coins :)

Along with being more social lately, Caleb has gotten back into enjoying more physical fun. For a while there, he'd lost interest in sports and balls and even tumbling, but now it is all back. He is jumping, climbing, somersaulting, wrestling and playing soccer a lot now.

Behaviorally, the biggest challenge right now is a general resistance to everything we want him to do. We are cracking down on the whining that almost always ensues when we ask/tell him to do something, but even when he doesn't whine, he is often sullen and pouty as he complies. I suppose we will be talking about and working on attitude for the rest of our lives as parents (which will hopefully be the rest of our lives :)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Ethan (Monthly Update)

Ethan turned 19-months-old yesterday! He is doing all kinds of new things this month. In the motor skills arena, he is walking (as opposed to crawling) up and down stairs, while holding on to a hand or the rail. He has also finally mastered jumping. He's been able to jump on the bed for a while, but now he can leave the ground without the help of a bounce-friendly surface.

Behaviorally, Ethan has chilled out quite a bit this month. In an inverse coorelation with his dynamically-improving communication skills, Ethan's intense reactions have mellowed some. Now, don't get my wrong, he is still significantly more dramatic than most children we're around, but it's very nice to see him occasionally adjusting to an unwanted change without attracting the attention of everyone within earshot. He has also entered the "loves-to-help" stage. He quickly complies with any request that allows him to accomplish something, like throwing something away, putting laundry in the laundry basket, taking something to Daddy, putting a toy away, etc.

Also new this month, Ethan has sprouted a generous spirit. The other day, he did the CUTEST thing. We were hanging out with friends, and their little girl was whining for a balloon that had floated up to the ceiling. Her Daddy told her that she couldn't have it because she hadn't asked him nicely. Addison started wailing at her loss, and Ethan came running over. Apparently, he had been listening to the entire exchange from across the room. He looked right up at Addison's Daddy and said, "Al, balloon to me, 'ease?" Al smiled and made a show of giving Ethan the balloon "since he asked so nicely." And then Ethan shocked us all by instantly turning to Addison and handing her the balloon. He had run across the room to ask nicely just so he could give her the balloon and make her stop crying. This incident was the first of several very generous overtures that I have observed since then. He really likes to make other people happy, particularly if they are crying.

Another new thing in Ethan-land is a very strong attachment to two toys. One is a yellow motorcycle, and the other is a monster truck. Both are small enough for him to easily tote all over the house, which he does. We believe in teaching our boys that they don't have exclusive ownership of any toys, but I'm sort of looking the other way as much as possible as Ethan passes through his first toy attachment. Caleb never did get overly attached to any one toy or object, so I wasn't prepared for some of the problems this has caused. The biggest problem is when we can't locate one of these toys. The first thing Ethan wants when he wakes up in the morning (after drinking a cup of milk in Mommy's arms), is to find the motorcycle and the "big truck". A couple of mornings, it has taken me the better part of 15 minutes to complete this task. I've learned to look for them after the kids go to bed to make sure they are easily located in the morning. Another problem is Ethan's intense reaction to anyone else touching one of these precious toys. Caleb quickly learned that doing just that will get an amazingly loud scream out of Ethan, and all Caleb need do is feign ignorance when Mommy asks why Ethan is having a meltdown. "I don't know, Mommy. All I did was play with that motorcycle and he just screamed and screamed." Yeah, Caleb, you had no idea that was going to happen.

On a final note, here is a something I promised a long time ago and has finally made it to the blog: a picture of Ethan and Caleb playing on http://www.starfall.com/ together.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


So I am finally getting around to our Halloween post. This year, Ethan dressed up in the lion costume that Caleb wore when he was 18-months-old, and we got Caleb a very cute pirate costume. Our Sunday small group had a toddler-focused Halloween party hosted by our BFFs. Some of the adults joined the fun and dressed up with the kids, and the hosts cracked everyone up by dressing up as Marcus and me (see picture below). Marcus and I dressed up as Wolverine and Jean Grey (the Phoenix) from X-men (I know all you Gainesville people have seen this get-up before, but you have to admit it's very economical to rotate through our costumes each time we move.) Anyway, we all ate finger foods and talked while the kids painted pumpkins, and then the whole crew headed outside for some trick-or-treating. We split into a couple of different groups since there were so many kids, but even so, our group included seven preschoolers and all of their parents, so it was more like a mass than a cluster :) But the kids all got a lot of candy, and they quickly learned the trick-or-treating etiquette of NOT running into people's houses, only getting one candy at each house, and always saying thank you. Tired and full of candy, we all headed home for a good night's sleep.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Fall Festival

Our church's Fall Festival was this Sunday night. I didn't make last year's fall festival because I was sick, but others told me this one was bigger and crazier than ever. Marcus had the camera all evening because I was responsible for the toddler area in the auditorium (where the lighting is terrible). Outside, there were three huge bounce houses, pony rides and food. Inside, there were four small bounce houses for the younger kids, toys, snacks, and a cake walk. The kids all had a great time, which almost made it worth all of the work :)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Pumpkin Patch

We went to Old Baker Farm to check out their Pumpkin Patch on Saturday. Caleb got to have his friend Matthew along for the day, and all three boys had a blast! We got there around 10:00 am and played hard for five hours (other than the short nap Ethan took in the stroller). The kids enjoyed a couple of hay rides, dancing to a live band, wandering through a field of pumpkins, petting farm animals, playing in a hay maze, picking cotton, climbing up and sliding down a haystack, eating PB&J and fried chocolate pies, and getting very, very dirty. We were all filthy and exhausted by the end of the day, but very glad that we decided to try a pumpkin patch this year.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Caleb (Monthly Update)

It is the 23rd again, so Caleb is 3-years-and-7-months-old today. His favorite activity this month has been putting together the same 100-piece floor puzzle over and over again. He does this puzzle at least once, and sometimes two or three times, every day. We keep it up in the living room (not the play room), so Ethan is less likely to disturb Caleb's process. Caleb just asks politely, "Mommy, can I go do my pirate puzzle in the living room," and then heads upstairs. Usually I don't hear a peep from him for about 30 minutes until he shouts, "Mommy! I finished it! Come look!" Then I go upstairs and "ooh" and "ahh" while he stands there proudly. In the evenings, when Ethan is asleep, Caleb likes me to do the puzzle with him. We've had some of the best conversations over that puzzle. It's usually just me and him in the house because Marcus is working late, and we just sit and chat. Caleb is not a talkative child, so when I am so blessed to catch him in a chatty mood, I am all ears. I have a feeling that will be true for many years.

A cute morning interchange between Caleb and Ethan has started up this month. Ethan always wakes up shouting. Usually he is shouting "MA-MA" at the top of his lungs, but sometimes it is "DA-DA" or "BUH-BUH" (Caleb). Since poor Ethan is on the demanding side of the spectrum, Marcus and I often bury our heads under the pillow and let him shout through our shared wall for a few minutes. At least that's what we did until Caleb intervened. If Caleb hears Ethan (from his room down the hall) before one of us gets up, he darts into our room and exclaims, "Mama! Ethan is calling for you! He needs you! You have to go get him!" Caleb's compassion for his brother is so sweet that I always force myself out of bed when Caleb pleads his brother's case. Sometimes, Ethan calls for Caleb himself, and Caleb runs happily into Ethan's room, very proud to be the one his brother is calling for. (Of course I quickly follow because as soon as Ethan realizes that Caleb can't lift him out of the crib, cries will ensue.) The other morning, Caleb was sleeping between Marcus and I in our bed (after a mid-night waking). Ethan woke up shouting as usual, and one of us poked Caleb and said, "Caleb, go talk to your brother for a minute." Caleb rubbed his eyes sleepily and said, "He's not calling me...he's calling you." Details, details, my son :)

Of course, the biggest development for Caleb this month has been starting preschool. Preschool is still going very well. So far Caleb has not had one negative thing to report. The only thing that I don't like is all the extra time spent in the car. It ends up being over an hour each school day...15 minutes each way, four times a day, plus 5-10 minutes twice a day waiting in line to pick up and drop off. As much as I dislike being in the car that much, it is worth it because Caleb is getting so much out of the experience. His self-confidence has improved. He is more willing to do things himself, as well as to try new things. He is also eager to please and cooperative more often than he used to be (in general, he is NOT a people-pleaser).

All in all, this has been a very good month in Caleb-land. My only regret is that I can't think of any of the hilarious things he has said lately. I really do need to write them down somewhere as soon as I hear them. Otherwise they slip away and never make it to the blog. Oh, well :)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Fall Campout (continued)

So, here's more on our camping weekend:

On Saturday morning, Caleb and I got up around 6:30. (Marcus and Ethan had left for home an hour earlier.) The five Pollard's were still asleep, so Caleb and I tiptoed quietly through the camp down to the bathhouse nearby. Then we went for a little walk, trying to kill time until the end of the "quiet time" (7:00 am). By the way, it is AMAZING how deathly quiet the campground is in the morning, and how quickly sound travels from tent to tent. This is why we have never camped without having to take Ethan away in the car at some point in the night or morning, because he wakes up SO early and he is SO loud.

Anyway, around 7:00, Caleb and I came back to camp and got to work building a morning fire. It was (at most) about 40 degrees outside, so we needed it. Despite the fact that I am not skilled in such areas (that's Marcus and Quenta's area), somehow the fire got going and even burned throughout the morning, much to my amazement. Caleb sat and ate a muffin while I moved to my more comfortable domain: making breakfast. I started the first of three packages of bacon. By the time Marcus and Ethan got back to camp, we'd all feasted on bacon and eggs and English muffins (I kept a big plate for him, of course).

Next on the agenda was a drive up the mountain for a hike. The hike was a lot of fun. The path was very wide, allowing all five kids to meander at their own pace without getting too far from an adult. The kids collected rocks, sticks, acorns, leaves and anything else that lay along the path. Their excitement about that stuff is infectious. They were all collecting acorns and most were sharing them liberally with each other. When we got to the end of the flat trail, Marcus and Caleb continued down a steep slope to see the waterfall while I took Ethan back with the Pollard's. The Pollard's gave a lady and her daughter a ride down the mountain to their car and I took Ethan for a drive so he could get a car nap.

We all ended back up at camp around 3:00ish, the kids marginally rested from car naps and all very ready to get another fire going. Dinner Saturday night was hot dogs for the kids and steak for us (after the kids were asleep). The great thing about camping is that side dishes are completely unnecessary: all anybody wants is the meat :) We let the kids stay up a little later the second night, and they all (except Ethan) tried their hand at roasting marshmellows. This was a bit nerve-wracking as their marshmellows frequently caught fire and one flaming marshmellow ended up far too close to Addison's hair, so we called that activity and moved on. All of the kids preferred eating the chocolate to the marshmellows anyway.

After some AWESOME steak (true Pollard-style), we talked and laughed around the campfire for a couple more hours before the guys (party-poopers) decided to turn in. Marcus tried to go to bed, but Ethan kept waking up cold, so Marcus took him home and the two of them slept in our warm bed and came back in the morning again. Quenta and I stayed up later and had some good girl time together. I do feel sorry for all of the other campers because I laughed so long and so hard that night! Sunday morning was more bacon and eggs, and several hours of breaking camp. We finally had the cars and kids loaded up around 11:00 am, and we headed home for much-needed baths and naps. Another succesful, though challenging, weekend of camping.

Despite the challenges, I truly can't wait to go again!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Mac Daddy

So during our campout this weekend, we (the adults) got a glimpse of what we are in for with our four close-in-age boys. I was piddling around the camp kitchen at the Pollard's campsite when I looked up to see Caleb chatting with a little girl who had walked over to our campsite. It was just the two of them at our campsite...everyone else was hanging around the fire at the Pollard's. Caleb was standing there with his knee propped up on a rock, leaning forward, looking up at where she stood above him. Just the image of them chatting was too cute, so I couldn't resist wandering over to listen in on the conversation. Here's what I heard:

Izzie: "My name is Izzie. It's short for Isabel."
Caleb: "I'm Caleb."
Izzie: "I'm five-years-old. How old are you."
Caleb: "Almost four." (yeah, Caleb, in about five more months)
Izzie: "So, you're three." (perfectly delivered...absolutely hilarious)
Caleb: "Yeah."

Jackson, one of the Pollard's 3-year-old triplets, had sidled up during the conversation. He took this opportune moment to jump in and offer this bit of info to Izzie:

Jackson: "I have a quarter." (nice job Jackson...distract her from the age thing, since you are also three, and tell her what you DO have going for you)

The interactions between the three of them continued for probably twenty more minutes. They had these preschool-sized camping chairs that they were moving around and lounging in. At one point, Izzie (who was in the middle), angled her chair toward Jackson's chair, leaving Caleb looking at her back. Not daunted, Caleb just picked up his chair, squeezed it into the space between Izzie and Jackson, and plopped down in it again.

The whole scene was one of the funniest things I've ever seen kids do. At the same time, I realize that this is only the beginning of competing for the attention of the cutest girl around. I just hope we can teach them how to keep girls from coming between brothers and friends!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Fall Campout

So last weekend we pulled off camping trip #3 for 2009. True to form, the weather was not ideal, but we still had a great time. The two weekends that we camped in the spring, it rained profusely, so we were very excited to have a dry forecast for this weekend. What we had NOT counted on was temperatures in the 30's in the middle of October.

We set up camp on Friday morning and didn't see the sun until Sunday morning. Temperatures ranged from 35 to 59 degrees over the weekend, but at least it didn't rain. In spite of the cold, both we and the kids had a lot of fun. The five kids (3-year-old triplets and our 2 boys) played chase around the campsite, kicked soccer balls down the hill to goalie "Mr. Marcus", and went on little guided nature walks around the campground. We decided to limit Ethan's nap so that both boys would be ready to go to bed early (shortly after sundown, was the plan). So, after a short car nap, we spent the afternoon going over to the Oak Mountain Petting Zoo, just a few minutes from the campsite. After that, we headed back to camp to start a fire. Even with dry firewood and plenty of lighter fluid, the wind gave us a run for our money and it took a while to get a fire going. This was the low point of the weekend, and we even considered packing up and going home. Camping in the cold with five preschoolers goes from challenging to unbearable when you take a campfire out of the equation. Anyway, Quenta and Marcus finally got a good fire going, and the fun continued. I had made chili ahead of time, and we heated it up on the gas camping stove. So dinner was the nine of us sitting around a picnic table, chowing down on chili, cheese and crackers. (The kids mostly ate the cheese and crackers.)

After dinner, it was so cold that baths were out of the question, so we just tucked our boys in their 20-degree REI sleeping bags and kissed them goodnight. (Oh, if only it had been that simple!) Unfortunately, Ethan had no interest in staying inside his sleeping bag, so he and Daddy went head-to-head for the next 45 minutes or so, until Ethan finally conked out on Daddy's chest. During the battle between Marcus and Ethan, Marcus sent Caleb back to the campfire with me (since NO ONE could fall asleep while Ethan wailed and protested). Finally, Ethan was down, and we put Caleb back to bed. It was still only about 8:00 pm, so we had a good three hours (or more) for the four of us to hang out around the campfire. We talked and roasted marshmellows and talked some more, until the cold (and diminishing stack of firewood) finally drove us into our tents. All the kids slept through most of the first night, though Ethan woke up for the day at 5:30 am, and Marcus had to take him home to keep him from waking up the whole campsite.

I'm going to sign off here and finish the weekend's play-by-play as well as post some pictures later this week.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Caleb Starts Preschool!

I know everyone says this, but life has been so busy lately! Busy in a good way, but it has definitely derailed my daily-blogging thing. I am going to try to get back in the habit, but I know better than to make any promises :)

Anyway, to catch you up, Marcus and I took the plunge a couple of weeks ago and enrolled Caleb in a preschool/MDO program at a nearby church for two mornings a week. Our minister's wife works at the school, and Caleb's good friend Matthew was getting ready to start there, so I decided to check it out. Now, during the past six months of toying with the idea of preschool, I have taken tours of quite a few. This one impressed me more than any of the others, though I have trouble explaining exactly why. All I can say is the atmosphere/attitude of the place fits what I think Caleb needs right now. It is structured, just like any preschool, but in a relaxed way. There is no extended care, so all the kids in his class are only there from 9:30 to 1:30 on Tuesdays and Thursdays (meaning no one is using this "school" as a daycare). The kids transition to different rooms for different activities, which is really good for Caleb because he enjoys the changing scenery. The kids play outside for 30 minutes every day if the weather is nice, and in the gym if it is not.

Let me back up a minute and explain how we came to the decision to try preschool. Caleb and I hit a wall about six weeks ago, right around the time that he quit taking naps. We seem to have been butting heads in a variety of new ways ever since he hit that milestone. I don't know exactly what has been going on with him, but I knew that we needed a change of pace to reset since we were both much too frustrated, much too frequently. So Marcus and I talked about it repeatedly, and we came to the decision to do something we have never done before: pay for something that we are not able to fit into our budget. I pinched and squeezed the numbers as much as I could, but we are still having to take from savings every month to cover the $140 a month. As uncharacteristic as this is for us to do, we both believe that we have made the right decision for Caleb, and therefore it is worth stepping out of our financial comfort zone.

After we made the decision, I went in and signed him up. I was very excited to learn that he and Matthew would be able to join the same class and would be starting on the same day. This was very nice since both boys were starting about a month into the school year, so at least they would have each other as they entered into an established class. The first day went off without a hitch, and it has been a uniformly positive experience since then.

During the past two weeks, Caleb's attitude has significantly improved. He has an air of maturity that we haven't seen before, and his desire to please has made a welcome return. He LOVES "going to school," and happily reports about his activities when I pick him up. He is doing chapel, art, music and organized movement (is that Southern Baptist for dance?) in the preschool program each week. He is in a class with ten other 3-year-olds, only three of whom are girls (poor girls!). His classroom is large and inviting, and he has already gotten in the groove of all the little routines like putting his lunch in his cubby, finding his chair, standing in line, etc.

So far the funniest conversation Caleb and I have had about school went like this:

"Caleb, does anyone in your class have to sit in time-out at school?"
"Yes, sometimes people have to sit in time-out, when they are ugly to other boys."
"Do you ever have to sit in time-out at school?"
"Just a little bit...not a lot. Just when I be ugly."
"Does Matthew ever have to sit in time-out?"
"NO he doesn't! He is SO, SO, SO good! He NEVER, EVER has to sit in time-out!" (spoken with incredulous animation)
"Wow, that is really cool that Matthew is so good. Do you want to be good like Matthew and never go to time out?"
(long, thoughtful pause) "I just can't."

At least he knows his own limits!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Psalm 27:14

“Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.”

I needed that today. Thanks, Bible Gateway :)

Monday, October 5, 2009

Ethan (Monthly Update)

Ethan was 18-months-old yesterday! This month, he seems to have made the transition from "Baby Ethan" to a full-fledged little boy. I don't know if it is the fact that he is in pants now instead of shorts, or if he has actually grown, but he seems so tall lately. His face has lost almost all of its baby fat, which makes his eyes look larger and even more intense than usual. In some ways, he has mellowed out a bit, and in other ways become even more challenging. One improvement is that he occasionally accepts "No" without a protest. Another positive is that his verbal and other communicative skills have taken another leap forward. It is very important to Ethan that we understand him. Now that he can communicate even more, it has given him a sense of fitting in his environment, and he is less on edge than he has ever been. He is actually a very happy kid most of the time these days.

A negative is that he has gotten MUCH faster, as well as more calculating. You may thing I exaggerate, but Ethan can glance at me across the room, accurately estimate the distance between us (and the time it will take me to cross that distance), and then proceed to whop his brother on the head and RUN. He is sometimes on the second floor before I can catch him. It amazes me how fast he has gotten. I've taken to keeping him in the stroller most of the time when we're out (even though I'd rather him be walking and burning off energy), but it is just too dangerous. If he is more than 3-4 feet from me and he decides to take off, it is very hard for me to catch him. His physical strength is also becoming a problem. It is VERY hard for me to keep him in my arms if he doesn't want to be in arms (like at the register at a store). He pushes, squirms, wiggles, twists and arches, giving me a full workout for whatever amount of time I need to hold him.

Dancing has been a favorite activity this month. He has enjoyed dancing with Daddy and Caleb since he could walk, but this month dancing has taken the forefront of favorites. We have this Wiggle Dancing video that Caleb loved at Ethan's age, and now Ethan loves it too. He is always running to the TV (Ethan doesn't walk anywhere) and exclaiming "Dance! Dance!" The cute part is that he always does a little jig complete with arm and leg motions, in case we don't understand the word "dance." Usually we just dance to music, but once in a while we break out the video.

Ethan still loves going through the letters on Starfall's website. The cool thing is that now Caleb is good enough with the mouse to lead the two of them through the letter exercises. It might be one of the cutest things I've ever seen to watch Ethan sitting in my computer chair with Caleb standing beside him asking, "Which letter do you want to do now? P? Okay, we can do P." Then Caleb leads him through the whole exercise, encouraging him and praising him when he makes the right sounds. (I'm determined to get the video camera out and tape it tomorrow. It gives me a feeling of how happy God must feel when he sees us show love to our brothers and sisters in him. There is nothing in the world like seeing your kids work together with kindness to accomplish a common goal.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Pediatrician's Office

On Friday, I took the boys into the pediatrician to get their flu shots. Now, I should say up front that I really like our pediatrician and have no complaints about his professionalism, knowledge or personality, but there is one thing about going to see him that drives me NUTS. Every visit, without fail, I end up trying to entertain and control two kids in a tiny exam room with dozens of things they shouldn't touch and almost nothing that they should. Of course, I bring a few toys and books from home, but they are completely ignored by my little explorers. Would it be that hard to put a few toys in the exam rooms? Or maybe just improve the organization of the practice so that mommies and kiddos are not left alone in exam rooms for 20-30 minutes each visit. I would much prefer to do our waiting in the main waiting area, where there are toys and TV, than cooped up in the exam room, hoping as each second passes that the door will open and put me out of the misery of incessantly distracting two small boys!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Just As I Am

This is going to be one of those deep-thoughts posts that might annoy you if you are not in the mood, so be forewarned :)

In truth, I doubt I will get through typing this without shedding tears. First and foremost, I want to say that GOD HAS BEEN SO GOOD TO ME. Despite being raised in a loving, Christian home, attending excellent Christian schools all the way through college, and even being a missionary in China, I did not understand much about God's love until this year. Without even realizing I was doing it, I have spent most of my life striving to earn what was already mine: the love and acceptance of the Almighty. I have been overwhelmed of late with His grace. God has used some very dear friends to show me that He treasures me just as I am. He has filled me with grace for myself and for others. I am not sure that I have ever in my life felt as loved as I do right now. I praise Him for this gift, and I hope that every person reading this is blessed with the same assurance of His love.

“So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.” Hebrews 10:35-36

Thursday, September 24, 2009

I Got Nothin'

No, really, I got nothin'. Check again tomorrow :)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Caleb (Monthly Update)

Today is Caleb's half-birthday...he is 3 1/2 years old today. Years before I was a parent, I remember hearing (and believing) that children learn most of what they are going to learn from their parents by the time they are three. Wow, do I ever hope that is not true. But it makes me take a hard look at the things that I have succeeded in impressing upon Caleb's little psyche, and they seem very paltry compared to where I thought we would be by now. Fortunately, I'm not seriously discouraged because I no longer believe that age three is a magic number. I expect that Caleb and I will continue to learn from each other for many, many years to come.

Anyway, on to Caleb's monthly update... All of the pretending he was doing last month has dropped off quite a bit. He still pretends sometimes, but most of the time he "dust wants to be CA-leb" (he always puts extra emphasis on the first syllable of his name). I think this is a change for the better since he almost never wanted to "be Caleb" before :) His favorite thing this month has been coloring with markers or crayons. I'm still using http://www.educationalcoloringpages.com/ to print out just about any kids-themed coloring page. (Caleb's favorites are Nemo, Spiderman and Peter Pan pictures.) He colors 3 or 4 pictures every day, and he has even started coloring in the lines on his own. I haven't encouraged him to do this because I don't want to add to his genetic proclivity to OCD, but I haven't discouraged him either.

As to the pre-reading stuff, Caleb definitely knows all of his phonic sounds now. He can tell me what most words start with when prompted a little with the sound: like if I ask him what "u-u-umbrella" starts with, he takes the "uh" sound and connects it to "U" in his mind. Of course he has no idea with words that don't follow the most basic phonetic rules. A couple of days ago, Marcus even had him sounding out 3-letter words ending in "-an" (Pan, ran, fan, can), and he did really well. I'm going to hold off a while longer before doing much sounding-out, but it's neat to see that he can do it a little already.

Behaviorally, a new whining stage has descended and is being complicated by the emergence of a rebellious streak. We still have more good days than bad, but I have been surprised by some of his behavior this month (not the least of these is the book incident). At the same time, there have been some changes for the better. He is much better at playing with Ethan now than ever before. He lets Ethan contribute what he can and is actually very good at explaining things to Ethan. It's funny to hear and see my words and gestures coming from him to his brother. He has no patience for Ethan being "wrong", though. For example, Ethan loves the phonetic sounds, but he does not know the letters nearly as well as Caleb does, so he often spots a letter somewhere and labels it with the wrong sound. This drives Caleb nuts. He argues with Ethan about it and gets angrier and angrier, while Ethan just thinks its funny. I think we will be working on that for a long time.

This may be TMI for the casual reader, but for posterity I want to record that we started Caleb on a daily dose of MiraLax this month. For the first time in his life, he is having a bowel movement every day. We probably should have done this earlier (Marcus wanted to), but I resisted daily meds of any kind. Even so, I'm very glad that we've made this change because he is eating better and his stomach is rarely bloated/distended anymore. A friend/pediatrician told us that when the bowel gets used to being stretched out all the time, using laxatives for a couple of months can help the muscles contract back to a more normal size and begin working properly on their own again. I think what happened with Caleb was that the dairy products we introduced when he turned one started causing some constipation, and he has remained stuck in that cycle ever since then (despite the fact that we greatly limit his dairy now and only give him Lactaid milk). Hopefully, another month of MiraLax will allow his system to reset, and we can handle his contistipation issues with diet control.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Sleep Elf

I'm starting to think that there is a little elf in my house who is pulling all-nighters for the sole purpose of destroying my sleep! Here's how the past two nights have played out:

Saturday Night:
I went to bed at midnight because Marcus was up studying and I don't like to go to bed alone. At 2:15 am, one of our Irish setters (Riley), started barking. Just once or twice, but very loudly. Three minutes later, he did it again. He continued this intermittent barking for OVER AN HOUR. I tried everything I could think of to get him to stop: refilled his water and food bowls, let him into the yard in case he had to potty, scolded him, petted him, and finally yelled at him (whisper-yelled, since everyone was asleep). I don't know if one of these things worked or if he just got tired and ready to go back to sleep, but the barking finally ended. Unfortunately, I was all worked up and couldn't go back to sleep until around 4:30 am. The kids were up at 6:15, so I went into Sunday with exactly 4 hours of sleep.

Sunday Night:
Sunday was a very busy day for me, and I was ultra-exhausted by the end of it. I went to bed at 9:30, only to be woken up an hour later by a really, really loud thunderstorm. I couldn't fall back asleep until shortly after Marcus came to bed at 11:15. Then, the mischevious sleep-stealing elf made its way into Ethan's room. Ethan woke up screaming "Mama!" (as only he can) around 12:30 am. I gave him a cup of milk in case he was hungry, and then rocked him back to sleep. Over the next four hours, Ethan got up FOUR MORE TIMES. That's as bad as he was when he was a tiny baby! I tried everything I could think of that could be bothering him. At one point, Marcus suggested putting warmer pajamas on him in case he was kicking his blanket off and getting cold. Neither this nor anything else we tried worked...he just kept waking up every 45-minutes and yelling for me. Finally, around 4:30, I gave him some Motrin (hoping that it was the molars that are breaking through his gums that were bothering him). After that, he slept straight through to 6:45, giving me a full 2 hours of sleep (longest stretch of the night).

Needless to say, I did NOT enjoy this flashback to tiny-baby days, and I am very glad that weeks-on-end of sleep like this are not on my near-horizon :)

Monday, September 21, 2009

"Through Ignorance"

I set up a RSS feed from Bible Gateway's website to give me a daily Bible reading through my blog. It just so happens that the schedule was deeply immersed in Ezekiel when I jumped on board, so that is what I've been reading for the past couple of weeks. I've always found most of Ezekiel to be a rather tedious read (sorry all you OT scholars out there), and this time through isn't proving any different. However, just as it always happens, a verse or two that I never noticed before has stood out to me in a new way.

An example is Ezekiel 25:40: "You are to do the same on the seventh day of the month for anyone who sins unintentionally or through ignorance; so you are to make atonement for the temple." Now, I realize that the context and wording of this verse refer to atonement for the temple, not for individuals, but something about the words "sins unintentionally or through ignorance" struck a chord with me. One of the aspects of my faith that has always caused me some confusion is the fate of those who live their whole lives without ever hearing about or connecting with Christ. I do believe the words of Jesus that "no one comes to the Father except through me," and therefore Jesus is the cornerstone of relationship with God, but I've always wondered what provision God makes for those who never meet the Savior. This verse gives me hope that, whatever it is, the Lord has a path of salvation for every sinner, even those who never had the opportunity in their lifetime to call on the name of Christ.

Friday, September 18, 2009

You Don't Know What You Have...

until it's gone :) This whole no-nap thing is brutal. I didn't realize how much of my energy and motivation depended on my (at least) 2-hour break every afternoon. Ethan was up at 5:30 this morning, and I will not be "checking out" until around 7:30 tonight when they both go to bed. I've gotten used to staying up til 11:00 or later because I know I can take a short nap while the kids are asleep. So this week I've still been staying up late and just trudging through the day. I think I miss the psychological break even more than the sleep. We had such a nice little routine: get up, home school stuff, go out, eat lunch, take a nap, and then play on the deck until Daddy gets home. Now there are still 5-6 hours to fill after lunch. And I'm having to fight Caleb's boredom (which quickly turns to mischieviousness), because he's not really interested in doing repeat activities again in the afternoon. The idea of preschool for Caleb has never looked so appealing as it does right now! I guess its time to adjust, but boy do I miss the way things used to be :)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

My Own Mouth

All parents know how much God uses children to teach us, but lately it has been more obvious to me than usual. When I repeat a truth to Caleb or Ethan, I immediately hear the Lord's voice echoing the same truth from Him to me. Here are just a few examples:

"Don't take the food from your brother's plate. Ask me and I will give you more."
"I understand that you are angry, but you still have to speak to me respectfully."
"What you want is not the most important thing."
"It is always better to do what makes other people happy than to do what makes you happy."
"I tell you not to do certain things because I don't want you to get hurt."
"I love you too much to let you get away with allowing your emotions to control you."
"If you choose to disobey me, the consequence is going to hurt."
"Be thankful for the toys that you have. Some other boys do not have toys to play with."

I've been convicted by many people's wisdom, both written and spoken, but it makes me laugh when God uses my own mouth to remind me of His truths :)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Alas, The Day Has Come

So the day that every stay-at-home-parent dreads has finally visited our home: Caleb has given up napping. Now, I know that many of you out there lost your "break" time months before your child was 3 1/2, but I was holding out hope that I was one of the really lucky ones, and that Caleb would keep napping until he was five :) It is now the fourth day of no afternoon sleeping, and I am officially giving up. I would have tried for a few more days, but we had a naptime disaster yesterday that deterred me from further efforts.

I tucked Caleb in for his "nap" (it was in quotes in my head because I doubted that it would happen), and went downstairs. Unlike the other days, where he kept coming downstairs and being put back in his bed, he stayed put. I thought, "What luck! He went to sleep!" But alas, this was not the case. About 45 minutes after I tucked him in, he came downstairs and said, "Mommy, I made a real bad choice. I'm real, real, real sorry." I realized while he was talking that he had not gone to sleep at all and that he had been up to some mischief in his room the whole time instead. With dread I asked him, "What bad choice, Caleb? What did you do?"

"I tear all the books up, Mommy. I real, real sorry."

I raced up the stairs to assess the damage. Sure enough, he had taken four library books, no less, and decimated the pages. Struck dumb from the horror of a book explosion in the room, I truly had no idea what to do or say. He had never torn a book on purpose in his whole life. And I'd never seen him do something so completely destructive, either. Usually I am pretty quick with consequences, but this situation warranted a call to Daddy for some ideas. What we came up with during the phone conference was this:

(1) All other library books would be returned and no more would be checked out for a month.
(2) All of his own books were taken out of his room.
(3) No reading books with Mommy or Daddy before bedtime for three nights.
(4) He would clean up the entire paper mess by himself (which he did).

I went over the consequences with him, and he was distraught, particularly about the books being taken out of his room and not reading books at night. We hope that these consequences will impress on his little mind the absolute unacceptability of destroying books (or anything else for that matter). Overall, not the most encouraging parenting day, but they can't all be encouraging :) Hopefully, I won't be even more upset about it when we go to the library tomorrow and pay for the books.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Train Track Fun

Lately, the boys have been spending hours a day playing together with their wooden train track. Ethan figured out about a week ago how to interlock the wooden pieces by himself, so he is now a cooperative player instead of "The Destroyer". Caleb is a little bossy about where the pieces go, but he is getting better every day with "Letting Et'an make some choices, so he will like playing with me" (as he echoes my regular reminders). They've never played peacefully together for such a long time as they have with this train thing. Sometimes I can unload and reload the dishwasher and get a good start on dinner without hearing a peep from either of them for 20 minutes or so. After mediating every joint activity since Ethan could crawl, it is incredibly enjoyable to watch them playing together without any help from me.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Pictures of the Boys

Sorry for the continued blog-slacking. It sounds impossible even to me, but it seems that I may have finally run out of things to say :)

Some of the pictures are a little dark. I've been saving up my fun money to buy an external flash for my camera to fix that problem.

Friday, September 11, 2009

"IT'S TOO HARD!!!!!!!!"

For several months, this was Caleb's distraught refrain whenever I would ask him to start picking up the toys in the play room. For a while, it just annoyed me because I thought he was purely throwing a fit. But then I began to realize that I do the same thing on an "adult" level because of the way I look at the world. When Caleb looks at the messy play room, he sees all of the scattered toys and feels overwhelmed with the impossibility of picking them all up at once. When I am in the midst of a struggle or trial, my default is to face it in terms of the rest of my life, rather than facing it one day at a time. When I face a change I need to make, I sometimes think with incredulous hopelessness, "God expects me to overcome this weakness for the rest of my life?"

So, in the midst of trying repeatedly to explain to Caleb that he just has to pick up one toy, put it away, and then pick up another one, I have been convicted of my own resistence to doing just that. In the areas of my life where submitting to the Lord's will for the rest of my life seems insurmountable, I just have to remind myself to live obediently TODAY. I cannot follow my Lord next year, next month, or even tomorrow. I can only follow Him today. So now, I am much more patient with Caleb's "I CAN'T! IT'S TOO HARD!!!" than I used to be, and I am quicker to remember that the Lord wants my heart and my obedience in this moment. Nothing beyond is even possible.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Weekend Away

As I mentioned yesterday, we went to Mentone, Alabama for a little vacation with some of our closest friends from church. We had so much fun. It was so relaxing to talk late into the night without feeling the pressure of getting to sleep so we wouldn't be grouchy in the morning.

Our friends were kind enough to plan and shop for all of the food, and we ate very well. The first night, Quenta had stuffed mushrooms waiting for us when we arrived. The next day, we enjoyed a late, leisurely breakfast of bacon, eggs and toast. That afternoon we went hiking and enjoyed a picnic of sandwiches. Saturday night, we feasted on the best steaks Marcus and I had ever had, as well as a delicious goat cheese appetizer and roasted asparagus. We truly felt like kings because we almost never take the time or money to make such delicious meals. Sunday was more bacon, eggs, and toast, followed by leftover steak for lunch and then bacon-wrapped shrimp for dinner. We were going to have scallops with the shrimp, but we were so stuffed that the scallops had to go back in the cooler for the trip home.

The cabin and the weather were both just beautiful. The temperature hovered in the upper 70's, lower 80's during the day, and 60's in the morning and evening. Just the perfect temperature to take advantage of the firepit by the front porch. Every night, we roasted smores and talked for hours. The boys (men) also found plenty of time to battle it out on Al's video game system, while Quenta and I chatted or slept. (We attempted a chick-flick once, but didn't end up watching more than about 20 minutes of it.) We also filled several hours playing Jenga, Texas Hold-em, and even spoons. Apparently, the care-free weekend really took us back to our younger days because we even got into a hilarious acorn fight while on our hike. Somebody picked up a little green acorn and chunked it at some one else, and the war was on. We were exhausted and out-of-breath after about 15 minutes of darting around trees and tossing acorns at each other, but it was FUN!

I can't believe how energized I feel from this weekend "off". I told a friend today that I feel like my cup of stress has been at least half full ever since I became a parent (often just an inch or two from overflowing), but this long weekend of being responsible for no one but myself has actually gotten me back to a practically empty cup. Knowing me, it will not take me long to begin refilling it, but I'm really enjoying how I feel right now.

On another note, I'm planning to take the rest of the week off of blogging, so don't worry about me if you don't see a post for a while. Enjoy the pictures from our weekend!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Leaving the Kids

Well, Marcus and I navigated yet another parenting milestone this past weekend. We left the kids here in Birmingham with the boys' Mimi (who flew in from Florida), and drove a couple hours north to stay in a rented cabin with some friends for three nights. This is the first time that we've left the kids overnight, and we were a little nervous about how they'd do (particularly Ethan). This nervousness found its outlet in typing up a five-page document (that we both contributed to) with all kinds of information about the boys' eating, sleeping, discipline, playing, safety, etc. Mimi laughed when we gave it to her, commenting that she used to only have to read one page when she babysat Caleb back in Florida. Then we dilly-dallied for about an hour past our planned departure time, and were finally advised to go ahead and cut the umbilical cord and head on out. So we did.

And it turned out the boys did just fine without us. They definitely gave Mimi a full workout, complete with incessant energy, nap strikes, and a good amount of Ethan-whining, but she survived and even thrived. She took them to the mall, and to the library and to church. They built a fort with bed sheets and the dining room table, and piled toys underneath (they are still playing with their fort today).

Caleb is old enough now that he can tell long and detailed stories from the weekend, and my favorite story that he has told so far is about Mimi showing him where Mommy and Daddy went. I was very impressed with this idea. She had taken the name of the cabin and the town we were staying in and googled it. Then she sat the boys down on her lap in front of the computer and showed them pictures of the cabin from the rental agency website. Caleb told us laughingly that the cabin was silly because it had a bathtub outside (i.e. a hot tub). He also told us there were no toys to play with in the cabin and that's why we didn't take him and Ethan (good one, Mimi). This was a very wise and creative way for Mimi to show the boys that we hadn't just disappeared into the unknown, but that we were visiting a very specific house that they could see, and would soon return to be here with them again.

So, despite our belatedly severed umbilical cord, we had an absolutely wonderful, relaxing weekend, which I will post more about tomorrow.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Pregnant Rachel

I bet I'm getting a lot of hits because of that subject line :) But, no, it is not what you think. I am not pregnant. Nor am I trying to get pregnant. Though I did take a test a few days ago due to the possible ramifications of an ill-timed event :). And I owe the inspiration for this blog entry to the barrage of thoughts that went through my mind during the 24-hours before taking that test.

On to the point: I am a COMPLETELY different person when I am pregnant (at least during the first trimester). I'm not more moody or emotional, but I go from very high-energy, productive, creative and social to a motionless couch potato who does absolutely nothing and doesn't even answer the phone. My friends in Gainesville have seen this transformation twice, but my friends here in Birmingham have no idea. Normally, I have a ridiculous amount of energy to go places, plan things, spend time with friends, cook things from scratch, bargain shop, play with the kids, blog, clean, etc. But when that first day of morning sickness hits, it is just me, the puke bowl, an ice pack (for the back of my neck, to ease the naseau) and the easy chair. I felt SO SORRY for Caleb when I was pregnant with Ethan because my answer to almost everything he asked was "Not right now, sweetie, Mommy feels really sick." At one point, Caleb actually started carrying a bowl around and pretended to puke in it. I don't know if that should have made me feel sad or made me laugh, but it did neither because I was too sick to feel anything.

With both boys, I felt seriously naseauted 85% of my waking hours, and occasionally the naseau would wake me up at night and I'd have to throw up before I could go back to sleep. From the 5th week to the 15th/17th week, this was my life: phone calls don't get returned, dishes piled up in the sink, no cooking of any kind was done (Marcus doesn't cook), and Marcus and I hardly spoke because as soon as he got home, I went to sleep. For me, the second and third trimesters and the first few months postpartum had their challenges, but they were cake compared to the first trimester. (The nice part is that it's all uphill after the morning sickness ends.) Anyway, since I doubt I'll do any blogging during my first trimester, I thought I'd give you all a heads-up of what is to come (though hopefully not until sometime next year). If you are reading this and you are one of my Birmingham friends, be ready to give me some grace as I drop off the face of the earth for three months and abdigate all church and relational responsibilites to whoever can pick them up. And feel free to come over and play with my kids when you have time...they are really going to need it!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Ethan (Monthly Update)

Ethan is 17-months-old today. His favorite thing in the world right now is drawing. He says "Draw! Draw! Draw!" while pointing at the little craft table at least a dozen times every day. It used to be that he just wanted to draw when Caleb was drawing, but now he wants to draw for his own sake. He prefers markers, but he will use crayons or even pens and pencils. And there have already been several times when I have forgotten that he has a marker in his hand and I have run up to the kitchen for something, only to return to a big marker streak across the wall or the carpet. (I think he immediately jumps down and starts drawing on forbidden places the moment I hit the stairs.) Thankfully, they are washable markers and come out of everything very easily. Another change from last month is that Ethan says "Please" and "Thankyou" now, though they come out as "eeze" and "ay-oo".

A funny bi-product of the homeschooling stuff I do with Caleb is that Ethan is addicted to the starfall.com phonics website. All day long he begs for "leh-lehs" (letters). He even asks for specific letters now! He'll say "wan ah!" when he wants us to start the animation for letter "A" or "wan puh" for letter "P". I think he may learn the phonic sounds for each letter before he learns their actual names. Probably no harm there. It's also funny that he is afraid of several of the animations. The bear in "B" or the dinosaur in "D" causes him to slide off our laps and run away from the computer crying. He calls "Bye-bye, bye-bye" from across the room, which is his polite way of saying "go away" (his impolite way is screaming "NO" at the top of his lungs). When we click to the next screen, he runs back and clamors to be back in our laps. It really is hilarious. Both Marcus and I deliberately go to the "scary" ones sometimes because it is so funny to see Ethan go through these antics.

I am using time-out with him a lot right now, and it seems to be having somewhat of a positive effect (or else he is just outgrowing his impulsive hitting a little bit). He sits in time-out for hitting, pinching, pushing or snatching a toy. I usually give him a short chance to apologize and make it right (give the toy back) before doing time-out, but if he refuses, its to the booster seat he goes. He sits for about a minute, and then I ask him "Are you ready to say sorry?" He says "Yes, yes," so I unstrap the buckle and lead him over to the victim (usually Caleb), where he says "orry" and gives a hug and a kiss.

Ethan is a pretty good sleeper these days (and has been since he got his ear tubes at 11-months-old). He goes to bed around 7:30 pm and gets up between 6:00 and 6:30 most days. He's down to one nap, which lasts for about 2-hours (usually from 1:00 to 3:00 pm). So he sleeps 13 hours out of 24, which I think is pretty average for his age. He is easy to put to bed as well. We just read him a few baby books in the rocking chair in his room, and then rock/cuddle him while he drinks a cup of milk. Then we put him in his bed, say a little prayer, and leave the room. He plays in his crib for a little while and is almost always asleep within 15 minutes.

He is a cutie-pie, and we are so glad that he is ours!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Stubborn Morning

As I've mentioned, Caleb is generally a compliant child, but he has his days. We had one of those days on Monday. Monday is our grocery shopping day, and the boys love to go grocery shopping because I always let them get a free cookie from the bakery at Publix. We were all getting ready to leave, and I said to Caleb, "Son, please pick up those toys and put them back in the basket before we go." Usually, he would pick up the toys without a word. Not today. He fell crying on the floor, wailing that he didn't want to pick up the toys. I calmly reminded him that what he wants is not the most important thing, and that it is his job to clean up toys when Mommy asks him to. (These are phrases he hears many, many times each week.) The fit continued. I saw that he was losing control of himself in his emotional storm, so I tried another tactic that has worked before:

"Caleb, do you like crying? Is it fun?"
"NOOOOO!" (wailing)
"Who controls your crying? Who makes it stop and start?"
"CAAA-LEEEBBB!!" (wailing louder)
"Well, then, why don't you make the crying stop since you don't like doing it?"

Sometimes, he chokes back a couple of sobs and gets control of himself, but not this time. Running out of resources and time, I sighed and made a decision to put the morning's plans on hold to see this battle to the end.

"Caleb, I have asked you to pick up those toys. We are not going to go to the grocery store or anywhere else until you do as I asked. You are also not allowed to play with other toys or read books until you pick those toys up. In addition, all of your crying needs to take place upstairs in your room, because Ethan and I do not want to listen to it."

I repeated my ultimatum, just in case he hadn't heard me completely. Then I carried him upstairs and put him in his room to finish his fit.

It has been a long time since Caleb pushed me this far, and I really didn't know what to expect. What ensued was another hour-and-a-half of coming downstairs tear-free, being reminded to pick up the toys, and then being carried back upstairs, wailing pleads and protests. (He was particularly upset when he came down and Ethan and I were having snacks without him.) Finally, after the third or fourth round of this cycle, he came downstairs and said, "I real, real, real angry...but I gonna pick up the toys now." And he did. Every single one.

After he was done, he was immediately cheerful again, and ready to go to the grocery store. He was very disappointed when I explained that all of his crying and waiting had used up the time we were planning to go shopping. But he accepted the natural consequence pretty well, and I think that he understood his responsibility for it.

I'm glad these kind of days are very few and far between!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Why Are You Whining?

Last week, a friend and her 3-year-old son were over at our house for a play date. The boys were playing with some blocks together while my friend and I chatted. I stopped talking for a minute to listen to the boys work out a conflict. Caleb had placed a block and the little boy protested, "Not right there. Put it over here." Caleb said, "Hmmm, okay, we'll put it over there, if you like that," and proceeded to move the block. For some reason, right at that moment, the other little boy made an unhappy noise of some sort. Caleb stopped moving and looked at his friend with the most incredulous look I've ever seen on his face. And then he said in a voice and tone much older than his three years: "Why are you whining? I gave you what you wanted!"

My friend and I laughed so hard that we were holding our sides.

And, yes, I admit that, in moments of confused frustration, I have said that exact some thing to Caleb's demanding little brother.