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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Maggie's preschool program

Friday, December 18th, Maggie had the opportunity to perform in her preschool program. I knew that they were doing certain songs because they were the only songs I heard her sing for about a month.
I don't think I'm ever prepared for how adorable the program actually is. My heart beat a little bit faster as the children filed into the gymnasium and the teachers lined them up on stage.  Maggie got up on stage, scanned the crowed and waved at us. She was so excited. Once the music started, our dancing girl got her groove on, swaying to the beat and going along with all of the hand motions. I was overcome at how small yet big and young yet mature she seemed up there on that stage. She was completely unaffected by the crowd or by the children around her that had stage fright and forgot the songs and the motions they had practiced for so long. It always surprises me that my children are able to perform so easily since I am very bad at preparing them for what the program actually entails - getting up on stage in front of about 100 or so people and singing and dancing.  I'm so glad that they seem to enjoy performing and do so with gusto.  I'm very proud of how hard the practice and how much they want to please.

Maggie just melted my heart yet again that night.  That's such a great feeling.  I'm so grateful to have been so blessed.

I wish that for the preschool portion of the program the school would leave the house lights up so we could get good pictures. Unfortunately, the ceiling of the school gymnasium/auditorium is painted a dark blue gray, so there is no chance for my external flash to be of any help in lighting the cast. The first song was Jingle Bells followed by Away in A Manger, God Made Me, and the grand finale was Skidamarink.


Many family members have asked questions about the origins of the song - I remember hearing it on a TV show my sisters watched called Sharon, Lois and Brahm. Here is a little information I found on Wikipedia on the song.


Skidamarink is a very popular children's song with a long history. It was originally the grand finale song of the 1910 Broadway musical, "The Echo". Since the title is gibberish, it has had various spellings over the years.
Though the original musical only lasted a few months, the song endured and was re-popularized in the 1950s by Jimmy Durante.
The song began appearing on many song collections for children's shows in the 1980s. The most popular versions were by the Australian show, Bananas in Pyjamas, and the Canadian show, The Elephant Show.
Several years after the conclusions of The Elephant Show, in the late 1990s, the original performers on that show, Sharon, Lois & Bram, briefly had their own show entitled, Skinnamarink TV.

[edit]Typical Version of Lyrics

Skidamarink a dinky dink,
Skidamarin,ky doo,
I - love - you!
Skidamarink a dinky dink,
Skidamarinky doo,
I - love - you!

I love you in the morning
and in the afternoon,
I love you in the evening
and underneath the moon;

Oh, Skidamarink a dinky dink,
Skidamarinky doo,
I - LOVE - YOU!

I love you, Maggie May!
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Monday, December 28, 2009

Puppies and kittens and Christmas . . .Oh My!

You've probably noticed I haven't blogged in quite a while. The reason for this is that I am not good at keeping secrets - especially when those secrets involve my daily life.

Shortly after Thanksgiving, Erik & I drove North and picked out a puppy to give to Travis's family for Christmas.
Meet Holly. She was named on Christmas after her family officially received her. During her three week stay at our house she was referred to as "puppy," "blackie" and "Sissy." She may also believe her name is "Treat" because I was always yelling that when I wanted her to return to the house.

About a week after we picked up Holly, Erik, his mom & the kids travelled to Ohio to get another puppy for Erik's dad. Here is Maggie holding the yet to be named puppy. He was called "Brownie" for the time he was at my house.I could fib and tell you these puppies overtook my life and I spent every moment caring for, cleaning up after and training these two beasts. But, that would be an obvious lie. As evidenced by this picture.
The pups quickly adapted to crate training and this became the normal state of puppiness at our house. Can't you tell they were just horrid? I don't know how I got anything decorated, baked or bought for Christmas because all of my time was spent caring for puppies. Yeah, right. My kids were harder to wrangle this month!

Holly's first night with us we were afraid she would be lonely, so we brought Roscoe/Hank in to live with her. He was not so thrilled about learning to crate train two years into his life. His expression here is: I AM NOT A PUPPY!

Little "Brownie" is about 7 weeks younger than Holly so he had a lot to learn. Holly was an angel, never making a mess on the floor, eating her food properly and lady like, leaving her crate and heading right out the door and promptly scratching the door when she wanted back in. Brownie would take two steps out of the crate and would mess on the floor. (Did I mention how grateful I am for the concrete floor in my sunroom?) He also liked to use his paw to tip his food bowl over and spill food all over the floor to eat it. Messy. We had to carry him to the door, shove him outside, and hurridly shut the door on him so he wouldn't sneak back in. He was not fond of the snow and cold.
I don't think we were able to pull our secrets off. Travis saw the pups one night after I tried SO hard to keep them secret. I had threatened the kids within an inch of their lives about keeping the puppies a secret. I didn't blog because I was afraid I would accidentally say something about the puppies in a post. One night while Erik & Travis were helping a friend with some car problems, I left the pups out for their final bathroom break before bed and I didn't know that Travis was coming back to the house and he saw them outside. Bill also saw the pups before the big day, but we tried to convince him that we got two puppies - one for Taylor and one for Chet.

Bill seemed pretty surprised Christmas morning and most of the other Schwalm's were excited to receive Holly. We also gave Taylor a kitten, so she was way more interested in that little ball of fur.

Thus ends the story of why I didn't post for over a month. Things are going to change! I've got lots of pictures and even some video to post of our Christmas activities. Lots of fun! Here are some preview pictures. My little angels had a wonderful Christmas and we're looking forward to an amazing New Year as we anticipate the arrival of baby #4 in June. I'm already 17 weeks!


Thanksgiving weekend at the Lezzer Farm

Christmas Morning waiting on the stairs for Mimi & Papa Ralph and Donna & Danny to arrive to watch us open our gifts.

Christmas morning after the gift opening and all the gifts shoved under the tree.




Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Sisters


Sisters can do some cruel things.

Especially older sisters.

I know this because I am the oldest sister. And I admit, I was pretty cruel at times. I was bossy, manipulative, and did I mention I was bossy?

I'm afraid my daughter may have picked up some of those less than desireable traits.

For instance, take this picture here. It is a picture of my youngest two while playing dress up. Now, mind you, I don't doubt for one minute that Will was completely compliant and willing to dress in Maggie's Halloween peacock costume. I'm sure it was probably even his idea. But I can bet you that Maggie took a little bit of joy in dressing him up like a girl because when she came downstairs she said, "Wook Momma, I dwessed Wiwl up wike a gerl."


I think perhaps in this picture, reality has set in and Will realizes what his sister has done to him and that his mother has captured it digitally and will use it to manipulate and boss him around in the future when he is not doing what she wants him to do. Especially when he brings girls to the house.

Not that he will because he is not growing up.

Now, for a little commentary on my sisters.

A few weekends ago, my Mom, sisters & I took a cooking enthusiasts course at the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute. It was on Holiday appetizers. It was tons of fun and we made and sampled some delicious food.

I was very excited for the opportunity to get to hang w/ my mom and sisters because it is something we rarely get to do. Katie & I both have children and finding time to leave them is sometimes difficult. Erin is a busy bank lady and Lara, well, she is our social butterfly and always has tons of stuff going on. So when we all decided to do this - as our Christmas gift to each other - I was excited. As the weekend approached I was even more excited - I was ready for a grown up weekend away!
I planned for this weekend carefully. My younger sisters, aged 27 and 24, are always dressed to the height of fashion. That height of fashion almost ALWAYS includes sky high, wedge your feet in, three inch or higher heels. Erin, in fact, has actually willed her feet to shrink a half size or more so that she can wear cuter and daintier styles of sky high heels. Okay, so we think she endures the ancient art of Japanese foot binding in order to have the smaller shoe size, but whatever.

Lara, the hip, young fashionista, has a closet full of shoes that she keeps in their original boxes which she has labeled with the shoe description so she knows anytime she looks in the closet what she is getting.

Katie, just entering her 30s is still at the age where she can transition easily from mom to stylish young mom with no difficulty. And she shares the same shoe size as my sister, Lara, so she frequently gets to borrow hip and trendy styles from her. They also have reasonably average size feet.

My mom shares a shoe size with Katie and Lara but she is literally unable to wear flats. Of any form. She actually even wears platform sneakers! My mom will go around the house in bare feet or flats and will say, "Ugh, I've got to go put some shoes on w/ a heel. My feet are killing me." That's just wrong!

Enter me: an old lady, with three children under the age of 5, having endured three pregnancies that have lengthened and widened my already gigantor size 10 feet to an 11 wide. I cannot contort my foot into those beautiful and stylish heels (nor can I find beautiful and stylish shoes in size 11) so I am left with matronly and plain flats. On this special occasion, I managed to find a pair of 11w wedge heels in an adorable black toile canvas. Sure, the were a little summery, but the were 3" wedges, which meant that I would be able to wear them with almost no problem. Best of all, I found them on clearance for $5! I knew it was providence that I found them and they were meant to be worn for my weekend w/ my stylish and fashionable sisters. I spent hours coordinating an outfit to wear with them. I didn't want to wear anything too hot - we'd be cooking in a commercial kitchen after all, but I wanted to look as fashionable as my sisters. I settled on a red blouse, black jeans and my new wedge shoes.

The morning of our class was a little hurried as we finished getting ready at the hotel and went downstairs for breakfast. We all arrived and ate in stages, so I didn't really take a good look at everyone to see what everyone else was wearing. We rushed through a quick continental breakfast, to the car and then into Pittsburgh to find a parking garage and walk to PCI.

I was worried as I put on my new shoes that they were a little tight, but as we walked from the parking garage to the cooking school, they loosened up and I was able to wear them all class. I also got several compliments from my sisters on how cute the shoes were. Since it was before 9 am in the city, things were really quiet, and as we walked to the school, we were able to spread out a bit and walk at our own paces. We made some light hearted jokes to my sister Erin about her boots and asked if she was going to an equestrian competition after class. Once in class, we got our supplies and our instructions and were too busy cooking to really come together as a group to talk and tease much as we are prone to do when we are together. After we finished cooking, we sampled everything.
I made crab cakes - very delish. Lara made the yummiest Polenta I have ever had. It was a creamy, cheesy polenta topped with sauteed mushrooms. Katie made an Scallop Escabiche in cucumber cups which were delicious too. I was excited to try and escabiche as I see them make it on Top Chef all the time, but I was never sure what it tasted like. I don't think the rest of my family liked it as much as I did, which is surprising because it had fresh, chopped tomato in it, and I HATE tomato (except for sauce or ketchup - which is a whole other blog post). Erin made a parmesan peppercorn Biscotti which was surprisingly yummy. We all decided that if we made it at home, we'd use less peppercorn and eat it as a bread rather than a biscotti. None of us like the harness of a biscotti. Finally, my mom made grilled zucchini strips stuffed with spinach and herbed goat cheese.We all felt the goat cheese was way too strong and were trying to think of a good alternative cheese to fill the zucchini with. We thought maybe feta. And instead of serving it cold, we'd serve it warm.

Finally, class was over and we were getting ready to leave downtown to head to McKnight Road to do some shopping. I asked a fellow classmate to take our picture. Here it is. Jennie the Giant with her mom and sisters. I am a good HEAD taller than everyone in the picture! The one time this crew decides to wear flats and I'm wearing heels pushing my usual 5'8" to almost 6 feet! Good grief!

So here we are after the class was over. From left is Lara, Erin, (people often ask them if they are twins, they are not) my mom, Katie and me. Lets point some sisterly things out here. First, I don't think any of us look anything alike. Maybe my sister Katie looks like my mom, but I don't think the rest of us do. Yet anywhere we go, people always say, "Are you sisters?"

We are sisters. And I'm grateful and blessed to have such wonderful women in my life.

Thanks, girls, for a wonderful time. And special thanks to Mom who graciously funded the entire operation.

Let's do it again really soon . . . I need to get out of the house.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Maggie & I watch the CMA Awards.

First thing out of Maggie's mouth upon seeing Carrie Underwood: "Oh, Momma!" Sucks in her breath, "She's so beautiful! She looks so shiny and sparkly. Can I have a dress like that please?" After the commercial break, Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood come back on stage. Maggie's comment, "Hey, she changed from her sparkly dress. Wonder if she changed her shoes? Momma, him changed too." Darius Rucker performing: "Momma, what is this song? Me: "It's 'Alright'" Maggie sings, "Alright, Alright" Says: "Oh, like in the car "Alright"?" Maggie during Miranda Lambert's performance: "Momma, hims hair is crazy!" (Guitarist had spiked mohawk). "Her hair is not crazy, thank goodness."

During George Strait's performance: "Wow! He's a real cowboy!"

Monday, November 9, 2009

Time goes by so . . .not slowly!

I cannot believe how long it has been since I last posted. I'm not really sure where the time has gone! We've started Christmas shopping already and I'm making my plans to decorate for the season. And as many of you know, since November 1, we've been listening to Christmas music around here. What else have we been up to? Not much, but here's a little re-cap.

Halloween has come and gone. I managed to pull off Maggie's costume after some procrastination regarding the costume materials. This was the inspiration for the costume. It sold on ebay for $140!
I lucked out in that I found a supplier to purchase 175 yards of tulle in 3, 6, and 9 inch widths in various colors. I negated that luck by waiting too long to find the fabric and paying double for expedited shipping. In hindsight, I probably would have gotten all of the materials to complete her costume in plenty of time, but I was afraid it wouldn't come, so I paid for the shipping. So, I paid less than I would have had I purchased the costume from one of the crafters on etsy.com
or ebay, but I spent more than I should have. However, the costume was an award winner. We participated in the local Saxonburg Halloween VFD parade and Maggie won 2nd place for best costume in her age division. Here's a picture of the kids following the parade. It had been a pretty decent day - we had Will's birthday party and we decided to go to the parade last minute. I hadn't realized how fast the weather had gotten cold, and by the time we got to the parade, it had started to sprinkle. We sat in the car until the parade stared and then braved the mist and walked the parade route. It quickly quit raining, but it was cold. Once octopus would not walk, so he got to ride in the stroller. We had some trouble with the octopus costumes because the arms were so heavy they pulled the sweatshirts and made them stretch and pucker. The boys were happy with them though, so that is all that matters.
Here's Maggie in her full costume at the Clearview Mall trick or treat event. She got many a compliment from the shop keepers. Walker was at a birthday party that night at Chuck E Cheeses, so the little two had a lot of fun trick or treating. Will was pretty amazed that all he had to do was walk up to someone, say "tic tea" and they would put candy in his bucket. Woo-hoo! Will would not stand still for a Mall picture because he was too intent on getting candy out of his bucket.
Maggie is already thinking about next year's costume. She wants to be a lady bug or a bumble bee. I think I can handle that. Walker, a little jealous over Maggie's parade win, asked if he could wear Maggie's peacock costume next year. I love that he is still innocent enough to not understand that wearing that costume would cause him to be teased.

It's such a fine line, isn't it, treading that area between wanting your child to be able to do or be anything he/she wants and not allowing them to do it because you know it will cause them to be teased or tortured. It saddens me that we live in a society that kids just can't be what they want to be because they will be teased about their choices by other kids. Walker doesn't understand that Maggie's peacock is a "girl" costume. He just wants to have a costume that will win him a prize. It is for reasons such as this that I understand why people home school. I just pray that I am doing my job right and that he will be able to withstand the pressures of society and will live true to himself. It's going to be a rough road. He's already picking up some unflattering language at school that we have to address. We're doing our best to explain to him why we feel what he is saying is wrong, but I know how hard it is to resist repeating what most of his friends are saying. At least for now, he's slipping up in front of us and we can reprimand him and talk about why we don't want him to say that. I know when he gets older, he'll have the awareness to watch what he says around us. It's such a struggle being a parent. I have so many moments daily that I wonder if I'm using those "teaching" moments wisely, taking each opportunity to teach my children the values Erik and I want them to have.

Will we succeed? I'm not sure. I feel that Erik and I are strong parents and our children are clear about what we expect of our family. For now, I just try to review each day and remember the funny and silly things the kids say and do.

Some of the most memorable of late:

Walker participates in the "Book It" reading program at his school. In October, he was challenged to read eight books and record the title and author of each book and turn in a form to his teacher. After he did, he received a coupon for a free personal pan pizza. Maggie, jealous that Walker got to earn his own pizza asked me, "Momma, when am I going to get a poo-con to get a free pizza?"

Willie James is really talking up a storm now and loves to sing. His favorite song to sing right now is "Happy Birthday" and he sings it to his favorite girl, Ella. Here's also in love with football and loves to watch it on TV. He asks to wear his "Stee" (Steeler) shirt and just tonight was enthralled with the game.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Life in futility . . .

Being a stay at home mom is very rewarding. I wouldn't change anything about my choice, however, after five and a half years of this profession, I have realized that it is basically an exercise in futility - at least for me. In case you are not familiar with the definition of futile, I've looked it up.

Main Entry: fu·tile Function: adjectiveEtymology: Middle French or Latin; Middle French, from Latin futilis brittle, pointless, probably from fu- (akin tofundere to pour) — more atfoundDate: circa 1555

1 : serving no useful purpose : completely ineffective 2 : occupied with trifles :frivolous


synonyms futile, vain, fruitless mean producing no result. futile may connote completeness of failure or unwisdom of undertakingfutile that surrender was the only choice left>. vain usually implies failure to achieve a desired result vainattempt to get the car started>.fruitless comes close to vain but often suggests long and arduous effort or severe disappointment <fruitlessefforts to obtain a lasting peace>.

Today is one of those days that everywhere I look, I see projects that need completed, basic chores that need done, and I really feel no inclination to do any of it. All I see is long and arduous effort ending in severe disappointment!
Let's just start with the kitchen. I won't even go into the dishes that need cleaned up and put into the dishwasher. Today I'll just talk about the futility of sweeping the floor. Erik was in charge of supper last night because I went to Bible Study and he kept the kids busy playing outside in leaves until late. Erik never says anything when I want to go do something for myself, so I really shouldn't complain that he doesn't clean up to my specifications, but sometimes, because of the futility of cleaning, I do get a little frustrated when he leaves messes for me to take care of - like this. He didn't sweep the floor under the island after the kids ate.
Crumbs and a hunk of cheese are still lying there. I really can't fault him, because I really do understand how futile it is to sweep. There will just be another mess there in another 2 hours
when it is snack time.

On a positive note, this just reconfirms my gladness at putting in the hardwood instead of a different surface. This flooring is so forgiving, hides most messes, and unless there is a glob of mud on the floor, hides my dirty floors well. It's a little gross, but what can I say, farm life makes cleaning futile. I no sooner get the floor clean than someone walks through with their boots on. I do believe that some of this futility will be alleviated when Christmas comes. I have dropped several not so subtle hints that I want the Shark Pocket Steam Mop. I hope Santa remembers that I want it so desperately!

On to the laundry. This is my laundry/mud room.
When we remodeled the house, it was a large pantry. At the time I thought, "Whatever would I need with such a large pantry?" So we gutted it, moved the door around and the pantry became the much needed laundry and mud room. At the time, with just Erik and me, I thought the room was so big. Five years later it is waaaayyy too small for our family of five. There isn't enough room for our muddy boots, dirty clothes, coveralls and coats, etc. I hate going into that room and not just because of the mounds of laundry that are there waiting for me on an hourly
basis. It is a constant reminder of how futile cleanliness on a farm is.
This is a picture of my dream laundry room. I dream of a laundry where I have TONS of room. My idea is that the laundry room will be the main closet for the entire house. When our kids get older, instead of me folding clothes and putting them away for them, they will be instructed to come to the laundry room to get their clothes - if they do not - oh well - the clothes will be hanging from the racks or be folded into neatly designated drawers for each person of the house. Can't find your shirt - check the laundry room.

Isn't this laundry room just lovely? This room is courtesy of Hampton Design and I have provided a link to the website here. Great job! It is just beautiful. And if anyone would like to offer to help me achieve this laundry room by building an addition onto my house, I will happily accept. : )

http://www.hamptondesign.com/built_ins5.html
How beautiful is the white farmhouse sink? I don't even have a plastic washtub in my laundry room right now. I know I shouldn't complain because I could have a room this large if I chose to move my laundry to the root cellar (basement) where it is dark,dank, and drippy! I know it is a luxury to have my laundry off the kitchen where I have easy access to it all the time, but I would love to just have a little more space! I can't even imagine what things are going to get like once the kids get older and their clothes are bigger!
Can you imagine having three whatever those are??? I'd settle for a dryer that dries faster!

Let's not even get into the futility of folding clothes, putting them away and the daily struggle that is!













Our next area of futility for me is toys. I don't know how we have accumulated so much, how it seems to multiply in the toy bins, or why my children can clean up any other place they are, but at home. I guess it could be worse - they could actually NOT play with any of their toys. But they do - all the time. They just don't put anything away in the right place, which leads to bigger and bigger messes. I have tried countless times to sort though the toys, arranged them in the appropriate bins, took pictures of the toys that belong in those bins and attached them so the kids could easily identify what goes where but they still just throw stuff into bins at random when I say clean up. Thus causing them to not know where particular items are which leads them to dump EVERY bin in the area out until they find what they were looking for.

I guess if I try to look at things in a positive light, I could interpret the scattered toys as an inexpensive home security system. This batch of toys was dumped out right on the mat at the front door. Not that anyone uses our front door -we don't have any steps or a porch leading up to our front door, so it is basically a door to nowhere. But in case someone did try to come in our front door, there is this nice mound of toys for them to have to get past.



Fortunately, this mound of toys is also smack dab at the bottom of the stairs too - so it is a double whammy of deterring burglars and damaging Momma's bare feet. Nothing like a plastic farm animal to wake you up in the morning!

Well, I suppose my rant on the futility of chores around this place has been futile. In the time it took to post this, I probably could have had all of it cleaned up. I just needed to vent a bit.

And as my dear neighbor, Donna, tells me, the children will be grown up before I know it and I will miss the days of seeing these toys, mounds of laundry and crumbs on the floor.

I'm sure I will, but right now dreaming of the future is just futile.



Friday, October 23, 2009

Surprises

Nick at Nite is terrific for women with new babies that get up in the middle of the night to nurse. It kept me entertained for months after I had all of my babies. All of my babies were unusual nursers in that they early on got onto a schedule of eating every 4 to 6 hours but when it was time to eat, they nursed for at least an hour. Which left me incapacitated for that time. For those midnight feedings, I was always afraid to lay in bed with the newborn, so I would get up and go downstairs to nurse and if I didn't watch TV, I'd fall asleep myself. I was afraid of dropping the baby if I fell asleep, so I had to keep myself up.

Anyway, I would watch Nick at Nite. A popular and repeatedly running show was Roseanne. On one episode, the older daughters told their younger brother that he was an "accident" and that his parents hadn't really wanted him to be born. The conversation goes like this:

D.J.: Was I an accident?
Roseanne:
No, D.J., you were a surprise.
D.J.: Oh.
What's the difference?
Roseanne: Well, an accident is something that you wouldn't do over again if you had the chance. A surprise is something you didn't even know you wanted until you got it.


Our surprise was Willie James who turned 2 years old yesterday. When I first found out I was pregnant with Will, I was so scared. Maggie had just turned a year and I was so worried about how I was going to handle a 19 month old and an infant, was I ruining Maggie's life by bringing another baby into the house so soon? What were our families going to say? I was excited about the pregancy, what a blessign, but having told some folks already and gotten mixed reactions, I felt the pregnancy was something I was keeping to myself for a while longer. I was probably about four months along when I went to book club one night knowing I was going to announce my pregnancy. We hadn't been together for a while and we were all catching up on what was new in each other's lives and finally it was my turn - I said, with some hesitation, "Well, I'm going to have another baby!"

My dear friend, Michelle, jumped out of her chair, squealing with delight, giving me the hugest hug ever, and gushed all over me. Everyone else expressed their happiness for me as well, and all was good. Michelle's reaction to my announcement lifted the pressures and fears I was feeling instantly. I will never be able to thank her enough for that reaction. It was exactly what I needed, and I know that God planned for me to be there to witness that to reinforce to me that everything was GOOD and exactly as He had planned. I will never be able to thank Michelle enough for her reaction. It reinforced to me that my pregnancy was a very good thing and that we had been triply blessed.

I think about that a lot when I think of Willie James. He turned two years old yesterday and he is such an amazing blessing in our lives. I had worried so much about how Maggie would deal with a sibling so close in age to her - and it has never been an issue. Sure, once in a while we have instances of sibling rivalry, but so do Maggie & Walker and Walker and Will - it doesn't seem to have much to do with age.

In a phone conversation once with my sister, Erin, she said something along the lines of that she thought it was wonderful that my children were so close in age because sometimes she felt the age differences between us (about 3 years between each sister) was too great and there were times that she wished we were all closer in age. I don't think Erin will ever know how much that conversation meant to me either. And the times when the kids are tearing me in a million different directions, each one needing something from me, I think to that conversation and try to think to the future and how nice it will be for them to be experiencing life together.

But for the today, I celebrate the life of my littlest man. My candy loving, rough necking, bull headed boy.

Happy Birthday, my littlest love. May your life be filled with as many happy "surprises" as you have provided for me!














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Thursday, October 15, 2009

I'm an avid reader

Recently on a trip to my hometown, my sister, Katie, was recalling a story that she had told her mother in law that highlighted one of our many differences as sisters.

To provide some background on our reading differences, I have always been an avid reader, my sister, Katie, not so much. Katie has deep rooted resentful memories of our mother encouraging her to read more, often wording her request in the worst way possible, "Why don't you read more like Jennie?" Katie is a relatively even-keeled person. It really takes a lot to get her upset, but for some reason, the comparison of our reading preferences is pretty much the one thing that she hated.

So Katie told this story about how when we were young, to do any "real" clothes shopping, we
had to travel to Dubois, a town about 30 miles away from our little hometown. If we were
"good girls," meaning, if we stayed close to our mom, allowed her to do the shopping she needed to do, and we didn't fight constantly we would be allowed one of two rewards. One was a trip to the Valley Dairy to get an ice cream cone - the other was a trip to Walden's Books to choose a book.
Both were of equal excitement to me. Not Katie. She would just rather have the ice cream. From start to finish, she would inject
subliminal messages into the conversation so we would be thinking about the Valley Dairy by the time the shopping trip was over.

"I'm so hungry for ice cream."

"Yum, won't a scoop of Chocolate Marshmallow taste so good when we are done?"

By the end of the trip, we truly did believe that ice cream was the better choice. Except every so often I would remember that having a good book would last a little longer than the ice cream. I would divert her attempts by asking if I could go to the bookstore by myself before my mom had finished shopping. I would say, "You can come get me at the bookstore when you're all
done." This would ensure my mom and sisters would have to be at the bookstore where my mom would then say, "Did you find something you want? Well, let's see if the other girls can find a book too."

Mission accomplished!

So, we would get our books - most likely mine was a
Nancy Drew that I didn't already have or a Sweet Valley High.
I loved those books.


The funny part of the whole reward was that I was such an avid reader that I often started to read the book in the car on
the way home and would get halfway through the book by the time we got home. I would quickly complete the book within a day and then I would complain that I didn't have anything to read again. My mother would say we had just been to the bookstore and then would yell at me saying, "You read your books too fast! If you keep reading that fast, I'm not buying you any more books!" Katie relayed that portion of the story to her mother in law, and we all found great humor in the fact that my mother was basically saying I was such a good reader, she was going to take books away from me to punish me.

I tell you that story to highlight that I continue to be an avid reader. I've rediscovered my passion that is the Library and I've been borrowing books like mad. This satisfies my need to read and my need to be frugal. In my attempts to keep up my habit and still save money, I found a program through Bethany House Publishing. Basically, you sign up through www.bethanyhouse.com/bookreviewers and as long as you are willing to read the books in a timely manner, and offer reviews on retail websites, you can participate in the program. Due to shipping reasons, the program is limited to North American residents only.

Here is what the email sent to me said:
Hi! Welcome to the latest Bethany House Book Reviewers Update. In this list, we've got our lineup of Fall contemporary fiction for review. Aside from another powerful emotional drama from Kathryn Cushman (attention Karen Kingsbury readers -- you really should be reading Cushman), we have second novels from a couple of our newer authors -- Christa Parrish and Jackina Stark. Also, if you missed it the first time around, Dale Cramer's Christy Award-winning Levi's Will is back in print with a new cover.

As usual, to request a review copy, just click the link under each book's description and we'll have a copy sent out to you. Post a review on your website and on a retailer's site (Amazon, ChristianBook.com, etc.), and email me at jim.hart@bethanyhouse.com to let us know about it! Thanks, and I hope you enjoy the new releases!

Note: We can only send books to reviewers the US and Canada. Requests will be accepted through October 5. Also - Help spread the word about this program! If you know anyone who would be interested in signing up to receive review copies of our books, direct them to www.bethanyhouse.com/bookreviewers!


I signed up and got my first "assignment" a few weeks ago. Then last Friday, four books came for me in the mail!

The first book I read was:

Watch Over Me by Christa Parrish

Her Rescue Might Be the Miracle They Needed

Deputy Benjamin Patil is the one to find the infant girl--hours old, abandoned in a field. When the mother can't be located, Ben and his wife, Abbi, seem like the perfect couple to serve as foster parents. But the baby's arrival opens old wounds for Abbi and shines a harsh light on how much Ben has changed since a devastating tour in Iraq. As their marriage teeters on the brink, they now must choose to either reclaim what they once had or lose each other forever.


While I found this book engaging, the main story of Abbi and Ben Patil didn't seem to captivate me as much as the sub- story of Matthew, an 18 year old high school senior who is befriended by the Patil's. Matthew lives with his Aunt and cousins, having been basically abandoned by his mother. He not only shoulders much of the responsibility in his Aunt's home, but he also is faced with the fact
that he has a genetic disorder that has rendered him deaf and with kidney failure. His Aunt tries to do her best, but she has fallen into the societal traps of low income families. She allows her older daughters and her nephew to be the childcare providers for her two youngest daughters. Her relationships with men are easy and fast and have a great impact on the children living in the house. Matthew lives with the knowledge that the only thing keeping him at his Aunt's house is the $500 a month she receives to provide for his care. Despite the worst imaginable childhood, Matthew manages to look at each day with hope and faith and trust in the Lord. His noble attempts at keeping his "family" together while struggling with "doing the right thing" I felt were the best aspects of the book. But then, perhaps, due to my former career history, I am a sucker for a kid that in the face of adversity manages to rise above it all and be the better person.

The second book I read was:

Things Worth Remembering by Jackina Stark

An Emotionally Gripping Story of Broken Relationships Restored

Kendy Laswell and her daughter, Maisey, used to do everything together--until one fateful summer when Maisey witnessed something she shouldn't have, and their relationship fractured. Now, Maisey is back home to get married and Kendy realizes this is her last chance to reconnect with her daughter. Will Kendy and Maisey be able to reclaim the bond they once shared?

I found this book extremely engaging and had to force myself to put it down at night in order to go to sleep. I do believe I would have read the entire book at once if I didn't have responsibilities to face in the morning. As a daughter and a mother, I found this book tearing at my heartstrings throughout. The title of this book is genius as it truly describes the main theme of the story. Unfortunately, as is highlighted by the stories within the book, while there can be countless good memories one experiences in life, it seems that it takes just one very bad memory to overtake the good, eating one up and causing one to lose sight of all the good things worth remembering. I was reminded time and again how one's perception of a situation is not the entire story and that each person involved in an experience has a different reality of that experience. The story highlights the importance of open communication and honesty but most of all, it is about forgiveness. Forgiving oneself, forgiving others, and most importantly, the forgiveness of our Father. Things Worth Remembering has given me a lot to think about in terms of my relationship with my own mother and how I want to proceed with my relationship with my daughter.

I have two more books to finish and then I'll post those reviews too! I encourage you all to become bethanyhouse reviewers! It is a lot of fun!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Things are changing

Walking home from the bus stop last week, I noticed that leaves are starting to change color.  This red was vivid against the green of the leaves.  As much as I don't want to admit it, Summer is over and it is time for Fall to creep in and color our world in preparation for the Winter months.  I cherish Fall because I know that it is our last hurrah of any color before the bland gray and brown, mud covered world we will experience for a good 4 or 5 months.  I've heard various predictions about the winter - as usual, I'm hoping for a steady stream of snow - about one inch daily to keep my husband busy and our business steady.

Other things around the farm are changing too.  Animals are coming and they are going.  We've experienced a tremendous sale season this year.  All of our goat kids born on the farm this year have been sold.  We've even found some regular customers looking for farm fresh meats - chickens, ducks, goats, etc.  Erik has been keeping busy attending various auctions at night trying to keep up our supply!  Here is one of our old mama hens. She's got a slew of eggs under her that she is protecting.  A few months ago, another hen hatched out 5 eggs and she kept them safe and we recently sold them to a new family who will raise them and eat their eggs!  That's cool!  She is fiercely protecting her eggs from the new Silkie chickens Erik bought at the auction last week.  These silkies are very soft and fluffy.  They are Maggies birds.
Another change here on the farm is the addition of "Sniffy."  That is his unofficial name.  Sniffy is a 10 month old Alpaca that Erik got "for a steal" at the auction.  We're not sure if he is going to become a permanent part of our farm, but he is definitely something new.  Rest assured, if he stays, I'm changing his name.  Oh- and he got his name because by nature, Alpacas are curious and sniff at anything that comes across their path.  Everytime Walker goes into the barn with him, Sniffy puts his nose in his face and sniffs away.  If he was a girl, I think Gertrude would be a front runner for the new name, but for now, I'll have to think about a good boy name.  Our general rule is that we only name animals names we wouldn't name our kids.  
Here's another shot of Maggie's silkie chickens.  The white ones are really pretty. 
This poor Mama goat is depressed.  Her baby was one of the last to be sold and ever since, she has not been eating well and she spends her day roaming the pasture, bleating for her baby to come to her.  She is the wildest and meanest goat we have, but she sure is a good mama!  Her unofficial name is "Crazy Mexican" because she is a mexican/spanish cross breed.  
Erik picked up these unusual ducks at auction last week.  Unfortunately, they have already departed the premises - they are probably now tucked away in some lucky families freezer.  I know many people will find that unappealing - but that is our business.  The majority of the animals on our farm are here for a specific purpose.  Either they are to breed, to eat, or to sell for someone else to do one of those things.  We don't oppose having barnyard animals as pets - they just don't seem to work out as pets at our house.  Probably because we have so many dogs and cats already.  
Here is a picture of our number one crop here at Goodness Grows Farm . . .  Poison Ivy.  We have poison ivy everywhere!  To say it is prolific is an understatement.  I only wish we could somehow turn this noxious plant into a profitable crop.  I believe that the US military has underestimated the potential of this plant as a biohazard.  Erik is severely allergic to the stuff - basically if he looks at it he breaks out in oozing sores.  He recently had a horrible reaction to it.  I don't feel too sorry for him though because for the most part, he avoids it.  The #1 way he gets poison ivy is by handling the goats (who, if you've read this blog before, LOVE poison ivy and eat it like candy) or by playing with the dogs.  Two Sundays ago, he was playing with the dogs, batting at them and rolling with them in the grass.  Monday he woke up with huge welts and they swiftly turned into extremely annoying and itchy sores.  My reasoning for this plant being underestimated is that not only does the allergy affect an individual, but it also affects anyone sharing sleeping quarters with this individual.  All night long, I hear Erik scratching.  We've had the air conditioning on in our room for over a week now because we have to keep it so cold in our room so Erik doesn't get overheated and itchy.  Not that I mind the air - it's just funny that we are running the air conditioning more now than we did all summer.
Here's our barn.  Can you tell we keep the doors slid open to the right and the left most of the time?  My goal is to someday paint it a deep, traditional barn red.  I'm just afraid of how much paint it will require.
Here's Willie James - he climbed into the dog kennel with Hank/Roscoe.  He looks up to something.
Basically Will's philosophy is that if he bothers Hank enough, Hank will become his BFF.  I believe Hank perceives this treatment as torture.
Finally - the changes that matter the most . . .  our outdoor living space.  We finally got our fire pit area set up.  Erik used this stone that he salvaged from a wall in Fox Chapel that was built over 150 years ago but was falling down.  The owners wanted a new "modern" retaining wall, so he hauled all the rock here in anticipation of what we could do with it.  We decided to use it as our fire ring because the wall had been mortared with cement at some point and we could not break off all the mortar.  Erik is especially proud of his "stick rests."  He's placed four rocks on top of the ring so that when we have a campfire, we can rest our sticks on those rocks and use them to turn the sticks without the stick touching the actual burning logs.  I have to admit it works really well.  That man o mine has some smart ideas!

Erik also leveled out the back and side of our house to create two levels of living space.  The bottom level is our dining area - we'll have tables to one side and the fire pit at the other.  On the top level, just above this beautiful stone retaining wall, is another flat area that leads to our hot tub deck.  We plan on putting sod down on this flat part and using it for our lounge chairs that we purchased three years ago on clearance at Sams club.  They are your typical community pool lounges - perfect for our lifestyle here at the farm.  Someday when we don't have so much mud, dirt and manure, we'll have "nice" things.  The wooded furniture at the fire pit, I bought at an estate auction two years ago.  We've had it stored for these past two years because we didn't have a place to put them so Erik didn't have to mow around them.  Now we do.  I have a whopping $30 invested in those pieces so far.  They cost me $15 (and it may have been less than that) and I had to spend another $15 on chains and S hooks for the gliders.  Next year, I'll restain all of the furniture and strip and stain the wooden picnic tables we have.  But that's a project for next summer!
Saturday, we managed to get the hot tub deck framed out with the help from our neighbor, Keith.  He graciously came up to help bang that out for us so we could get that job done.  It is surprising to me that Erik can tear apart and put back together, or build, he is so hesitant to start a construction project involving framing.  Once something is framed, he can do anything, but the framing just isn't his thing.  

This is Maggie after I told her I thought her she stepped in manure because I thought her boots smelled.  I believe this expression is, "What you talkin' 'bout, Momma?"
In an effort to prove me wrong, she displays the bottoms of her boots.  I do believe that is a little bit of an "I told you so" tongue she is sticking out at me!  
Will and Walker had a great deal of fun helping us get the decking on the frame.  We used an air gun to blow in the nails, but the boys were in charge of hammering in any nails that didn't go in the whole way.  Which to them was all of the nails.  Will, at this point, has stolen his sisters hat.  He doesn't care what color it is.  It's just a hat to him and one he absolutely had to wear to torture his sister.  Will is into torturing his sister.  A lot.  And there's not much I can do to help her because I don't even know that what he is doing is torture until she starts whining and screaming.  
Will looks out the window . . .
Maggie:  "Momma!  Will is looking out the window and I don't want him to." 
Me:  "Maggie, you don't own the outside and Will is allowed to look outside if he wants to."
Maggie: "Well, I don't want him to.  He's not awowed!"
Me:  "Ok, Maggie.  Whatever you say."
Hello.  My name is Will and I am a weapon of mass destruction and extreme torture.  
Be afraid.  Be very afraid.
This is my favorite picture of the weekend.  All three children wanted to help Erik hold boards while he was cutting them so this is the compromise.
My farm girl.  She is such a princess but she will do whatever is necessary on the farm.  She doesn't mind getting her hands dirty as long as she can still get her fingernails painted.
A celebration with popsicles after we finish nailing down all of the decking.
The hot-tub that all of this outdoor living space was created for!  It will still be a while before it is up and running but we can't wait for it.  It will be such a great treat in the winter time.
It was a hard day so the kids had to take a break after all that hard work.   

Lunch on the patio.
What could be better?
Well, maybe having the hot tub running.  Someday . . .

Someday!