Marbled Paper

Art time with small children is not my forte. I tend to turn into an ogress when surrounded by paint splatters, spilled cups, and finely shredded paper glued to the table. The twins never painted until they started at a Montessori preschool right before their fourth birthday. Over the past two years art project ideas and motivation from A Year of Playing Skillfully have helped us all. With practice the kids are much better at not eating the art supplies. I’m much better at letting them explore and create. Smocks from IKEA and $2 wipeable plastic tablecloths with picnic clips holding them down also help keep my panic in check.

These days the kids may use crayons, colored pencils, paper, and coloring pages upon request. I try to set up more organized (i.e. highly supervised to prevent disastrous mess) art projects once a week. This week we made marbled paper again. The steps are simple and the project can be made with household supplies.

1) Spray a large baking pan with shaving cream. If you like, let the kids use it for sensory play or letter writing for a while. Smooth each pan until you have a flat even surface. Use medicine droppers to drip liquid watercolors (food coloring also works) over the shaving cream.

2) Use the pointy tip of a knife to draw vertical and horizontal lines through the shaving cream. Younger kids do best with straight lines. Kids with better fine motor control to keep the tip pointed might want to experiment with circles and waves.

Don’t overmix or draw with too broad an edge or the colors will blend and you’ll lose a lot of the distinctive marbling. I didn’t catch this child in time and you can see that the patterns are less distinct on the paper (though she had a grand time stirring).

3) Press a piece of watercolor paper or heavy card stock evenly into the shaving cream. I also think individual index cards would be nice. They could be used as Valentines or Easter cards. Give the paper a few seconds to pick up the paint.

4) Scrape the shaving cream off the paper with a long knife or cake froster. Here you can see what a page looks like freshly lifted from the pan:

…and then the pattern emerging underneath as I start scraping away the shaving cream.

4) Set the paper out to dry. You can pin down the corners to prevent curling if you like.

Last year I cut the kids’ pages into hearts and strung them up as Valentines garlands (goodness knows we need some color in the white and gray days of February!). This year we’ll probably use the pages as cards or for other purposes.

For the most part the kids (6, 6, 4, and 3) handled smoothing the cream, dripping in the paint, and drawing the marbling lines. I helped them press the paper down evenly. I scraped away the shaving cream for them just to keep the mess down.

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Seven Quick Takes – In the Deep Midwinter

ONE

Our family does best when we embrace winter as a season. That means fostering coziness indoors – fires most nights, candles with every dinner, blankets on the couch – and winter fun outdoors daily. Even if it takes the kids as long to bundle up as they get to spend playing outside on a truly bitterly cold day everyone is in a better mood after fresh air, sledding, or a snowball fight with neighbors. Right before the worst of the Polar Vortex hit we took all the kids on a snow hike and sledding in a nearby forest preserve. It’s the first year the smaller two were ready for the big hill instead of our near-daily backyard sledding. Everyone had a blast. During the following week it got down to -27 (-33 celsius) with windchills around -50 to -60. We mostly stayed inside for two days because the kids refuse to wear neck gaiters/face masks over their faces and it was too cold for exposed skin. Unfortunately one of our furnaces couldn’t handle the strain and died. We’re making do with space heaters for now and happy it’s not worse. Our poor neighbors had a pipe burst in their basement the day they moved across the country! A couple balmy days and a family-wide case of the flu followed the cold snap.  We’re now back to cold and snow as regularly programmed.

 

TWO

The kids caught the Beatrix Potter bug this winter. We’ve spent lots of time cuddled up on the couch with Peter Rabbit, Hunka-Munka, and Mrs. Tiggywinkle. I never actually enjoyed her stories or art as a child and the kids didn’t show much interest in years past. However, my grandmother sent them a beautiful boxed set of Potter’s books for Christmas and something about those lovely little hardbacks did the trick. Turns out I enjoy them now too. I didn’t realize they were so funny! In January we read a lot of winter and arctic-themed books. As we slog through February and winter starts to drag a bit I’ve transitioned the library book basket over to fairy tales and fables using the Read Aloud Revival monthly booklist as a springboard. It’s a good month for escaping into magic worlds. We always include some black history in our reading but are diving deeper for Black History Month. Valentines Day is not a big day for us but the kids enjoy making cards and decorations so we add in a few Valentines Day books as well.

I’ve been thinking a lot about stories this month. Plenty of studies show that stories are a uniquely powerful vehicle for learning and information, but I also like thinking about how they connect us across time and geography. An Anansi story from a thousand years ago in Africa still makes our family laugh on the couch today. A well-told story can put us in the shoes of Genghis Khan or make us cry over a refugee family. A group of actors in England can tell the story of a brilliant but lonely man in 1960s Oxford that captivates two tired parents four thousand miles away in a snowbound house in the American midwest. Which brings us to:

THREE

Endeavour. We’re not big TV watchers but this winter a great story made the coldest winter days fly by. I’d watched the stand-alone prequel movie and first season of the BBC’s Endeavour a few years ago and enjoyed it. I just realized this winter that there are currently five seasons and have spent most of my spare time (and perhaps some time that wasn’t spare but stolen) immersed in the story. I haven’t enjoyed a show this much for years. Intricate mysteries, lovingly recreated historical settings, beautiful cinematography, and above all, brilliant acting. I was vaguely familiar with the original Morse played by John Thaw and knew of the books but Shaun Evans’ depiction of young Morse is outstanding and the other leading actors are equally good. It’s been years since I’ve seen a TV show tell such a good story so well. I finished the Fifth Season last week and am fighting the urge to go right back to the beginning and start over.

Just a heads up, the individual prequel movie does have some nudity unlike the full seasons that follow. The prequel sets up the character well and addresses real moral issues (trafficking) but be advised in case you’re watching with young kids around the house. It’s not a series I’d watch with young kids regardless.

FOUR

Another thing keeping the winter fidgets at bay? The kids caught the games bug this winter. They’ve begged for games in the past, but I can’t say anyone enjoyed them. They didn’t understand the rules, fought and sobbed over losing, and broke and scattered all the game pieces. This winter we’ve had many successful rounds of Old Maid, Sneaky Snacky Squirrel, Count Your Chickens, Go Fish and others. It’s wonderful to see Annie play games with her siblings. For a child who struggles with social interaction and sensory overwhelm, structured games are an ideal vehicle for play. She’s able to relax and engage because there are clear rules to follow and she’s strong at tasks that require pattern or match spotting.

FIVE

I’m hitting the stage of winter where I get the winter….not blues, so much, as…discontent? Antsiness over career, home, location, travel, religion, politics, and neighborhood gets compounded by short sleep, illness, sick kids, and solo parenting during travel weeks for my husband. I’ve found the best solution is to get up and do something physical. Declutter and scrub, go for a walk, even just run up and down the stairs putting away laundry.

I’m also brushing up on my piano skills. I took lessons for eleven years but haven’t played much outside of Christmas caroling since the twins began to walk. Piano during naps woke the kids, and outside of nap time there were too many little hands grabbing for the keys. This winter they’re all mature enough to let me play and I often sit down to have a little fun with Bach or Mozart during their lunches (our piano sits in the Dining Room). Mom gets a mental break, and the kids get a little “live” music. Win-win. Really anything creative helps. Carving out the time to create something beautiful or meaningful through art, music, writing, handcrafts, or design always make me happier. I also set up extra art opportunities for the kids in winter. During the summer we’re usually outside all day and the art things barely get a glance. In winter I’ll often pull out some sensory play or art supplies for them and they’ll happily spend half an hour or an hour creating at the kitchen table.

SIX

A good book series also helps me battle the winter doldrums. I picked up the first of Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce novels in mid-January and am now on the eighth. They are completely delightful mysteries following and middle-school aged chemistry genius in 1950s England. Clever, hysterically funny, quick, and just right for the months of snow and ice. The most recent I read felt a bit weaker, but that won’t stop me from finishing the series. They’re best read in order.

SEVEN

We’re working on decorating plans. I’ve found Myquillyn Smith’s Cozy Minimalist Home very helpful and thought-provoking over the winter. Although we have different tastes my mom has a great eye for decorating and I grew up in a home full of her decorating and design books. However, I’ve always struggled to put a room together. The books I’d looked at were not much help. I could see a room I liked but couldn’t move from there to a coherent room of my own. Many of the books were topical (what to put in a bedroom, ideas for gallery walls) or very specific to one style. Cozy Minimalist Home does a good job working through the building blocks of a room whatever your taste, from figuring out major furniture placement to building blocks of rugs, curtains, lighting, and just enough decorating. To be clear, Smith’s decorating style is emphatically not my own, and her writing style drives me a little crazy. It’s the sort of chatty “hey girlfriend!” style that annoys me to no end, and the book could be condensed easily into one very clear and concise two page article. Faults notwithstanding, it’s started the wheels turning and various rooms around the house are underway for the first time since moving in 2.5 years ago.

 

The saying “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without” originated in New England and became popular during World War II. In theory I believe in it. However, we live in a disposable culture. Replacements are cheap and easy to obtain. Often, I don’t take the time to fix something myself. Sometimes that’s based on a dollars-time analysis. For example, my kids wear through their pants at a spectacular rate. Do I patch the knees on four pairs of pants for an hour, or do I spend that hour grabbing four more $2 pairs of kids’ jeans from the thrift store? Usually my instinct is to mend more expensive long-term adult clothes, and replace the kids’ clothes I bought for fifty cents with new (used) fifty cent items. The blog Thrift at Home has me rethinking that approach lately. Even if it hadn’t, there are certain things that are irreplaceable. Exhibit A: Annie’s beloved and tattered bear.

We give each of our kids a stuffed Jellycat animal and a board book for their first Christmas. Annie’s bear has led a rough and tumble life since then. She chews on his nose and paws for comfort, drags him from room to room, and pillows her head on him every night and nap. He’s been rolled in the mud, splattered with food and hair products, crammed in small spaces, poked with sharp instruments, and dropped in the tub, toilet, and sink.

One evening last week Annie let loose a howl of despair followed by wails of “Mommy! Mommy! MOMMMMMYYYY!” Bear’s much chewed paw had finally given way, followed by a significant chunk of stuffing. Somewhere between our last home and this house my box of scraps went missing so I let Annie pick between The Man’s ink-stained khaki pants and an old stained and fraying shirt from the outgrown basket. She picked the floral shirt. I restuffed bear with old pantyhose and handstitched a new paw in place. I also grabbed a skein of brown embroidery thread and restitched Bear’s chewed-off nose. I had to make it a little wider than the old nose thanks to the width of the chewed off area.

I haven’t done any significant sewing since the move. It was fun to do a little something with my hands. And, of course, Annie is delighted to have her best buddy back in her arms.

 

Daybook for the First Week of Spring

Outside my window…


Sunshine is pouring down after a long stretch of cold gray days. [I wrote that two days ago. Now it’s gray and dreary, but at least it’s in the 50s]. We’ve had an odd winter with bitter cold and loads of snow in December followed by a snow-less January and February. Temperatures vacillated between frigid cold and balmy spring-like days. We even had a couple thunderstorms and a tornado watch in the mix. Flower buds popped out along the bare branches on our crap apples and daffodil shoots sprouted all over the yard. Now that it’s March we’ve had another four sticking snows and the kids finally got to use the sleds they received for Christmas. All the plants about to bloom have paused and hunkered back down looking a bit sheepish. If they had feelings I think they’d mirror the embarrassment one feels after standing up for a song in church, looking it up in the hymnal, then glancing around after finding the page to realize everyone else has remained seated. A purely hypothetical scenario not based on personal experience at all, of course. We moved into this house in June so I’m looking forward to seeing the yard in Spring for the first time.

I am thankful…


At the natural history museum. Only Josie seems to grasp the peril of their situation

…that the stomach flu continued on its way after afflicting only Jack. Poor Jack, but lucky us. [Update from two days later: apparently I jinxed myself. Reward: spending half last night up with a vomiting baby].

…for community. We’re glad to be closer to family  but have badly missed our old neighborhood, friends, church, and military community in North Carolina. We’re finally starting to build a few connections after many months of church hunting and it’s a nice feeling.

…for bigger kids. This is the last day of The Man’s latest stretch of ICU call. ICU is still exhaustingl and intense on the home front, but so much easier than it used to be. The Man came home late in the evening yesterday, glanced around the tidied-right-before-bed-with-the-kids house, and commented “You know, the house could never have looked this good in the middle of an ICU week a year ago.” It’s true. 4, 4, 2, and 1 is a very different state than 3, 3, 1, and an infant. When he’s gone for extended stretches it’s still (very) hard work but I don’t constantly feel like I’m scrambling to keep body and soul together. There’s just enough breathing space for little extras like a museum trip, park stop, or store run with all four in tow. I even made it to church solo with all four little kids this morning – a first! They can do things now like eat a picnic lunch in the car with (reasonable) tidiness, skip the occasional nap or snack, or delay a meal half an hour without imploding. Altogether, just a little more flexibility in our days.

I am thinking


about Spring plans outside and inside. Our home has basic landscaping but nothing more. We’d like to plant flower beds, a vegetable garden, some fruit trees, and a few berry bushes but will have to see what time allows. We’re also debating school plans for next year. Continue as we have with private school a couple mornings a week and low-key homeschooling on other days? Public special needs preschool? Full time homeschooling with more room for therapy? Another option?

Learning all the time…


with baking experiments. I love to cook and bake but can easily fall into a rut thanks to the basic necessity of feeding all these people all these meals on all the days. I really haven’t done much with yeast breads in the past. So, in place of the usual familiar dessert baking I’ve been experimenting this Lent with various yeast-based doughs: pizza dough, Smitten Kitchen’s Cheddar rolls (delicious, but I think better with tomato soup than for breakfast), and a couple batches of whole wheat/whole grain bread. Do you have a favorite recipe (or cookbook) for whole wheat bread, the perfect pizza dough, or something else? I’m all ears. We’ve had reasonable success but risen doughs are definitely a learned skill.

Celebrating the liturgical year…


with a low-key Lent. I can’t say we’ve done anything specifically Lenten as a family though we continue as usual with daily Bible reading, prayers, and hymns with the kids. As adults it’s been a quiet but beneficial Lent so far. Not dramatic, but steady. While it’s not specifically Lenten, I’ve also been enjoying richer and more consistent scripture study since Christmas. We’re pretty consistent about reading the Bible as a couple but I’ve struggled with sticking to my own devotions. I’m a fast reader and often find myself skimming through the Bible when I sit down to read it. On the other hand, when I use a formal study the intellectual perfectionist side of me rears its head and I find myself writing exhaustive answers to each question and lost for hours on a section that’s designed to take ten minutes. That’s not bad except that I then get impatient and frustrated and abandon the whole thing. At the end of December I jumped (late) on an Advent-focused scripture writing challenge. I started a new one in January and found I really benefited from the forced slow pace and intense focus of hand-writing a passage instead of just reading it. At the beginning of February I decided to start copying an entire book by hand. I settled on Romans because it’s middle-of-the-road in length, theologically rich, and one I haven’t studied in a while. Because I know myself and my tendency to do things just to check them off the list I didn’t even break it into sections to tackle and check off. Every morning I just read the next passage (usually 3-6 verses), hand copy it, re-read it, then rapidly skim the book back up to that point to place it in context and make sure I’m tracking. I’m happy to say, after years of on-again-of-again personal study that I’ve missed only a couple of days since January first. I’m half way through Romans and am pausing to outline the first eight chapters and review. 6 weeks sounds like a long time for eight chapters but I’m flying compared to my childhood pastor who preached through Romans for two straight years. There really is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

From the kitchen…


as mentioned above, yeast breads. Also, a fair number of meatless meals like potato pancakes, leek and potato soup, salads, black beans, and pasta. I also made crepes for the first time using the Joy of Cooking recipe. I substituted 1/3 whole wheat flour for all purpose. My Mom used to make crepes and I love them so I don’t know why it took me so long to get on the bandwagon. They make a nice Lenten special family breakfast. I skipped the sugar in the batter, spooned warm applesauce down the middle, rolled them up, and sprinkled cinnamon on top. A hit with everyone. Were it not Lent that’d be cinnamon sugar, the way my Mom used to make them for us on cold winter mornings. After Easter there’ll be blintzes and crepes with Nutella and strawberries in our treats lineup.

I am creating…


a scarf. Very. Very. Very. Sloooowly. At this rate it will be ready just in time for the stifling heat of August. Knitting is not a “just like riding a bike” skill for me. I’ve learned and then forgotten how to knit many times: as a small child, an older child, in college, and again while The Man was deployed. At some point after the twins became mobile one crawled to the knitting basket and tangled my work-in-progress. I never finished it. Two more babies followed and all skills were again forgotten. I’m just now getting to the point where there’s a smidgen of breathing room for handcrafts. Courtesy of YouTube I’m now back to knitting Continental Style. I’m making this pattern without the contrasting center stripe or letters.

I am working on…


bits of spring cleaning, as time allows.

I am going


to lots and lots of therapy appointments. Physical therapy for me, feeding therapy for Jenny (the end is in sight after almost three years!), Speech, OT, and Behavioral Therapy for Annie. In addition there are specialist visits for various children and routine pediatrician and dental checkups needed. I don’t really like being a family that has someplace to be every day of the week but right now it’s necessary. Whenever possible I treat appointments as special 0ne-on-one time with a child. We chat in the car, play music of the kid’s choice, and read books or play one-on-one together in the waiting room. Often the long drives are also a good time for me to catch up on my podcasts queue or listen to an audiobook if the child isn’t in a chatty mood.

I am hoping


to prepare well in advance for a weekend trip to New York. Practically, though, who am I kidding ;).

I am praying…


for our three older kids and their first families. Adoption is complicated and messy. A blessing, yes, but also a tremendous loss.

I am pondering

Jack’s face of concentration. Ha!


special needs parenting. I’m reading as much as I can get my hands on. There’s a wealth of (often contradictory) information out there. It’s hard to take that flood of information in, filter it, and decide what’s best for a child who doesn’t yet have much say. Unfortunately many Christian parenting books take a one-size-fits-all approach to parenting that may work with typically developing children but is poorly suited to kids with neurological differences.  It’s humbling as a parent who thought I knew everything before having kids (and frequently judged others’ parenting) to realize that much of our kids’ behavior and growth cannot, and sometimes should not, be controlled by us. It’s a constant fight to focus on what a child really needs and not the way others around us are judging the child or our parenting.

I am reading


Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck as an audiobook read by Gary Sinise. It’s wonderful, and Sinise has the perfect voice for it. Even if you’re not a Steinbeck fan I highly recommend this account of his casual journey through 40 states. He combines dry wit and poetic description with detached observation and a warm interest in the people he meets. I love a good armchair travel book but frequently cringe at travel writer’s scornful summary of the people they encounter. I can’t imagine how the people Bill Bryson or Paul Theroux describe must feel at the authors’ sardonic assessments of their lives. Steinbeck manages to describe foibles without mockery and approaches others on his travels with warm interest. I’m also reading Madeleine L’Engle’s first memoir A Circle of Quiet which is enjoyable and thought provoking. She’s incredibly well-read so each page brings up some other book I should also read. Dangerous fodder.

I am listening to


Podcasts, whenever I can. When I was growing up my parents frequently had the radio on. Classical music, talk radio, or the news in the car, often Old Time Radio or Car Talk on Saturday mornings. I almost never turn the radio on but I think Podcasts are my equivalent. It’s nice to have a grownup talking to me about something interesting as I do the dishes or fold laundry. We’re also listening to classical music quite a bit as the kids usually request “singing” in the car and one can tolerate only so much of Elizabeth Mitchell or the OkeeDokee Brothers. Right now it’s Haydn’s masses in the car and Beethoven in the CD player at home.

I am hearing


The washing machine gently swishing, laundry tumbling ’round the drying, and an anemic burbling from our increasingly useless coffee maker. The baby spent half the night vomiting through multiple rooms so I’m in wash-and-sterilize-everything mode.

I am struggling


with my hair. Which sounds a bit silly and vain but I’ve never been a hair or makeup person. All my life I’ve just washed every couple days, combed or brushed, and tossed it back in a bun, braid, or ponytail without blow drying, styling, or products. The very hard water in our new home is wreaking havoc on my hair though and it constantly looks unkempt. Dry strands, frizz, and unevenness abound. The hard water doesn’t really bother us in any other way so I’m wondering if there are better product choices vs. investing vast sums in a water softener.

Clicking around


Well, not much really. I’m doing my best to cut back on social media in particular and screen time in general. Which, bonus, allows time for things like writing and reading!

Around the house…

SuperDad comforts four fussing children at once.

we’re making plans for painting a few rooms. We haven’t made any changes to the house and have only hung one picture since we moved in Hopefully we can get a few small projects done before warmer temperatures pull our living outside. We’re adding in some more consistent chores for the big kids now that they’re four. We’ve always had them help, but are adding in a few more regular jobs at regular times for them like vacuuming the dining room after meals and a set whole house cleanup every evening. They’re still at the age where it’s more work to supervise them than to do it ourselves, but it’ll be worth it in the long run.

One of my favorite things…


The quiet hour or two before the kids get up. I’ve been consistently getting up at 5:00 or 5:30 since New Years with only a couple of later days from illness or missed alarms. I consider the earliest hours my personal time. For this introvert it’s a key window to read, eat a quiet breakfast, do my Bible study, exercise, or knit. Sometimes I squeeze in a chore or two, but I don’t feel obligated to use that time for household purposes. I find when I start the day with something mentally fulfilling I’m a much better spouse and parent throughout the day.

A few plans for this week…

About typical for our “selfies for six” attempts. Seven if your count Annie’s beloved bear.

Therapies and specialist appointments. Dinner with the pastor’s family tonight. Sending off picture and email updates to the kids’ birth families.

A little peek at my day…


A sick baby overnight means a freshly-bathed baby with fabulous hair in the morning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

February Mantel

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Christmas is wonderful, but it always leaves me longing for a clean, bright, and freshly decluttered home. I love decorating for the holiday. I also love how open and clear our home looks after everything’s boxed up again.

Despite all the best advice of decorating magazines, at this point in our lives we have very few “styled” surfaces. I keep a few things out on the fireplace mantel, the piano, and one cupboard. Since having kids I’ve gradually stored or discarded our extra decor. You’ll notice most decorating magazines don’t feature homes with four kids three and under! I believe in house-proofing the kids versus just childproofing the house, but I also like spaces where our little people are free to play without requiring constant vigilance (name that character). I found the best decorating tip for this stage of life on the Dyno-mom blog. She has 11 kids, and lives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The Keweenaw easily sees 28 feet of snowfall each winter. Frequent storms keep her family cooped up in a relatively small house for many months a year. Her advice for non-practical decorations is just…don’t. If you’re maxed out on childcare you don’t have the mental space for clutter and visual distractions. Not everyone is wired the same, but I’ve found her advice true for this stage of parenting. I try to choose attractive options for the practical things we need like lamps or couch throws, but avoid putting things on a surface just because it’s bare. My three year olds take care of that!

The fireplace used to be dark gray and pink stone with a boxy dark ’80s mantel. I didn’t have the energy or resources to replace it so I did the next best thing and painted it all a clean bright white a few years back. My mantel picks right now:

  • Pillar candles and holders (vases? chimneys? what would you call them?) from Hobby Lobby. My favorite go-to candle option with small kids. I love candles in the winter months or at dinner. These are the basic unscented candles from Hobby Lobby. I pick them up during 50% off sales and they last forever. I lit the last set almost nightly for…four months? six? before they burnt down. The holders make them hard for the kids to tip, prevent wax spills on the furniture or tablecloth, and make it harder for little kids to accidentally lean over into the flame. They also don’t get hot like narrower glass holders would. Also, on that appalling morning when you come downstairs and realize you never blew out the candles last night you’ll be happy to know the holder makes it very hard for anything else to catch fire while you sleep. We have one pair downstairs and one set upstairs.
  • Fisherman’s creel. I love nice baskets and spots of natural material around our home. They’re practical and pretty at the same time. This one contains the remote, matches, or other living room odds n’ ends that would float around the house or get eaten by babies.
  • Flowers. It’s hard to escape your genes. My mother’s flowers seemed so boring as a kid, but flowers in the house make me smile now. They’re beautiful and cheery, but they’re not clutter or permanent. I love a pretty bouquet, but for best return on investment it’s hard to beat a $5 pot of flowers from the grocery store. A good one blooms for weeks before heading out to the compost heap. My only advice is the lesson my Mom taught me when I was six: don’t get the plant with the most flowers – it’s almost done blooming and will die soon. Get the plant with the most buds. Thanks to Christmas checks from relatives I have a pot of hyacinths in the kitchen, another in our bedroom, and a pot of daffodils in the living room right now. They’re sitting in a bowl I’ve had since high school.
  • Painting. My parents had a few paintings inherited from my great grandmother when I was growing up. Because they were always around I barely registered their existence. My husband re-sold me on the value of “real art” and every few years we find something we love at a thrift store, antique shop, or gallery. We ran across this old portrait during an otherwise disastrous trip to Savannah (the Army cancelled our leave and ordered us home). The artist is unknown and it’s not in great condition, but that doesn’t bother us – it made it much cheaper! I’d wanted a portrait for years and I love this one.

What’s making you happy in your home this season? Any decorating tricks that work for you with small kids or many kids in the house?

Halloween 2015

 

Advance apologies to all the grandparents for the low-quality photos. We were trying not to lose four kids in the crowds, and everybody pasted on a stoic look every time a camera appeared.

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Our town hosts a downtown Trick-or-Treat the day before Halloween during the afternoon. It’s ideal if you have young children. We took the kids out then so we wouldn’t have to juggle walking the neighborhood, handing out candy, and getting over-sugared kids to bed in one evening. Annie kept politely trying to give a piece of candy to each person who offered her one. Jack literally started shaking in terror when he saw a preschooler dressed as Spiderman; it never occured to me until then that he hasn’t seen a mask before and didn’t know what had happened to that kid’s head. After a couple stops they got the idea and started having fun. On Halloween proper I baked oatmeal-raisin cookies to make things a little special. The Man and the twins raked up the maple leaves in the front yard (or rather, the Man raked and the twins “raked”). We handed out candy and the kids loved standing at our door watching the Trick-or-Treaters after dark. Once we’d packed everyone off to bed the adults sipped hot cider and read while the last of the candy hunters headed home outside. We never did carve the pumpkin, but there was just enough special in the weekend to make it fun for everyone.

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This year the twins were old enough to get that something special was in the wings. A huge part of my childhood pleasure in holidays was the anticipation, not just the actual day. As a child your birthday party may only last two hours but you revel in the weeks of buildup planning games or food or picking party plates and cups at the store with Mom. Advent and weeks of making and baking build up to Christmas. Lent and Holy Week set the scene for Easter. Grocery shopping, pie baking, and washing the best dishes precede Thanksgiving. Trick-or-Treating is over in an hour or two but as a kid I spent weeks brainstorming, sketching, and pulling together Halloween costumes.

Did you make your own Halloween costumes when you were growing up or did you buy them? It feels like Halloween costumes have shifted a lot in the last couple decades. In my kindergarten class’s pictures almost every kid wore a homemade costume – some handsewn just for the holiday, some in a sports uniforms or odds n’ ends from the dress up box. This year about 95% of the kids who came to our door wore store-bought outfits.My husband tells me he always had premade costumes back in the 1980s, though, so perhaps it’s just a regional difference. We very nearly joined the storebought ranks this year because I thought about costumes but took no action until the day before Halloween. At that point the only ones left in the twins’ size at Walmart were superheroes (they have no idea what those are yet), Disney princess costumes (also no idea), or devil temptress outfits (FOR TODDLERS?). I grabbed $6 in supplies from Walmart’s tiny sewing section and threw together simple costumes with an hour of quick snipping and hand sewing; that homeschooled childhood spent in quilting circles finally came in handy! In the end it was surprisingly fun to use the creative part of my brain again and the twins had fun watching the process and loved wearing their costumes.

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Robin Hood: Jack has been pretending he’s Robin Hood (“Wobin Hood”) since we watched the old animated Disney Robin Hood movie for a family movie night. I folded a piece of green cloth in half, cut it to his width, snipped a neckhole at the fold, and cut the bottom edges in a zig zag. We wrapped it with a brown belt. He wore a green shirt, his sister’s green leggings, and his brown church boots. I quickly handstitched a simple Robin Hood hat out of two sheets of green felt and added a red feather from construction paper. I stitched together a quiver out of a sheet of brown felt and some twine, but decided against a bow since I wanted his hands free while we walked around.

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Bear: Annie loves bears but does not like being bogged down by extras and accessories so I kept her outfit simple. She wore brown pants and a brown shirt from her dresser. I painted a bear nose on her face with one of the $1 Halloween makeup kits. I looked at a couple pictures of bears for ear shape and spacing, folded a piece of brown felt in half, and cut out the right shape for ears at the fold so I could bend it over a pipe cleaner and sew each ear together for double-thickness and stability (too long and floppy and the ears would say “puppy”, too big and round and they’d broadcast “mouse”) ). In retrospect I should’ve just sewn them over a headband. My original plan to twist the pipe cleaner into her hair didn’t hold, so I ended up just wrapping it around a headband anyhow.

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Cowgirl: We weren’t going to dress Jenny up but realized at the last minute that her birthmom might like a costume photo. Jeans, a handmedown shirt, pink cowboy boots we’d received as a baby gift, and a fabric scrap for a bandana did the trick. No hat, but she hates hats anyhow.

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Baby: This one was complicated. We dressed the baby as a baby.

 

 

 

 

Coming Soon…

That big project I mentioned back in July? We were working on completing our adoption homestudy and profile. Last week a birthmother picked us to adopt her newborn twins. She is due in six weeks, expecting a little boy and a little girl. A birthmother can always change her mind, but for now we’re cautiously optimistic, very excited, and a little bit terrified.

How we got here is a long story, but the story of this summer is a simple one: chaos. Fingerprinting, FBI background checks, Sheriff’s background checks, doctors appointments, financial information in triplicate, courthouse, contracts, certified marriage license, birth certificates, letters of recommendation, child abuse checks, mad cleaning, multiple social worker visits and interviews, money transfers, collecting photos, scanning, utility bills, estimates, life stories, editing, tax forms, financial reviews, overnight mail, email, long phone calls, family descriptions, addresses, forms and forms and more forms, writer’s cramp, interviews with other adoptive families, marriage evaluation, required reading, required courses, research, talks with lawyers, long car drives… All that on top of our full-time jobs in a compressed three-week schedule due to an unexpected early opportunity.

Then, after all the rush: waiting (and paying bills). At the end of the waiting, one longed-for phone call. After that phone call? More running around like headless chickens. Our adoption agency recommends against buying many baby supplies in advance because birthmothers can change their minds. On the day you receive the babies, you’re also handed a “go bag” with basic supplies and clothes for their first week. Friends from our church are filling in the gap with loaner and hand-me-down newborn clothes, blankets, swings, and the like. We’re channeling our “nesting” into shifting furniture, talking to lawyers, and completing the pre-baby mandated classes like newborn care and Infant CPR.

Kind internet friends, will you please pray for the birthmother, the babies, and us?