Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Big Christmas Post

Greetings, family and friends!  Yep, things were suspiciously quiet around here last week, and that was because, after Shaun and Carly went home in August, I had a hankering for more family gatherings and thought, "Wouldn't it be awesome if we stayed with family for Christmas?"

Which, in August, doesn't seem like too big a deal; but, come December and wintry road conditions, is actually a very big deal.  Fortunately, the weather held in our favor (although we were racing a storm on the way to our location) and we were able to travel to and from our families' homes in safety.  I've been able to unpack and unwind enough from the trip now to take some time to glance at the photos taken during the jaunt north, and couldn't resist sharing some with you all.

My dad opened up his very own restaurant this year, and we used our drive up as an excuse to finally take a peek at how he's spending his days:

The grand tour of the kitchen.
The kids were especially intrigued by the enormous dishwasher.

His restaurant is called Tumbleweeds Bar & Grill, and it's located in Mattawa, Washington (or Desert Aire...the town naming is a little confusing).  The food was really, really good, which wasn't surprising at all because I've grown up eating what he cooks.

It was just plain good to see the Ol' Man again.

We traveled onwards to the Seattle area, where we stayed at my aunt's home, and it was so much fun to just hang out with them.  We ate loads of sugar, drank Diet Coke until our hair buzzed, stayed up way too late, and the kids had no shortage of board game partners.  It was just good.

We also spent some time with my mother's side of the family, in the form of attending the big extended family Christmas party and also attending my mom's and my grandmother's homes for Christmas Eve traditions.

While at the big Christmas party, we managed to capture a great FIVE GENERATION photo:

Yes, my children know their great great grandmother.  Isn't that amazing?  I remember how big of a deal my mom and grandmother made all the time while I was growing up about being able to take "four generations" pictures, and now we get to do five generations.

Great Great Grandma is a whopping 98 years old.

Let's take a moment to think about all the things this woman has seen happen in her lifetime--she was a child during World War I, a teen during the Roaring 20's, a young mother during the Great Depression, and still bearing children during World War II because that's how long it takes to give birth to NINE children.

Yeah, I KNOW.  She's amazing.  And when you sit down to talk to her now, she's still "in there."  No foggy mind at all; it's such a blessing to have her here in her entirety.  This lady has some serious spunk.  I adore her.

Santa attends our family Christmas party, because we're that awesome, and Monkeyboy was absolutely shocked that the Big Guy brought him a gift.

For Monkeyboy.

Who wasn't at his house.

Who was far away from his house.

Santa found him.

He couldn't believe it.

 My mom took her Grandma duties seriously:

And then there was a day with my bestie, Denise.  And I have no pictures.  Which makes me sad until I remember that there just wasn't any time to take pictures with all the fabric and yarn shopping, the movie-watching, and the waffle eating.  It was a day stuffed with awesomeness.  Oh, I miss my friend!

And then we spent lots of time with Granny and Grandpa Harry.

And the food.

We introduced the Brookelets to the fun that is the game "Apples to Apples," cheered for the Seahawks, marvelled at one of my cousin's ability to put together 1,000 piece puzzles in a single day, and put Michael to work installing electronics.

On the way home we also managed a visit to one of Michael's brothers and enjoyed a nice dinner and quick chat with them before the Brookelets absolutely lost control of their wits and required swift removal from the premises.

Which brings us home, where I took two days to just sit and stare into space and catch up with my life.  Whew!

So yeah, I'm posting about Christmas on New Year's Eve, when everyone else is posting about reflecting on the year and making goals and all that soul-searching stuff.  Apparently I'm a week behind everyone else.  Expect profound posts next week, I'm still grinning stupidly over Christmas.  It was that good.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Thankful for our Village

Obligatory photo with their piano teacher!
We live in a great neighborhood.  I confess that I complain a little bit about how close the houses are to each other, and how it can sometimes feel like everyone is watching each other, but then we have moments where I realize what a huge blessing it is to have all those people in our lives.

My children's piano teacher lives down the street, which makes going to lessons super simple.  Plus, because we attend church together and serve together (she's the Primary President, I'm the Primary chorister), I know what kind of person she is and I don't worry about my kids being away from me while they're at lessons.  PLUS, her kids are my kids' ages and they get to play together while the other has their lesson.

And then we have two recitals each year, where we get to gather with what seems like half the neighborhood and revel in the musical advancement of our "village."  I've been allowed to watch these neighborhood kids mature from shaking on the bench at the first recital, to playing at frantic speed just to get it over with at their second recitals, to playing chords and showing the beginnings of musical interpretation at this last recital.

This was Penguin's first recital, as she only started taking lessons this past summer.  Penguin was the very first performer on the list, and she was very nervous.  I love to watch Penguin when she's nervous about something because she refuses to give up, ever.  She might shake like a leaf, but she'll lock her knees and stand her ground and get through whatever it is she wants to get through.  She's that quiet little person who's content to just watch what's going on around her, but when action is needed, she'll rise to the occasion.  She makes me so proud, and she didn't disappoint at the recital.  She played all three of her songs from memory, and remembered to smile when she walked to and from the piano.  This girl gets the job done.

This was recital number three for Bluebird, who approached it with all the swaggering of an old pro.  She's confident in her abilities, and she also did very well with her three pieces.  There are three other children her age in the "piano group," and two of them started taking lessons a year or two ahead of her and are working out of a higher book, so they played more difficult pieces.  I watched her face while they played, and tried to hide my smile as I saw some definite expressions of competition wash over her.  After the recital I heard her mumbling to herself that she needed to work harder so she could get through her current (new) book and catch up to them.  One part of me says, "Go get 'em, girl!" and another part of me says, "Don't turn everything into a competition.  Those kids are your friends, not people to conquer."

I'm so thankful we live where we live.  It's great to watch all these kids grow up from babyhood together, and watch their talents come to light.  There are so many parents in our neighborhood who are a part of this "loving village" mindset, and I'm so glad my kids can see their examples of love and hard work with their own families.  It's really something special.

And I'm thankful for this guy:

He'll unhesitatingly admit that one of the reasons he married me was for my musical talents.  He had decided, as a teenager, that music was something important for his future children, and when he met me he thought he'd found someone who could help him achieve that goal.  He's never grumbled about lesson fees, or having to hear the kids practice over and over, or the time it takes to go to recitals, or the "motivational" trips to the music store to buy some new music when the kids get stuck in a musical rut.  He praises their efforts, and rewards them after recitals with lunch at their favorite restaurant to celebrate their jobs well done.  He knows that their musical education will bring them great blessings, just as much as the other parts of their education, and encourages them to take their lessons seriously.  I just love him so much for all that he does, and all that he helps me do.  We're such a great team.

He also stands behind me and makes silly faces to help get the girls to smile when I'm taking their picture:

It's just another part of my life that's ridiculously awesome.

Thank you neighbors, thank you Michael, thank you children.

Thank you, Heavenly Father, for a blessed life.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Thanksgiving Pictures!

Do you, if you happen to be a blogger, find yourself battling between the urge to go overboard with taking pictures, and the urge to just relax and experience what's going on around you instead?  I do.  The latter frame of mind has been winning this year, so there's not much in the way of photos to show what we've been up to.  (As my cousin would say, "Sorry not sorry.")

Imagine my surprise when I uploaded last week's school pictures and found a couple of Thanksgiving shots!

2013 was a big year, Thanksgiving-wise, for Bluebird.  It was the first year she was put in sole charge of a dish.  I handed over the reins of The Green Bean Casserole, and she took to her task with great solemnity:

(It turned out well, which is saying something because I don't even like Green Bean Casserole.)

And, on top of the surprise of finding Thanksgiving pictures, imagine my surprise at finding myself in one of the pictures, peeling potatoes with Miss Bluebird:

I sort of love no-makeup photos of women.  I don't know why, I just do.  I try to include them so my kids can see them.  I don't know why that's important to me either.  Painting the entire portrait of a person, I guess.

Monkeyboy was excited about Thanksgiving dinner, particularly the Caesar Salad:

And there was some Christmas crafting after the dinner was finished.  (Cinnamon Spice Salt Dough ornament garland, in case you're wondering.)

Holiday or no holiday, that's a good day in Brooketopia.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Weekly Report: Weeks 15 & 16
Hello, Christmas Break!

We have arrived at the magical land of Halfway There.  I love this place.  The kids have earned their Christmas Break this year--the amount of work that these girls have accomplished in the past three months is phenomenal.

Somewhere along the journey, we've morphed into a five-days-a-week homeschooling family, and we are kicking some serious butt in the amount of ground we can cover.  I just never felt compelled to do five days a week in past years because we were able to finish all our work in 3-4 days.  There was a part of me that wanted to push them ahead, and then I was all like, "I'm going to regret that in twenty years."  So I backed off, made sure they were slightly ahead of grade level, and called it good.  Looking back, still being very close to it all, I'm glad I did that.

But this school year has a different feel to it--Bluebird starts the fifth grade next year, and that's a big deal.  Since I follow the Classical Philosophy of Education, I call fifth grade "middle school" because it's the start of the second stage of learning--the "Logic" or "Dialectic" stage.  With the knowledge that she'll be adding in the study of logic and another foreign language (plus a bump up in the difficulty of her assigned reading),and that I'll be adding in a first grader and a preschooler next year, that makes this year sort of crucial in setting up the foundation for a good transition to the next stage of her educational journey.  (Oh, yeah...Penguin starts her study of Latin next year as well...and that was a rocky path with Bluebird, so I'm preparing for some pebbles there as well.)  There's going to be a whole lot of teaching and learning going on, and I need to spread it out across more days so we have a shot at finishing it all before dinner.  As it stands right now, we finish up with hands-on teaching by lunch, and then Bluebird has some independent work that she does in the afternoon.

So my expectations are a little higher this year--and they have risen to the challenge like shining stars.  I'm proud of them!  It's been a good school year thus far.  I am really, really trying to get things set up to allow us a fantastic Winter Quarter as well...there's just so much potential in a winter quarter!

Junebug finished Saxon Kindergarten math:

She'll start first grade math in January.  She's very proud.

Everyone else is near the halfway marks in just about every subject.  Except history.  Bluebird lost the book, and I know it's in the house and refuse to spend money on a new one, but have resigned myself to the reality of really needing the book before it will probably be found.  Sigh.  Hello, Amazon.com.

Quesnel continues to interrupt Penguin's lessons:

And then goes off by herself to scowl when I finally shoo her away:

Junebug, with no structured math lessons, gets to play math games, which she loves:

We're on Christmas Break now, so no weekly reports for a few weeks!  Enjoy your holidays, whatever version it is that you celebrate!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

New Pattern: Harmony Wave Cowl
FREE Download until December 12, 2013!

My second published pattern to date!  This cute little thing was designed for a scarf and cowl contest at Harmony, one of my local yarn shops.

Yes indeed, it is crocheted.  And it is lovely--I crocheted it in Blue Sky Alpacas' Sport-Weight, and it is completely luscious-feeling against the skin!  I am definitely making more of these!

I've named it the Harmony Wave Cowl, in honor of Harmony's contest, and for the obvious wavy stitch pattern.  It's a quick pattern; I whipped this up over the course of two days of teaching school.

The original creation is on display at the Harmony shop until the end of the scarf and cowl contest on December 12.

In the spirit of the season, I'm offering this pattern for free until the close of the contest at Harmony.
Just hop on over to Ravelry, add the pattern to your cart, enter the coupon code HarmonyHoliday2013, and you'll receive one download of the PDF pattern for free!*
Share the news, and enjoy your holiday season!

*Offer is good for one individual download of Harmony Wave Cowl pattern until 11:59 PM MST, December 12, 2013.  Please visit Cara Brooke's design store on Ravelry.com to complete your transaction.  Registration for a free Ravelry account may be required for redemption of offer.