Thursday, September 12, 2019

Home is Where the Grass Is

To anyone who has read this blog for more than a few entries,
it's no secret that I have somewhat of an obsession with grass.
Growing up, I took for granted the fact that I could lay in the shade without a care in the world,
breathe in the smell of freshly cut grass,
run and play barefoot,
and enjoy a beautiful, green landscape for most of the year.

When we lived in Texas, we spent very little time in our yard,
primarily because there were so many fire ants and other mean critters,
but the grass (St. Augustine) was so rough and poky that it wouldn't have been much fun to play in, anyway.
For three blissful years in Utah we had a lush yard with some annoyances of dry spots and crab grass patches,
but our backyard was a place we spent SO much time together as a family (Fescue and Kentucky Bluegrass blend).
Here in Tennessee, the grass (Bermuda) is an ugly shade of brown with NO green whatsoever for at least 6 months of the year. Even when it is green, it is only from a distance--upon closer examination, half the grass is actually in its dead state, so it's a very light/tan-flecked green. Each blade of grass is divided into multiple strands as it grows, so the texture is more like bushes than the soft grass of my childhood. And yes, there are bugs a-plenty! Moles dig up the ground, leaving large holes and bare patches behind. And it won't grow in the shade--strange that it is the grass of choice in a place where there are so many trees!

Can you tell I'm a bit passionate about it?
Trust me, just about everyone I know who is from Utah who lives here gets almost as excited about it as I do.
I have researched grass to find out what kinds of grass can grow well in Tennessee so that, if we were to buy a house here, we could perhaps convert our yard into something we love.
As silly as it probably sounds, especially to my native Tennesseean friends who don't know what they are missing out on, the grass and lovely backyards are one of the biggest things I miss about living in Utah. When I walk into our half-dead backyard and am met with a 20 foot long strip of pure sand by the patio where the grass won't grow because it's always shady, when I nearly sprain my ankle because I fall into a hole, and when the kids track dirt and dead grass in all day long, I almost pull my hair out with exasperation!
And during the long, hot, humid summers, I find myself desperately longing for the cool Summer evenings we spent together in our backyard in Utah.
Living in Utah brings frustrations, too, but I think it will always feel like home to me.

A few weeks ago, I was feeling particularly heartsick about being away from our families and so many other great things Utah has to offer.
I found myself fighting tears all weekend...
it didn't help that I had been attempting to can peaches and they were mushy and mealy and nasty and the skins wouldn't blanch off and I ached for the huge, firm, smooth, luscious Elbertas that grew in an orchard just up the street from us!
I went to Church with a heavy heart.
After Church, Sam had a meeting, so I gathered all the kids and asked if they wanted to walk over to a picnic area by the temple to wait.

Upon our arrival, I looked down and gasped.
"You guys!!! It's UTAH GRASS!!!" I exclaimed to the kids.
They immediately sank to their knees and began rolling in the grass, laying in the grass, and chewing on the grass as I looked up at the temple with fresh tears stinging my eyes--this time spurred on by joy.
Of course the temple would be the place that would make me feel at home!

I distinctly felt Heavenly Father tell me, "I see you. I am aware of your struggles. And I love you."
That moment became instantly sacred to me.

I don't know where our "forever" home will be...or if we'll ever stop moving every few years.
But no matter where I go in the world, I can always feel at home when I feel my Heavenly Father's love.
And the temple is one of the greatest places to feel that the most clearly.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

First Day of School 2019

We have settled into our new routine and the school year is going well.
All of the boys love their teachers--
Talmage and Lincoln got exactly who they were hoping for,
and Wesley really didn't care who he got.
He is so chill that any teacher will be great as long as they don't yell and scream at the class.
Lincoln heard at Kindergarten round-up that one teacher liked to play jokes,
and ever since then he has hoped he would get her.
And he did!
He has loved school, but was NOT happy when today a little girl at his table said she wanted to marry him.
Talmage's teacher was specifically chosen (according to his 3rd grade teacher) to give him a challenge, and so far she is doing a great job. His teachers do things like math games via Skype with school classes in different countries and teaching green screen and stop animation!

As I attended Back to School night, I marveled at everything the teachers have to keep straight.
They remember which students are absent throughout the day and set their work aside for them while keeping track of every single student who is not absent and notice the moment someone isn't where he/she ought to be.
They remember students' allergies and ensure that no food or other items brought into the classroom will cause anyone allergic reactions.
They remember how each student is getting home, and keep track of any changes made in the normal mode of transportation for each student.
They are aware of learning disabilities and help the kids who are falling behind while providing a challenge for the kids who are ready for more.
They remember unique circumstances that exist in each student's home life and provide needed support and sensitivity.
They remember which kids are on medication and send them to the office to take their medicine as needed.
They answer constant e-mails from parents throughout the day.
They celebrate the birthday of each student.
They remember social issues that exist within the class members and structure seating charts and other classroom activities accordingly.
They have a plan in place for how to protect their entire class in the event of disaster or crisis.
They take a personal interest in each student and show them love throughout the school year and beyond.
AND, they do all that on top of their day-to-day teaching, wherein there is an expectation for creativity, high test scores, student engagement, and cute bulletin boards besides.

As I considered all they do, I was overwhelmed.
Honestly, it feels like a lot just to keep track of 20+ children and make sure they are all safe.
I am so grateful for my kids' teachers and all they do to help them learn and grow.

(I realized Wesley's top button was fastened after I took his pictures...he looks like such a cute little schoolboy!)
And Maxwell had to get in the picture too, of course, pajamas and all.

Some of the fun of the summer:
-Talmage made "the mantis movie," a fully automatic PowerPoint presentation that is 264 slides long! He made all of the graphics on his own and wrote lots of text captions and mouth bubbles and the different pictures move across the screen in various ways, as he animated the whole thing.
-He also worked on learning Japanese and started learning Scratch, a beginner coding language.
-I did a book club with the boys and we had fun expanding our horizons in our reading. I plan to do this every Summer, and I definitely learned a lot for next time.
-Wesley chose to study nature and wilderness survival for his independent learning.
-Lincoln raced through dozens of chapter books right along with his brothers.
-The boys improved their swimming skills and Talmage and Wesley can now do flips and other tricks off the diving board.
-The little ones made us laugh. Lots and lots and lots.
-And bonus, we didn't die of the heat/humidity!

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Back to School Feast 2019

The Saturday before school started,
we had our annual back-to-school feast!
I had seen this idea from several different sources before Talmage started Kindergarten,
but I think the idea was started mainly by popular blogger and plane crash survivor, Stephanie Nielson.
In any case, it has become a highly anticipated event in our household and the kids say it's one of their favorite traditions! So thank you to others for sharing their traditions and inspiring our own!

We typically keep our feast fairly simple.
I let the kids each choose a favorite food for me to make,
and then I put out simple decorations and gift them each with a new book.
This year the kids asked for:
-Baked Potatoes (Talmage)
-Scrambled Eggs (Wesley--that one shocked me, as I didn't think he even liked them!)
-"Bunny Pasta" (Lincoln)
-Supplemented with our favorite honeycrisp apples and Caprese Paninis for Sam and I

The kids have such simple tastes that the food preparation didn't require much effort from me.
I decided on a primary colors/school theme and picked up some decorations from the Dollar Store and scattered ABC cookies around the table. I covered the table with brown paper again and set out jars filled with new markers for them to doodle while we ate (that has been one of their favorite parts of the feast!). With their wrapped books on their plates, IZZE sparkling fruit juice and mugs, and a couple of school lunch-type snacks at each spot, the kids were blown away when they came down from their bedroom, where I had banished them to play Legos while I got set up.
I was getting comments like, "You are the BEST MOM in the world!!!" and "Oh, WOW, this is so AMAZING!!" They were just giddy with excitement! It made me so happy to see how much they loved my small efforts to make things festive.

Looking at the doodles all over the table afterward is so fun!
Sam drew this funny octopus representation of a mom...

I responded with a goofy love-potion scientist.

Lincoln took off with our silly drawings for each other and made a version of his own that I just adore! Super hero mom and dad with capes and love potions of our own! I love the idea of creating a climate of love together in which our children can thrive. I thought his drawing was the most adorable representation of that goal.

Benson was a ham, as usual:

After dinner, the kids opened their books and then we introduced our new family theme for the year!
Last year I felt strongly impressed that we should emphasize AGENCY as we teach our children. While they can't always control their circumstances, they can control their actions and they NEVER have to play the part of a victim. They can choose to be kind, to remember their divine nature regardless of what others do or say, and to make their spirits triumph over their bodies.
I was pleased as punch when, a month or two ago, one of the boys commented that "Mommy loves talking about agency."
Meanwhile, Sam's pet topic over the past year has been proactive behavior. He is frequently complimenting proactive behavior from the boys and teaching them to do what they should do, without being asked.

So between these two passions, we thought an appropriate theme would be,

"Be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of [our] own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness."

The kids have been especially aware of their proactive behavior over the course of the last few weeks and we enjoy discussing what they did each week in Family Home Evening after we say our theme.

We ended our evening with chocolate chip salted caramel smart cookies (cookie ice cream sandwiches). It was one of those nights that counters the many, many frustrations that exist in family life.
I think that's one reason I love our little traditions so much.
They allow us to step back from the squabbles, the messes, the constant broken things, the crying, the stress, the lack of sleep
and see the beauty of our life together as a family.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

The Everyday Moments of Summer

I'm almost done playing catch-up from the Summer.
Here is another big photo dump of random moments with our family!

Grandma Sue gave Maxwell these stickers. It was so cute to discover him hidden away in the playroom, going to town decorating himself with stickers.

We loved going on family bike rides all Summer long! I decided I should probably invest in a book about the flora and fauna of the Mid-South, as I am constantly admiring plants on our adventuring and wishing I knew the names of them! For the longest time I called these beautiful trees "puff ball trees," but I just learned they are Mimosa trees. They are some of my favorites and they are growing wild all over the place here! (And you Utah people...they can supposedly grow there, too!)

We live on such a great street. There are several families with kids who go to school with the boys and there is a constant flow of kids bouncing from house to house in the after-school hours. One hot Summer day, these fun neighbors knocked on the door and asked if the boys wanted to come play with water balloons with them. They had filled up over 700 and the kids all had a ball attacking each other with balloons and eating ice cream cones afterward. I'm so grateful for sweet neighbors!

We enjoyed one of the final days of the Lego exhibit at the zoo! We always love visiting the "Creatures of the Night" exhibit, which is only lit with black lights in order to help the animals be awake during the day so we can see them active! There are all kinds of animals I've never heard of in there and they are fascinating to observe. And when we went to the farm section, we were delighted to discover a new glass honey bee display where we could watch the bees, busily at work making honey!

IKEA has fun kids' activities once a week in the Summer. On this day, the kids got to make their own plates! I loved their fun designs. We were told that we could just run the plates through the dishwasher and the marker would stay, but unfortunately that wasn't the case. I opened the dishwasher to find colored flecks all over the dishes and the marker almost 100% off the plates! It was a fun little outing regardless.

We finished reading The Book of Mormon again as a family and had our traditional party! We had a fun themed dinner with different food that went along with different scriptures and then we played a game of Cranium with Book of Mormon-themed questions and activities Sam and I wrote. The boys drew pictures of scripture stories and hung them around the dining room for an art display. We had such a fun time!
For those curious:
-water (Mosiah 18:8)
-yogurt with honey (2 Nephi 26:25)
-jerky (1 Nephi 17:12)
-crackers, constructed into a tower with a King Benjamin figurine on top (Mosiah 2:7)
-fruit-kabobs (1 Nephi 8:24)
-Hershey's Nuggets (Ether 10:23)
-whole grain chips (Mosiah 9:9)
-cheeseburgers (Enos 1:3)
-Pure Crystal Light flavor packets for the water (Alma 5:19)

We've loved our study of the New Testament this year as well, using the remarkable resource "Come, Follow Me!"

This is what it always looks like when Talmage finds a bug at a park...random kids all gathered around in a circle while he holds it and they all study it.

Talmage also made this unicorn mask out of a box for a friend who came to play. I thought it was pretty impressive!

We traced the boys and their friends one day and they had fun decorating their outlines...mostly they turned them into the fictional characters they have created in recent months.

I love that the school here eases the Kindergarteners in with just having a few kids come each day during the first week, so the teachers can spend more time one-on-one as they help them learn the ropes of the school. But it meant that Lincoln went to school on the first day and then had the rest of the week at home again! We tried to do something fun every day. We also had some fun taking silly selfies. As you can see from Lincoln's face, he was rather jealous of my ability to cross my eyes and begged me to teach him.

And...success! He was so thrilled when he finally got it!
Manwhile, Benson kept us entertained as he swung from the metal frame of the porch swing. That kid is such a ham!
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