Saturday, December 22, 2012

Catching Up

It's nearing the end of December, which seems like a good time for an update and a renewed effort to chronicle our family life via this blog. We've made a couple of cross-country moves in less than 5 years, so the blog serves the double-purpose of keeping in touch with far away family and friends and being a scrapbook, of sorts, for our family. The girls enjoy looking back through the posts and reminiscing. We haven't posted here since August, so there is a bit of catching up to do.

We left the Rocky Mountain West in August and made the L O N G drive to the East Coast. The drive wasn't unbearable, however. Our kids are at good ages for surviving long stretches in the car. Mark and I probably had the worst time since both of us were driving and couldn't take a break. The girls usually switched cars after every gas or meal stop, so that kept things interesting for them. Mark's car had the cat (Mr. Bingley) for entertainment, while my car mostly had books on CD. Aileen, Norah and I got through most of The Chronicles of Narnia. We also made room in our schedule for stops in the midwest. Conveniently, both sets of our parents live right along the route. We enjoyed visiting with grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and old friends along the way.

Somewhere in Iowa... still smiling!

swimming with some of the cousins at Grandma and Grandpa's house

Our first few days as East Coast dwellers were spent at a house that was "loaned" to us by a friend from back West. It's kind of a long story, but it was a wonderful place to live while we waited for the moving truck. There are so many things that can go wrong during a cross-country move, but we were fortunate and have no horror stories at all. The moving truck was a day later than we expected, but that really was a non-issue. We are in a rental house for the time being... it just seemed too daunting to choose a house to buy without having lived in the area for a while. Knowing that we will move again soon made the unpacking go quickly -- only necessary items came out of their boxes. The result is a somewhat bare-looking house, but that's OK.

BEFORE the movers arrived

We enrolled #1 at a diocesan grade school that is run by Dominican Sisters. She is in 7th grade this year and it seemed like a good time for her to return to school. We chose this particular school in large part because of the presence of the sisters and also because there is a Dominican high school close by. We don't know exactly what we will do for high school, however, as there are a couple other Catholic schools within reasonable distance. We are in the a very faithful diocese and the parishes and schools here are wonderful. #1 has made a smooth transition. Her personality is good for being "the new kid". We have found, however, that this area tends to have a lot of new families every year because we are so close to many military/government institutions.

First day of 7th grade

#2 and #3 are in 1st and 2nd grade this year. We chose to continue home schooling them. This area has so many opportunities and resources for home schooling families. We joined our local Catholic home school group as soon as we arrived. Our first activity with is a production of Beauty and the Beast. They have enjoyed making friends at their weekly rehearsals. We also enrolled them in a program which meets in a classroom-setting one day per week. They wear uniforms and pack their lunch to go, which is a really big deal for them.

First day - 1st and 2nd grade

Mark and I have settled in as well. I shouldn't speak too much for Mark about work, but he loves what he's doing and is honored to be affiliated with another well-known Catholic institution. I imagine he'd agree that the biggest adjustments have been the commute and the fact that his employer is on a different continent. In both the West and Illinois, traffic was a non-issue. Anyone who is familiar with this part of the country knows that traffic is most certainly a very big issue. Mark has always been an early-riser, however, so most days he gets into work while many of the other residents are still sleeping. 

As a family we've made an effort to take advantage of all area has to offer. When we arrived in late summer, we started off exploring outdoor things like parks and bike trails, but in the last few weeks we've switched to indoor options. We are visiting the museums one at a time, which will keep us busy all winter and beyond. But perhaps our favorite place in D.C. is the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. We have been there enough times now that it feels very comfortable and we all have our favorite parts. It is an awesome place and we'd love to show you around next time you visit Washington D.C.!
visiting George Washington's estate, Mount Vernon

the gemstone exhibit at the Smithsonian Natural History museum

Thursday, August 2, 2012

pretty happy funny real (Instagram edition)

Do you Instagram?  I'm new to the whole Instagram experience (and I'm not really sure how to use it yet) but I'm having fun and I thought a p,h,f,r post of Instagram photos from my phone would be fun.

Pretty - Daughter #1 got some new curlers for her hair.  

Happy - Daughter #2 has amazing hair - super-thick and wavy, but no so great for brushing.  It was becoming a chore to keep it looking neat, so we decided to chop it off.  She was so excited and happy after the cut.  It's been almost a week now and she is still thrilled about brushing it herself without tears.

Funny - I LOVE how this Instagram filter gave me - and the girls - a halo!

Real - veggies from the garden - complete with dirt so you know they're authentic.

Visit LMLD for more p,h,f,r!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

pretty, happy, funny, real

I haven't joined the Like Mother Like Daughter p,h,f,r link-up since May!  Surely I can find something for each category on the trusty camera...


I love mountains.  From the day we moved here, I've made it a point to remind the girls to look at the natural beauty around us - to keep noticing and not take it for granted.  And now that we are moving, I'm especially trying to soak up all the beauty.  Isn't this just awesome?  It may be a bit much for the heading "pretty", but that's where I'm putting it :)

These babies have been hanging out in our yard a lot lately.  As long as the fence keeps them out of the garden, that's fine with me.


My parents came to visit a few weeks ago.  That made me happy.  And I could fill this post with photos from their visit, but this one - perhaps - makes me happiest.  All the faces in the photo are happy.  I love my girls.  I love my Dad.  I love that they love him.  I'm so happy to get to see him being Grandpa.  It's just a lot of happiness all around.  Thank you, God, for the gift of family.  Plus, the girls are wearing their crazy yard boots, which makes it even better!

It is a family tradition to attend the Rodeo on July 3rd as the official "kick-off" of our Independence Day celebrations.  Several other families we know go on the same night, so the kids have a section in the bleachers and the adults have a section.  It's a fun-filled evening that makes everyone happy.  I forgot to take a camera that night, but our 12 year old had a camera with her, so I'm using one of her photos.


These goats love to climb on things.  What is funny to me is that "Lucy" looks like she got caught doing something she's not supposed to be doing :)

Our middle "cowgirl" riding the mythical creature, the Jackalope.  This thing is housed in a gas station not far from us - it's supposed to be a silly tourist attraction - and the younger girls think it's hysterical.  They may also think it's a real animal :)


Like much of the rest of the country, it is very dry here this summer.  The fact is that summers here are always dry, but we count on the snow-pack in the mountains to melt and run down to the valley, keeping us irrigated.  But the normal amount of snow didn't fall this winter, so things are especially dry.  We haven't been threatened by any large fires, but this grass fire across the road got our attention and reminded us to pray for those suffering from the larger fires in Colorado and Wyoming.
grass fire across the road from our property

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A LONG overdue update

It seems that we lost our blogging voice there for a while, huh?  It's been 2 months since our last post - and though we've been silent bloggers - that doesn't mean things have been quiet.  How about an update?

Mark has a new job, we sold our house, and we're moving to the complete other side of the country.

"What!", you say.  But what about the garden, the chickens, the goats?  Good questions.  The bottom line is that we're being called to something new.  It's not anything we expected.  Or looked for.  We strive daily to remain open to God's will for our lives - all aspects of our lives.  This includes Mark's career.  We have been very blessed in this area, for sure.  Though the choices we've made haven't always made sense from the viewpoint of "the world", they've been choices that we made after much prayer and discernment.  And we consistently find that God's plans for us are way better than anything we would have thought up on our own.  This change in position is no different.  We have loved our life, the community,  and Mark's work here in the wild west - and it is terribly difficult to leave - but we are at peace with our decision.  Mark will continue working in the same field: advancing the mission of a Catholic educational institution.

So, where are we headed?  Our nation's capital.  Yep, all the way East.  We have promised the girls that we'll be close to mountains (though not quite the size as the mountains here) and the ocean.  None of us have ever lived close to an ocean, so that is something we look forward to.  We know that moving to a major metropolitan area - after having lived in a remote Western town of less than 10,000 people - will be an adjustment, but we are excited about the opportunities.

Our wonderful home here - lovingly referred to as "Aspen Springs" - was snatched up by a new family the first day it hit the real estate market.  What a relief!  It's a great property, so we had hoped selling it wouldn't be an issue, but we never dreamed it would be the easiest part of this whole process.  So, now we're getting ready to actually make the move: cleaning out closets, organizing, making lists of what stays and what goes, etc.  The animals are on the list of what stays.  The family who is buying the house wants the goats and the chickens.  We are thrilled.  The girls, especially, are pleased to know that the animals get to stay put and will be well cared for after we leave (and we get fresh eggs up until our last morning here!)

So, selling the house was easy.  What's been difficult?  Finding a moving company that will come here.  We started calling the national van lines figuring we'd get quotes and choose the best option.  After the first 3-4 companies told us they couldn't help us, we got a little nervous.  We're still nervous, though a local company has assured us that one way or another they'll take care of it.  Yikes.  Please don't take this opportunity to leave comments about moving nightmares :)

So, there you have it... the reason for our silence lately.  Though this is a big change, normal life goes on, and we'll try to keep the posts coming (somewhat) regularly again.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

pretty, happy, funny, real

It's a rainy and overcast Thursday here at our house; a perfect kind of day to take a few minutes to join Like Mother Like Daughter for a pretty, happy, funny, real post.

This picture is about a month old now... It would be lovely if the crab apple blooms would last longer, but we enjoyed them while they were at their peak.  This tree is really close to the house - and it's a big tree - so the view of the blooms filled a couple of large windows in the living room.

We have a "sun room" just off our kitchen.  I put that in quotes because it's not a typical sun room and we're not sure what to call it.  We've been told that the room started out as a true greenhouse, but later a roof and walls were added.  It's still sun room/greenhouse-like because it has a dirt floor with a rock path down the middle and huge windows lining the walls.  When we moved in, the room was a wreck.  The walls and ceiling had never been fully finished, the windows weren't trimmed, and it was used more for storage than anything else.  It was obvious that the room had potential, though.  We've been working on it, but it's not quite complete.  However, I did find some wonderful hanging baskets for the room.  I like white flowers, and these are especially nice because they hang down nearly to the floor.  It's making me happy that this room is "getting there" and looking better with each small project.

How about one more entry for happy?  These 2 are so happy with the nice weather.  Nearly every day when they finish school, they pack up their Bitty Twins and head outside for picnics, tent-building, etc.

This was given to me on Mother's Day by my 7 year old.  I love it!  She got some things dead-on.  Others not so much, but it's given us all a good laugh.  I suppose you'd have to know me pretty well for this to have the full impact, but I assure you that I'm not a dancer in any sense of the word and that I'm not particularly fond of goats.  Yes, we own 2 dairy goats, but that doesn't qualify me as "likes goats", does it?  The part about collecting eggs is funny too.  I certainly enjoy eating and baking with the eggs our chickens lay, but the collecting duty falls to the girls, not me.  I think I'm mostly touched that she thinks  my eyes are pretty and that I'm smart; what more could a Mom hope for?

The girls and I went to our dentist's office for cleanings/checkups today.  Good news: no cavities.  Bad news: 2 orthodontia referrals.
New toothbrushes are such a treat.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The school year "ends" this week

It's May 22 and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel!  We are very nearly "finished" with school for this academic year.  The weather out here in the mountain wilderness has been unusually warm this entire month - maybe even a bit longer - so we've not been quite as regimented about school for several weeks now.  Had we kept our noses to the grindstone we'd probably have completed all our courses a week ago.  I'm not complaining in any way; May 31 has been my goal all year, so we'll easily make that.  Plus, for the most part, I enjoy our school days (the girls too).  It will just be nice to know that the formal coursework is out of the way for one more year.  I am planning to keep some sort of school happening over the summer.  We were terrible about that last year, but we had valid excuses: a big family trip to Europe and then the whole process of buying/selling real estate that lead to our move to this house.  2011 was a busy summer indeed.  There is not a European trip in the works this year - or any other extended vacation.  We're looking forward to quality time here on our own property - and in the mountains.

First day of school pictures.  See the 6 fingers for 6th grade?

Once I officially claim each of the girls as passing to the next grade we'll have students going into 1st, 2nd and 7th grades.  In all ways we are reminded that time flies, huh?  I've home schooled for Kindergarten the past 2 years in a row and that comes to an end now.  Kind of sad.  Kindergarten was fun for me and the younger girls. They learned so much, but in such a low-key way.  I have most especially enjoyed working on phonics with my kindergartners.  Reading is such a joy and I was thrilled to be the person to get them started.  I'm hopeful that my constant state of book-in-hand will inspire them to keep it up.  There is so much to be learned throughout life and being an avid reader is a great way to do just that.  A side note: my book club just chose a hefty book for our summer reading (The Cypresses Believe in God) and I'm anxious to delve into it.  Long books are some of my favorites.  The longer the better, when it's a well-written book and a good story, right?

And the first grader, who very appropriately started the year with no teeth in front :)

So, barring any unforeseen circumstances, we are planning to stick with our same curriculum next school year.  We'll have some decisions to make about sacrament preparation, as our middle daughter should be ready for confession and communion and our oldest ready to be confirmed.  At this point I imagine we'll do some prep at home, combined with the classes at our parish.  We're confident that the parish catechists do an excellent job, but we'll also want it to be a family affair.

There is something about endings that cause us to pause and reflect.  In this case it's the end of the school year and I've been reflecting about our decision to home school.  I have an analogy that makes sense to me and I hope it translates in the telling... To a much less important degree, it's sort of like us being adoptive parents.  As newlyweds, we imagined ourselves being parents, but we didn't imagine it happening via adoption.  But once we honestly assessed our situation, we decided we needed to take an alternate route to parenthood.  Pursuing adoption was unknown and terrifying, but we took the leap and thank God we did.  Again, this home school thing is not on the same scale, but when the girls were little and we planned/imagined their education, it didn't involve schooling at home.  However, 2 years ago it became obvious that we needed to go a different route, so we took another leap of faith and it's been a good thing.  These are major life events that have taught us that just because a path in life is unknown (and looks difficult) doesn't mean that it needs to be avoided.

And finally, the kindergartner.  The "k" was harder than the number grades!

I should end this rambling post with a disclaimer: we have not become home schooling hard-liners.  Will we always educate our daughters at home?  We don't know.  We firmly believe that a traditional school can be a wonderful place and a great solution for any family.  But for our family, right now, staying at home seems best.  We have found a curriculum we like, we have support from lots of other families, our girls are good students, we have nice space in our home for schooling, etc.  In short, the lack of a better option "forced" us into home schooling, but we have been blessed by a great many factors that have allowed it to be a success for us.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

pretty, happy, funny, real

I am determined to join the {pretty, happy, funny, real} linkup today with the wonderful bloggers at Like Mother Like Daughter.  It's been weeks since I got my act together on a Thursday, so today's pictures will be from the past month or so.  Without further ado:

Easter Sunday!  Pretty girls on a beautiful day.
Another snow scene.  I'm positive I've used pictures of snow as pretty before.  And most people would not think of snow - in April - as pretty.  Nonetheless, this is what we awoke to on Monday or Tuesday of this week.  It was gorgeous.  Oh, and it was gone before noon.  That's just how it happens in these parts during the Spring - rain comes in the form of snow.
Taken through our bedroom window - it would have been better if I'd gone outside, but that would have been cold.

Lately I've been getting our produce from a co-op called Bountiful Baskets.  I think they operate pretty much only in the West, but check their website for more info.  It's a great deal.  I've been so happy with the quality, variety and price.  This was the bounty from a recent Saturday morning pickup.
fresh & yummy fruits and veggies

We have an awesome mechanic.  That in itself is enough to be happy about.  But get this: whenever one of our friends goes to our awesome mechanic, he sends us a thank you gift for the referral.  In the past it's been coffee coupons, but most recently it was cookies and little stampers for the girls.

We bought collars and leashes for the goats.  The girls "walk" them daily!  Goats on leashes qualify as funny, right?
This woodpile is like a jungle gym for goats!

I think we've mentioned here before that Mark travels a fair bit for work.  One of his habits is to pick up a little something for the girls while he's away.  On a recent trip, he brought tea bags home for them.  They were thrilled!  Most people might not be terribly impressed by a tea bag, but these were in the shape of a pyramid and had a fake leaf on the end of the string.  I just love it when they are so happy with the simplest of treats.  A good reminder that something doesn't have to be huge to be a REAL treat.

Sister Joseph Andrew, vocation director for the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, was "in the neighborhood" a couple weeks ago.  She talked to a group of girls from our parish about her community and life as a Sister.  It was wonderful.  If you don't know much about this community, look them up!  They're the Sisters who were on Oprah a couple years ago (not that the Oprah show is an endorsement in any way, but their appearance there gave a wide audience an insight into their life and work).  They were founded in 1997 with 4 sisters and have grown to over 100 Sisters.  The average age of the Sisters is 28 and they come from all across this country as well as Canada, Europe and Asia.  Sister Joseph Andrew was so fun and engaging and REAL!  The girls loved her.  I enjoyed her talk so much.  I also enjoyed hearing the questions the girls asked.  I'm thrilled my 12 year old got to meet a REAL Sister and hear about her very REAL life.
Can you find Sister in the back?  We should have put her in the front!
Thanks for visiting!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The goats are here!

The goats have arrived!  You might recall that once we moved to our present home (about 6 months ago) we began making plans for a large garden and some animals.  We got baby chicks immediately and had great success with them right from the start.  Our hens have been healthy, the girls have enjoyed taking care of them, and we now have more eggs than we can eat.  The chicken success made us brave and we decided to tackle a bigger, more complicated animal.  We researched goats and decided on Nigerian Dwarf dairy goats.  And - fortunately - we found a breeder relatively close to us.  We visited the baby goats once when they were a few weeks old.  And then, last Saturday, Mark and daughter #1 made the trek back to the goat farm to pick up our "kids".

Unloading the goats.  The girls could hardly wait to see them!
As you can imagine, choosing names for the goats was a hot topic around here.  In my opinion, I had lots of really cool ideas for names (Mark was in agreement on most of my suggestions) but the girls kept shooting me down... Finally, someone had the brilliant idea of naming them for 2 characters from one of our family-favorite classic television shows.

So, we're pleased to introduce "Lucy" and "Ethel".

Ethel is on the left, Lucy is on the right.

We borrowed a large dog crate from some friends and transported them home in the back of Mark's car.  Apparently, we have goats who are very tolerant of car trips - not a single incident on the way home :)

We may have gotten the names wrong... Ethel is the nutcase - always climbing on the girls and generally more mischievous than Lucy.  Isn't that backward?

Mark called when they were 10 minutes away, so I grabbed the camera and took the little girls down to the goat shed and waited for them to arrive.  Such excitement!

Exploring their new pen - they went straight for the feed!

Everything is going well so far.  Lucy and Ethel love to play and have human guests in their pen.  They really are cute and sweet (in a totally goat way).  I'm not a huge animal lover - we don't even have a dog - but I think that them being small really helps.  Smaller always seems to be cuter.

Though this is a cute picture, I was probably saying, "don't put your face on the goat!"

So, the whole point of the goats is milk, but they're not quite ready for that yet.  We've got several months to wait before they are ready for the next step on the road to becoming milk-producers.  For now, they'll be entertainment for the girls - and 2 more mouths to feed.

They love climbing around on these stumps Mark put in the pen.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Getting back outside

The whole country seems to be experiencing an early Spring this year.  It's hit here as well.  We've been able to get some pre-summer work finished outside.  Over the weekend, we brought the trampoline out of storage.  The girls were THRILLED.  It was a smart move on our part:

entertained and occupied children = parents who can till the garden in peace

No action shot of the girls jumping - sorry.  When I went out there with the camera I found #1 reading her literature book. This could be an advertisement for schooling at home!
We moved the trampoline to a far section of the property.  We can still see it from several windows, but it's not quite the eyesore it was when it was closer to the house.  The girls objected at first since it's a longer walk, but now that it's been a couple of days they are quite happy.

The garden: ready and waiting for baby plants.  We do have a few "crops" in here thanks to the previous owner: raspberries, asparagus, rhubarb, strawberries and cherries.
I mentioned tilling the garden.  We did that too.  Our garden is huge (to us).  We are alternately excited and terrified by the potential it has for producing food - and the obvious fact that it will require lots of work.  We have the double challenge of living in zone 4, which means a short growing season - and - living in a very dry climate.  Once the last Spring snow falls, there will be virtually no precipitation until the first snow of the Fall.  In other words: no rain in the summer.  We have the good fortune of an irrigation ditch that runs along one side of the garden, so Mark has the watering situation worked out (at least in his head).  We plan to battle our short growing season by starting all our veggies in our sun room/greenhouse.  I can't show pictures just now because it's an ugly mess, but our house has a wonderful window-walled sun room that is south facing. The original owners built it specifically for plants.

We spent plenty of time poring over seed catalogs and choosing varieties that are "hardy" and "early producers".  We're growing a little bit of everything.  I think that right now, Mark and the kids are most excited about the possibility of our own sweet corn (they were all born in Illinois). I'm personally looking forward to a bumper crop of potatoes, as that's something we've never even tried to grow before.

To people in most of the country, this hardly looks like Spring, but we're getting there - and happy to be seeing ANY small amounts of green.

In addition to tilling the garden, we also tried to clean up the flower beds and around our pond area(s) that tend to get a little overgrown and swampy.  We're hoping to keep the vegetation down around the edges of the ponds so that the water doesn't get "smucky".

photo credit: M.E.R., daughter #1, age 12

And finally, we acted on a whim and cut down a couple of trees.  Well, not trees exactly.  More like shrubs that were allowed to go nuts.  You've seen this sort of thing before:  Someone plants lovely little evergreen shrubs up next to the house and they look wonderful for 5 or so years, but then the shrubs are forgotten and they start growing at an exponential rate and it takes new owners to say, "Those ugly shrubs are taller than the house, cover the windows, and threaten to pull down the gutters!"  The first day we moved in we agreed they'd have to go, but it always seemed like too big a job to tackle.  Well, the warm air must have made us a bit giddy and we just did it.  Mark is good with the chain saw, but I was nervous.  Shrubs that have grown for 30 years are actually quite large.  I'm just glad neither of us ended up under a large limb :)

After the "shrubs" were mostly cut down.
I'm not sure that I have a "before" photo, but I can tell you that the shrubs completely covered those 2 windows and were higher than the roof.  This is our garage - and it's on the back side of the house.  It's not like the general public was seeing the shrubs, but we're happier with them down.  Now, I just need to address those bare windows and the bare dirt....

Thursday, March 15, 2012

pretty, happy, funny, real

~ capturing the context of everyday life ~

We had some friends over for dinner recently.  In addition to a lovely bottle of wine, they brought this {pretty} plant.  I love it!  It also reminded me how wonderful it is to take small gifts to people when you can; I'm sure my friend thought this plant was no big deal, but I'm thrilled with it and it's been a great addition to my kitchen sink area.
Officially: oxalis.  In our house: shamrocks :)

Last week I talked about a trip to my hometown for my Dad's 75th birthday - and I lamented that I forgot to take any pictures.  Well, my wonderful sister-in-law came to the rescue and so I have some of her pictures to share.

daughter #3 with her uncle (my baby brother) who also happens to be her godfather

daughter #2 with Grandma (my Mom)
As part of the birthday celebration, one of my brothers gathered photos from throughout my Dad's life - in addition to video segments from all of the family - and put it all together into a wonderful video.  So, before the party started, we gathered to watch the video with my Dad.
My Dad and Mom have been married 48 years.  They have 5 children, 2 sons-in-law, 3 daughters-in-law, and 12 grandchildren (and counting! another will be born in a few weeks)  This shows part of the gang watching the video.
Cousins hanging out toward the end of the party.
With my Dad at his party - It was great fun.  All manner of relatives, neighbors and old friends came to celebrate with my Dad, who has always been "a favorite" with those who know him.


Cousins being silly.
That's daughter #2 in the middle, with my sister's son on the left and my brother's daughter on the right.

In many parts of the country, Spring has arrived.  I'm not sure we can say that yet... It is getting warmer, but we had a fairly big snow last week that melted into a muddy mess because of the warmer temperatures.  This will be our 3rd Spring here and we're learning that instead of "April showers bring May flowers" we get something more like "March and April snows bring mud."

Our driveway over the weekend.  It's much better now - the sun's been out all week!

Remember to visit LMLD for more {pretty, happy, funny, real}