June 09, 2016

Bible Bee Time!

It's that time again, time for the summer Bible Bee study! If you haven't signed up, it's not too late to register, although I advise doing so quickly, as we are approaching the end of week 1! This year we are diving into John 13-15.

Last year the closest local host to our home was actually 3 hours' drive away from us! Needless to say, we didn't attend any local meetings, lol. However, we did make the trip in August for the end of the summer gathering and celebration (it worked out to visit friends in the area and also pick up our Suburban which had arrived from overseas).

This year we agreed that if there were no closer hosts, then WE would host a local group. So we are listed as hosts! It's our first time hosting, and we're pretty excited about it. There are 9 families participating--not bad for a community where this is brand new!

These photos are from our trip to Nationals last November. Charis qualified again to attend Nationals, her second time, and it was a blessing for our whole family to get to travel to San Antonio and cheer her on. We have many, many friends in Texas (I grew up there, ya know!), and it was a blast reconnecting with people not only from my old church youth group, but also from EVERY single assignment we've had in the Air Force except one! The fellowship plus the opportunity to see kids from all over the country who have hidden God's Word in their hearts all made for such an unforgettable experience. We have more kiddos this year who are determined to study hard because they want to make that trip again!

Charis is ready for the written exam!

Kenna enjoys some time in the amazing Family Fun arena! No surprise she scaled this "rock climbing" wall by herself!

Ken and Sarah, dear friends we met in Las Vegas...sooooo fun to catch up with their family and meet each others' newest additions!

Katie, one of Charis's friends from Naples!

Tobin, Arden, and Lucan at the celebration banquet

Ted, Rhema (hidden in the baby carrier!), Charis, and I

Charis, Rhema, and I stayed in the hotel; the rest of our crew stayed with Ted's cousin Missy and her family. COUSINS!!!!

We met more friends at the Alamo! Good thing I've been there a few times, because I was way too busy visiting to even tour the place!

Ryan and Ted holding our latest babies...the P family has 7 kiddos that match up closely with ours!

JJ and Jamie are friends from the first time we were assigned to Wright-Patt!

April 28, 2016

Update: Seanin and Rhema

Our babies are changing so fast these days! I'm overwhelmed by a flood of adorability...

This is one cute, chunky li'l dude. We aren't sure where the bulk comes from, since it seems he barely eats enough molecules to fuel his happy self, but the boy is a tank, especially compared to Rhema the Lightweight. He really wants to wear underpants and is agreeable about going potty, even telling me he needs to go #1, but so far we have had only a couple of random poo successes. He will wear any underwear he can find, so I had to hide Lucan and Zaden's briefs to emphasize to Seanin that until he poos in the potty, undies are off limits! (I cleaned up quite enough poo messes in his bedroom already, thankyouverymuch, so while in theory it might work to put him in big-boy underwear, I refuse until he produces consistently IN the potty.) He is independent enough that I hope this training phase will be over sooner rather than later! He prefers to dress himself, providing us with endless amusement at his fashion choices, and since he changes clothes multiple times a day, we are often treated to a variety of looks.

Seanin loves coloring at the table while I do schoolwork with Lucan (and sometimes Zaden), although he often patters away to find his big brothers Tobin and Arden, distracting the big boys by wanting them to play with him (they usually oblige willingly). He thrives on attention (no surprise there) and is well on his way to earning his Spoiled Youngest Brother stripes. He feels things deeply--crocodile-tears deeply--and he isn't terribly discriminatory about who holds and comforts/cuddles him. As his mama, it's both gratifying and a bit smothering that one of his phrases when he is feeling distressed is, "Mommy, I need you! Sob, sob!" His verbal skills have exploded recently. I wish I could capture all of the fun little phrases and pronunciations of this phase. One that is unique to him is running words together when he is asking for something. I believe he tries to say, "Oh, could I please ____," but it comes out, "Oh-ki-pease ____."

He sucks his thumb when he's tired and asks to be put down for his nap every day after lunch. (We seriously hit the Nap Jackpot with this child.) Once laid in his crib, he pops his thumb in his mouth and strokes the silky tag on the snap-on crib sheet. Then he has to have about 19 blankets piled on him, tells the person putting him down (usually me but sometimes Charis) "I love you," and all is quiet for 3 hours. (Thank you, God!! You knew I'd need that bit of a sanity saver!)

Having hit 9 months now, our petitey-sweetie is a bit over 16 pounds, 27 inches. She started crawling almost a month ago, so we are having to be extra cautious now. I've slowly worked her into playpen time; she was a screaming mess the first few times I left her in her room in the playpen with toys, but now she fusses a minute or so after I close the door, then settles in and plays happily usually at least half an hour, which is enough time to get some table work done with Lucan and maybe Kenna. Then we (the youngest 5 plus myself) go up to the attic play room, move the trunk so that it blocks the stairs, verify there are no little anythings she could choke on, and do our core reading while Rhema and Seanin play. It's a routine that has worked fairly well, allowing me to keep an eye on her in a safe place. The only problem is when Zaden and Seanin fight over toys. Sigh.

We are finally in a more or less predictable routine with Rhema. Her sleeping-through-the-night skills have been hit and miss. It seemed she was finally getting to a consistent pattern when she learned to sit herself up...ever after that, she would wake, sit up, and cry, cry, cry until I nursed her and put her back to sleep. She simply WOULD NOT lie back down on her own. I don't even want to say it out loud, but the last 5 nights she has slept until the 4-5am time frame, and after nursing she sleeps another 3-4 hours. Since Ted's alarm goes off at 5, this has actually felt like sleeping through the night for us!! I can only hope and pray that this will be consistent! During the day she is awake about 2.5-3 hours, then naps maybe 1.5-2 hours. So I can count on a good morning nap and a good afternoon nap...unfortunately, at this time, that afternoon nap doesn't really overlap Seanin's nap much if any. Similar to Seanin's sucking his thumb when he's tired, Rhema has started sucking the first two fingers on her right hand when she's ready to sleep!

Rhema is eating well and seems to be enjoying new finger food opportunities (latest favorite: Daddy's pancakes). She moves her hands constantly, and it cracks us up how she uses her first two fingers to rake her food toward her. (Ted calls it "Grabby Sloth" fingers!) Her whole little self bursts with joy when a family member gives her attention; her legs kick, kick, kick, and her whole face lights up. Kenna especially loves to carry her around and hold her and also enjoys spoon-feeding her, which is a huge help. (It so reminds me of Charis with baby Lucan!) But there is no lack of willing volunteers when she wakes from her nap and I ask someone to go get her for me!

April 26, 2016

Update: Kenna, Lucan, Zaden

We had an ice-skating birthday party for Kenna at the end of February when she turned 9, a fun celebration with friends and cousins. While many remark about how much Kenna looks like Charis did at this age, their personalities are very different. Kenna is definitely a girly tomboy: you are likely to find her outside digging up and collecting worms for her dirt-filled birdhouse container, with toenail polish on the nails of her muddy feet. She loves to dress up but hates to shower (although a good long soak in the tub is always a treat). She plays hard and works capably, although her bedroom is more likely to be a disaster zone than to reflect the organizational skills of her big sister. She loves, loves, LOVES to read, and it doesn't bother her in the least to do schoolwork "later" when she'd rather finish the current book in her hands. Her math skills are coming along nicely after some struggles, and while she knows/feels she is "behind" (finishing up the Beta book instead of Gamma this year), she works steadily and is understanding the concepts well. Her sloppy handwriting is something she has a desire to change, so she is working more in earnest on learning cursive and practicing on various pieces of scrap paper. While the language arts writing assignments have never been her favorite, she has discovered that typing out a creative story can actually be fun...so last week's assignment is still a work in progress as she adds a little each day to her Story Starter. Kenna is a social being, thriving when she gets to play with friends or attend anything remotely social. She loves her siblings fiercely and carries Rhema around like a pro. Her current career choice is to be a missionary in Fiji...and I wouldn't put it past her to make that happen!

Having received a number of art supplies for his recent 7th birthday (celebrated fireman style!), Lucan describes himself very seriously as an ARTIST. Some days it is an effort to pry him from the table and convince him that he really would enjoy going outside to run around! He has always loved working on his own little projects at the table by himself (yet with a constant stream of chatter about what he is creating to anyone who will even pretend to listen), and since he is not a typical rough-and-tumble boy, he usually responds to my requests for outside play time with reluctance...until he comes up with a creative play scenario that has him narrating his actions and traversing the yard in his own neverland. He and Zaden are--usually--best buddies in these scenarios. Lucan is very passionate about Jesus and wants to tell others about God's love for us. Almost every day he says something that reflects his tender heart, whether talking about being a missionary or praying for our sponsored kids in Africa. His prayers are wide-sweeping as he asks the Lord for there to be no more fighting or wars (before playing good-guys-fighting-bad-guys, lol). This post I left on Facebook awhile ago still makes me laugh:

Lucan has been showing such a tender heart to share the good news of salvation through Jesus with others. This sweetness does, however, end in a good giggle at times, as this conversation shows...you'll have to imagine my responses for brevity's sake.
"Mommy, when I grow up, I want to tell people in South America about Jesus. When I am 19, I will tell people in Peru. After I walk to all the cities, then I will go to Brazil. I will be 20 then. And then I will go to Argentina. I think I will be 24 then. And then I will tell people in Chile about Jesus when I am 25."
After listening to Lucan tell about his planned route, I ask him if he will learn Spanish.
"Yes. Most people in South America speak Spanish. And most people in Brazil speak Portuguese."
Pause. "Um, never mind."
"Mommy, do people in Canada speak English?"

While he loves to run around with his siblings and friends, Zaden is still a cuddler and usually prefers to sit on Ted's or my lap in church instead of joining the kids when they leave for their class. Though we are trying to remind him that sucking his thumb means it's (nap) bedtime, he still pops his thumb in his mouth when he's tired or feeling shy. I'm trying not to make a huge deal out of it; simply making him aware that big boys don't suck their thumbs (and if he's sucking his thumb, then it clearly means he needs a nap!) seems at least a step in the right direction. I'm enjoying this last year of not having to do much of anything "school-ish" with Zaden, although he sometimes REALLY wants to work on some kind of workbook, anything to make him feel like he's doing school also. We are lazily learning to write letters and finishing up random workbooks when we feel like it, and he sometimes listens in on Kenna's reading and almost always listens in on Lucan's reading. He is an AWANA Cubbies graduate now--hard to believe he will be a Sparkie next year! He is a passionate little boy, and by "passionate" I mean "still prone to insanely ridiculous temper tantrums." (He had a meltdown Sunday morning because Ted gave him the plate he asked for. Sigh.) He is also an excellent tattle-tale, which may or may not be helpful, depending on which sibling he feels the need to report about. I am trying to capitalize on his desire to help in the kitchen, even though having one little helper usually means I end up with 4 or 6 extra hands to keep gainfully occupied.  As cute as he is, Zaden probably often feels overlooked, with two cute baby sibs that need a lot of supervision and all his older sibs engaged in schoolwork that Mom needs to oversee. There are times when lesson plans need to rest awhile so I can snuggle and read with my thumb-sucking boy!

April 14, 2016

Update: Charis, Tobin, and Arden

I might as well face the fact that I will never be "caught up" or "on top of" ANYthing. Sigh. So, before things change yet again, here is a screen shot of life around here these days with our older set...

As we head into the final stretch of her sophomore year, Charis is taking on more and more responsibility both inside and outside the home. Beginning today she will babysit a little boy (one month younger than Rhema) one day a week for additional income. I'm sure she will actually find it easier to get her schoolwork done in a house with only one child, ha! Her biology co-op class has a few more sessions, and while it's not her favorite subject, she is totally rocking it. She's determined to "catch up" to where she thinks she needs to be with math, so she just started her Math-U-See Geometry book and hopes to do both that and Algebra II before 2016 finishes. She is about 3/4 of the way through Sonlight's American History core and is also doing an elective, "Understanding the Times." Her piano and violin skills are growing by leaps and bounds--what a difference a wonderful teacher can make! Charis is already gearing up for a busy summer with various camps, a missions trip, and teaching 5-day clubs. While she is already a huge help to our big family, caring for littles when needed (I try not to overload her!) and helping with meal prep, she looks forward to the day when she can help out by driving herself various places! I'm sure October will be here before we know it and I'll be watching her drive away...

Yesterday was Tobin's 14th birthday! It was a bacon-y sort of day...a middle-of-the-week birthday can be difficult to make special, especially when one's baby brother is sick with a raging fever, but we did our best to accommodate his food requests! Bacon and eggs for breakfast, BLTs on homemade bread for lunch, lasagna for dinner (store bought! I have a limit!!), and bacon-grease-drizzled popcorn for after-youth-group snack. The boy loves bacon! He also loves to stand as close as he can, grinning at how close he is getting to me in height. Since schoolwork doesn't seem to take him nearly as long as I might hope, he is on a quest to finish this book list on his own...yes, even the preschool selections (which I sometimes hear him reading to his little sibs). He continues to enjoy time on the online Khan Academy modules--I ask him (and Arden) to spend any morning Khan time on math, science, history, and/or art, while the afternoon is reserved for computer programming/tweaking. He continues to be involved in Boy Scouts and hopes to earn enough money to return to Camp Cedars. Along with Arden and Charis, he has applied to attend the Christian Youth in Action training camp in June with a commitment to teach four five-day clubs throughout the summer. While moving has never been easy on our boy, he has found his stride and enjoys our church and youth group activities with new friends.

Arden graciously allowed Tobin to move into his bedroom during a room overhaul, and though there was some good-natured groaning about giving up their private bedrooms, I honestly think the two are delighted to be back together. (Mom and Dad aren't too sure about that, since their room is across the hall from ours and we hear them much later at night than we want!) While the two brothers are often inseparable, they are each unique in personality even if they share a boatload of common interests, including Legos, library books, and lounging. Arden often wanders into the kitchen to ask what he can do to help, and one of the best ways he helps without even asking is simply playing with or reading to the younger boys, who adore playing with him. He loves eating and is so enthusiastic about my efforts! It's a delight to see him grin when he sees what's headed to the table for dinner, gasping, "Oh, thanks, Mom! This looks delicious!" As the weather turns nicer, he and Tobin have the opportunity to earn some money from our across-the-street neighbor who has asked them to mow her lawn. Arden took the first turn last week, braving the wind and taking Lucan and Zaden along to help pick up sticks. (The little boys are trying to earn money for more Legos! Lucan got the bug after getting some "real" Lego sets for his recent birthday!)

I'm so grateful to have these three amazing kids! As I still deal with potty training and nursing a baby at night, it's a blessing to be able to have mature conversations with Charis, Tobin, and Arden. And their sense of humor is also a blessing! I love how they can make me laugh! They all have tender hearts for the Lord and a love for the people He places in their lives. What a privilege and delight to watch them blossoming.

January 10, 2016

August Birthday Boys

Whew...still catching up on 2015...I hope in heaven we get to review all our precious memories from life here on earth, because time is speeding by WAY too fast down here!

We have two birthdays in August. Seanin turned 2 (on the 14th) and Zaden turned 4 (on the 24th). We had a simple family party for Seanin. Our cousins from Omaha had homemade pizza and cake with us. (Charis made the cake!)

Then on Zaden's actual birthday, which coincided with the first day of public schools in our area, we decided to go to the Omaha Zoo! We got a military membership, and it is a fantastic deal! We had his birthday party the next day, since on Tuesdays there was a discount at a local bounce house play place. We spent about an hour and a half letting the kids bounce off the walls there (ha!) and then came to our house for lunch and cake. Charis made this cake as well--from scratch, and it was amazing!

Simple & Sweet Summer Memories

Charis learned to drive! So strange to see our (then) 14yo daughter in the driver's seat! She started in her Grandma J's Subaru and graduated to our big beast of a van. We figure if she can drive that, she can probably drive anything! We live in a state that allows 14-year-olds to drive, but she can't get her license until she turns 16. Lots more opportunities to practice!

Adding to her skills, Charis received instruction from the Pie Crust Master (aka my mom!) and made us a number of delicious pies. Every now and then she comes to the kitchen and says, "I think I'll make a pie." I LOVE this girl!

My friend Erin and her three daughters came to visit us! We met this family while we were in Ohio. As Erin is originally from Iowa, she asked if she could pop over for a visit when she was out this way visiting family. We were thrilled to get to share lots of time and conversation with her and her girls, who were great friends of Charis. They have all grown up so much!

My  mom's cousin Pat had some health issues and ended up spending some time in a nursing home very close to us even though she lives in a different city. It was fun to walk over and surprise her with flowers and a card for her birthday!

What a joy to live closer to family! All my first cousins on my mom's side live in Omaha, and we've been able to get together a number of times. Ben and Reema's girls, Maelin and Joyella, have come to spend the night with Kenna several times. On one such occasion we taught the girls to make our homemade pizza recipe. They were quick learners and have apparently made it a number of times for their family!

OK, I confess I still have not learned to tell the girls apart...and now that it's been some months since this picture was taken, I can't remember which of the girls told me she just LOVED to chop vegetables, but I do remember telling her that I would hire her!! That would make my job in the kitchen so much easier, lol.

Our church hosted an Amazing Family Race at the local park in August, and event our kids had looked forward to all summer!

There were a variety of stations with different tasks for the teams to perform.

Lo and behold...our clan came in first! Our prize was a Ladder Ball game for the backyard!

Soon after winning the Amazing Family Race, we had a backyard picnic and put our new game to use!

Zaden decided he didn't need naps...

And then there was the time Seanin found baby Rhema's little pink pants and put them on, apparently thinking they'd be perfect shorts for a chunky toddler...

...and then lay down on the floor to cry when I insisted he must take them off!

We received a precious care package...this beautiful bowl from dear friends of ours we met during our time in Napoli. It has a prominent place on our counter and reminds us of the sweet fellowship we experienced during our overseas tour.

Family Photo Shoot

On a lovely August evening we had another photography session with the talented Melissa Pennington, who captured our sweet baby girl before she left that precious newborn phase!

Isn't she sweet, our little Rhema Riyel? :-)

I was thrilled that we got some nice shots of the whole family, too! Considering how many of us there are, I am especially impressed with our new photographer friend! She is a mama to 7 kids herself, so I suppose she has had a lot of practice getting multiple people to look toward the camera, lol.

And these precious, intimate photos...I love the delight reflected in the faces of the older kids! I framed these shots to give to Tobin, Charis, and Arden for Christmas. And I know I'm biased, but there's pretty much nothing else that can warm my heart like seeing my handsome man love on his children.

My heart is full. I never thought I'd be a mama of many, but I'm so thankful that I am.

January 02, 2016

Bible Bee 2015

For the fourth year (not consecutive) our family participated in the Bible Bee program over the summer. The studies have varied from year to year, from 10 weeks to 12 weeks to, this most recent year, 6 weeks from start to finish (which happened to work beautifully with our overseas-move-and-new-baby kind of a summer!). The older 4 kids did independent work on their Bible studies, working their way through the first 6 chapters of the gospel of John and memorizing 12 passages of Scripture (roughly 50 verses total). I would have liked for our family to have done more study time together, but I was just not able to manage it with the tail end of an exhausting pregnancy, trying to finish unpacking and settling in, and then of course having a newborn to care for.

Still...it was a wonderful opportunity to dig into God's Word more, and though 8-year-old Kenna especially could have benefited greatly from some more specific guidance, it was still a growing experience even for her. This year all the contestants tested online--NO local testing centers or oral recitations to be judged. So we were able to set up our laptops in different parts of the kitchen and test our four kids here at home.

We did invite some folks from church and the neighborhood to come over the evening before so that the kids could recite 6 of the 12 passages before an audience, an on-your-honor requirement in order to qualify for Nationals. It was fun to share with others some of the hard work the kids had invested throughout the summer.

A week after the testing date, folks met at their "local host" location for some Bible Bee activities and to learn who had qualified to compete in the National competition, which was to be held in San Antonio in November. When we registered to participate in the Bible Bee, the "local" host we were assigned was from Kansas City!! It was hard to believe that no one closer to us had volunteered to host! (We plan to be hosts ourselves next year!)

But joining with the group in Kansas City for their local celebration event actually worked out really well for us:

1. Our Suburban, which we had shipped in APRIL, finally arrived in the States (delay due to the ship catching fire and having to return to the original port for inspections, etc.--thankfully our vehicle was not affected by the catastrophe).  The pick-up location happened to be in St. Louis.

2. We have very dear friends, Craig & Mimi H, who live in the Kansas City area!

So, due to the timing of retrieving the Suburban, plus the fact that we could stay with the H family, we planned a little road trip and enjoyed visiting with our friends plus being part of the local Bible Bee celebration, where we learned that Charis had qualified for Nationals for the second year in a row!

It was a fun trip, despite Rhema being pretty high maintenance at that time...due to her stalled out weight at the two-week check-up, I had had to focus almost exclusively on feeding the baby and helping her learn to nurse efficiently, a process that took several weeks and had me on an emotional roller coaster as my milk supply went up and down. But we were still able to travel, and it was neat to see the kids get to participate and meet some other Bible Bee folks.

Kenna recites a passage during the primary optional oral round.

Tobin and Arden with the other juniors.

Charis and the seniors.
The event in Kansas City was August 8. Nationals were the week before Thanksgiving. Qualifiers had additional memory passages plus the next 6 chapters in the book of John to study on their own. Since Charis had also qualified last year--when we were still living in Italy--this was her second year to be able to attend. (She and I flew together and met Ted's mom Rhonda in Orlando, where the event was held last year, and it was an amazing experience! Not only did we three "girls" have a blast spending time together, but we also got to meet up with two different sets of missionary friends!) We really wanted our whole family to be able to attend and worked hard on our budgeting and planning to make it happen. I'll write about that in a separate post...