Monday, November 17, 2014

School, Calling, Baby and More

I feel like ever since school began, life has not really slowed down. Oh, did I mention that school started? In August. It's November so I'm just a bit behind. Here are the kids' first day pictures.
Erin got the teacher she wanted. She is fun and young and loves Erin. Funny story about how young she is. When it was 9/11 she told the kids that she was in school when it happened. I was thinking like college or high school at the very least. Then Erin said she was in 4th grade! Jared and I just started laughing because it doesn't seem like it was that long ago, yet I was graduated from college at the time. So yeah, she is a reminder of how old we are getting and how young 23 actually is.
I'm still not quite sure about Alex's teacher. I think he likes her fine, but he doesn't say a whole lot. She is very strict about behavior and academics. I know a bunch of students are struggling with her and I talked to a mom whose son hates school this year because of the teacher. I guess I am lucky that Alex is so good at school and well behaved. It just doesn't seem like the best year for him either. Just a hard one for me to figure out.
Marissa got a great teacher. She is new this year, but she is really nice and friendly to the kids and parents. Marissa does really well in school and is on her fourth chapter book at home. I know this because every time she starts a chapter, finishes a chapter or is part way through a chapter she tells me, and likes to give running updates on the plot. She is good at making lots of friends, probably because she is not afraid at all to talk. When I was helping at her Halloween party she would just ask the teacher things in front of everyone without a second thought. So different from when I was a kid. The other day she came home and said that three boys were in love with her. Oh boy.
Connor is doing two preschools this year. One is Upstart, a free online preschool that he does for 15-20 minutes a day five days a week. It is helping him so much to learn to read. I am very impressed with the program, especially since he couldn't string any words together in the summer and now he is reading short, easy books. His other preschool is a joy school that I'm doing with him and two other families. I originally wanted to get more people, but everyone else was already doing some sort of preschool. I was a bit concerned about having to teach so often, but with only three kids, it makes it a lot easier. We decided to do one week at each of our homes and then the fourth week go on a field trip. So we're only teaching one week a month. I don't know why, but I really like doing it. We do a letter a week. I think it's fun and fulfilling to think of creative ways to teach different things or make different crafts. The kids get along so well too and they love free play. Anyway, it's a good year for Connor getting ready for kindergarten, and though it makes my life a bit busier, I am glad I'm doing it.
 This was Apple Art for the letter A.
A is also for Airplane

 This was the day we made Green Goo for the letter G. It was also the day before Halloween, which is why they're dressed up.
 This was the field trip I planned where we got to take a tour of the fire station. It was awesome! I'd been wanting to do it for a long time. We also went to story time and had a picnic in the park.
 This was our next field trip to the planetarium. I'd never been there either and it was pretty cool.
Hallie is liking being involved in preschool with Connor, though she can't do everything that the older kids can. She is just a sweet, cute little girl. (Notice the two different shoes in this picture?)
I've also been busy with my calling as the relief society weekday activity leader. The one in September was so much work for me. It was a craft night where we did holiday wood block decor. I took all the orders, made some spreadsheets to keep track of it all, cut all of the wood and put them together in little kits for people to pick up at the activity. We had lots of people sign up for two crafts each, so about 600 pieces of wood. I also got vinyl cut, bought other supplies and paint... it was a lot of work! I tried to delegate as much as I could, but in the end, I wanted to make sure that people had everything they needed when they got there so I made sure of it myself. It was a huge success. We'd had an average of about 20 people at previous activities and this one brought 65, including a bunch of non-members. So apparently when you say "craft" and "free" then people start coming out of the woodwork.
I told the RS president that after the November activity I would be happy to be released. We had a huge dinner and bingo night this week and it was also a big hit. This time I delegated so much to my committee that all I had to do was bring two things and show up (I couldn't even help set up because Erin had a performance right before). It is so nice to have such a great, reliable committee now. They've called some new people and it is such a relief to me. Everything got done so smoothly. Anyway, they had already told me the Sunday before that I would be released the Sunday after and gave me a new calling. It's Activity Days. I've done it before and I loved it. Erin is actually really excited to have me as her leader, which kind of baffles me. It feels kind of like the same calling as RS activities, except that the girls will actually come and be excited no matter what I decide to do.

I've been doing the RS activities for almost three years and definitely had my ups and downs with it. When I first moved here, I was going through a really bad depression and had a hard time making friends, like good close friends, which is what I needed. That made the calling a bit challenging. I remember having to hold back my tears going to meetings in the beginning. The committee was really great back then and had been doing it for a long time together, so that made things easier. Our ward split the day Hallie was born and I immediately got called to the RS activities committee. That was such a good calling because I could do whatever I was asked but I wasn't ultimately responsible. A year later, our ward split again and I got called as the leader again. Since our ward was so small, we had an almost non-existent committee. Those first activities were a bit rough. I remember feeling like such a failure because no matter what I did, it seemed like very few people would come (our ward was small at that time). There was one big one we did in March where we made freezer meals to take to anyone in need in the ward. That took a lot of coordination and preparation, and there was some miscommunication between me and the counselor I was working with. We both bought ingredients for the same recipes! Ugh. But even though I was so frustrated, I felt prompted to start talking to her and she really opened up to me. Now we are good friends. (One reason to be grateful for this calling)

There was another time when a new girl got called who was really struggling at the time. I wanted to get released a few months before, but the bishop said he thought I should keep doing it. I tried to reach out to this girl and help her feel welcome, but it wasn't until after one activity that I began talking to her and realized that we had been through some of the same things. I just really felt like she needed to hear some of my experiences, things that I don't tell very many people. I feel like those experiences were why I had to be in this calling for so long, and I'm glad I didn't quit.

At the beginning, someone's husband was making all the posters & flyers. At some point, he couldn't do it anymore so I reluctantly said I could do it. I got so many compliments on the first few posters I did, even though I was not at all confident about doing it. After a while, I realized that I liked making them and was pretty good at it. I don't know why I was so reluctant because I had put together a lot of layouts in architecture school, but it took doing it month after month to bring me the confidence I needed. I've even made them for the whole stake. Here are some of them:
Today I am 24 weeks pregnant, so less than 4 months to go. I have been really excited and happy about this one, probably because I feel like it is our last one. I have also been feeling pretty good, physically and emotionally, which I am so grateful for. I felt like it was going to be a girl since before I got pregnant (and yes, this one was very much planned in advance). Everyone else thought it would be a boy, especially my kids because we just couldn't break the pattern--but really, how can you keep up this pattern with so many kids? I was so amazed that it actually was a boy when we found out a few weeks ago. Our midwife was too and said that girl, boy, girl, boy, girl, boy just doesn't happen. I love that it evens everything out. I always have liked balance and even numbers. This is how I announced it to people. And I've always liked the Brady Bunch! Now if only we could get ourselves a maid.
The day we got the ultrasound, our kids wanted us to do something creative to tell them if it was a boy or girl. We kind of wanted to trick them, so when they came home, we had a bunch of pink balloons that they could see when they walked in hanging from one blue balloon that they couldn't see. They immediately thought it was a girl until they saw the blue balloon. Then I told them they could find out when they bit into the cupcakes that I had made... only half of them were pink and half were blue. Next, we had them go into the pantry where it was completely dark and we gave them each a glow stick to break. Two were pink and two were blue. Finally, we told them that they could go outside and spray some silly string that we had taken the caps off of. If it all came out the same color, that's what it was. It finally came out all blue and everyone was so excited (including our neighbors who were there). It was really fun!

Another thing that I've been doing that I love is the babysitting co-op. It is a bunch of people in our neighborhood that each have a regular daytime shift and then we rotate for Friday and Saturday night shifts. We pay in popsicle sticks, one stick per kid per half hour. I absolutely love the freedom it gives me. I can go to doctor's appointments or run errands kid free anytime I need to. We haven't needed to pay a babysitter for a long time either because of the weekend co-op. We usually leave Erin and Alex home and drop the other three kids off at the co-op. The older kids love being home alone (without having to watch younger kids) and we don't have to pay as many sticks. I love it!

My shift is Friday morning and it has been super busy every week. I always have tons of sticks, more than I can usually use in a week. I used the co-op 4 times last week alone and I still have 25 sticks left. I really don't mind watching kids once a week for a few reasons. One is that my kids have other kids to play with, thus canceling each other out. Another is that I get enough sticks to leave my kids when I need to. And the last reason is that it forces me to clean my house at least once a week. I mean, you can't have people coming over to leave their kids in a pigsty. It's a win-win. I also love teaching preschool for the same reason, I get a clean house out of it.

One more thing, last Sunday was our ward's primary program. There are almost 100 kids in our primary so they were all squished onto boards that they laid over the seats. All the kids did really well and sang great. Erin, Alex and Marissa all had their parts memorized. Connor needed some help. After Connor said his part, he ended up sitting next to Hunter, who is his best friend and who was purposely not supposed to be sitting next to him. All of a sudden, we noticed that Connor was doing some really crazy things like making funny faces and pretending to sing like a crazy person. Then Hunter started pulling on his tie and pretending to punch him. There was some sliding up and down the bench and squishing each other. It was utterly hilarious! There were some adult teachers up there, but they didn't do anything to try to stop them. I was waiting for one of them to get hurt, but luckily there were no incidents... that is besides being the worst behaved kids in the entire primary program! We were laughing so hard. I have never had a child act that way in a primary program before. I asked Connor why he was doing those faces and he said that he was just trying to make Hunter laugh. Anyway, it was really awesome.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Alex: Eight is Great!

Alex turned 8 on Oct. 10th. He really wanted breakfast in bed on his birthday, so we told him not to set his alarm (because he's usually the first one up) and we woke him up with breakfast. I'd say he was pretty happy about it.
We wanted to get him his own scriptures because he was getting baptized, so we met Jared after work one day and picked them out. That day was a bit crazy. We had to take Erin and her friend up to West Valley for her acting class and it was right by a Deseret Book. Jared gets a discount on things there for working at the church so we thought we'd pick him up at the nearest train station and go there as a family. Traffic took forever and the train was delayed so by the time we got there, we only had 10 minutes to pick everything out. It was a bust for two reasons:  1. that we found out later that there was a Trax station right next to Deseret Book (which we didn't know) and that would have saved us a lot of time instead of driving to a further one, and 2. it turned out that Jared doesn't get a discount on scriptures like we thought, only on other merchandise, so we only saved a couple of dollars on the scripture bag and markers and paid full price for the scriptures. Oh well. It was also kind of a bust because I didn't think about the fact that we would have to drive Jared home from there with an extra person in the van (because we carpool). So we had to double buckle a couple of kids and endure screaming and fighting the whole way home in rush hour traffic because they were squished. Sometimes I wonder why I do the things I do...

But back to Alex. He also wanted roller blades for his birthday and had been wanting them for like a year. I told him I couldn't get him much more than the scriptures, but surprised him with roller blades as the other "little something". He loves them and spent the next few days on them constantly. Luckily, because he already had roller skates, he had no problem switching to blades. Oh and this is the outfit he refers to as his Finding Nemo outfit. It had to include the orange shorts, not just the striped shirt.
He likes his scriptures too. It's been great to have him and Erin follow along in their own scriptures for family scriptures. He's also excited about doing Faith in God and keeping his book in his scripture case.

Alex kept telling me that he wanted a party, but I kept trying to avoid the subject because... they're just a lot of work. But two days before his birthday I thought we better nail this party business down if we were going to do it. He originally wanted a movie party, but I didn't think 10 8-year olds would sit quietly for a movie. Instead, we decided to do some games in the back yard and call it an Olympic party. I only had 10 minutes before the bus left to whip up some invitations, but I got them done. Phew. The games were pretty fun but there were some really rowdy and loud moments (sorry neighbors). Jared was gone, but Erin and her friend were there to help with the Olympics. With 10 boys, and my other kids and their friends, I had 16 kids there by myself. Yikes! 

The games were pretty fun. We did 3-legged races, egg on the spoon races, roll the hula hoop, standing long jump, pass the hula hoop, hold the balloon between your heads races, pass the sponge and fill up a bucket race and wrap the mummy. Here is Alex and another boy getting wrapped. I think Alex enjoyed being the one to get wrapped.

All the games were done before the first hour was done and we still had an hour to go. We did spin the bottle to open presents. Of course that never takes up as much time as you expect. So after presents, cupcakes and ice cream, we still had 45 minutes and I had to think of something else to take up the time. I decided to have them watch Studio C and it was a huge hit. They were all glued to the TV for the next 25 minutes. Yay! After all that, they all wanted to put together the Lego sets that Alex had gotten. He got a bunch of little sets so they split up and did them all. They were enthralled and quiet for the rest of the party. I should have just done a Lego party and they would have loved it! Alex got so spoiled by all his friend gifts. They are all really nice boys. I'm glad he has good friends in the neighborhood and at school.
The week before he got to do his first pine wood derby (even though he wasn't quite 8 yet). Jared got really into the building of the car and how to make it go fast. I got to help with the flames and numbers. Alex had all the ideas of how he wanted it to look and helped Jared in the garage with sanding and grinding screws (and whatever else Jared did to it). In the end, Alex got fourth place. After the races, Jared tweaked the wheels a bit and did some races with the first place winner and won a couple of times. It was kind of a bummer because if he had done that before Alex's car probably would have gotten first or second. Next year... It was a really fun night and fun process to make the car. I think it turned out really cool looking.

Last week, Alex went into the orthodontist and got his top braces off. He'd only had them for about 6 months so that was pretty awesome. He should get his bottom ones off next month. After looking at an x-ray, they found that one of the bottom tooth roots was angled enough that the permanent tooth next to it could grow on the wrong side of it if it was not angled back. Anyway, that's why they kept the bottoms on. I can't tell you how glad I am that we did an early intervention on him because he had quite a few issues that would have been harder to fix in the future. Now I think his second phase will be way better.

Alex got baptized yesterday. It was a really special day for him. Jared baptized and confirmed him. Since it was a stake baptism, there were a lot of people there. There were four kids from our ward and they did all the confirmations together in the cultural hall. I was so hoping they would plug in a microphone because it is so loud and echo-y in that room. They didn't. Errr. It was the same thing for Erin's confirmation and I couldn't hear a thing. Since Jared was going last, I told him to talk really loud. His was the only one that people could hear. It was a good blessing. One thing I remember him saying is how Alex's kindness is a beacon to those around him. This is very true!
My parents flew home from their mission for the weekend to be here for the baptism. It was really neat to have them here. We also had Jared's parents & Matthew, Jason & Kristine's family, Brian and Callie's family, Rachel & her girls, Dave & Becky's family, Emily and my neighbors come. I think we had 39 people at our house afterwards. I get so stressed out when I have things at my house, which is why I try to avoid it as much as I can. We'd been preparing for weeks, deep cleaning and trying to finish projects (many of which never got finished). In the end, I know it didn't really matter that much, but at least I know that the pantry, mud room, blinds, baseboards, laundry room, couches, etc. are all clean... or were a week ago. And the bonus was that we found two library books that had been missing for months. I guess it's good to have things at my house occasionally if nothing more than to clean the house really well.
We had yummy breakfast casseroles, muffins, bagels, fruit and juice. The morning was also a bit stressful for me. I was trying to get the casseroles made, get the kids ready, get myself ready and get the last minute cleaning done. I may have yelled at a couple of kids. Erin helped me so much that morning. Thank goodness for older kids! I got to the church later than I wanted still having to do Marissa's hair and put Connor's shoes on, but we made it. By the time I sat down and started singing the opening song, I just started crying because of how frazzled I was. But it was a nice baptismal service. I kept thinking that if we still lived in Florida, we would have had a simple service just for him and we would have actually heard the confirmation. We wouldn't have had anything at our house, just some cookies & brownies afterwards at the church. It just sounds a lot less stressful. I am so grateful to have family here to support us, but I can see the perks of living away from here too. 

Here's our family picture of Alex's big day. It's a good shot of "Billy Bob Joe" too (me pregnant at 22 weeks).
Alex really is one of the kindest people I've ever known. I don't know how I got to be so lucky to be his mother. I don't know if it was something that could have been taught to him, he just naturally sees the needs of others and shows kindness. This makes him such a good brother and friend. He is a deep thinker and remembers everything you tell him. He does very well at school, even though his teacher is not one that everyone liked. He is very talented at the piano and really impresses people when he plays because of how young he is. Alex is obedient and tries to do the right thing. He doesn't always talk a lot. Sometimes it's hard to get things out of him (as opposed to Marissa that tells me every last detail of every little thing), but when he wants to start talking about things, he will open up to me. He really is a good boy. I could not imagine our family without Alex being there to bring peace and harmony to our home. We love him so much. Happy 8th birthday Alex!