Sunday, November 30, 2014

Thanksgiving Finale

We have certainly had a full week of fun festivities, and we have so very much to be thankful for, but according to my jeans, it is time to eat a few hundred fewer calories per day for a while. Our Thanksgiving finale took place at the ranch, and here are some of the highlights:
  • Clay got to go out to the ranch a couple of days early to help Grandpa build a shed, which explains his absence in our Thanksgiving Day pictures. 
  • Weston dropped a six-point buck, with one shot, a feat he is pretty proud of. (I was not there when it happened, so there is no photographic evidence.)
  • We enjoyed another delicious Thanksging meal.
  • We continued Weston's birthday celebration.
  • We celebrated Ruth's half-birthday.
  • Several family members reported success with various essential oils: Lavender for eczema, Breathe drops for stuffy nose, Serenity for insomnia, and Frankincense for vertigo. It just makes my day to have something I can offer to help with these kinds of issues when they come up and to hear these happy testimonies! 
  • Ruth had another successful driving lesson.
  • Max got to go quail hunting for the first time and got very close to hitting one.
  • I read a fantastic book called The Traveler's Gift, which I think you should all read just as soon as you get a chance.
  • Many hours of football were watched.
  • There were appearances by pirates and robbers.
  • We took a late night drive around the ranch, with a couple of mostly-working spotlights, with the purpose of counting and categorizing all the deer. The deer were not all that interested in our little project, so most of them stayed in their beds or out of sight. But, we still had a good time and quite a few laughs as we rode around the ranch.

The Bird seems relaxed in his cast iron hot tub,
probably not realizing he is about to be devoured.

So thankful for these amazing people!
(Also thankful for Clay, but he just couldn't stay awake long enough to join us for the meal.)

Just half of the birthday message for the half-birthday girl

Robber Max

The "Buff" Pirate is no one to be trifled with

Mighty quail hunter

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving Day

Creepy gingerbread people at Whole Foods

Non-traditional but delicious Thanksgiving lunch at 24 Diner
(The overwhelming burnt orange is a testimony to how much we all love Weston!)

One happy birthday boy!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The last single digit

Weston, it doesn't seem possible, but you are nine! Nine is a hard year for me to grasp, because it declares that half of your time at home has already passed, in nothing more than a blink. It's not a time of sadness, just a really tangible reminder of how quickly time passes. Because, honestly, in my mind, you should still be two. I just don't know how the years slip by so quickly! But, here you are, already nine. And, what an amazing nine-year-old you are! Every day you make me proud.

You are a hard worker, but you also like to have a good time. You are quick to help out, bidden and unbidden, not only at home, but in other settings as well. You are well-respected by your peers, as well as adults, and people often look to you to be a leader in a variety of situations. For many years, leading did not come naturally to you, but I can see really excellent leadership qualities in you now and hope you will continue to develop those traits, which I believe will serve you well from now on.

You have a wonderful, understated sense of humor, that often catches us off guard and leaves us rolling on the floor in laughter. You even did a stand-up routine at Campmeeting this year, which was a huge hit with everyone in attendance. You love to entertain, and you are very good at it.

Football is still your passion (though, in the off-season, you are pretty much up for all other sports). And, though you've always preferred not to be called by a nickname, you genuinely enjoyed having your teammates and coaches call you "Big Show" again this season. You improved throughout the season and loved every minute of every game and every practice. Even players on other teams noticed your size and skill and spoke of you in awed tones from the stands. You have also continued to be enthralled with watching the sport on television. You always pick a team to root for (no matter how obscure the teams playing may be), and you cheer for that team with all your heart. You have an amazing catalog of stats and schedules and rankings in your head, for both college and professional teams. You are still a crazy committed UT fan, and we gave you tickets to tomorrow's game for your birthday. I'll be borrowing a shirt from you, because 1). I don't own anything in that awful burnt orange color and 2). you and I wear the same size. They don't call you "Big Show" for nothing. You think about football all the time, and not long ago you declared that you definitely intend to play college ball. We assumed you were talking about playing for UT, but you thoughtfully added that you weren't too concerned about which school you played for, you just wanted to play for one that would offer you a scholarship, proving that your big brain is churning away inside your big body.

Speaking of your big brain, you are doing so well in school. You became a Memory Master in CC in the spring, and you are planning to try for the honor again at the end of this school year. You are also practicing for several PSIA events and are rocking your regular school work every day. Your special academic loves are Math, Science (particularly Chemistry) and Latin, but we have seen so much improvement in the last year in your Reading and Spelling and Writing. You really enjoy reading mystery books, and, in the last year, you have especially enjoyed The Boxcar Children series, The Magic Tree House series and the Encyclopedia Brown books. You still use the "calculator in your throat" (a term you came up with when you were very little) to store and churn through important information and to play with numbers in a variety of interesting ways. You are always noticing curious arrangements of numbers and making up your own just for fun.

You are an avid and eager game player, embracing every kind of board game. A few you have really been enjoying recently are Settler's of Catan, Toss Up, Trivial Pursuit, Scattergories and Scrabble. You also love the IQ Fit game you got from Nana and Papa for your birthday. And, you still love playing Forty-Two and Yahtzee. Another activity that has been endlessly entertaining for you in the last year are the Extreme dot-to-dot puzzles, with hundreds of dots to connect. These make me a little dizzy, but you excel at completing them.

Recently, Dad observed that you live in a state of "satisfeito," which is the Portuguese word for "satisfied" and a very accurate description of your normal state of being. You are generally content and calm and satisfied in whatever situation you find yourself. You are easy-going and fun-loving, which is why so many people are drawn to you and genuinely enjoy being in your company. You inspire me in so many ways, and I'm so proud to be your mom! I'm thankful for these last nine years with you, and, though I'm not eager for you to grow up too quickly, I am excited to see you grow into yourself more and more. You are truly a delight! I hope you have a very special birthday!

Much love,

Monday, November 24, 2014

First Thanksgiving

Though there were no Pilgrims or Indians in attendance, we did celebrate our first Thanksgiving this weekend with my parents and my sister's family. There was plenty of food and good family fun. It was such a great weekend! We have so much to be thankful for!

The boys got to try out the super cool bunk cots

Playing the game of Life with cousins

The great turkey hunters

The lovely view from my parents' lake house

We threw in a little birthday party, too!

Friday, November 21, 2014

School Fun

Here are some cool things, that you may not already know about, that have happened in our homeschool so far this semester:

  • Ruth has had a couple of special, first-hand opportunities to study Political Science. First, by attending a criminal trial in Burnet County. And, second, by attending an event where Condoleeza Rice was speaking. Ruth had previously read one of Ms. Rice's books and is now diving into another
  • Weston is practicing for PSIA Math, Spelling, Storytelling and Music Memory contests coming up in the spring.
  • Max finished his 2nd grade Math book, half-way through his 1st grade year.
  • Clay is super interested in first sounds of words and rhyming words. He is also interested in learning how to write some of the letters. And, he sits in on any of his siblings' classes that he can get away with. 
  • We saw a lunar eclipse and a blazing fireball in the night sky, in our informal astronomy class.
  • This first semester of CC, the older boys have learned all the states and capitals, most of the body systems, how to play the tin whistle, all of John 1:1-7 in English and Latin, many historic facts pertaining to early American history, many of the irregular verbs and their tenses, the math facts through the 15s, and many more fun and interesting things. 
  • The boys and I have been working our way through Weston's Magic School Bus chemistry set, and we finally got to the much anticipated volcano experiment. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

It's today!

For the last several weeks, Clay has been coming into our bedroom, early in the morning, and announcing with a great deal of enthusiasm: "It's today!" I'm not usually much of a morning person, especially before the sun is up, but with a greeting like that, it's pretty easy to face the new day. Yesterday, though, he took it to the next level. "It's today!" he squealed, "Do you want to see?!" And, then in a quiet, awe-struck voice, he added, "It's kind of awesome!"

Some mornings, I feel like I just need a few more minutes of shut-eye. And, some mornings, I feel like if I can just stumble my way to the shower and then the coffee pot, I'll be o.k. But, those things aren't the answers to starting the day on the right foot or getting through it without just getting through it. You see, the thing I often overlook is the spirit of that last part: "It's kind of awesome!" My kids teach me lessons all the time, but this is one I need to really let sink in.

Each day is an awesome gift, filled with new and awesome possibilities. It's not the burden I sometimes imagine it to be. It's kind of awesome that I woke up this morning. This is the only today I'm guaranteed, so I want to embrace it wholeheartedly.

It's today, friends! Do you want to see? It's kind of awesome.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Beautiful Bodies

For the last six weeks, we have been studying the human body at CC. We love CC for so many reasons, but one of them is projects like this, that I'm honest enough to admit I would be unlikely to tackle at home. Each week the boys, along with the other students in their classes, learned about a few parts, and today, they finally got the chance to put them all together.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Girl's Weekend

Last year for Christmas, I gave my mom a girl's weekend. I left it open-ended, with no specifics planned. Thankfully, we finally found an open weekend before Christmas came back around. We spent the weekend in Austin, shopping in and around The Domain, eating at amazing restaurants like Kona Grill, urban and Copper, and chit-chatting about everything in the world. On Saturday, we saw the Dirty Dancing broadway show, which was absolutely fantastic! We ended our weekend together and rejoined the rest of the family at Ruth's horse show this afternoon. It was so great to get to have this time together! I hope we'll get to do it again soon.

Dirty Dancing

Celebrating a wonderful girl's weekend with wine flights at Copper. 

Ruth and Cosmo tore up the arena. Two first place ribbons and a third.

Ruth also won "High Point" at the show
and was awarded a special ribbon and a beautiful drawing.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

To the manufacturers of smoke detectors:

First of all, let me say, I very much appreciate your efforts to create a product to protect my home and family in the event of a fire. I really do. It helps me rest a little easier at night. Most nights. But, I am seriously wondering who treated you badly as a child to make you grow up and configure these handy little devices to only malfunction in the middle of the night? There has never been a time in my memory when a battery went dead, with its accompanying repetitive warning signal, during daylight hours. Or, when the interconnected wonders began their blaring, for no apparent reason, in the middle of the afternoon. I used to think it was just a coincidence, but now I'm convinced it's an act of malevolence on your part. The odds are just against it being random.

And, is it really necessary for smoke detectors to be installed on ceilings, so that we are incapable of restoring peace to our sleepy households without having to drag the ladder in from the garage? It just seems like you've added insult to injury there. Having sleep deprived people several feet up in the air doesn't lend much credibility to your supposed purpose of creating these devices for safety's sake. I'm just saying.

I am very tired now, since I was up half the night enduring your vengeance, so I will close this letter. I implore you to find it in your hearts to rethink the middle-of-the-night workings of these otherwise useful contraptions.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Prove it

I have this one kid that requires me to prove myself as a parent. Every. Single. Day. Often, multiple times a day. He does not take subtle hints or back down when threats are issued. If anything, those things feel like a challenge to him. He insists on seeing what I'm made of--on knowing if I'm serious, and worthy of his respect. It's like he's saying, "Are you really going to take away my toys or privileges, or come up with a consequence that is more painful than the fight is fun? Prove it!" I'm talking about a level of strong-willedness that even strong-willed children usually never reach.

And, if he ever perceives weakness, the fight will go on for hours, because he thinks there might actually be a chance he's going to win. I can never, ever back down or relent on promised punishments (even though it's tempting), and I often have to come up with creative ways to get through to him, because it is unlikely what worked with other kids will work with him or even what worked with him yesterday will work today. Frankly, this type of parenting is exhausting. And, sometimes I handle it with less grace and composure than I should, and sometimes with none at all. And, sometimes, even when I "win" the battle, it feels like a defeat, because I'm completely worn out, and because I know I will be back on the proving ground again the next day. (And, I firmly believe that the reason we are still daily engaging in these battles is because of my own lack of fortitude on those occasions when I just didn't have any more fight or creativity in me and have let him have the victory for the sack of peace. As all parents, I am learning as I go.)

Inevitably, though, on my steadfast days, there will come a moment when he realizes that I am a worthy opponent that is not easily defeated and therefore worthy of his respect. Something will get through to him and his countenance will change. And, from that moment on, he is just about the most compliant child in the house. My requests are met with a sincere willingness to obey and the most respectful responses imaginable. And, huge bear hugs will be given spontaneously for the remainder of the day. Once he respects me, it is easy for him to submit to my authority. He loves me more when he knows I'm going to be true to my word, no matter what.

Having to go through this process is frustrating because he's a little kid who has to obey certain rules for his own safety and edification, but oh! when he's adult who has learned how to control his impulses and can be his own boss, these traits will serve him well. If you ever intend to employ him or marry him, you need to understand that he has a serious need to be respected and to respect those around him. And, he will make you prove that you respect him and that you are worthy of his respect. Over and over. But, he will love you completely and do your bidding absolutely if you do. This one will do mighty things! And, if you earn his respect (and I do mean earn!), he may just let you come along for the ride.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

3 ½ years of perfection

The smile. The nakedness. The shiner. The chocolate smeared on the arm and chest.
This is 3 ½ years of perfection, right here.
I love this kid so much!

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Jeff's birthday weekend in Aggieland

We knocked out the scary portion of our Halloween bright and early on Friday morning with a trip to Passport Health in Austin, for our travel shot debriefing and the first round of injections. It was actually a wonderful visit--very informative and personalized--and our nurse made the whole process as painless as possible. From there, we made our way to the Arboretum to get the birthday weekend started with our annual combined November birthday/half-birthday trip (for Jeff, Weston, Clay and Ruth) to Estancia Brazilian steakhouse. This is always one of the highlights of the year! And, from there, it was off to Aggieland!

Our first stop was the new and very impressive Equine Complex, where a sweet member of the Aggie equestrian team gave us a tour of the facilities. After that, we checked into our motel room, which we were happy to get on short notice, on a game weekend. This happened to be the same motel some of our family members stayed in when we got married, and it appears that they literally haven't changed a thing in the last 16 years. But, it was available, and inexpensive, and close to campus, so we didn't feel we had anything to complain about. 

Fun at the Equine Complex

a pile of boys

Eventually, we made our way over to Chicken Oil Co. to hang out and grab some grub. We took the kids there last year, and so, embracing the Aggie Spirit, it has become a tradition for us. After dinner, we had a mandatory nap time, to help combat major grumpiness during Midnight Yell. We made it to campus about 10:20 and were able to see the "Flight of the Great Pumpkin," before following the band over to Kyle Field for Yell. 

A cutthroat game of Crazy 8 at Chicken Oil

Flight of the Great Pumpkin on the Quad

watching the junior Yell Leaders do their class set before Yell

Clay quickly picked up the pass-backs and really got into it

We were directly behind the band at Yell,
so we had a good view of the big drums as they exited

Future Yell Leader

One of the kids' favorite things on campus

The game was at 11:00 on Saturday morning, so we arrived at the stadium by 10:00. We were sort of in awe of the magnitude of the recent renovations. And, while the stadium was far from full, it is always fun to watch the Aggies play at Kyle Field. It's even more fun when they pull out the win. 

Game day selfie

Kyle Field, with the newly added south end zone seating


"Now forming at the north end of Kyle Field…"

"…the nationally famous, Fightin' Texas Aggie Band."

Yell Practice and an early game proved too much for this little guy

In an effort to introduce the kids to more "old school" Aggie establishments, we took them to Layne's for lunch after the game. By the time we finished eating, Midnight Yell had caught up with all of us, and another mandatory nap time was instituted. 

Jeff chose Lupe Tortilla for his birthday dinner, mainly based on the fact that they were the only non-fast food joint in town with a playground and adult beverages. Due to exceptionally slow service, we ended up just having drinks and appetizers, but the little boys were able to get all their wiggles out on the playground, while the two older kids and the adults played cards and shared some delightful conversation at the table, under the heaters on the patio. We ended up eating dinner and dessert at Applebee's, chosen mainly for its proximity to our motel. There were no fewer than two drinks spilled at our table, and the waitress made me feel older than dirt when she proclaimed that she started Kindergarten the year we graduated from A&M, but we still managed to have a good time and share a lot of laughs. 

brother time at Lupe Tortilla

This morning, we spent some time just wandering around on campus, indulging Clay's statue obsession and marveling at all the ways in which campus has changed since we were students there.  For instance, there is the most magnificent Starbucks in the library now, and the inside of that building no longer looks like the '70s threw up on every floor. 

Having a blast at the bike "fix-it" station

a particularly popular sculpture with the kids

Clay wanted to stop at every statue on campus and have his picture made.
(He also talks about wanting to see all the statues when he looks at the travel books.)
We don't really understand his obsession, but we are happy to oblige. 

Ringed with Aggie Spirit

The kids have been asking us forever to go bowling--basically, since the Marble Falls bowling alley closed down several months ago--so, we decided to take them while we were in the "big city." We had a great time at Grand Station, and Weston emerged victorious in our game. Our final stop before heading out of Aggieland was Wings 'N More, where we took the first available table in the bar, which is how we discovered that Weston is a huge fan of the sports' bar concept. (I know, this should have been obvious. Because, hello, food+sports.) He would have stayed all day, but, despite all the mandatory napping, the younger boys were quite tired, and it was clear we were going to have to voluntarily leave the restaurant or get kicked out. We had such a wonderful weekend, celebrating one of our very favorite people, in one of our very favorite places! 

Ready to bowl