Heritage Valley Tree Farm: Christmas Tree 2017

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

On the first Saturday of December, on an absolutely gorgeous day (who could have predicted that 60+-degree sunny day? SO LUCKY!) we headed down to Washington, MO to cut our own Christmas tree.

It's such a cute tree farm, and we left our coats back in the car and enjoyed every minute of our outing-- from searching for the perfect tree to treating ourselves to cookies (and hot cocoa for Noah, the crazy kid. SIXTY DEGREES OUTSIDE.), and watching the tree farm workers put the trees onto the jiggly machine and through the net thingy... The whole thing was just perfection. 

We ended our outing back in the riverfront town of Washington at Cowan's, a local mom and pop restaurant famous for their mile-high pie, for a good lunch before heading home to get started on setting up the tree. 

Here are the "big camera" photos from our day. Enjoy seeing a bit of what we enjoyed on our trip to Heritage Valley Tree Farm

Happy Tenth Birthday, My Noah

Saturday, November 18, 2017

And so today my eldest child turns ten. It feels like a blink of an eye in some ways, and a beautiful eternity in others. 

What a neat kid this boy is: I am daily impressed with what a tender, patient and thoughtful big brother he is. He certainly has a knack for teasing, but it is never with a mean spirit... always mischief only. And when it's clear he's hurt someone's feelings, he stops. He apologizes. 

He is so helpful and kind to Joe and I. He's FUNNY as heck. He's brilliant, of course... and it's so fun to see where that mind takes him sometimes. 

My hope for my kiddo, as he turns the corner from "little kid" to "big kid", is that he remains tender and kind. That he finds a place in this world for his sharp, funny, inventive mind. That he redefines "nerd" or "smart kid" to be something everyone can relate to and wants to come join in with him. That he continues to be social and friendly to everyone, and that he doesn't feel the need to close the door on us, his family, to stew in adolescence too soon. That he knows we are his biggest cheering section. I hope he keeps giving his siblings a chance to join him. And I hope he deepens his awareness of empathy, charity, inclusion, and love-- that he continues to learn of his Savior and strives to be more and more like Him. 

He's well on his way. And I am the luckiest mama that God saw fit to place him in my care for these first couple of decades of his beautiful life.

That Zoo Photo

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Did you know that if you visit the St. Louis Zoo, you might catch a glimpse of the common "Distracted Homo Sapiens Mother"? I'm not talking about the ones in the wild, even- the ones who come to the zoo to enjoy its many exhibits and offerings but give in to the call of their smartphones while there. I'm talking about an actual EXHIBIT-- a bona fide display of one of those mothers, within the zoo, that immortalizes the Distracted Homo Sapiens Mother in a very bold, colorful and permanent way. 

You have to look close.  Even though this display is duplicated at both entrances, it's not immediately obvious that you're seeing the Distracted Mama. It's not the focus of the exhibit, actually. It is an accidental capture on only one portion of the overall exhibit, but it is authentic. And did I mention pretty permanent?

Did you catch it? 

Do you need a closer look?
Ah. There she is. THERE SHE IS. Permanently on a giant display going on about the many amazing things our zoo has to offer. Distracted Homo Sapiens Mother. IMMORTALIZED. 

Did I mention it is at the North Entrance AND the South Entrance? 

That it has been there for FOUR YEARS?

Let me give you one more good look:

Listen. This piece of trivia about the St. Louis Zoo- this fact that myself, my sons Quinn and Noah, and my sister Beckie are immortalized on two giant display boards at one of the world's best zoos- in equal parts horrifies and amuses me. 

You gotta admit it's freaking crazy. Absolutely hilarious. Clearly the zoo photographer had been out and about on a day we had attended the zoo, and he/she had been assigned the task to capture patrons enjoying the glorious new Sea Lion Exhibit, and because my son Noah's face is the epitome of wonder and joy, this random photo he/she took (a photo we never even knew was happening) was the one chosen to represent the "Bright Future" of our wonderful zoo. This photo. It probably helps that my sister and baby are also showing a bit of awe in their faces. Never mind the poor sap in the front who got caught between expressions. Never mind the RIDICULOUSLY DISTRACTED MAMA looking nowhere near the right direction or showing ANY kind of awe. Or wonder, even. 

Never mind all that. 75% of this photo is all about the AWE and WONDER and JOY, so onto the poster it goes. 


That's really funny. It's so so so so funny. I mean, holy crap. Can you imagine what I thought when a friend texted me four years ago and said she thought she'd seen my photo at the zoo?? I was like, "Yeah, no. That's funny, but no. No way there's a photo of me at the zoo." I'd have known it was being taken, right? They would've had us sign a release or something, right?

But not two weeks later, when I had a random meetup at the zoo, I decided to go look, just to confirm, and THERE IT WAS. Noah was with me (See top photo) as I sat down right there and laughed. I laughed and laughed and laughed and LAUGHED. 

Holy crap.

So yeah. This thing is completely amusing. I still laugh every time. I laugh when my friends go to the zoo and report back that they "saw me again". 

But I'm also pretty horrified, to be honest. 

I mean, LOOK AT ME. I am the picture of "distracted mama".  I am not engaging with my own children, much less the zoo animals. This is ME, bandanna and braids and Moby wrap and all, and I'm STARING AT MY PHONE. 

I kind of look crabby. 


Never mind that what was ACTUALLY happening in this photo is that-- if you know me at all, you know this rings true--I had just taken my dozenth photo of my kids enjoying the zoo, and I was prepping it to post on Instagram. I was posting a photo of the moment, which took me OUT of the moment, and in that moment, I was immortalized as a Classic Common Distracted Mother, and it's there forever, mocking me. 

Making me scramble to explain. Causing me to stutter excuses. Forcing me to ask myself, "Is it REALLY better if my distracted moment was to post a photo? It's still me not being in the moment." Making me chuckle uncomfortably as I wonder if there is more truth than "accidental bad moment caught" in this dang zoo display photo. 

Most of the time, I mostly laugh and trust my gut that this is NOT the "real me"-- ignoring the good stuff to stare at the ephemeral chattering electronic nonsense in my hand. Most of the time, I trust myself and I know that while I could TOTALLY do with some trimming of my phone time, I am a pretty engaged and aware and "in the moment" mama. 

We all are, mamas. 

We are all pretty good mamas, and we would far rather choose an authentic moment with our kids or our surroundings (or both) than choose another two minutes of mindless scrolling. 

But I also mindlessly choose the scrolling more than I probably should, and it is something I think about a lot. Something I work on. And it's that part of me-- the part that still has work to do- that chafes at the permanent reminder that I am NOT a hands-free mama. Probably never will be. 

But the thing is-- and this applies to everything, not just phone habits-- if I'm aware of it, and I'm trying to stay aware, and I am taking little steps to do better, than I'm doing okay. It's not PERFECTION that matters, it's showing up daily and trusting that we can keep trying.  

"Aim for progress, not perfection."

So I'm going to try to lean more to the "amused" side of this Zoo Photo, and tell the "horrified" part of me to go take a nap. Because in spite of what it looks like in that photo, I'm doing okay, I think. 

And the whole thing IS pretty freaking hilarious. 


(Heading to the zoo anytime soon? Go look for us and take a photo and message me some "laughing" emojis. Let's just keep reminding each other that one bad photo isn't the worst thing in the world, and we all are doing the best we can.)

(P.S. Lucy was also there that day. She was in the stroller I am pushing, but is blocked by the poor sap in front.)


Love you, dear readers-- thank you for sitting with me in my mortification and amusement.

Halloween 2017: The Crow, The Totem, The Jedi-in-Training, and the Blue Screen of Death

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

 Halloween photos are ready to share this year! Hooray! A tradition I began when it was just Noah, I love making the time to capture my kiddos' costumes in formal backdrop portraits for memorykeeping.... And this year, they happened to have Friday, October 27 off, so we have a whole empty morning to get this done... and 3 out of four of the kids are really at cooperative ages, unlike their baby sister (looking at YOU, Larkin Clementine). 

Anyway, first up is Noah, who, inspired by the comic strip Foxtrot, decided to go as the Blue Screen of Death. 

For his costume, we already had a death cloak from my mom's dress-up stash, so all we needed was black clothing, a scythe, some fun gloves, and we created the Blue Screen using Adobe Illustrator and a computer font, then laminated it, mounted it on foamcore, and cut out eyes. Voila! 

Next is Larkin. She is at this crazy age where she won't keep hats, headbands, bows or hoods on her head, so most costumes were basically out. But then I had a brilliant idea, and remembered Rey's row of ponytails in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Larkin has enough hair for little tiny ponytails, and she forgets they are there... so BAM-- Rey was the solution:

For Larkin's costume, we started with the hair, of course. Then I just needed a white onesie, khaki pants, and brown shoes for the foundation. When I went to the resale shop, I found perfect khaki capris to mimic Rey's knee-length bloomer-style pants, and I found utterly perfect boy dress shoes that look sort of peasant-y and homemade. I cut some khaki-colored fleece to make her robes, and a dark-brown fleece strip for a belt. Some cut-off tights made up her arm bands, and I whipped up a fleece "light saber" in Luke Skywalker's original style since my brother reports that that will be the light saber Rey receives to train with.

When wiggle-baby started trying to ditch the photo session, I bribed her with sixlets to keep her around. It worked like a charm!! (Ideally, I like Smarties for kids for this kind of food bribe, since chocolate just gets super drooly and messy... but somehow I don't have any Smarties in the house!! Fail.)

My last two kids, Lucy and Quinn, both chose obscure but marvelous characters from the iPad game Monument Valley, a game our whole family has played and loved. The main character of the game is a little girl dressed in white named Ida, who befriends a totem of blocks named Totem (but who we accidentally started calling "Gollem" and so he's Gollem in our house. Oops!) At the end of the first game, Ida becomes a crow queen, and that is the incarnation of Ida that Lucy really wanted to be.

Both characters are gorgeously recreated by the artist @ddpatron from Deviant Art, as seen in these reference photos here, and it was his art that I used as inspiration to make the two costumes. (Thank you, good sir!)

For Lucy's costume, I dressed her in a white long sleeve shirt, white bicycle shorts, and tights. I then stitched a quick un-hemmed fleece jumper dress to mimic Ida's triangle dress. I made a pattern for some wings that Lucy can just slip her arms into, based on some bat wings my mom made me what I was the same age as Lucy. Again, with fleece, it was super fast and easy-- no hemming or finishing needed!   

And for her headpiece-- well, that was a labor of love using foam core, white duct tape, cardstock, and pipecleaner. I had the vision in my head for weeks, and finally made a prototype with posterboard to see if my ideas would work in real life. We had to make some adjustments to how it stays on her head (the fleece ties under her chin were not my original plan), but it worked mostly like I'd hoped, and I really enjoyed making the final piece with careful cuts and assembly. Lucy LOVES it, and I am so proud of it.  (Plus, how cute is my girl with her newly-lost top front tooth? Six year olds are so cute.)

And Quinn wanted to be Gollem, aka Totem, also shown here in 3-d form by the artist @ddpatron.

I enlisted Joe's help for Quinn's Totem. We used the biggest sheets of foam core we could find and Joe made a column for Quinn that was proportionate to three blocks of the totem's four total blocks. Any taller and it would've been awkward for Quinn's height, so we compromised with the three. Once Joe had built the initial structure, I got to work spray painting the whole thing, then taping off the individual blocks and using posterboard, a ruler, and an  x-acto knife to cute the blue markings for Totem's body. This costume took the most time and precision, but I have to say-- in the middle of a crazy month, it was weirdly satisfying to have such a left-brained, precise, focused task to tackle. And seeing the Totem come to life in such a grand scale was immensely gratifying. 

Also, Joe rigged an ingenious harness/shoulder strap for Quinn for the inside of the box, out of duct tape. It works SO WELL. And how cute is my little Gollem, peeking out from his costume? 

And there you have it: Halloween 2017. Crazy as always, but I adore doing Halloween costumes for my kids. ADORE IT. It's a pet project of mine, year after year, and even when life threatens to totally make me lose my mind, it's something I love to get down to work on. Maybe one day, when the kids are over it, but we don't have grandkids yet, I'll channel that passion towards some amazing costumes or cosplay for my husband and myself. Watch out: ten years from now, you might be seeing posts of US all decked out! Ha!
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