Tuesday, August 31, 2010

So Long Summer 2010
















Yesterday I polled people about when they think that summer is officially over. I did this because my life is exciting like that. The results of my study showed that some people count summer as being over the minute that school is back in session. Some think it is summer as long as the calendar still says that it technically is. Others believe that it is summer for as long as they can wear shorts and flip flops and still feel warm weather. All very interesting responses. Here in the Zickafoose Zoo we sadly believe that summer officially ended today, on this last day of August. September 1st always, always brings about the start of the fall season in our home. That's just how we roll. So in honor of the last day of summer, I decided to post some photos of my ice cream eating darlings. So long summer of 2010. You treated us well, and you will be missed!

Monday, August 30, 2010

A Date With Kate















Tonight Kate and I went on a date. She had her mini school orientation/teacher meet and greet at church, and I decided to turn it into a mini mother/daughter date. First thing this morning I declared that no one was going but Mommy and Kate. This brought on tears from both sisters, but I stuck to my guns (even though it broke my heart just a little). Emma was crying because she felt left out, and Kate shed tears because she does not like to do anything without Emma. I just think that sometimes our children need individual attention, even if they do not realize it themselves. Because we homeschool, I am with my children all day, every day, but very rarely am I with them individually. I decided to make the most of this precious opportunity. By this evening both girls were over their sadness. I put on fancy shoes and Kate put on a cute sundress and off we went. Once in the car I turned off the radio and we just talked. About whatever her little four year old heart wanted to talk about. We talked about meeting new friends at mini school, chocolate, ballet class, rabbits, hair color, Anna Boverie, and Swiper The Fox. It was enlightening for sure. Once we arrived Kate "met" her teacher (our sweet friend Mrs. Jenny) and I left her in her classroom while I went to a parent meeting. She had a blast! School is going to be so good for her. One thing we need to work on.... writing her name! Emma learned this in preschool, but tonight it appeared that all of the other kids in the class could already write their name, so we must get busy! After the orientation was over I told Kate that I would take her for a treat. Any treat that she wanted. I was thinking Marble Slab for ice cream or Bob Evans for dessert. You know what she chose? Going to the gas station and picking out a package of MM's. That's right. She wanted gas station candy. When I asked her why she had chosen that, she said, "So we can hurry home and be with Emma!". Sweet, sweet girl. Once back in the van she ate about three MM's before falling asleep. Our "date" was short, but it sure was sweet. I love that girl to the moon and back! Just look at how she shines!


Operation Pick-Me-Up

After yesterdays post, I got a few emails wondering what tips I had for keeping a home that houses a large family neat and tidy. The people want to know how we keep our house that is overflowing with nine people and all of their possessions organized. So today I will answer the people. Because I am nice like that.

First, it is important to remember that although nine people live in our home, six of them are over the age of 13. That means there are twelve hands capable of doing chores and helping out, as opposed to a normal household in which one momma must carry the majority of the work load alone. What can I say? Work at a behavior center, and get a clean house! Emma is going to be starting her official chore list this year as she enters first grade, and Kate picks up the toys that she gets out, but for the most part Boss, the big girls, and I carry the load. Boss is responsible for doing our families laundry (he has always done this at his request), and for deep cleaning the master bathroom and shining our wood floors once a week. The big girls daily clean their bathrooms, sweep the floors, take out the garbage, and clean the kitchen counters and dining table. That right there covers a HUGE chunk of the daily work that needs to be done! I am the official picker upper. Yes, that is actually an official term. I just made it up, so that makes it official. I put everything in its place twice a day, dust several times a week, and generally am in charge of the dishes (which with nine people eating three meals and two snacks a day can often be quite an undertaking!). Just didn't want you all to think I was lazy :). But even with all of our busy hands, there are still a few areas of our home that could quickly get out of control if I did not have a system. Here are a few tips for making your home appear to be neat and tidy. (As long as no one opens the closets! Just kidding. Or not.) Oh yes, one other tidbit that I must divulge is that our home is tri-level. Upstairs are the bedrooms and bathrooms. Downstairs is the basement family/home school room, the laundry room, and our playroom. Our main level houses the living room, dining room and kitchen. Having a tri-level house is awesome and sort of feels like cheating, because if the main area looks tidy, the other two areas could look a mess, and a visitor would be none the wiser! Once again, just keeping it real. Now moving on to my tips.

Tip 1 - I always have candles going! I am cheap and cannot afford the highly esteemed Yankee Candles, but I do love The Candleberry Co. candles! My favorite scent is Friendship Tea. Yummo! Smells so good and burns evenly. However, my very favorite home scent product is my fragrance oil burner. I love it! I bought a pretty, white porcelain one that I leave on my entry table. You light a tea light candle to put in the base of it, and then you pour about a teaspoon of oil into the top. My favorite scent is Cinnamon Nutmeg by Elegant Expressions. You can buy it at Wal Mart for $2 a bottle. It is the best thing I have EVER smelled, and it seriously fills your entire house. So, so good. While candles have nothing to do with picking up, I just think lighting something that smells good is such an inviting thing to have in your home. Our pick up process begins when the candles are lit.

Tip 2 - I keep a shoe basket right by our front door in our entry way nook. Each season I pull out the children's appropriate shoes and fill the shoe basket with them. That way every shoe they will need all season long is right there. When we need to leave to go somewhere quickly, the children can grab their shoes and they are right there by the door. This eliminates searching in bedrooms to find the missing shoe. When we come home from being out, shoes go back in to the basket first thing. I like this method because nothing gets tracked into the house, we always know where shoes are, and that is one less thing that I have to pick up! Not the most attractive, but I am certain it is one of the things that I will miss once it is just Boss and I. Our tiny shoe basket has been with us since the beginning!

Tip 3 - No matter where we have lived, we have always created a play room. If the choice is using space for an office or a play room, the play room will win every single time! At this stage, with three small kiddos, having someplace to corral the toys is a must. I let the girls get out whatever they want all day long, but at the end of each day, toys are carried back to the play room. I don't even care if they are put away there. I just want them in the room. That way I can shut the door and pretend that ignorance is bliss! We try to keep toys out of the bedrooms, but I still seem to be failing at this. They sneak them up. But generally speaking, in our house, bedrooms are for beds, clothes, and books. Everything else in the play room!

Tip 4 - If you are a home school momma, you know that keeping track of supplies can make you crazy! I found a big, old hutch and I have shoved everything inside! Once a month I try and organize this, but at least I have a place to shove supplies behind closed doors everyday!

Tip 5 - I hate paper clutter! I keep a file thing right by our kitchen phone where all paper items (mail etc.) go. I try and purge this space weekly. I NEVER leave paper lying around in stacks. It would quickly overtake me if I did!

Those are just a few tips I have for keeping things neat and tidy in a home with a large family. Some days are better than others, but again, on the crazy days where I look around in bewilderment, I try and remind myself that I will indeed miss this one day. And that puts a smile on my face as I tackle the chores over, and over, and over again.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Susie Homemaker

Yesterday I talked Boss in to a day trip to the local flea market and while there I saw a sign that made me laugh out loud. It said, "I know all about cooking and cleaning. I just don't know how it applies to me!". So, so true. Another funny quote I love is, "I only have a kitchen because it came with the house." (One of my Besties even gave me a cute bag with this saying on it! When she saw it she thought of me, if that tells you anything.) Because the nasty truth is, Susie Homemaker, I am not. I mean, I love Susie Homemaker. I love being friends with her, and reading blog posts about her,and sometimes I even dream about her. Heck, I want to be her. But alas, I have come to accept that I am not her. If you have ever seen my children's bedroom or our master bathroom, you know this to be true. No matter how great the rest of our house looks on any given day, these two areas are always in need of serious work. Some nights I must dig a tunnel through the clutter of toys, clothes, and books, just to tuck my children in to bed at night. I am not proud of this fact, I am just keeping it real, folks.

I always walk the fine line of wanting our home to be tidy, organized, and presentable to others at a moments notice, and yet wanting our home to be well loved and lived in at the same time. On one hand I believe in the saying, a place for everything and everything in its place. Shoes in the basket by the front door. All toys in the playroom, nothing left out. Dishes washed and put away. Nothing in the sink. Tables and counter tops free of clutter. I grew up in a house like this. My parents let me keep my room the way that I wanted it. They cringed at how messy it often was, but they rarely ever complained. We often tease my dad (Hi Dad!) because he is the kind of guy who carpeted the garage so we could wipe our shoes off before we got into the vehicles. I respect the idea of having a neat and orderly home. I value taking care of the possessions that Boss and I have worked so hard to buy. All of those things truly are important to me, and I want to instill these values in to my children as they grow.

Yet on the other hand, I want our home to be well lived in and loved. It is our home. Our place of refuge from the storm. It is not a museum, and I don't ever want it to feel as such. Little shoes strewn about remind me that sweet little feet live in this home. That makes me thankful. Crumbs on the table tell me that little bellies are now full. Books on the counter are a sign that learning went on inside these walls today. People live here, and sometimes I love the reminders that my home is an active and busy place. It is a constant struggle for me balancing tidiness and life. Because often times life is not tidy. At times it can be quite messy. And sometimes messy is good.

So what do I do? I strive daily to find that balance. I teach my children about the importance of caring for the earthly possessions we have been blessed with. Twice a day we do a quick pick me up. Once before Boss gets home from work, and then again before bed. We light candles, put away the shoes, pick up our school supplies, and put away the toys. Twice a day we do this. This keeps the house from completely getting away from us. But in between those times, we live. We eat cupcakes not caring if crumbs get on the floor. We get out checkers before we have put away the crayons. We play dress up and change our outfits 50 times. We snuggle on the couch and leave the blanket strewn about when we are done. We just live, finding that balance between tidiness and life.

And on the days that everything gets completely away from me? I just sit back and thank God for it all, because I know that one day I will miss this. I will miss tripping over tiny shoes and picking up baby dolls and plastic tiaras. I will miss sweeping up goldfish cracker crumbs, and finding pacifiers lying around in every nook of the house. There will come a day that neat and orderly will be all that exists, because our babies will have flown the nest and Boss and I will be on our own. On the really crazy, messy days I remind myself of these simple things, and it helps to get me through. Because Susie Homemaker I am not, but a Momma I am.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Big City















Most of you know by now that we are country folk. We live in a pleasant little town surrounded by cornfields, right outside of a great big city. Well, every once in awhile, us country folk get the hankering for an adventure. So what do we do? If there are no cows to be tipped, we trade in our boots and jeans for sophisticated attire and we head to the big city for a night of fun. or something like that. In reality I do not own boots or sophisticated attire, but I did put on a clean shirt that was not covered in baby spit up. Does that count? I thought so. Anyway, back to our night of fun.

Our family had relief tonight (we get one evening "off" from the residents each week) and we wanted to do something fun, so we decided to head down town. Our destination? New Port Aquarium. It rocks. Seriously, if you are ever in the area, you should go. Each year when we vacation to coastal cities we visit the aquariums that they have in the cities there, thinking that because they are near the ocean they will be great, and sadly we are always disappointed. Because our aquarium is the best. It's as simple as that. Emma loves the aquarium. She looks in every single tank, and reads every single sign. If she weren't so cute it would be annoying. Kate is just happy to be where Emma is, and Boss and I just enjoy being with our children, so it is a win-win situation for all parties involved. We spent a solid two hours there before we ventured over to eat Mexican food at a restaurant that overlooks the river. It was a gorgeous day, and our evening was just about perfect. Lots of laughs. It is the simple moments really, that make me so thankful for this life that I lead. An evening out with my four most favorite people on this earth. Not much can top that. It was fun pretending to be big city folks for a night. But you know what was even better? Coming home to our little pleasant house in the country. It really is the best of both worlds.





Wednesday, August 25, 2010

My Mini in the Middle

















This is Kate. My dark haired beauty. My mini in the middle. When she was born, the nurses all said she looked like an Anne Geddes baby from one of the calendars. Now people comment that she has Precious Moments eyes. I think she is stunning. More importantly, she is mine. She loves chocolate. Anything chocolate. She also loves Beezus and Ramona (maybe because she can relate?) and has taken to saying the very naughty word of "guts".And she loves Barbies, babies, music, dress-up, apple juice,swimming, riding bikes, grapes, roller skating, and her siblings. Especially her siblings. We have made it no secret that the first two years of Kate's life were challenging. She liked to get up before the sun, that silly girl. But now she is four. So grown up. She now sleeps until the sun wakes up first. She is oh so silly and LOVES to laugh. She is a snuggler, and often wants to cuddle. She is mischievous. If there is a twinkle in her eye, watch out!

I always knew that Kate was meant to be our middle child. Our mini in the middle if you will. She was always so ornery, getting into everything, testing your limits, and then melting you with her smile to get herself out of trouble. I won't tell you how often it worked, because that would be embarrassing :). I always told Ben, "We have to have more children. Kate suits the middle child stereotype perfectly!". And the day that we had Jack, she did not disappoint. Everyone smiled for picture after picture, except for Kate. She wanted to be in pictures all by herself and pouted for any other photo! Oh that girl. She marches to the beat of her own drum, that's for sure. Have I mentioned how much I love her?

Boss and I have said from the beginning that we would be careful with her heart, our mini in the middle. My mom was a middle child, and Boss himself was in the middle, so they know first hand how sometimes, without meaning to, parents can overlook that child in the middle. Sometimes for practicalities sake. Why buy new clothes when older siblings hand me downs will work just fine? We agreed we would always try our best to make her feel special. She wanted a new bike for her birthday. She got one. It did not matter that there was a perfectly good Dora bike just her size that Emma had outgrown sitting in the garage. She wanted something just for her. So she got it. I like something that the Duggars once said. (Side note: I realize many of you do not agree with the values of this family, but I will confess that I love watching their show. It is the only show on television that I watch. Emma and I make it a date every Tuesday night. While I would not wish to be them (Let's face it, I just don't look so great in a skirt!) I LOVE large families, and theirs is, well, large. So I like watching it.) Anyway, once they said something like, "We always tell our children there are two things you can't change in life: who your parents are (what family you are born into) and what your birth order is." Or something like that. Oh so true! But we as parents we can do our best to make EVERY child feel special. That's how we want our Kate (all of our children, really) to feel. We want her to know that she is oh so loved, our mini in the middle.

I have mentioned that she is starting preschool in just a few short weeks. Mini school, as our church calls it. Sounds perfect for our mini in the middle. She has her new backpack and lunchbox and she is ready to make new friends. It will be good for her to spend some time away from Emma each week. They are best friends, but I think Kate will blossom having something each week that is just for her. This year, it is her turn to shine! We have been talking about mini school all summer. Trying to prepare her to leave us for a few hours each week, and to get her used to the idea. Last week I was telling her about some of the kids that would be in her class, and I mentioned one little boy from church. She got a confused look on her face and said, "Mom, he can't go to Minnie school. It is for girls." Before I could ask what she meant, her eyes lit up and she said, 'I know! Boys go to Mickey Mouse school!". Ha! My sweet, sweet girl. All summer long she thought she would be going to a school that specialized in all things Minnie Mouse :).

Kate, Mommy loves you. You are perfect just as you are, and whether I had three children, or thirty, I would love you just the same. There is only one of you, and you can never be replaced. We are blessed because of you, our dark haired, beautiful, mini in the middle.

Monday, August 23, 2010

35

Ben and I have been house/foster parenting for 4 1/2 years now. We began this work in New Mexico before moving to our current children's home in Ohio. During that time we have seen 34 different children between the ages of six and eighteen walk through the doors of our home. A few boys, even more girls. All broken and in need of love. Tonight we will be meeting number 35. Not sure why that feels significant, but it does. You see, sometimes I forget. When I was first called to this work, I had such passion. I was out to save the world one child at a time. I took God's words about caring for the orphans very seriously. I covered each child often in prayer, and my mind never wandered far from all that these children had endured.

But then time passed. More and more children came and went. Faces began to blur. What started out as a bold mission, turned into mundane life. Foster parenting just became something that we do. A daily part of our life. A good part of our life, but the passion faded. I would begin to look at others and wonder why their life seemed more exciting than mine? Why wasn't I feeding the homeless? Being a missionary overseas? Why was my life so regular? Plain? But then I would mention this to someone else, and they would laugh. They view my life's work as a mission.

The problem was, I had forgotten. When I sit with the kids in my care at the dinner table each night, I now just see them as kids. It has become such a daily part of my existence that I no longer see sexual, physical, or verbal abuse when I look at them. I don't think about how they were homeless and lived in a shelter each night, or if they were lucky, in their car. I don't remember that their parents tried to kill them by putting rat poisoning in their bottle as an infant, or that they used to be dressed up for some sick person's pleasure. They are just my kids. The big kids (as we call them in our house) in my life. On one hand this is a good thing. Because they are NOT their pasts. They are more than the abuse that they have endured. But on the other hand, I need to remember. I need this to keep my fire going. I need this to get over the awkward transition that is moving someone new into this house. I need to remember so that I remember to pray, and so that I never get so comfortable that I think I can do this on my own.

So tonight we get someone new. It still makes me a little nervous each time someone new moves in. Probably always will. But my passion is revived. I want to love the kids who come my way the same way that God loves me. I feel so blessed to be in this work, and I just don't want to forgot. Each child. Each story. Each face.

John L.
Brendan
Kayleigh
Jackie H.
Callie
Soomee
Jackie Y.
Kelly
John M.
Kyle
Toshina
Milton
Larrin
Ubaldo
Uwaldo
Mia
Clara
Kat
April
Sarah
Jamie
Jessica
Annie
Alex
Breanna
Bre
Crystal
Missy
Brittany M.
Kristal
Zoe
Brittany B.
Carolyn
Cassie

These kids have touched my life. I pray I have touched theirs. I don't want to forget. Here's to 35 more!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Goodbye Grandmother

I wasn't going to write today. But then I got the call. Tomorrow we are starting Emma's two weeks of "review" before we officially start first grade, a new resident is moving in, and I was tired just thinking of all that needed to be accomplished. All I wanted to do was go to bed.But then I got the call. My little girls were being whiny, and I was beginning to snap at them. But then I got the call. And everything changed.

My Grandmother passed away tonight a six o'clock in the evening. Just 43 days after my Grandpa's passing. They were married for 68 years, I believe. Grandma had been sick for the past couple of weeks with bronchitis and she was having some issues with her diabetes, but we were not expecting this. Perhaps without Grandpa, she just didn't desire to fight any longer. Thankfully my Mom was with her when it happened, and she was not alone.

What to say about Grandma? When she was young, she was beautiful. They both were. She had raven black hair before it faded to grey, and then to white. Her physical appearance changed over the years, as most of ours do, and the Grandma I knew was always a large woman. Her skin was brown and wrinkly from the sun. She used to love being in the water, and growing up they always had a swimming pool in their back yard. When I was younger she was a stern woman, but she softened after her daughter, my aunt, passed away in 1990. I never saw her shed any tears. Not when my aunt died, nor my grandfather. My mom saw her cry once in her entire lifetime. Grandma was very matter of fact. At one point several years ago, after a recent stay in the hospital, she announced with a smile on her face, "I just keep on living!". And that she did. She loved crossword puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, reading, and Wheel of Fortune. Every Christmas she used to make Aunt Bill's Brown candy and Divinity. She had a hearty laugh.

My grandparents met while they were in the service. Grandpa was in the Air Force, and Grandma was some sort of paramedic, I think. They lived in Colorado, Oklahoma, and Texas. They had three children, five grandchildren, and eight great grandchildren. While we all knew that they loved their family deeply, to be honest, my grandparents were never very affectionate with one another. There was never hand holding or smooching that I can remember. They shared separate bedrooms because Grandpa snored quite loudly and Grandma was a restless sleeper. I always knew they "loved" each other, but I never witnessed it. Until the day of Grandpa's viewing. The viewing hours were coming to an end and everyone was filing out of the sanctuary. Only a few family members were left. Ben and I were standing up at the front near the casket. We watched Grandma get up and walk slowly over to Grandpa. Gently she patted his hand and said, "Sleep well. I will check on you one last time in the morning." And then she turned and there was a love in her eyes that I had never seen before. She loved my Grandpa. She had checked on him in the mornings for 68 years, and the next day she would do it for the very last time before they lowered him into the ground. It was a beautiful sight and I am so very glad that I witnessed it. And now six weeks later, she is gone too. I believe that is how it was meant to be.

It is strange knowing that I no longer have any living grandparents on this earth. It's the circle of life, I suppose. He gives and He takes away. Each moment matters. Each day. Each life. So tonight, I wrote. I hugged my girls, kissed my sweet baby's round head, and snuggled with Boss on the sofa. And if the Lord wills, I will get to check on and love each of them again in the morning. Goodbye, Grandmother. Now you can check on Grandpa for eternity. You will be missed.

Edited to add: I checked with Mom today about my grandparents years of marriage and their roles in the service, because I was not exactly sure of the details. Turns out they were married for right around 67 years, and Grandma was not a paramedic in the service after all. I assumed that because of all of her years in the Red Cross, but it turns out that she was actually an electrician of bomber plains! You go, Grandma! You rocked.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A Stay-At-Home Saturday

Today is Saturday, And we stayed home ALL day long. It was bliss! I didn't even get dressed, or put on a lick of make-up. Usually staying home all day makes me feel all antsy inside. Like there is life to be lived, and I am missing out on it. But today I decided to focus on the life that is going on inside the walls of this house. Since I stayed up way too late playing Dominoes last night, Boss let me sleep in and he got all of the residents up and off to their family visits. We only had one resident home today, and I made her sit on her bum and watch movies ALL day long. You might think that is torture, but let's remember that she is a teenager. They tend to really dig television. And this particular teenager just got out of nearly three weeks in jail, so I am pretty sure she was thankful for that TV time today. Anyway, where was I?

Oh, yes. I slept in. And then I took a bath. After I was all nice and clean, Emma and I had yogurt, strawberries, and granola for breakfast. We are the only two in this house who like sleeping in, so we often find ourselves having breakfast together long after everyone else. Emma is a girl after my own heart. After breakfast, Boss worked in the yard. He did all kinds of manly things like mow, edge, pull out bushes filled with poison ivy, pull dead branches off of trees, and sweep. He also painted the cute little bench in my living room a nice "fall" orange. Or maybe I should say "autumn" orange. That sounds nicer. It looks great! My house looks so cozy, and just in time for fall, too. Or should I say Autumn? All we need now are baseboards and a nice area rug for our living room. The to-do/to-buy list is never ending these days. While Boss worked outside, I did the dishes, cleaned out a box in our bathroom, washed our sheets (really, it's just embarrassing how long it's been since I have done that), and refereed some sisterly squabbles, All the while, Mister Man was rocking away in his swing, and the squabbling sisters were playing Big Sister/Little Sister (they are so imaginative and original it's crazy) in the basement.

After a lunch of frozen pizza's (call me Betty Crocker), Boss went back out to do more yard work, the teenager went back to the television, Mister Man went into his bumbo, and Emma and I played a game or two of checkers. Kate was my helper. Somewhere along the way, our family acquired one of those old rug checker boards with those huge, round checker pieces. Like they have at cracker barrel. We love it! After checkers, Kate went to take a nap and Emma asked if she could get a head start on her new math workbook. She is a girl after my own heart, except for when it comes to math :). While Emma did math, I re tackled lesson plans, this time with a book with much larger squares. Did this OCD heart good! I actually got our first month planned out, and I feel pretty good about it.

For dinner it was sandwiches, chips, fruit, and milk. Did anyone besides me just realize that means we did not consume any vegetables here in the Zickafoose Zoo today? No? Oh, well. After dinner it started raining, so Boss, Mister Man, and I sat on the front porch rockers and watched it rain. Then we bathed all of the children and had them in bed by ten. It was a really good Stay-At-Home Saturday. Maybe we should try it more often.

Bullets

* Last night we had our Back To School Dinner out. We went to Applebees and everyone got to order what they wanted instead of us setting a price limit. We tend to be on the cheap side, so that was a real treat :). Once we wooed all of the older girls with dinner, we started lecturing about schedules, school behavior, homework, time management and our house expectations for the school year :). But they were so excited about dinner that it did not feel like they were being lectured. We are smart like that.

* Today was Boss man's first day back. He looked hunky in his shirt and tie. He doesn't really dig the nickname of "Boss", but for now we are going with it. I told him he could pick his own nickname, but he said the point of a nickname is for someone to give it to you. He has a point. He is so stinkin' smart, I tell you what. So for now it is Boss. Boss had a great first day back!

* The residents all left for school today, too. The house was quiet! I won't say that I was super excited that they were all gone for the day because that would be rude. I was only glad they were learning and expanding their knowledge. Seriously.

* Mom and Dad took Emma and Kate for a play date today. That made the house super quiet! They had fun. They painted flower pots, but Emma turned hers upside down and put a rock under the edge of hers to make a house for a toad in case it was raining. Emma loves toads. And bugs. And crawling things.

* I stayed home with Mister Man (that would be Jack. He is too young to have an opinion on his nickname) and we cleaned the house and did first grade lesson plans. It was fun! Until I got a headache and wanted to throw my lesson plan book out the window. But I am mature, so I did not do that. Instead, I scribbled through it and bought a new book at Target. OCD and little tiny squares to fill in do not go hand in hand. That's enough about that.

*We ate our Friday night burgers and drank our floats.

* I played Mexican Dominos tonight with the girls! My friend "girls", that is. Not the residents! I did not come in last place. Just second to last.

* The little kids played just dance on the Wii. It was hilarious and cute to watch them. I think I should be ashamed at the way that Kate can shake her booty. That girl gets down with it. Who ever said that homeschoolers don't know how to have a good time? That's nonsense. We had a rockin dance party going on.

* This weekend we are having family pictures made. Excited about that. I told the photographer to bring his special lense that makes people look twenty pounds lighter. What? They don't make that? Shoot.

* We have no other plans this weekend! We are going to stay home and work on house projects. I have a certain bench that needs painted "fall" orange. Boss is super excited. he LOVES when I give him projects. LOVES it. I love him.

Happy Weekend, Friends!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Summer's End

Change is in the air. I can feel it. The days not quite as hot, the sun not shining quite as long. Ben started back to work this week, so it is just the kids and I during the day. We have kept busy! There have been school clothes for the big kids to buy, back to school haircuts, back to school meetings, groceries to be bought, bike rides around the property, meals to be made, fresh fruit to be eaten. A house not getting cleaned, yet looking comfortably lived in.Long days. Good days. Soaking up the last that summer has to offer. Next week our fall scedule begins. School for the big kids, review work at home for our first grader. Earlier bedtimes. Routines. A slower pace.The older I have grown, the more I have come to appreciate God's special gift of change. Understanding that there is a time for every season under Heaven. Embracing each season as it comes our way, in weather or simply in life. There is growing to be done. Lessons to be learned. Life to be lived. Much to look forward to as we anticipate summer's end.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Five Month Update

















Our boy turned five months old today! Really? Why must he grow? Sigh. Isn't he precious? I still just want to smooch his cheeks every time that I look at him. He has that affect on me :). What's new in Jack's world? He is a roller now! Well, half a roller at least :). These past two weeks he finally mastered rolling from his back to his tummy, and he heads for that position the minute you put him down. It is so cute. He grunts, and strains, and squirms until he is on his belly with both arms out from under him holding his head proudly in the air. Such a big boy! Now we just need to work on rolling back over to his back. Jack is still such a happy baby and he just loves to smile! He is spending more time "up" each day, in his bumbo or just wanting to be held sitting up on your lap so he can look around. Being involved in the action is the name of his game. He has also learned to SCREAM (in a shrill, happy way)! And does so on a regular basis. It makes him happy to hear his own voice. What else? Oh, yes. Jack got sick for the first time a few nights ago and wound up with an early morning trip to the ER with his daddy. The verdict was a double ear infection. Poor guy. He was so sad. Jack's eating and sleeping patterns are still about the same. We have played around with cereal, but hope to make it a regular part of our schedule once school starts and life slows down. I will not tell you that Jack still sleeps in his bouncy seat near our bed each night. Because then you might judge me, and that would not be nice. So I will not tell you where he is sleeping. All I will say is that we go with what works! And eight to nine hour stretches of sleep each night works for me! Jack Ryan is such a sweet little boy. We certainly can't imagine life without him! Happy five months Mister Man! You rock our world!

Friday, August 13, 2010

So Long South Haven

Dear South Haven,

Welcome to the family! Thank you for letting us spend the past two days with you. It was the best! We loved:

* sitting on your sandy beaches, soaking up the sun, and splashing in your waves

* eating hometown hot dogs and drinking fresh squeezed lemonade for lunch

* buying souvenirs (Mom is SO glad we got another stuffed animal. She thinks you can never have too many stuffed animals. And the tiny bag of colored rocks that was five dollars? Priceless.)

* swimming in the pool (Emma is no longer afraid of jumping in and both girls swam the whole length of the pool all by themselves in their arm floaties!)

* visiting your ER. well, we really didn't love that. Jack's ears were hurting so he had to get medicine. but you did get us in and out of there in record time, so we really appreciate that!

* seeing the surrounding towns

* eating ice cream for dinner one night

We are so sad that we have to leave tomorrow. We are already making a list of things that we want to do with you next summer! See you then!

Sincerely,

Emma, Kate, and Jack Z.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Scenes from South Haven Day 1









Be Still My Beating Heart

Oh, be still my beating heart. I think I'm in love! It's true. Head over heels in love. This small Lake Michigan town is everything that I dreamed it would be. Googling it on the Internet did not do it justice. It is Stars Hollow meets Malibu. OK, that might be a bit dramatic, seeing that Stars Hollow doesn't actually exist and Malibu is super, crazy expensive, but you get the idea. It is cozy, beautiful,
wonderfulness. I think I'm in love.

We were a bit late in getting away this morning. If you know us in real life does that really surprise you? And then a short while into our trip we got stuck in stand still traffic. For an hour. With a baby who wanted to eat. The atmosphere inside the sheep got mighty unpleasant, but we survived with family love still intact. Needless to say, we pulled into town around supper time, instead of our planned early afternoon arrival. We grabbed a quick bite to eat, checked into our hotel room, freshened up, and then set out to explore!

I held my breath as we approached Main Street. Would it be all that I hoped it would be? None of our other recent destinations had turned out to be "it". But as soon as I saw the sign, I knew. And then came the streets and houses of the charming town, and then the harbor, and then the beautiful water. We parked the sheep and took off down the pier. Boss snapped pictures along the way, and we walked until we reached the light house at the end of the pier. We watched as the sun began its descent, and then we let the girls climb on the rocks before heading to stick our toes in the water. Apparently Kate needs to learn what her body parts are called in mini school, because she did not understand the concept of "toes" and walked right in the lake fully clothed. I said, "Kate. You are soaked!". She said, "But, Mom Im having FUN!". That she was. Fun, fun. After everyone was good and wet we walked into town and the girls and Ben had ice cream. I had an ice cold Coca Cola Classic. In an old fashioned bottle. If you know me in real life, does that really surprise you? I think not.

It was a beautiful night. Really, it was only our first night in this charming town, much like a first date. So it might be more accurate to say I am infatuated with it, and not really in love with it. We shall see. Only time will tell. But she did make a very good first impression! At the very least, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Leaving On A Jet Plane....Er, In A Sheep
















Tomorrow we are Lake Michigan bound and I could not be more excited. Seriously. We aren't flying (I've already discussed with you my feelings about enclosed spaces, terrorists, and crashing), but we are driving in my new sheep. My lovely new sheep. We call her a sheep because she is a she jeep. Get it? A sheep. Wow, I think I will keep my day job. We also call her Starr (with two r's, but that's another story for another day). Anyway, moving on. I love my sheep and am so excited to be heading out for our "back to school" family get-a-way in her for the very first time. Luggage crammed in the back, complete with strollers and a bouncy seat. Siblings snug as a bug in a rug in their carseats. Me and Boss man up front. I look forward to the traveling as much as I do to arriving at our destination! I love listening to music while we drive (lately our music of choice seems to be Hannah Montana. Believe me when I tell you that Boss man loves it. Seriously. When we play her he is thrilled), giving the girls a surprise of a new movie they have been wanting to see, munching on snacks, and getting to talk with Boss man. We like to talk about our lives and plan our futures while we drive. Okay, I like doing that, but Boss man loves me so he plays along. I don't know what it is about driving, but along with roads that seem endless, so does my list of possibilities. Anything seems possible on the wide open road. I know. I am strange like that. I will try and post while we are away, in keeping up with my month of Writing to Remember. I can't wait to post pictures of the many adventures that I am sure we will have. And when we return? One more week until summer 2010 will officially be over. Then it is back to business in the Zickafoose Zoo. And we will be ready!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Home Sweet Home

















Home is where your story begins. -

There is a new country song out that I just LOVE. Though I am not really sure why I love it so much. I don't know who the artist is that sings it and she doesn't have that great of a voice. But every time it comes on the radio it just stirs something inside of me, you know? The song is called The House That Built Me. Have you heard it? In the song the artist talks about a grown woman going back to visit her childhood home. Life has taken her far away, but somehow you sense that she is hurting inside so she has come back home. Someone else now lives in the house, but the woman knocks on the door and asks if she can come in if only for a moment. She says she just wants to touch the walls and then she will be able to feel the memories of home coming back to her. She talks about her old bedroom where she did her homework as a child and the tree in the yard where her dog was buried underneath. She is saying that the house grew her into the woman that she is today. The walls witnessed her growing from infant, to toddler, to preschooler, to child, to teen. To me the song is a beautiful picture of everything a child should "feel" about their childhood home. Comfort, security, belonging. This song warms my heart and yet gives me chills at the same time, every time that I hear it.

I have never really felt "tied" to any one home or structure. When I think of home, I tend to think of people. And really, people are more important than any dwelling ever could be, but for some reason I have always felt a yearning to be tied to a house. The house my family lived in the longest was the pink house pictured above. (My dad calls it southwestern, but it will always be the pink house to me :). When we were in Houston recently for my Grandpa's funeral, we went by it and took the kids picture out front. It really is a beautiful house, and it has aged well in the past twenty years. Wow, twenty years. We moved there in 1990 when I was eight years old. Before that time my family had lived over seas (Saudi Arabia) in a few different homes, I think. One was a trailer, and then maybe one or two other houses. Truthfully, I remember nothing about those houses, except that in one of them I had a room with wallpaper that had rainbows on it. Awesome. After living overseas, we lived in Georgia for six months in a rental home before moving to the pink house, where I lived for ten full years before heading off to college. Ten years is actually quite a long time to live in one particular house, but for some reason, as nice as it was, I do not feel tied to it. I don't know why that is. There are happy memories there, for sure, but it has just never pulled at me. I have never missed that place, or felt like I needed to go back there. It is just a beautiful house.

For one reason or another, I wanted something different when it came time to raise my own children. (Don't we often want something different than what we had? Our own take and contribution to society? I think it is human nature). I have NEVER desired to live in a planned community/neighborhood, where all of the houses are lined up in a row and where they all look alike. I have always felt that my kids should be raised on country sunshine, where they had space to run and explore, living in a big old house that is screaming with character. It warms my heart just to think of it. In our short seven years of marriage, Boss and I have called seven different places "home". For awhile we joked that we were nomadic. A year here, a year there. Always looking for the next exciting thing. I kept hoping that each place that we tried would be "home", but it never was. Until we came here.

When we first moved out here, it was out of necessity. We were drowning in a pool of debt, Boss was working eighty hours a week, our current home was falling apart, and each day felt like a struggle just to get by. We heard about a job opening, so we came. My heartstrings were pulled by the work that is done here, just as it always had been, and when we drove out and saw the land, I knew it was "home". I just knew. The houses out here are nothing spectacular. They look a little worn, a lot lived in. Typical ranch style homes from the seventies. But the land takes my breath away each and every time that I pull onto the property. My heart starts racing each time I reach the railroad tracks, it speeds up around the next two bends, and then I am home, and it is full blown love. I love the farmland, the old trees, and the sparkling lake. Not to mention the people here. They definitely make it feel like home.For the first three years here we lived in one house, and it was good to us. We were happy there. But we needed more room for our expanding family. So when a larger house on campus opened up, we begged for it. And now we are really home. Seriously. The thought of ever having to leave physically makes my heart hurt.

I want us to spend holidays at our large, white country table. I want to bake things with my daughters in our tiny, sunny, yellow kitchen. I want to have picnics with them on the living room floor. I want to chart their growth on a door frame, do school lessons at the basement table, and tuck them in each night into their tiny, shared bedroom. I want to swing with the children in the yard and rock with my husband on the front porch. I want my family to feel comfort, security, and a sense of belonging here. I want it to feel like "home" to them. I want the walls to witness the writing of their stories. I want it to be the one place where they are free to be exactly who they are. Where they know they are always loved. Only God knows how many days that he has for us, here in our country house, but I am thankful that for the first time in my life He has brought me "home".

Get-A-Ways

I have always LOVED traveling. I am not really an overseas kind of girl, or really a flying kind of girl (the whole enclosed space, terrorist, potential of crashing thing kind of gets to me), but I do have a traveling dream. I would like to see all fifty states of our great country before I die. If I never leave this country again, that will be just fine and dandy with me, but I must see all fifty states. It is on my "bucket" list of things to do. Thankfully, Ben shares this dream. For our very first Christmas together he bought me a framed picture of the United States of America and a little box of map pegs to mark each place that we visit. This man clearly knows how to speak my love language, and I have loved pushing those little pins into the map (though I am thinking we need to get different colors to differentiate between places we have visited individually, together as a couple sans kids, and family trips).

Since Ben and I work in a "job" that is essentially 24/7, 365 days a year, our time off together as a family is precious. As it stands now, we get one weekend off a month, and two full weeks of vacation off a year. Pretty fair to me, so I am definitely not complaining, but it leaves us wondering how to spend our time off. When we used to live far away from family, all of our vacations were spent visiting relatives. We always enjoyed this, but it really did not help with fulfilling our dream of visiting all 50 states. Now we thankfully live by most all of our family, so our vacations get to be just that. Vacations!

Here was our dilemma. On one hand we wanted to go someplace entirely new each time we got the chance to travel. Making the most of every opportunity that we have. And this makes the most sense in fulfilling our family dream. On the other hand, you know I am a girl who completely hearts family traditions! I used to be so envious of people who had "summer" houses, (be it beach houses, lake houses, or a family cabin in the woods). I just think that keeping with tradition makes for great family/childhood memories. So what were we to do?

We have decided to split our time. Half of our time off will be spent exploring someplace new. This is a great, big, beautiful country and we want to see it! And I hope exploring together as a family will become a tradition and childhood memory, in and of itself. With the other half of our time off we hope to find "our" spot. Someplace that we can get away to, over and over again. We want it to be someplace close enough that we can reach easily, perhaps even on one of our weekends off. We have yet to find this special place, but we will keep searching until we find it! That is half of the fun. This coming week we are going to try a new place with the rest of our vacation days for this year (our days start over every September). Maybe it will be "our" spot? Who knows, but I sure am excited to find out. I will be sure and let you know if we fall in love :).

Friday, August 6, 2010

Back to School Date 2010



















Today was our annual Mother/Daughter Back to School Date. Just because we homeschool, doesn't mean we can't have a little fun getting back to school things! While I was never really a fan of going to school as a child (I know there are some kids who love it, I just was not one of them), I was always a fan of getting new clothes! And there is just something about fresh notebook paper and a brand new box of Crayola's. Those things still make my heart go pitter patter! So I decided early on that just because we do school at home (sometimes even in our pajamas! Gasp!), that my kids would not miss out on the excitement that is getting back to school things. It just sets the tone for the year, ya know?

This year we dropped Jack off at my mom's and us girls went to town. Emma wound up with a new outfit for our special back to school dinner that is coming up, a new folder to keep this years work in (she chose one with kittens on it), and a new pair of ballet shoes and a leotard for her fall dance classes that are coming up in September. Sidenote: Can I just say that this girl is hard to take shopping? She deliberates over every single, tiny detail. It took her thirty minutes in the folder isle. That's right, the folder isle. She was so worried she would make the wrong choice. Ha! I love that girl.

Sweet Kate needed a bit more since she will be attending mini school this fall. (Mini school is our church family's preschool program that runs every Friday.) Kate wound up with three new outfits, one new set of jammies, a new leotard, and a new backpack, lunchbox, and folder. She is so proud of her new backback! In the beginning she had her little heart set on a My Little Pony theme, but that was nowhere to be found. So she quickly settled on a Hello Kitty theme. Kate is the exact opposite of her big sister. She wants the first one of everything she sees!

In between stores we stopped and grabbed a little snack. Emma told me it was the best day ever because I spent the whole day just being with them. In my mind I was thinking, "I spend everyday with them", but then she said, "You didn't even use your cell phone or anything." Whoa! Talk about a dose of humble pie. I think I just learned first hand that being near my kids is not the same thing as being with them. Thank you, sweet Emma, for teaching your Mommy such an important lesson. Needless to say, my phone will be turned off during our school days this year. What is the point of keeping my kids home so we can be together, if I am distracted from being together?

It was a great day. I love my girls so much, and am so thankful that the three of us have so much fun together. While I do not want time to fly, I hope we always remain this close. I look forward to many times like these in the future! Here's to the start of another great school year!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Mister Man Meets Rice Cereal


















A couple of days ago I let Jack Ryan try his hand at solids. I have been hearing from the beginning that starting him on rice cereal might ease his reflux symptoms, but I kept putting it off. I think subconsciously I have not wanted to start him on solids because that means he is growing up. Sigh.... why must things change? I would be content for him to be my not so tiny, cuddly baby forever. Anyway, enough was enough. After all, he has to learn to use a spoon sometime, right? The boy loves to eat (as evidenced by his round cheeks), so I thought he would love filling his belly with something new and a bit tastier than formula. I was wrong! He was much to impatient to enjoy using a spoon! Overall, he did a good job. He ate the entire bowl and managed to keep most of it down, but he got so very frustrated! He was hungry and wanted a constant flow of food! I simply could not keep up. Our feeding session went something like this: SCREAM, swallow, SCREAM, swallow, SCREAM, swallow. You get the idea :). I wish I had videotaped it! But we will keep trying to get the hang of this over the next couple of weeks before we make it a daily part of our routine. Something tells me that soon enough eating solids will be high on his priority list of things to do!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Remembering Grandpa

* He used to have red hair.

* He was in the Air Force. That's where he met my Grandma.

* He LOVED to give his grandchildren wagon rides.

* You could often find him eating an apple and a snickers bar for lunch.

* His favorite ice cream was plain old Homemade Vanilla.

* He grew up in the depression and took saving money very seriously. He saved quite a bit.

* While he rarely spent money on himself, he was very generous with what he saved when it came to others. VERY generous.

* On many Christmas mornings he would fill the tree with a $100 bill for each grandchild.

* He was always fair with his love and affection. He did not play favorites between the five of us cousins.

* He enjoyed being right :). I think that runs in the family. If he disagreed with you he would say, "I appreciate your opinion, but you're wrong." Ha!

* He called me his little big hugger. His hugs hurt! He loved to pat your back when he hugged you and he hugged hard!

* He loved watching basketball, men and women's.

* He was most passionate about God's church.

* He enjoyed keeping a garden and working with his hands outside. Until his last stages, he was never one for sitting around.

* Grandma hated chewing gum and would not allow it in the house. He always kept a stash of it on the top shelf in his closet :).

* He loved going to lecturships and always went until he was physically no longer able.

* He had a hearty laugh.

* He will be remembered.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Today I...........

* Woke up and had a snuggle with my handsome, squishy little boy. Thanked God for another day.

* Had cereal with my daughters.

* Got everyone bathed and ready for the day. Scratch that. My mom came over and got everyone bathed and ready for the day. I supervised. Thanks mom! I got ready for a meeting.

* Had lunch with co-workers turned friends. Discussed the girls in our care.

* Visited one of my residents in Juvenile Detention Center. It was my first time visiting a JDC where I was allowed past the reception area. I saw her cell. It was intimidating. I talked with her about the choices that she has made to land herself there, told her I was praying for her, and told her I would be waiting for her to come back to the house. Prayed as I left that God would give me a fresh attitude towards her.

* Came home and had snuggles with my hubby.

* Got ready to go on a date with same hubby.

* Went to Target and Old Navy on our date to buy the children coordinating outfits for an upcoming photo shoot. We have a new friend. He is a professional photographer. Sweet.

* Ate dinner at Chipotle with hubby. Discussed the pros and con's of starting our children on an allowance system and the fact that Kate is starting preschool soon.

* Picked all three kids up from my parents house. More snuggles. Except from Kate. She was moody. :)

* Came home and visited with neighbors outside.

* Went on a bike ride with Emma.

* Put children to bed. More snuggles.

* Updated this old blog in keeping up with my Writing to Remember Challenge for the month of August.

* About to head to bed feeling blessed. Thanking God for another day.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Another Year Older



















Last week I celebrated a birthday. Someone told me it was my golden birthday, since I turned 28 on the 28th. Well, I don't know whether it was golden or not, but it sure was blessed. I feel like my life is so full these days. Full in a good way. It feels like it is overflowing with love, purpose, and contentment. I know I am blessed to even be able to write those words.

Birthdays have always been really special to me. I love having any excuse to celebrate something, and I used to dub July my birthday month, and force my whole family to celebrate with me for 31 glorious days. You know, like if my dad asked me to take out the trash on July 16th, "I can't Dad, it's my birthday month". You get the idea. Then came Emma. Sweet, little, stealer of the birthday month, Emma. She was born on the 8th of July, and suddenly I found myself having to share my birthday month. Good thing I love her so much, because I would not be willing to share my month with just anyone. But seriously, I love birthdays. Love them. And you know what? While the hoopla surrounding my special day has died down the older I have gotten, the joy of my day has only grown. After 28 years on this earth I have much more to celebrate than I did, say, after 8 years on this earth, or 15.

This year I spent the day with my most favorite people on this planet. My little family. Boss let me sleep in and take my time getting ready (LOVE that!), and then we loaded up the kiddos and went to lunch at the Cheesecake Factory, per tradition. Emma gave me a special birthday card that said "Hapy Berfday, Mommy. I love you. Love, Emma", and the waiters sang to me per Boss's request. I pretended (as I do every year) that I was embarassed and did not like it, but secretly it makes me happy when people sing to me on my day :) After lunch we went to the mall. Boss watched the kids in the play area while I got a fancy pedicure. My toes are now Berry Berry Pink. To finish off the day we went to Kings Island before returning home to the big kids. Once home, my most favorite neighbors (really, I LOVE all of my neighbors) brought me over a birthday cake and sang to me once again. This time I didn't even pretend not to like it. See how I've matured since turning 28? Seriously, it was a great day.

I am amazed when I look back at the path that God has led me down over the past 28 years. Sometimes I feel as though I have experienced so much, yet really I know the past 28 years are just a drop in the bucket (Lord willing). I am so thankful to be married to Boss and to be sharing my days with him. I am blessed to call three great kids mine. I am excited about the future. Life doesn't get much better than this.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Writing to Remember

"We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospection." ~ Anais Nin

I recently read this quote on someone elses blog and fell in love with it. Writing to remember is the whole reason that I bother to keep up with this blog at all. It is my scrapbook of sorts to pass on to my children when they are grown. To help them piece together the early stages of their lives. To capture their life stories as they unfold on a daily basis. I think I got part of my passion for writing to remember from my grandpa.

Many of you know that my grandfather passed away a few weeks ago. He was a man who believed in writing to remember. When I was a kid he made all of his grandchildren life journals, as he called them. For the life of me I cannot find mine, but I remember that it was bright green. He would tell us all to write down anything and everything that we could think of, because as we aged we would forget. He even offered to pay us for writing :). That's how passionate he was about writing to remember. As he himself aged and began forgetting more and more, he started carrying around a pocket sized notebook and he would jot down anything that was important to him throughout the day.... stuff on his to do list, somebody's name, a phone number, questions he needed to ask someone. And whenever he would forget, he would pull out his notebook and all of the information that he needed would be right there. We used to joke with him about that, but writing to remember was important to him.

It is never easy when someone you love passes away. At one point or another your mind always drifts to the "what if's" or "I should haves", but there is a sense that it is easier when the someone that you love is older and they have lived a full life. For me, my grandfathers passing has truly brought about a deep sense of thought and respect for a life well lived. It has caused me to think about all of life's moments, and who I want to be at "the end" of mine. What will people say about me? What will my marriage represent to others? Will I have been an example that my children chose to follow? Will they have been proud that I was their mom? Did I spend my life focusing on the things that mattered? Did my life matter? All of these thoughts just floating around. So in the midst of all of these thoughts, I have decided to write. Not just about the big, momentous things in our lives such as trips and birthdays, but about the little, mundane, everyday stuff as well. The stuff that makes up a life well lived.

I have decided that the month of August is going to be a month of writing to remember in honor of my grandpa. Everyday I will write. Maybe about childhood memories, or a note to my kids, or a memory from the day that I don't want to forget. Because if He taught me anything at all, it was that life is in fact fleeting, and I want to taste the goodness of it over, and over, and over again. Miss you Grandpa.