Thursday, May 19, 2016


I have made a practice, for years, of keeping a list of blessings in my life (gratitude journal). It really helps me to keep things in perspective and also to be on the lookout for the gifts in my life, both big and small. Here is some of my recent blessings.

5313. a beautiful sunrise
5317. Anna spending the weekend with GG (those two just LOVE being together)
5322. reading books to Sara
5365. a thumbs-up from our 93-year-old neighbor as he drove past me as I walked
5359. clean sheets on all the beds
5372. clothes on the clothesline
5402. crafting
5410. glorious spring weather
5423. friends who know you well
5450. hearing an owl hooting in the woods
5462. the quiet of morning
5485. the girls hanging out in the yard in their hammocks
5504. beautiful sunset
5505. our "village" and how we take care of each other
5532. staff appreciation breakfast at school -- always a highlight of the year
5540. that my kids get to really know my grandma. And the love her so much!
5542. texts from friends
5548. our spiffed up patio space
5554. lots of yard work done
5556. the smell of lilacs in the air

Be on the lookout for blessings in your life. You will love it once you start!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

4 weeks. 4 birthdays!

4 of our 6 kids have had a birthday in the past 4 weeks. That makes for lots of celebrating. Lots of cake. Lots of singing. Lots of birthday punches (51 total, to be exact!). Lots of gifts. Lots of cards. Lots of gratitude for each of their lives.

On March 23rd Jacob turned 17 and Rebekah turned 15.

Then just 5 days later, Anna turned 8.

Today, Joe turns 11.

It's so true what they say. "The days are long, but the years are short!" It is amazing to me at how quickly the years go by. That very first baby that I held in my arms who made me a mama is 17 already. In a year he will be a legal adult. He drives a car (and sometimes a HUGE van) and makes his own plans and very shortly will be moving out of our house. It all comes so fast. I am thrilled with the people each of our kids are becoming, but I miss the littleness of them. Snuggles on the couch aren't quite the same any more. They don't need me the same as they used to. They still need me, but it's so different. I love it and I also miss what used to be.

My favorite thing is watching them develop friendships with each other. They truly love and care about one another. And more and more they enjoy spending time together and are really becoming great friends. It is so wonderful for us to see. Besides the fact that they each love the Lord, nothing makes me happier than seeing them become friends with one another. I love they way they tease and support and annoy and encourage one another. I love seeing them come up with amazingly thoughtful gifts for one another that are so meaningful and special to the person they are giving them too. I love our kiddos and the wonderful people they are becoming!

What the birthday kids are in to these days ::

Jacob (17) ::
Ultimate Frisbee
church softball
anything sports-related
hanging out with friends
mowing lawns

Rebekah (15) ::
taking driver's ed
social media
Trout Lake Camp
Miranda Sings
perfecting her Miranda Sings impression (it's pretty darn fabulous, if you ask me!)
Catalyst (before school Bible study)
church/youth group
laying in her hammock
Gilmore Girls

Anna (8) ::
being outside
church (her friend Pastor Troy)
her newly-pierced ears

Joe (11) ::
all things sports
Nerf guns
school patrol -- walking line
Koalas (he is OBSESSED!)
Marvel super heroes (especially Captain America)
Fuller House (Netflix in general!)
being outside

I am so very grateful to have each of them as a part of our family!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

He is risen indeed!

Every other year we head north to spend Easter with my in-laws and my husband's extended family. It's not short trip. They live about 350 miles north! That's a long trip when you can only stay about 48 hours once you arrive. But it is well worth it. The kids love seeing their grandparents and spending time with their cousins . . . and you can't forget the EGG HUNT!

So this year was a traveling year. Kirby and Joe returned home about 5:30 on Thursday night from a 3-day environmental studies field trip that the 5th grade class at our school goes on every spring, and after a full evening of laundry (you don't want stinky/wet/dirty camp clothes to sit for 4 days before being laundered!) we left first thing on Friday morning. We arrived at my in-laws house Friday afternoon and after unloading our stuff and stretching our legs a bit, it was time to get ready for the Good Friday service at church. Following church, we played games and had dessert at Kirby's older sister's house with her family. Saturday brought our big extended family dinner and egg hunt (since we needed to leave right after church on Sunday to get home at a decent hour, we did our celebrating as a family on Saturday afternoon). I think there were probably 40 people at Kirby's aunts house for dinner. 2 of Kirby's 3 siblings were there with their families as were many of his aunts and uncles and cousins (as well as his cousin's kids). We are quite a group! There was lots of food, much laughter, games to play and all the kids enjoyed the egg hunt immensely (despite the mud and snow). Following the egg hunt the kids kept busy emptying their eggs, eating candy, trading candy and counting their money (eggs don't only hold candy, you know!) while the adults visited and helped facilitate fair trading among young ones before we all packed up to head out. Saturday night brought a walk to stretch our legs and get some fresh air, pizza and visiting with Grandma and Grandpa.

We went to a pancake breakfast at Kirby's sister's church on Sunday morning and then enjoyed Easter worship at their church with a good percentage of his family. We had a quick lunch at his parents house and changed out of our "church clothes" before hitting the road for the long trek home.

Finally, after LOTS of hours in the car, we arrived at our house. Unfortunately, we were locked out! My parents had come to do a project for us (new front and back steps and front sidewalk -- having a cement mason for a father comes in handy more often than you might think!) and so we left the door open for them when we took off on Friday morning. Kirb grabbed just the van keys and we hit the road. Well, my very responsible parents locked up for us when they were done on Friday. The thought that we didn't have a house key with us never crossed our minds until the moment we pulled into the driveway. Thank goodness for cell phones! I called my parents (who were still had Easter company at their house) and my dad buzzed over right away and let us in . . . saving the day (and our VERY FULL bladders) again!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Natural Beauty

I've said it before, and I'll say it again :: I love where we live! This morning as I was walking with the kids to school, we saw the most awe-inspiring site. About 10 feet ahead of us and on the opposite side of the street, I sensed something. As I looked up, I saw a eagle take off from the tree, probably less than 20 feet off the ground. I have never been that close to an eagle in the wild. I've been to my share of raptor shows and seen a few injured eagles in captivity, but never imaged I would be that close to the majesty of an eagle outside. Less than a mile from my house. On a city street. I'd never seen an eagle in a tree that low to the ground. It was amazing! And SO big! The kids, young as they are, even sensed they had witnessed something special. We just stood still on the sidewalk watching him (or her) soar above the houses. The eagle remained surprisingly low in the sky and we had a fabulous view. I hope to never forget the sight of those white tail feathers taking off so close to me. You could tangibly feel the presence of that majestic animal. It was breathtaking!

I couldn't help but be reminded of one of my very favorite hymns ::

Oh Lord my God
When I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder
Thy power throughout the universe displayed

Then sings my soul
My Saviour, God, to Thee
How great Thou art, how great Thou art
Then sings my soul
My Saviour, God, to Thee
How great Thou art
How great Thou art

How great Thou art, indeed. I am grateful for the chance to have been able to bear witness to creation in this way this morning! What a fabulous way to start the day!

Monday, March 7, 2016

R & R

Kirby doesn't travel for work too often, but we are just on the heels of him having been gone for 13 days straight. That makes for a long solo parenting stint, so we (and by we, I mean HE) worked it out so that I could join him for a few days in the middle of this trip. I flew from chilly MSP in Minnesota to Phoenix, Arizona (a treat for any Minnesotan by the time late-February rolls around) where we stayed for 1 day before settling in to our rental car for the drive to the Palm Springs area of California. We stayed with a UNW donor in her home (where we have been before -- me once and Kirb a few more times than that). We spent much of our time with her, but had some time alone as well.

We got to experience (again) a walk through the life of Jesus. It is a garden walk with beautiful sculptures depicting important scenes from Jesus' life. The experience was made even more meaningful by the fact that it was Lent. More about the experience can be found here.

The first night of my part of the trip I fell asleep at 7:14 pm (according to my Fitbit) and slept for more than 10 hours. I guess parenting 6 kids without your partner for 6 days through 5 play performances, 2 sporting events, 2 doctor appointment, kindergarten round-up and 3 musical concerts (yup, all that in 6 days) will wear you out. The extra sleep was exactly what I needed to enjoy the rest of my time (and I continued to bank nearly 9 hours of sleep each night for the remainder of my trip. Sleep is one of my favorite love languages!)

We had a wonderful time of rest, relaxation, sunshine, hikes, runs, palm trees, mountains, coffee and reading. I headed back home on Wednesday (after having arrived on Sunday) where I picked up where I had left off with the kiddos until we were ALL home together again a few days later. The kids were all so happy to have their dad back home. He is a very major part of their day to day lives (putting them to bed, praying with them, reading to them, cooking dinner, being their rock), so he was greatly missed. They missed me too, but I wasn't gone as long as he was, so his homecoming was highly anticipated!

I am so thankful for my parents and their willingness to take care of the kids so that I could get away for a few days. I am also thankful for our "village" that helped me out while Kirb was gone and were waiting in the wings in case anything came up, while my parents were staying here, that required a bit of reinforcement (thankfully they managed just fine without needing any reinforcements!).

The sunshine and warmth we banked will help us make it through the last cold stretch of winter until spring is here to stay!

Even though I am not much of a traveller, I had a great time away and enjoyed the time with my favorite person in the world (and away from 6 of my other favorite -- shorter -- people!). Even this non-traveller can benefit from a bit of away-from-home R&R from time to time!

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Grateful. So grateful!

I emailed a specialist teacher from our elementary school this morning to tell her about a scheduling conflict that we were going to have beginning today and stretching into the rest of the school year. One of our kiddos has an appointment every Thursday afternoon for the foreseeable future. Thursday afternoon also happens to be the exact time that this specialist at our school meets with this group of kiddos -- which only happens once a week. Meaning, our kiddo would never get to go to that specialist again for the rest of the school year. I got an email back from her pretty quickly thanking me for letting her know about our situation and that she would give it some thought and get back to me. Our elementary school has roughly 450 students. This situation only affected ONE of them! She got back to me within an hour, saying that she talked to the homeroom teachers in the grade and the 3 of them had agreed that our kiddo was important enough that they would switched around the Thursday schedule for the entire grade to accommodate my kid. Can you even believe it? That outcome had never even entered my mind as a possible solution to our situation. I am amazed at the kindness and compassion of these teachers! I was all emotional and teary and called both my mom and Kirb to tell them of the outcome -- one I hadn't even imaged. It is not a perfect place. (This is not a perfect world!) But I sure do love our school. I am so grateful that these adults cared enough about my child to re-arrange the schedules of 3 teachers and 2 homeroom classes so that my child didn't miss out on something. That is pretty amazing! What a great school filled with great, kind, compassionate, caring, flexible teachers. I am grateful . . . and still a bit surprised by the whole thing! What a blessing!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

I think college was the first time I realized what a unique and fabulous relationship some people have with their cousins. I grew up with cousins that I genuinely loved, but they weren't my very best friends. We didn't do all the things together and share a lifetime of hilarious memories and inside jokes. When I would hear friends talk about their relationships with their cousins, it intrigued me. My kids, also, have wonderful cousins that they love and adore and get excited to see . . . but they don't have that "magical" cousin relationship either. The majority of our kids' cousins live far away geographically and the others are "far away" from them in age.

So this is where the family that you choose for yourself comes in handy. My kids have wonderful "cousins" from our amazing community. Other kids with whom they share a lifetime of fun, hard, silly memories. Kids with a special bond, not from the fact that they are friends, but from the fact that entire families love spending time together. First birthday parties (stories they don't actually remember on their own, but have been told enough times to "know"), swimming in the pool, kindergarten programs, school stuff, retreats, orchestra concerts, karaoke, sledding, summer evening bonfires, plays, sporting events, carpools, picnics, birthday parties, funerals, YoungLife, before school Bible study . . .

Years ago we used to have an annual Christmas Open House. We'd invited tons of friends, have a bunch of food and hang out, our house filled with 50-60 friends. We were packed to the gills! One year, 4 or 5 years ago, there was a HUGE snow storm the day of our party. No one could get here! We didn't want anyone to be unsafe on the road, so finally we officially canceled. So, then we had TONS of food, but were lacking guests (and had a few sad kiddos . . . and disappointed parents). Thankfully, our dear friends, who both lived just blocks from our house and were planning to come anyway, braved the weather and came anyway. Some on foot, some in all-wheel-drive with shovels in back just in case. We ate and chatted and played games and sang songs and it was wonderful! Anyway, the tradition stuck. We haven't had a Christmas Open House since (at which you had lots of very minimal time with many people, but no meaningful time with anyone) and every year our 3 families have gathered for a meal and night together right before Christmas. It has become one of my favorite traditions of the year!

We put it on the calendar weeks ago and have been looking forward to it ever since. By 5:45 there were 18 people in our house and it. was. LOUD! A little after 6 we all gathered in the living room and sang The Doxology together before digging in to the dinner (which always has the same menu and TONS of food). Singing the Doxology together, instead of our normal pre-dinner prayer of thanks for the food and the friends and the birth of our Lord, was new this year and I loved it! Looking around at all these people that I love singing praise and thanks to the Lord together filled my heart (and my eyes) right up to the top (and maybe even a bit more). We ate, we chatted (which was tricky . . . if you were trying to hear someone that wasn't right next to you, you had to work really hard to hear them above the din of 12 kids, aged 5-18, who were enjoying each other's company with quite a bit of volume!), we laughed, we got teary. The kids cleared out. To the basement. Upstairs. To play hockey on the front porch. And we sat. The moms on one couch and the dads on the other.

Then, a couple hours later, Kirb turned on our player piano (also a MAJOR part of this annual tradition) and the kids came pouring in from every corner of the house with amazing speed and the fun really began. We sang together around the piano. Silent Night. The 12 days of Christmas (I'm always a bit uncertain once we get up past 5! Is it lords-a-leaping or drummers drumming? I usually just sing the numbers until we get down to 5 when I join in 100% again). Rudolf. Let it Snow. We probably have at least a couple dozen Christmas songs for our piano, but we seem to gravitate to the same half dozen or so for this night. Then, too quickly, people don their coats once again and head home for the night.

We clean up dishes, put kids to bed and bask in the wonderful time that we had, once again . . . and start looking forward 365 days until we can do it again. I know I've painted an idillic picture, but it really is an idilic night! Generally speaking, our lives all have tough things. Hurts. Pain. Sickness. Sorrow. Struggles. (Many of which we discussed in the time between The Doxology and Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer) But this night is a great reminder of all that we have to be grateful for. Good friends who are like family. Happy, healthy children. Shared faith. Fun. Laughter. Friendship. I thought, as I looked around the room, all of us gathered together in one place singing "Praise God from whom all blessings flow", that this is pretty much as happy as I get. Happy. Grateful. Contented. Blessed. Life is good! Thank you Lord!

(I didn't take one single picture -- only the ones in my memory -- but Lydia took a video of one of our sing-a-long numbers and if I can figure out how, I'll post it here for your viewing pleasure).

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Counting gifts

We celebrated Thanksgiving a few weeks back and are now nearly half-way through Advent already. Time goes by so fast (unless it happens to be going slowly and then OH MY can it drag!). I continue to count gift. Blessings. Reasons to be thankful. Both big things and small things. The small things are my favorite and are, actually, quite big I have found! Here are a few of them that I have noticed lately ::

5067. sending snail mail
5074. story time at the library
5090. kissing my kids
5091. one on one time with Jacob
5105. quiet mornings
5112. handwritten cards in the mailbox
5113. clothes on the clothesline
5122. walking the kids to school
5124. feeling a bit more like myself again after a few especially hard, emotional weeks
5126. finding Jacob's lost wallet
5131. Rebekah and Lydia's Miranda impressions . . . never fails to brighten my mood
5135. watching my kids at the Toby Mac concert -- seeing them worship genuinely, from their hearts, in ways they don't get at church each week
5136. Sara dancing her heart out
5138. the warmth of sunshine on your back
5141. dropping off a van full of kid at school before 7 for Bible study
5143. my mom's help with major cleaning and purging -- couldn't (and wouldn't) have done it without her
5147. watching Sara sleep
5149. BOGO holiday drinks at Starbucks
5152. the amazing, wonderful cousin-like relationship my kids have with our "village" kids (I never had cousins that I was close to, but I love seeing my kids have relationships like the ones people talk about having with their cousins. Being super close. Growing up together. Knowing you could always count on each other).
5153. our village
5159. Kirbs
5164. Troy taking time each Wednesday to sit down and check in with Anna about how she is doing after she turned in a few prayer request cards in the offering saying she was struggling at school (gotta love a pastor/bodybuilder/tutor!)
5166. NO pile by the coffee maker
5171. a short week
5173. friends who pray for you
5174. Thanksgiving at Ham Lake
5175. snowy walk in the woods with Myndi
5176. Anna playing ping pong with GG
5178. the new living room arrangement
5180. watching old videos of the kids . . . those sweet little voices!
5182. devotions in the morning with Anna
5187. sleepover in Chanhassen with the Newman family
5191. texts that make you laugh
5193. first paid out-of-the-house employment in almost 17 years (preschool sub)
5198. Christmas cards all picked up
5204. finishing up a BIG, fun craft project (and I LOVE the finished product!)
5206. a once-again empty front porch following the Salvation Army pick up of our porch full of purging!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Coincidence? I think not.

Three years ago on the Wednesday following Thanksgiving my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. A couple months ago I made my annual mammogram appointment for December 2nd not at all realizing, while making the appointment, that December 2nd would be the Wednesday after Thanksgiving . . . that fact was not lost on me this morning as I checked in for my mammogram. I am thankful for the technology that can detect such things early enough to allow for successful treatment. I am so very grateful that my mom is healthy and doing well! She is such a blessing to many, I know, but I'm pretty sure there's no one more grateful for her than me! As I type this, many friends come to mind who have lost their dear mommas (or other loved ones) to cancer (or any number of other things). It's hard, this life. The joys mixed with the sorrows. So many emotions all the time. As one of my favorite authors, Glennon Doyle Melton, says, life is "brutiful" (brutal and beautiful all at once).

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Great Purge of 2015

It was a rough summer around here. I never quite felt like we got in a good groove. People were grumpy and "bored" and we "never did anything fun". The rough summer turned in to a rough fall. Some of it was the kids, some of it was how busy we were and how many different directions we were always running (not shocking, considering there are 8 of us who all have things going on) and some of it was just me.

The past couple months I've felt really overwhelmed. Like I was barely keeping my head above water and if I stopped to rest for even a second, I'd go under. It was pervasive and noticeable in every different area of my life.

A few weeks ago I told my mom that I was overwhelmed by life and, specifically, by all the "stuff" in our house. I commented that if I came home one day and somehow half of our possessions were gone out of our house I'd be relieved, rather than upset. That's when she decided we were going to get to work on making that happen! (just the motivation -- and help -- I needed!) We have been working our butts off for the better part of two weeks now. She has come over almost every day and we've tackled a different room/area/category of stuff.

While I don't think we've gotten rid of half the possessions in our house, we have purged an impressive amount of stuff in a pretty short period of time. Lots of bags of garbage. TONS of recycling (why was it that I kept boxes from so many things I've purchased long, long ago? . . . and SO. MANY. papers!). About 40 pairs of shoes. Bags and bags of clothing. Wall art. Bedding. Furniture. Picture frames. Books. Home decor type stuff. Kitchen gadgets. Jewelry. Toys. We still have work to do. And we still have more possessions than I am comfortable with! But we are WAY closer to what I am comfortable with than we were two weeks ago. We have been able to pass things along to others who need them or will, at least, make good use of them. That makes me happy. We have donated some items to charities that we trust. We have gotten rid of some of the excess that we have in life and have simplified. All 8 of us are on board and are enjoying the end result of all the hard work -- clean, less cluttered spaces all over our house, drawers, shelves and storage bins that are completely empty and a more peaceful place to live!

We've even found a few things that I forgot we owned. It is a sorry state of affairs that this type of problem is so common and pervasive. It's not just me, I know. But I can only start with myself, so that's what I'm doing. Making a difference a little bit at a time in my own life. And in my own home. It feels good.

I had requested The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up from the library a few months ago. But it's a popular book, so the list wasn't short. It finally came in for me near the beginning of the purge. I'm almost done with the book now and, while I don't agree with everything she says, there have been many ideas in the book that have been very helpful to me while going through this process. I haven't done things exactly according to her order and her advice (partly because I had already started and partly because some of her methods aren't really geared well for a family of 8 and a few I find just flat out silly -- or maybe just culturally irrelevant, as the author is from Japan and I am not). Overall, I think it is a great book and there have been some very freeing ideas and philosophies in there that I am thankful for. Perspective is always good and the author has a very different perspective than any I have previously encountered and I appreciated the new way to think about possessions.

Simplifying and paring down our possessions certainly hasn't solved all my problems, but it has helped. For that I am grateful! Major thanks to my mom and my family for all the help!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Elementary school and our "village"

Our community is such a blessing. I love where we live and am so grateful! I try to not ever take it for granted. We are surrounded by wonderful people. I walk out my front door (actually I never walk out the front door, so make that the side door) and within about 10 minutes I can be deep in the woods spotting deer and fox and owls and all sorts of creatures. I can drive to Target or the library in less than 3 minutes . . . unless traffic is bad, then it might take 4 minutes. We have amazing parks and trails and outdoor spaces. It is a wonderful place to live and we are so blessed!

I adore our elementary school! I can't say enough good things about it! Amazing families. Fabulous teachers who are smart, gifted at what they do and have genuine care, love and concern for the kids that they are teaching. It's not perfect (no place is!), but it is so wonderful. It's a smaller, public K-6 school. It is far enough from our house (almost exactly a mile) that my kids qualify to be bussed, but for years we've walked to school pretty much every day. Joe is a walking patrol this year, which makes his "oath" similar to that of a postal worker, "in rain, snow, sleet or hail" or however that goes. The only times the walking line is cancelled is if the air temperature is below zero or the windchill is below 17 below. So, pretty much he has to walk every day, rain or shine. The other day, on the way home, the kids got pelted with some pretty serious hail! (I picked them up that day, after Joe had safely crossed the kids -- which only included his sister and the other walking patrol who has taken the same "oath" -- across the busy street. His most important job is to make sure everyone gets safely across Hamline Ave. After he had done that, I picked them up and drove them home. I even yelled at the other kid on the walking line to hop in and drove him home too.)

So, Joe carries a big orange flag and wears the reflective vest and the whole deal. We leave our house (via the SIDE door) about a half hour before school starts each morning. We pick up the neighbor girl 3 houses down and continue collecting kids along the way. We can have up to 10 kids in our "pack" by the time we get to school. I have walked with the kids from time to time over the years, but this year for the first time I get to walk them pretty much every day. (If my memory can be trusted, I've only missed 1 day so far this year). We've been hot. We've been cold. We've had to work hard to not blow over. We've gotten wet . . . sometimes REALLY wet. And still we walk. It is, truly, my very favorite part of the day. Fresh air in the morning. Time to talk with my kids and hear/see them interact with other kids who aren't their siblings. The morning/before school energy of elementary school kids is good for my soul.

Once we get to school, I wait outside with the kids until they go in. Sometimes, we even walk them in to their classrooms. And, on occasion, Sara and Anna play a trick on Anna's teacher where Sara walks into Anna's classroom (while Anna hides in the hall) and puts Anna's folder away and proceeds to sit in Anna's spot and "get to work". Bless her, Anna's teacher always "falls for it" and calls Sara "Anna" and tells her to start on her morning work. Anna's friends are all in on it too (they started doing it last year -- shockingly, last years teacher "fell for it" every time too. Amazing! These woman are saints, I tell you!). It doesn't ever take long before Sara's crazy laughter starts and she admits that she's not actually Anna and Anna comes in and gets to work. The teacher laughs and says "you fooled me" and I give Anna a hug and Sara and I head out to make the trip home again.

On any given morning there are probably a couple dozen parents who either walk with their kids to school or drive them and walk them in, rather than just dropping them off at the door. I love to watch other parents interact with their kids. The kids are all young enough that you see LOTS of have-a-good-day hugs and kisses between parents and their kids. You see kids high five their friends and hug their teachers. Now, I don't want to paint an unrealistic picture . . . you also see some tears, have to yell at kids to settle their bodies down a bit, see a kid push a classmate and hear words you wish kids that little kids wouldn't know, let alone say . . . but 95% of what I witness at that school each day brings a smile to my face and warmth to my heart. It is good for my soul!

Once in a while I will be there at the end of the day too. It is just as heart-warming at the end of the day as it is at the beginning. If you are in the younger wing of the school at the end of the day you will see LOTS of hugs. I'm pretty sure 90% of the younger kids have some type of physical contact with their teacher at the end of the day. Hugs, high fives, maybe a fist bump. Lot of hugs! It is so sweet. If you are in the other wing, where the older kids are, there are certainly less hugs (they are a big too old and cool for that), but you will still see some form of physical contact from many kids. Usually a high five. Some days it's enough to make me thankful for the sunglasses that I'm wearing which hide the tears welling up in my eyes. Such caring, loving, genuinely kind teachers and such sweet kiddos. My heart nearly bursts! And I am thankful!

On Tuesday mornings before school there is a student-led Bible study that meets at the high school. Often our two high schoolers get picked up by another neighborhood parent on these days . . . but on the days when I drive the early-morning crew to school on a Tuesday it also makes me crazy happy. Tooling around the neighborhood picking up kids in my big van while it's still dark (depending on the time of year and what side of daylight-savings you are on) and dropping them off at school before 7 to study the Bible before beginning their days is almost more than I can take. Last week I dropped off my 2 and 3 others (poor Jacob was the lone boy in the van . . . good thing he's used to it) and felt so much gratitude for countless, nameless things as I watched them walk in together. For their friendship, their love for God, their desire to get up early (I've never once "made" my kids go, they genuinely want to) to study the Bible, their boldness to attend a Bible study at their public high school, the Christian teachers that I know are in the building silently cheering them on, the wonderful community of people we have in our neighborhood who love my kids. And the list goes on.

I really couldn't even imagine living in a better place. I think it is really quite unique and not the norm, and I am so grateful! (The Roseville area visitor association didn't even pay me a penny to say any of this, in case you were wondering!)

Monday, October 26, 2015

History Lesson

We live about 2 miles from the place where my parents first met. It was a college campus then. The college has since moved (about 5 miles north), due to expansion, and the campus where they met in the 60's is now a job training center.

Earlier this year I was running by the old campus and decided that, although I'd heard stories from the time when my parents met and their early dating days, I wanted to do a walking tour of the start of their life together. See where it all began. Hear the stories while we were physically present in the place where they actually took place.

I told my mom and she thought it was a great idea. Schedules and weather and life made it tricky to pull off for a while, but, finally, this past weekend we took our family history tour. My mom brought her photo album from college and we saw the pictures from 1968 as we stood right where those pictures ware taken. Many of the buildings look the same (at least from the outside), which is fun. They pointed to the windows that had been their dorm rooms nearly 50 years ago. We walked around the buildings where they took classes and ate dinner and lived. I'm glad we had the chance to do it and to hear the stories. Our stories. Our history.

The campus as it looks today ::

The kids enjoying the campus green . . . at least until they got scolded and told not to play there.
Oh well, moving right along ::

All because two people fell in love.
The result of love found here nearly 50 years ago. Grandchildren (8 out of 9, anyway) with their grandparents in front of the dorm my mom lived in the year she met my dad. (I bet you never knew Cousin It was in our family, did ya?) ::

Getting them all to cooperate and look kinda normal-ish can be a challenge ::

The lovebirds. Right where it all began . . . 

The dorm that my dad lived in as it looks today ::

I'm so glad we got our visit in this fall. It was a beautiful day and I'm glad my kids have seen the pictures and heard the stories. It's important to know the stories and hear of the faithfulness of God to our family. What a great heritage we have.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

New England in the Fall

My grandpa died in 2007 and my grandma in 2009. All my life they lived in Connecticut, so they were the "long distance" grandparents (the distance was especially "long" relative to my other set of grandparents who lived right in our house with us for much of my growing up years). I loved when they would come to visit or when we would head east to see them.

The adorable pair ::

The entire family, nineteen sixty-something ::

With my grandparents a week or so after our wedding in 1996 ::

Before my grandparents died, they had decided to donate their bodies to science for medical research. So we had memorial services at the times of their death, but did not have bodies or ashes for them, so there was no burial. Fast forward a bit and our family (the funeral home, actually) got their remains back and started planning the service at the cemetery. My grandpa was in WWII, so he was eligible to be buried in a military cemetery. We considered Arlington National Cemetery (he was eligible to be buried there), but decided on the local state military cemetery in Connecticut. So on a beautiful fall morning a small group of us gathered at State Veterans Cemetery in Middletown, Connecticut to honor my grandparents. It was such a beautiful and meaningful ceremony; I am so grateful that I was able to be there! It was a full on military ceremony. I didn't expect it to be so emotional, especially considering the years that had passed since their deaths. There were three veterans that took part in the ceremony and two current military. The elderly vets shot off their guns and one played taps (Kirby has played taps many a time at a military funeral and Jacob has too, so that is especially meaningful to me.) A lone bugle playing slowly over hundreds of gravestones is pretty powerful! Then the two current soldiers (one man and one woman) meticulously unfolded and refolded the flag and presented it to my dad with these words "On behalf of the president of the United State, the United States Army, and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one's honorable and faithful service." The soldier was kneeling and looking my dad (who was seated on a chair) right in the eye. Face to face, just a few inches between them. I was not prepared for how moving and powerful that was going to be.

Entry of the cemetery ::

The soldiers who did the flag ceremony ::

5 out of the 8 grandkids ::

My dad and 3 of his siblings (there were 6 kids in his family) ::

Me holding the flag after the service ::

Following the service we hopped in the car (after a lunch together with the family) and drove to Cape Cod to stay that night with my aunt and uncle. They own an Inn on the Cape where we stayed on our honeymoon. This was my first time back in over 19 years. I enjoyed a beautiful sunrise walk on the beach the next morning complete with breaking ocean waves, seals in the water just off shore,  and seagulls. Then we drove to Boston to fly home. It was a short visit, but I was so glad I was there. To catch up a bit with family. To honor my grandparents. To spend kid-free time with my mom and dad. To make a few Dunkin' Donuts stops . . . it was a wonderful trip!

Sunrise on Nauset Beach ::

Monday, October 12, 2015

Fall Family Fun

We planned a trip to the apple orchard (our favorite one!) with some friends. The day we had planned to go turned out to not be quite so fall-ish, as the temperature was about 85 degrees -- which is a bit warmer than my liking for mid-October. But we went ahead with the plan. We just wore shorts and t-shirts and flip flops rather than jeans, sweaters and boots.

We had a great time. We are so thankful for the friendship we have with this great family. Their 8 kids added to our 6, plus the 4 adults make us quite a site when we are all together!

The (good looking) kids. 14 of them, ages 4-16 :: 2 preschoolers, 2 2nd graders, a 4th grader, a 5th grader, a 6th grader, a 7th grader, 3 8th graders, 2 freshman and a junior ::

Buddies ::

Hay wagon ride to the corn maze (love his shirt!) ::

Friends ::

Helping make cider :: 

it's not easy ::

the cider press (it was super cool) ::

It was a fun fall Sunday. We also celebrated a couple birthdays (with such a big group, it's always bound to be someone's birthday) with cake and a song! I'm thinking it might very well become a tradition.

Friday, October 9, 2015

5 . . . and Flashback Friday

Our "baby" is 5 today. I'm not sure how that can be possible, but there's no denying it, despite my best efforts. She has brought so much joy and laughter and fun to our lives (and also a fair dose of frustration and irritation) and we are so happy that God saw fit to give her to our family!

She was kicking her little feet and messing with the accuracy of the scale . . . none of our babies have ever tipped a scale at under 8 pounds! ::

Look at that smile. She stole that guys heart instantly! ::

Those sweet little feet ::

At family camp, almost 2 years old ::

Almost 3 years old. Clearly, she's had that spunk for years ::

On her birthday last year wearing her "I'm 4" shirt for the first time (the 3rd Stoll kid to wear it . . . I'll be so sad to "retire" it! Or put it in the "hall of fame" -- which is where Joe says we should put extra special items of clothing. For example, his "corduroy" pants, which no longer have any wale at all. You know, there is wide wale corduroy, narrow wale corduroy . . . well, Joe may be the only person to own "no wale" corduroy pants! They have been his favorites for YEARS and all the "wale" has completely worn off. You have to see them to believe it!) ::

And a current picture of our sweet, funny, sassy, large-vocabulary, thinks-she's-a-teenager girl. We think she's pretty great ::

Happy Birthday to my favorite 5-year-old on earth. Thanks for being such a blessing to those around you. My God be with you this coming year as you learn to love Him more!