Category Archives: Kiddos

Ethan and Peter

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Awhile ago we came here, soon after we moved back to Bakersfield, to do a hike with homeschoolers. Today, I decided to go back in search of green grass growing after the rains. When we bought our house on this side of town years ago, it was a wet year and the hills all around our development were green and rolling. It seemed like a whole other country and definitely not Bakersfield. The last few years have left things parched, dead, hot. This fall the rains returned and I am remembering why this area sold us.

We found ourselves next to the river with rounded boulders, the long green grass I was hoping for growing up in tufts between them, the fog rolling in just as golden hour brought the promised honey hues. It was magical and ethereal, like something out of a fairy tale. However, earlier this week my kids had a meltdown because we went to a park and *gasp* there was no playground equipment. It took them 20 minutes to get over themselves and realize that they could be having a whole lot more fun with the other homeschoolers playing tag. So after that experience, I did not exactly expect them to enjoy today’s outing.  And yet there they were leaping from rock to rock, making up a story about being wolf hunters and not wanting to leave even though it started to get cold and we had a birthday cake to bake.

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Today my Ethan is five. It doesn’t seem real or possible and yet here it is. This month is also his youngest sibling’s fourth month on earth.

Ethan has so many fun little quirks. I call him my little engineer. He always wants to know how things work, take them apart and put them back together. He is very sensitive and will wear shirts with tags inside out and hates pants most days (the colder weather is breaking him of this because he really hates being cold more than any other discomfort). His skin is sensitive and prone to outbreaks. His emotions are sensitive too, but in a less explosive way than his next in line brother. He is definitely a giggler though and often laughs his way through life. He goes through periods of loving to dress up. He wore his Beast (of Beauty fame) costume three days in a row this week. He even wore it to his sister’s ballet lessons. A few months ago he wore his Flynn Rider costume in much the same fashion. Yesterday it was traditional Korean birthday clothes. I made him change and wash his face for the photo shoot because I’m mom like that. He is a collector and today was no different, we brought home several clam shells and bottle caps. The usual hunt for the perfect stick was also on.

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Peter has rolls upon rolls that I could kiss all day long. They are so puffy and soft like clouds upon clouds. He is very vocal and he is starting to make a noise that sounds something like “Mama.” Or at least that’s what I think. He has the stub of a tooth and as such his cheeks and chin are chapped from the drooling. He’s still easy and sweet. He’s full of smiles and as delightful as babies can possibly be. He sleeps well and tags along on our day to day with ease.

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Blessed Feast of the Cross!

Today we celebrate The Exaltation of the Cross.

We harvested our basil plant this morning. Ethan was thrilled to discover and capture two grasshoppers. All the holes in the leaves were not so thrilling, but we managed to get enough nice ones to fill the basket.

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During Lent, Jilly’s godfather came down to deliver some of his beautifully crafted liturgical furniture to another priest. The kids all loved the simple wall crosses he brought down too.

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He told them he would send some “kits” so they could make their own. I saved our share of them because I knew they’d be the perfect activity to go with our Garden of the Theotokos curriculum for this day. Jillian and Ethan had fun gluing their crosses and painting them gold while Henry napped.

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It was nice to have some festal things to do as a family even though I was still confined mostly to bed to continue recovering from Peter’s birth.

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Meeting Peter

My sister brought my “big” kids back yesterday. I mean I know they are not really all that big or old, but I feel like all of them just aged 10 years in those three days. Jillian is practically a teenager. Henry is especially not the baby anymore. I’ve called him “baby” for the last three years! He’s looking very much like Stephen’s mini-me too. He was SO excited about his new brother.

Andrea has been trying to work on becoming a professional photographer over the last year in addition to her regular, very demanding job as a correctional officer. I don’t know how she does it along with being wife and mother. She brought her camera with her last night and then gave me the raw unedited photos right away. Photographers never do that, unless they are your sister.

My sister and her husband didn’t even tell the kids I’d had the baby or show them pictures over the weekend. So this was their first news of and genuine reactions to Peter.

With not much in the way of editing software myself, I just made them all black and whites for now. Here are some of my favorites. So glad we have these precious images of this moment!

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Peter is here!

We’ve been on edge since I was 36 weeks along as to whether this guy was going to make an appearance with all kinds of false alarms! We went from California law says the baby can’t be born until 37 weeks anxiousness to California law says this baby has to be born by 42 weeks anxiousness and we made it just in time last night (41 weeks and 6 days) at 9:26pm. Peter Zachariah, my fourth baby born at home, is 8lbs 10oz and 22in long.

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Of course it’s me so there’s a long story to go with this photo. Before you get started, it is a homebirth story and that means there are going to be some frustrations expressed with medical practice and the law as well as some gory details you might not want to read about if you have a weak stomach or you are eating. Proceed if you are into that sort of thing.

Last year California passed a new law that while in some ways was good for and gave more formal recognition to the practice of midwifery, it was very restrictive in other ways.

Even after three prior homebirths I found myself in this strange position of having to prove for most of my pregnancy, where I encountered the same issues as the other three, that I really was healthy enough to do this again. The day I finally could prove this to the medical establishment, I was so relieved to finally continue care with our midwife that had helped deliver two of our three babies.

So I had been having 1-3 hour spurts of patterned contractions on and off since 36 weeks. It was frustrating every time they fizzled.

I remember we were out for tacos with my friend Heather’s family and other friends and I looked and seemed then to be very done, but as Heather joked that night, “California passed a law so the babies better take notice.” The goal was to take it easy that week and make it until at least Saturday, August 2 when I would be 37 weeks, the minimum gestational age under the new law I mentioned.

And then I kept on being pregnant.

As more and more physically uncomfortable I began to grow and in some ways impatient, I also knew that my body and the baby knew what they were doing. We were checking out healthy at our appointments. I was enjoying my visits with my midwife as usual because talking about birth stuff with her is always fun. I made some sarcastic remarks here and there about wanting to be done, but I wasn’t going to try and hurry things along unnecessarily. A few dietary old wives tales were about the extent of any actions on my part.

Then my due date came and went and next thing I knew I was 41 weeks along. Unable to lighten the baby carrying load that night, I decided at 10pm after a shower that it would be a good time to chop 9in off my hair instead.

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Another part of the law was that at 41 weeks my midwife had to send me for post-dates testing. Since I hit 41 weeks over Labor Day weekend, it granted me a slight reprieve. I was not looking forward to going in and being lectured by an OB about the “need” to be induced. I had dealt with this before and both times it was not a pleasant experience. So I actually started to have some pretty serious anxiety about it Monday night which resulted in a piddly four hours of terrible sleep.

Tuesday morning after several tries with our insurance automated phone system totaling about an hour and a half, I finally got a real live representative on the phone. As I started to explain my situation, I heard a dial tone and I was calling from my home phone at that. I was beyond frustrated and by now my three small children really needed my attention as they ran through our house banging and blowing musical instruments as loudly as possible. More phone time was not an option. My plan was to make another attempt after schoolwork and lunch, but then my faithful pal “morning” sickness showed up, we had ballet and I had a midwife appointment.

Getting down to the wire of the maximum gestational age under the new law, my midwife and I started to make plans at our appointment. The next morning I would try to make an appointment for post-dates testing with my insurance again and try the good old castor oil induction.

My second attempt at making an appointment seemed to go slightly better. The first rep I talked to was shocked that I still wanted a homebirth at 41 weeks, but I told her that I wanted to get the tests done so that I could make an informed decision about how to proceed. The second rep she transferred me to was very understanding and chatty. She asked about my previous homebirths and said she totally got it. There were no appointments available, but she said she would put in a message to a nurse.

No one called me back the whole day and the castor oil induction attempt was almost immediately rejected by my still sensitive stomach from the afternoon and evening before of “morning” sickness.

Thursday morning I called again and was told they would send another message to the nurse. I asked my sister to come pick up my kids hoping that not having to worry about them would maybe do the trick.

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With still no luck going through our insurance, my midwife advised me to go to the hospital, explain the situation and get my testing done there. Hospitals make me super anxious. I’ve never really had a horrible hospital experience, but I was talking with a friend about it the other day and I think part of it is just the level of stress the staff is undergoing often is palpable (even if they are nice to you), as well as the spiritual significance of death and life in that place, add to that intercom paging (especially when things are getting more intense), beeps, heart monitors, the often very low temp maintained by the air conditioning system, etc. and it is just hard to relax there.

I had Stephen with me though and we went that night after he got off work. I was somewhat mentally prepped for it not to be an enjoyable experience, but I am happy to report that it was actually pretty great. We walked into the labor and delivery ward and I was immediately registered and taken care of with very little fuss. At the end of our time there, the on call doctor from our insurance OB group was gracious in the way he handled sharing his professional opinion (that I should stay and be induced because their policy is 41 weeks and 3 days) while also being understanding of my being an informed patient, the appeal of homebirth, and that while there are increased risks associated with going late, the tests showed it was very unlikely that any of those would happen. He even joked about epidurals. He stripped my membranes to help things along and sent me home saying that our insurance would contact me in the morning to schedule my 42 week induction.

The next morning bright and early they did call and wanted me to come in to the OB clinic for an appointment and more testing as well as paperwork for my induction. At that point I was just feeling slightly defeated and passive about the whole thing (I thought I would never go into labor!), so I agreed. My husband was not happy, saying another appointment was overkill.

We went in. The doctor that had an opening that morning was not exactly happy about my still being pregnant and my plans, but we got through it with an “agree to disagree” ending, another NST and check of my amniotic fluid, and an induction appointment for 7am the next morning.

With two clean bills of health from the medical establishment (which wasn’t really news) to satisfy state law, we could move forward with our next set of plans. My midwife came over, started an IV of antibiotics and broke my water at 3pm.

Nothing really happened right away, but after two hours I started having some contractions that were increasing in intensity. I went from chatty and joking to irritated and slightly snapping at Stephen about movement next to me, lighting, sounds and being touched within an hour. My midwife needed to start some more antibiotics at 6:30, but I have small veins that roll and she didn’t want to keep poking me and blowing veins. So she called another midwife with a background as an EMT to come start an IV. I wanted in the tub and tried there for a bit, but then wanted out and on my bed. By the time the other midwife got here at 8:50 and was trying to start a new IV, I was semi pushing. After IV attempt one I just really didn’t want to be poked again and knew that I was going to be pushing this baby out really soon making the antibiotics somewhat mute. I could not get comfortable on the bed and decided to go back to the tub.

I was kind of in a table position on my knees with the side of the tub and started pushing. It felt better in there, but obviously still uncomfortable because it’s labor and you are pushing a tiny human out of you. I don’t really think I pushed a ton, maybe 5-6 times and he was out. My position was awkward in the tub though so I was the only person that could reach down and pull him up and out of the water. I felt so shaky and was afraid I wouldn’t be able to hold myself up with my legs alone, but I did it. I saw that he really was a boy just like the halfway point ultrasound said, but we slightly doubted because he was so active making a clear picture tough for the tech and because my pregnancy symptoms were so much like Jilly’s. I was eased back into a sitting position where I stayed for a bit until the placenta came out as they were draining the tub.

With the other three I gave birth on our bed so the midwives were changing out bed pads and towels the whole time and I was lying back instead of sitting up so I didn’t really see anything. So I was kind of shocked about how much blood there was in addition to the shock of just giving birth and feeling slightly weak and shaky from that.

They got me out of the tub and onto the floor by the tub, but I didn’t feel like I could walk all the way back to our bed right away. When I stood up it just felt like my lungs and everything were falling without that baby holding them up and squashing them. So they checked me out there first.

They got me back to the bed and I initially felt pretty good. I was in way less pain than I expected to be in both with nursing and dealing with afterbirth pains.

Stephen made me some toast so I could take some Advil. I took one bite and I suddenly did not want it in my mouth and thought I might throw up and that’s when things got a little tense. I did throw up. I started not feeling good at all and the midwives were concerned about my uterus contracting. It was contracted, but not down far enough. They started an IV. I was bleeding a bit more than they liked. I was feeling really out of it too. It maybe seemed more scary to me, but they both kept assuring me that I was going to be OK and that if they were really concerned they’d have emergency personnel come. They gave me medicine in the IV and then decided they needed to check for clots. It was really painful, but once they got them out the bleeding was much more controlled. Things calmed down. I started to perk up and joke again.

Once I was more stable they examined our baby, Stephen cut the cord, I had more IV fluid, they cleaned me and our room and bathroom up. They gave Peter a 10/10 on his Apgar and decided based on their examination that his gestational age was actually 41 weeks. They reminded me that I went through a bit of trauma and that I needed to stay in bed this week before heading out so we could go to sleep in the first hours of Saturday (our 11th anniversary!)

So that’s my plan. I think this is really the first time I don’t feel like getting up the next day, actually. Pretty content to rest and snuggle our very sweet and cute boy.

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*** Sorry if I sound like such a Debbie Downer about laws and medical practice. I’m just not sure if I would feel as tired or had the immediate post-partum experience I did if my body had just been allowed to do things more naturally when it was ready.

**** For those interested in the reasoning behind the names:

St. Peter the Aleut was an Orthodox martyr right here in California. We have a children’s book version of his life which all of our kids, but especially big brother Henry love. In this last year of helping to start up a mission parish for the Orthodox Church in America, one of the things that made it possible was the closing of St. Peter the Aleut mission in Lake Havisu because they gave us several liturgical items.

Yesterday was the feast day for the Prophet Zachariah.

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How we made Garden of the Theotokos work for us

One week ago we finished all of the school work I hoped to accomplish for the year.

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One of my goals for the year was to get a better feel for the Liturgical year and incorporate more of the saints and feasts into our family and school life. Despite mixed reviews from friends and other Orthodox homeschoolers I decided to give Children’s Garden of the Theotokos a try for the year anyway.

Like most things I’ve tried with homeschooling so far, I found myself not necessarily in love with or using everything laid out in the curriculum. However, I loved the overall concept of the curriculum and found myself using it as a springboard for incorporating other saints and feasts that we were interested in. After sharing some of my experience with a few friends, I decided to write and show pictures of what we did here in case any other Orthodox homeschoolers out there are looking for ideas.

I really liked the artwork and the stories of saints written for children in particular. We did not incorporate the music, circle time, or role playing into our school. I also thought the work during Holy Week was a little on the heavy side, but it was the only thing we did that week and as such was doable for us. I thought the Nativity vowel poems and the Christmas Feast projects were a little redundant. I liked the idea of keeping the artwork together in the Waldorf notebooks. There were only a couple problems with these: not enough pages in the Lent to Pentecost book and there were several projects (like the Nativity vowel poems) and feast days that did not have have a notebook or a place to be. We wound up starting a liturgical year journal in a composition notebook for these. This is also where we started putting some of the additional feasts that I decided we should cover.

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So, with the included Waldorf books (three), the Book of Days, and the liturgical year journal we wound up having five books for the whole year that covered our Garden of the Theotokos stuff. This year, I have already decided I just want it all in one place. I found some spiral bound sketch books (unlined medium weight paper) at Target and spent some time on the computer designing a cover for it that I just glued over the existing cover. I liked this idea of stuff contained in a book so much that we’re using it for science and history next year too.

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When I was doing my lesson planning last summer, I had looked at the liturgical year calendar to line up this curriculum, but I also looked for Saints or Feasts I thought were significant such as names I was slightly familiar with, that I thought we should at least talk a little bit about or do more. For some of these I was able to find children’s books from various Orthodox publishers or if they were well known enough (like St. Patrick) there were lots crafts or activities to be found on Pinterest. Some were also from our classic Old and New Testament Bible stories so I could always go to our copy of The Child’s Story Bible for those. If there was not necessarily a craft or artwork I could think of, I would look on the Orthodox Church in America’s Department of Christian Education Line Drawing Resources for a coloring page or find an icon of the person or the event and print it out and along with the words to one of the hymns about it so we could copy a line of it for handwriting practice.

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For some feasts we did something for it, but it didn’t necessarily work to put it in the book, like St. Sebastian which was one of our Kindness Kids activities during Nativity:

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St. Basil and the Vasilopita:

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Theophany when we went to Santa Maria and the beach:

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Overall, I really liked this curriculum with my adjustments for what I knew would work and didn’t feel awkward to me and we’ll be using it again in much the same way this year. I’ll probably start having Jillian do copy work instead of tracing for handwriting practice and some more advanced artwork. Ethan will do what Jillian did this year.

Edited to add: I have some Pinterest boards going that have craft and art ideas for various feasts and saints:

Let the little children come to me

Days to feast and fast

Martinmas

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Children have a way of sanctifying everything

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Once, after a Saturday of the Souls service while we were all sitting around eating kollyva (wheat or rice cooked with honey and mixed with raisins, figs, nuts, sesame, etc. that is blessed in church on these Saturdays. The kollyva reminds us of the Lord’s words, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” John 12:24. The kollyva symbolizes the future resurrection of all the dead.), a priest told us of the practice in monasteries of having to do a certain number of prostrations for every grain that hits the floor, even accidentally. Then he added, “But don’t worry about the kids, kids are always doing prostrations,” as ours rolled around and did summersaults all over the church hall in between bites of kollyva.

“Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them. But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” And He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them.” Mark 10:13-16

As a parent and a Christian, it’s hard not to go through our days and activities without thinking about these verses in the Gospel of St. Mark. I think about them a lot lately.

We received Disney season passes this year as a Christmas present. This last trip my kids sang the Paschal hymns throughout the Magic Kingdom. Stephen said it was like they were going around sanctifying the whole place. That so much of Orthodoxy, he said he is finding, is about loving people (and loving kids especially) and if you can’t love them, then you are probably going to have trouble loving God too.

Then yesterday I found sidewalk chalk crosses all over the backyard. More reminders to seek God everywhere and always.

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One of our favorite Orthodox children’s books right now is The Boy, a Kitchen, and His Cave by Catherine K. Contopoulos about the life of St. Euphrosynos the Cook. Just after the climax of the story where the abbot of the monastery has met Euphrosynos in paradise and received a branch of an apple tree, there is this:

That Dawn at matins, the Abbot brought the apple branch with him and excitedly described his vision of Euphrosynos to the other monks.

“Dear brothers, I prayed last night for answers following our great discussion. And The Lord has answered my prayers.”

“What could that peasant boy possibly teach us?” said one monk, with some indignation.

“Brother, that simple peasant boy who cooks our meals and cleans our kitchen lives his life in the true spirit of Christ. He is content with all that is before him. He sees plenty in everything, even when he has nothing. He appreciates all the small things of his day–how well his spoon ladles our soup, the sweetness of a carrot. And he praises The Lord at every turn!”

“Yes, it’s true,” said the monk who had slipped on Euphrosynos’ soapy water. “Even when he spilled water from his bucket and made a mess, he thanked God for teaching him a new lesson. I was so annoyed with his carelessness, yet he was able to transform the mishap into a gift from above.”

“You see, brothers,” said the Abbot. “Our cook asks for nothing more than what is given to him. Everything in his life, each new day, is a chance to participate in the Kingdom of Heaven. Is this not what Jesus meant–that God’s Kingdom is in our midst on earth?”

“I am convinced,” continued the Abbot, “that God has blessed us by bringing Euphrosynos here to us. It is we who must learn from Euphrosynos, brothers! God’s love knows no distinction of rank. Who are we to decide what or who is holy in God’s eyes?”

I don’t want to say my kids are on a level with St. Euphrosynos, or that they are not because both would be a judgement I’m not fit to render. However, like St. Euphrosynos, they and so many other kids do remind me of this favorite quote that has been an e-mail signature of mine for some time now,

“We’re always frowning, always pouting; we don’t feel like singing or doing anything else. We should follow the example of the birds. They’re always joyful whereas we’re always bothered by something.”
— Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica

I want to be like my kids, the Paschal Troparion joyfully on my lips throughout my day, like Henry that sings the Vespers hymn Oh Gladsome Light to send himself to sleep, like Jillian singing The Angel Cried as she climbs a tree in some of our very best friends’ front yard, or telling me that the saints in icons look sad when she’s angry, or our boys that turn anything that jingles into a censor to bless our house and all the people in it several times a day, or a sweet two-year-old that says, “Mama, I picked a big clover for you: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

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Things I take pictures of and forget to blog

One day my nephew’s grandpa brought some watermelons over. My kids were super anxious for me to cut them up, but we did not have time before ballet. They took matters into their own hands:

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When the world is crashing in on me I go to the beach or the monastery. This particular crash the sweet abbess spent a lot of time talking to me and getting things sorted out. Then she gave me a book, a home censer, charcoal and incense. We followed this up with the beach and gluten-free pizza at our favorite spot on the harbor.

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Henry and I love food:

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We’re starting a mission parish for the Orthodox Church in America in our house. We’re so excited to have like minded families, an archdiocese that cares so much about us to send us a priest, and to be able to have the beginnings of an American Orthodox Church as a light to the lower San Joaquin Valley. We’ve celebrated a name day, had Vespers and begun the logistics and planning stages. I also had to reorganize quite a bit of our things to make room. It wasn’t too difficult after having lived in much smaller places for the past three years and so many cabinets and other places around here that were just empty. I kind of like the way we have things now way better, so much so that when we can move to a public location (hopefully soon!) I’m not sure what we’ll do with the space instead.

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Cake, party horns and Vespers for the feast of St. Aidan

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The best goat’s milk ice cream from our friends’ goats we had one night after Vespers

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Very un-Orthodox, but Stephen needed his guitar to help him figure out pitch on Church music one afternoon.

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Homeschool stuff moved and reorganized.

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Empty cabinets are so fun to play in.

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A bedroom and a playroom. The kids love it so much and so do I.

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The very beginning.

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Venerating.

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Our first Typika.

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Gluten-free pancake breakfast.

We’ve been heading up to Bear Valley to play softball with my sister’s family at their community’s family softball games. The kids get dirty. The boys pee a million times.

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We love school work around here. I already mentioned this, but I especially love the Garden of the Theotokos curriculum. Jillian begs to do that first every day.

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Saddest book ever. I burst into tears three times.

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We took on the county fair for the food and animals only:

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We celebrated 10 years of marriage. That night my friend since 4th(me)/5th(her) grade had an art show in town. It seemed pretty appropriate to go. 12 years ago before we even started dating she told us we’d be good together and 10 years ago she was one of my bridesmaids.

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