Friday, March 24, 2017

Another Quick Take: Spring Weather, Parenting Blurps, and Other Happenings

Here's a second dose of 7 mini-posts for 2017. This seems to be the year I can't keep up with my usual blogging habits. Tank goodness for jumbled quick takes (aka really long posts) that help me unload my camera roll!

1. After my first quick take of the year, I figured for sure I'd write a post about the 60 degree weather we had (for several days) that very week (mid February). But I never got around to that. So here's the pictures I took of the kids loving their time outside in the mud.

Feb 21

I totally remember "making quicksand" as a kid. I also remember loosing shoes with at least two good friends (Shellene Johnson and Haley Petersen). As the three big kids were busy creating some of my own favorite childhood memories, I held Mara as we swung on our big tree swing. It was all so dreamy.

The next day I sent the big kids out to play for just a few minutes before we were to head to a park play date (which our friend cancelled). Going to the park was a total flop, despite the nice weather. But that's all beside the point. Lou came to the door all covered in mud and I wanted to clean her up ASAP so we wouldn't be late picking up our friend. Once I had her all tidied up, she gazed up at me with her gorgeous blue eyes and I noticed I'd clearly missed a spot.

Feb 22
I couldn't believe I'd been so concerned about mud in the house and hurrying our day along that I didn't even take time to look at her face. When her sweet eyes gazed up at me I couldn't resist a picture. I didn't just take it to remember her twinkle, but to remind myself to always take the time to gaze into those loving eyes. This has quickly become one of my all time favorite pictures of Lou, possibly tied with another muddied face shot. 

 2.  My mom left some yeast in my cupboard after her Thanksgiving visit (she made her yummy dinner rolls for our leftovers). I figured I'd finally try the no-knead artisan bread I'd saved on pinterest back in 2014 (which was the same recipe a friend had given me in early 2011). I can't believe it took me so many years to work up the courage to make this bread!

Feb 28
I have made three slightly altered versions of the same recipe. Today I tried using the parts I liked best from all three recipes, and it was a flop (aka -- a sticky mess that didn't rise after it was removed from the bowl). Even so, the bread still tasted just fine and most of it has been gobbled up by now. I think this should be titled no-knead and no-fail. 

3. Let's celebrate the return of 100 Plus into my life. Also worth celebrating: my fabulous husband who went around town hunting it down for me. Not worth celebrating: the wicked stomach bug that knocked down the four oldest members of our family (the two littlest had mild symptoms, but were never miserable).  

Mar 4

4. Ben took Reid and Nell down to Illinois the second weekend in March. They went to help his parent's get their house ready for the market. They are moving to Utah, and I think I'm experiencing the stages of grief over the whole ordeal. I'm mostly just heartbroken for my kids. I was surrounded by so much extended family growing up, it's hard for me to imagine their life without that. Aunt Jamie and I are coming up with lots of ideas and making serious goals to get the kids together often after Rick and Carol leave. But wow, none of this was the reason I mentioned Ben, Reid, and Nell's weekend away. My real desire was simply to share these goofy selfies I took with Lou. Man it was hard to entertain her all on my own! I think I was missing Reid and Nell more than she was.

Here's a picture of Reid and Nell that Rick sent me while they were in Illinois. I'm not sure how much help they were, but they sure did enjoy themselves. They were in heaven when they brought home a big box of sea shells. 

5. On a Target run last week Coraline unwrapped some Easter chocolate while I was lingering over the M&Ms. I was being indecisive about which kind (mint or plain?) we should put in our Leprechaun bait. Just as I decided on the plain I looked over at Coraline, one end cap away, and heard her say "quack, quack." The head of that tiny duck was just about to enter her mouth. 
I grabbed it out of her hands but also immediately realized I was going to have to buy it. The mother walking past laughed over the whole thing, which helped me keep a positive attitude. I figured since there was nothing I could do about it, I might as well take a photo and try to remember it! That bottom left picture just cracks me up. Don't worry, after the photo shoot Nell got to enjoy one too. What a waste of money!

6. The Leprechaun bait turned out yummy. Reid decided to make a trap, so I went along with it. Our Leprechaun was definitely stuck for at least a few minutes, but he figured a way out and left a green trail out our back door. The kids were pretty excited about that. Earlier in the week Reid laid out all the ideas for his elaborate trap and Nell looked at him like he was an idiot and declared, "Leprechauns aren't real!" She was sure singing a different tune after she saw that magic dust! They were all pretty excited. 

7. They were also excited that it wasn't freezing outside and that I was taking them to the library while Daddy attended Priesthood training. It's been a battle getting Nell to wear a coat all winter long, so with the Spring like weather you'd think she'd gladly wear a jacket. Nope!

As we got out of the car at the library I hollered, "Nell, I told you to put your jacket on before you got out of the car!" (it was next to her seat on the back row). The family ahead of us (husband, wife, and young teen daughter) all looked over and gave a knowing smile. The dad caught the door for me and pointed to his daughter, "She was just like that as a kid. Still is! That's why my wife and I had to laugh when we saw your little girl and heard your comment."

So, that's twice in two days that strangers got a kick out of my half hazard parenting. It's always nice to know you're in good company!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Mara Joy's Infancy

February 15, 2017
Each child's infancy goes faster and faster. I think I just might wake up one morning and find I'm sending Mara off to college. I can sense she's already transitioning to new stages. She has control of her movements, and she tries harder and harder to roll over each day. She coos as if she's really trying to communicate her thoughts and feelings. She smiles back.

She also sleeps like a champ. Coraline wakes us up more each night than Mara does, and that's been the case for a full month. She sleeps so well that I rarely get the chance to hold her slumber on my chest (which is without a doubt my favorite part of having an infant in the home). If she does fall asleep during her bedtime feeding I'm in no rush to lay her in the crib. I hoist her up on my chest and listen to her deep breaths. I want to savor every minute of those dreaming snuggles.

Here are some of the photos I've taken of her during her second and third months of life.

Dec 11 -- Just a day shy of 5 weeks and still so tiny!
Dec 13 -- Practicing to become a great sleeper.
Dec 27 -- She could sleep just about anywhere and through any noise.
Dec 31 -- Those tiny hands!!!
Jan 4 -- Just passed 8 weeks old; gorgeous!

Jan 5 -- My favorite sleep/snuggle position.
Jan 17 -- Her favorite sleep position. So peaceful!
Jan 26 -- My grocery shopping buddy.
Feb 3- - Cracking a smile as she wakes up.

Feb 3. She prefers to sleep/snuggle facing out vs snuggled up.

March 11 2017

And here we are now, several days past Mara hitting the 4 month mark and I'm just finishing edits on those pictures. Yikes. Her infancy is really gone now. However, 4 months old is my favorite baby age.

She rolled over for the first time (twice) last Sunday. Reid was doing tummy time with her and he shouted for joy when she turned from her belly to her back. It was sweet to see how excited he was. Since then, she has rolled pretty regularly each day. She can roll from her belly to her back, but also from her back to her belly. I can't believe how quick it's all going (did I say that already).

She prefers to be held out, rather than in, just like Nell. She sucks her thumb, just like Nell. She knows that when I put her in her sleepsack she is about to go to sleep, and she usually pouts a bit about that. Poor girl.

She offers serious giggles when you interact with her at the right time and in the right way. She's still sleeping like a champ (so why can I not find the time to finish this post?)! She has her four month check up on Monday, so I suppose I'll write up a new post then. I have still have so many pictures (Feb 7th on) I want to share!

Monday, February 27, 2017

Helping Pre-Readers Write Primary Talks

Our kids are blessed to attend a rather small LDS Primary. An average week yields about a dozen kids aged 3 -11.  A larger primary (like that of my own childhood) would be awesome as well. However, I've really come to love our little group and the experiences my two older children have because of its small size. They absolutely adore the older children -- who shower them with attention and kindness. Also, they are frequently called upon to say prayers, answer questions, choose songs, and give talks. Last year Nell gave two primary talks as a sunbeam (that's the youngest class). I'm willing to bet that's pretty unique. 

Neither Reid nor Nell read (or write), but they love preparing and giving talks. We've had to think outside the box as we've helped our pre-readers write their talks, so I thought I'd share some of the strategies that have worked for us. Hopefully this can help some other parents of pre-readers prepare their kids to give talks during sharing time as well. 

1. Make sure the child is using their own words, and not yours (or someone else's). 
My goal for my kids, even at age three, is that they will both write and speak the talk themselves. Of course we help them with the outline and structure of each talk, but we encourage them to use concepts and language that are familiar to them. When they each gave their first talk I stood by them to offer encouragement and help get them through any hiccups, but I do not whisper the talk into their ears. The words are theirs and they are comfortable expressing them to their peers. If a child does need the words whispered into their ears (because we all have different abilities), those words should still be comfortable and natural to them. 

2. Study the topic with them every day of the week.
The purpose of speaking in Church is mostly for our own benefit. When we are asked to prepare a talk or lesson we have to spend a great deal of time studying the topic on our own. Then we put together our thoughts and deliver them to our audience. This should be no different for our children. Most recently, Reid was given a somewhat complicated topic, his assignment was: "Jesus Christ created the Earth so I could learn to choose the right." Throughout the week we talked about the two very separate ideas in that sentence. Why did Jesus create the Earth? How can we choose the right? After some good discussions on these two points, we started putting the two concepts together. We kept having Reid flush out ideas and express what he was learning in his own words. The final draft of his talk included comments about dinosaurs and the Mariana trench -- so you can trust me when I say our kids use their own words! We always encourage them to come up with their own ideas, but they can only do this if they understand the doctrine they are asked to speak on. 

3. Create a storyboard for the child to read from the pulpit. 
This genius idea belongs to Reid. As we kept talking about the reason for the creation and the importance of choosing the right, he said something about writing his talk as a picture. That was a real light bulb moment for me. I got out some paper and made six frames; then he and Ben filled it out together. I would highly recommend this method to anyone. By the time they were finished Reid had six concrete thoughts he knew he needed to hit and his talk was built on strong organization. This gave him the confidence he needed to stand at the podium (without me by his side), make eye contact with his audience, and deliver his talk with near perfection. He occasionally made quick glances at each square and then spoke from the heart as he moved from one point to the next. 

4. Use props.
I know props for talks in sacrament are frowned upon, but I think it is okay to make an exception for children's primary talks. I imagine some church members may disagree with this approach, but it worked really well for us when Reid was 5 and asked to speak on The Creation. I created a flannel board story of the Creation and it served as the outline for his talk. This allowed him to tell the entire creation story in his own words, while also offering a visual for his peers.

Props did not work for Nell when she was asked to speak on Christ's birth. I envisioned her putting out each piece of our Little People Nativity set as she told the story, but every time we practiced it at home her retelling of the story just became more and more ridiculous. She was ad-libbing all sorts of junk that certainly would have made her story interesting, but not at all accurate. In the end we just put the nativity out on the table next to us and stuck to simple story telling from the pulpit, which leads us into number five.

5. Practice, practice, and practice some more.
I really don't have any wisdom to offer here, other than what is said: practice, practice, practice. Nell had to run through that nativity talk a couple dozen times. We'd interrupt her when she got too dramatic; we'd remind her of any parts she was missing. We did it again and again and again. Reid also runs through his talks a couple dozen times before delivery. We are sure to go over it several times the morning before church.

6. Always close with a testimony.
When our kids practice their talks we always ask them to include their own testimony at the end. We have never given them instruction for this portion of the talk. It isn't something we correct or persuade. They know they need to close with two or three comments about something they are thankful for and something they know to be true. Naturally, they stick pretty closely to their assigned topic.

I'd love to hear any other ideas that have worked for parents with young children. Feel free to leave them in the comments or pass this post around if you find it helpful.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Revival of the Quick Take

I've had so many blog posts on my mind that it feels overwhelming to try and write them all. Luckily, I just remembered the old "quick take" posts I wrote (mostly in 2014) on Friday nights of the past. Hallejuah for the quick take! I'm about to churn some of these rambling memories and photos out! But be warned, titling this as a "quick take" is misleading. It's basically seven short-ish posts in one. If you read through this all you're a big fan, and I thank you for that. But if you just scroll through for the pictures -- you won't be disappointed.

1. Wizard of Oz
Grandma and Grandpa Szilagyi gave Reid a copy of the original Wizard of Oz for Christmas. I began reading it to the kids a few afternoons each week (our ability to read relied heavily on Mara's naps, Coraline's moods, and the general cleanliness of our house). 

When we were about half way through a friend mentioned her son was practicing for the school musical, Wizard of Oz! I was so excited. I'd actually just told the kids we would watch the movie once we finished the book (it was a bribe to motivate them to get through some of the middle chapters they weren't really digging). I figured going to a real live production of the story would be even more exciting. 

We bought tickets for our whole family and made sure to finish the book on Friday night in anticipation for Saturday's matinee. They were pretty captivated. Reid hardly blinked through the whole show. Nell stayed perched on Ben's knee the entire time, and even Mara and Coraline were excellent throughout the entire first act. I held them both as Mara slept. 

The second act wasn't quiet as smooth for our two youngest viewers. Well, really just the oldest of the two. Coraline loved pretending like the witch and the winkies terrified her. She was really just using it as a chance to get up and run around in the back of the (huge) auditorium (it was only about 1/3 full). In the end, a sweet older woman who sat behind us complemented how beautiful our family was and how well behaved our children were. Ironically, the three people sitting right in front of us made rude comments in the hall during intermission (they were passing between me and two other moms with kids about Reid and Nell's age). You can't please em all! But, we sure did please our little viewers.  Reid and Nell loved making connections about what was the same and what missing (Reid really wanted the chapter with the shooting rocks to come to life on stage, but it is noticeably absent form the screenplay). 

It was such a wonderful outing. When I imagined being a parent I never thought of all the baby stuff; my daydreams skipped right ahead to outings like this one. It was lovely to finally see that come to fruition. To top it all off, Reid was picked up by a friend to go spend the evening at the Gymnastic Center Open Gym. I remember going to bed that cold January night and thinking "this is what I envisioned parenthood and community to feel like." It's a silly thought, but one I wanted documented nonetheless. 

2. Snow Days
Reid had an official snow day (well, freezing rain day if you want to get technical). It was so fun to have him home unexpectedly. He and Nell play so well together and our entire house is lifted by their friendship. During the little girl's nap time the two of them got busy on the fun sticker books Grandma and Grandpa gave them for Christmas. 

On a different snowy day we caught Reid as he got off the bus from school. We all spent a good 40 minutes playing in the snow together. I have sent all three of the big kids out to play this winter (yipee for temperatures above freezing), but on this particular day I was sure to time Mara's nap just right. I really wanted to play with them. The snow was so wet and perfect for snowman building and snowball fighting. As soon as I began rolling a big bottom ball, Reid and Nell created their own balls. Reid's was the middle and Nell's the top. By the time I tried to get a photo of all four of us with our new snow friend, Coraline was screaming. But she was out there for a lot of the fun. I love moments when I get to play with my kids, and I'm a zillion times better at playing with them when we get outside! 
3. Quite Time with Nell
Nell always wants me to play with her during the hour (or two) that both her little sisters are napping. For a while I was pretty good at it, but other times I just turn on the TV and let the girl binge on Netflix. I can only handle so much paper doll pretend play before I want to lose my mind and go mop the kitchen floor.

She has fallen in love with our preschool bins (which may get their own post someday). She's even taken to telling strangers and acquaintances that she does Preschool bins at home. The conversation goes something like this.
Person: Do you go to school?
Nell: Nope, I do home school.
Me: ????
Nell: I have preschool bins that my mom gives me and I have to do them every day.

She also has lots of puzzles. And occasionally we get out some of our board and card games. I really do love those quiet hours we have to spend together. She sure is a cute little Nelly Bell and I'm going to miss her when she heads off to the kind of preschool where you leave the home and interact with other little kids. She's totally ready for it though. This girl is bored! 

4. Front Room Update
We finally said goodbye to our huge sectional couch that just never jived with this house. It was great for all our apartments, but it took up way too much space in our front living room. I was really starting to hate the flow of our main living area. So one night I got on a local facebook buy/sell/trade group and found us some new couches. It was a hard decision to make, and I felt like they were slightly over priced. But when I called Ben (at work, from the seller's house) to see what he thought about the whole thing, he reminded me how much he hated our couch. Ha! So, I gave the nice couple a small down payment and told them Ben and a friend would be back later that night to pick it up. Back in Oshkosh (because I bought this from a couple out in the country) I took photos of our couch and put it up for sale -- $50 from whoever could get it out of my house the fastest. I had over 17 comments on that post and I just kept telling everyone "whoever comes to take it, gets it." The nice gentlemen that gave me his phone number won! He was at my house within an hour. The kids and I spent the rest of the day dancing around our suddenly huge front room. 

We have loved the new (to us) couches. They aren't as easy to keep clean (nothing will ever beat that sectional), but we have so much space to play and run and dance. It is heaven. We also got a new TV for Christmas (from the Szilagyi's) and a nice new bookcase (also second hand and also from the Szilagyi's). It's so nice to have an update in our main living area. It makes things feel new again, and I need that mid-winter. 
The new couches make morning snuggles a little easier too!

 5. Hot Mess Lou
This section doesn't actually require any lengthy explanations. Just photos (and their captions).

I was hiding in my bedroom when she brought me a handful of "pretties" and demanded I put them all in her hair.
Just reading books on laundry day. 
She proudly dressed herself for our trip to the grocery store.
Nibbling on the cauliflower stub while I cook dinner.

 6. Reid's 100th Day of School
Reid was very excited to dress up for his 100th day of school. He was also over the moon about the fun party his class had planned. I don't know what all it entailed, but I do know the Kindergarteners went on a parade around the school. Also, everyone in his class brought 100 snacks of various sorts for a giant party mix. He took teddy grahams. Which wasn't nearly as exciting as the kid who took oreos or the one who took suckers (I won't mention we were going for trail mix here, people).

7. Mara's Noticeable Absence

Photos of this sweet little baby are noticeably absent from these quick takes. Don't worry though. I have nearly 100 pictures I'm sorting through for her own special blog post. I seriously can't believe her infancy is pretty much passed us. I haven't given her tummy time all week, and I think it is a subconscious plot to prevent her from learning how to roll over or accomplish any other baby milestones. I just want her to stay little forever -- more so than all the others. I love you sweet, final baby! Mwah!

Friday, February 17, 2017

While the Babes Sleep

All four of my love bugs are fast asleep, and I have this nagging need to blog. I haven't chronicled anything that has happened so far in 2017. Not a single thing. Yet, all I can think to write about is my sleeping babies.

It may sound silly, but I really wanted a picture of that baby monitor -- one lasting image of my sweet babies sleeping (hands over head) in that tiny little screen. I know the screen shot may seem like the lowest quality photo ever, but for more than six long years I've been staring at a baby on that screen. 

Even after they outgrow that screen, I am captivated by the beauty of their sleep. The tenderness of a child's slumber (even on a sick day) is beauty for the eye to behold. Simply put: it speaks peace to my soul.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Refusing Labels: Reflections on Abortion as Both a Political and Moral Issue

I am not pro-life, and I am not pro-choice. I am not anti-abortion, and I am not pro-abortion.

This stance may seem contradictory, but it makes perfect sense in my head. I cannot comfortably align myself with either of the political movements or any simple black and white positions on abortion. If you would like to understand why that is, read on. I do not share my thoughts in attempt to persuade or convince anyone. I share them as a means of expression, with the goal of creating greater understanding. I feel it is important to admit I do not perfectly understand everything (or anything), so I welcome others to share their thoughts and experiences with the hope that they might add to my own understanding.

I'm going to work backwards, starting with the last of my four opening statements. I am not pro-abortion. I respect the sanctity of life. I believe in God's command to multiply and replenish the Earth. I have four beautiful children of my own, and I respect the process by which they were given life. It is both grueling and immensely rewarding. Because of these deep seated personal and religious beliefs, I oppose elective abortions for personal or social convenience.

However, I am not anti-abortion. I acknowledge that under rare circumstances there is moral justification for an elective abortion. A woman who is raped should have unfettered access to a safe and legal abortion. When a competent physician tells an expectant mother that either she or the child will not survive the birthing process, she should have immediate access to a safe and legal abortion. I am grateful for the medical advancements in both chemical and surgical abortion procedures that provide these women choices. These procedures have saved lives, both during the rare exceptions that should be made for elective abortions and also after the harrowing experiences of miscarriage (also known as spontaneous abortion) and ectopic pregnancies. There are times these chemical and surgical abortions are vital to preserving a woman's reproductive organs, and thus pave the way for future successful pregnancies.

I do believe women should be given these choices, and I believe these choices are deeply personal. These choices are only between the woman, her physician, her partner, and her personal faith. I do not want legislators regulating this process. Yet, I don't identify as pro-choice. To many, the pro-choice movement is equivalent to pro-abortion, and as stated above I am not pro-abortion. I cannot get behind the rallying cry of "my body, my choice", because I acknowledge there is a second body in formation. That second body, even in it's earliest stages, is part of a natural and beautiful life-forming process. That process should be respected and honored.

Yet, I cannot align myself with the pro-life movement, because I have yet to see legislation that compassionately acknowledges the necessity of exceptions as mentioned above. In addition, most of the recent legislation we are seeing goes beyond just regulating elective abortions for personal or social convenience and extends the arm of the government into the heartbreaking experience of miscarriage. I can in no way support a political agenda that includes regulation of the most personal and intimate moments of a grieving woman's life. I cannot endorse legislation that creates the potential for women who miscarry to be interrogated during their grief. I will not stand for that.

So where does that leave me? Am I a passionate and informed citizen with no path forward?

Absolutely not. While I may not neatly align with either established political movement, I am free to act. I will teach those under my influence about the sanctity of life and its creative power. I will support legislation that seeks to prevent the number one cause of abortion: unwanted pregnancy. I will fight for comprehensive and science based sexual education courses. I will fight for a woman's right to pay the same in health care premiums as a man (her reproductive organs should not be a financial burden -- for what would man be without them?). I will fight for her right to access affordable birth control. I will fight for her right to healthcare that is not predicated on employment or familial status. I will donate to clinics that take frightened teens and college aged women under their arm and provide them with prenatal care and adoption information and guidance. I do not have to align myself with a defined political movement in order to make a difference. 

Pregnancy must be viewed as the beautiful, naturally occurring process that gives us all life. Women should not be discriminated against because they are in the midst of this process. I will fight against that discrimination. Women must be given adequate time and space to heal after delivery. Women need a network of support in order to successfully nurture a child in infancy. Until we create family friendly healthcare and leave policies, women will continue to experience pressure towards having abortions for personal and professional convenience. Until we end the stigma that is attached to being an unmarried mother, women will continue to seek abortions for personal and social convenience. This is a struggle our greatest feminist heroines understood. Even when abortion was completely prohibited, these women spoke of the need to protect the unborn child. They knew that women experienced abortions, regardless of their legality, because of the stigma attached to being an unmarried mother and/or the demands required to care for and properly nurture a child into adulthood. If we as a society still have not taken steps to end that stigma and support both the mother and child, we certainly can not expect to end abortions. Elizabeth Stanton, Mary Wollstonecraft, Susan B Anthony -- they understood the complexity of this topic and its relation to female empowerment.

Abortion exists because women are not equal to men (does the man have to wear the scarlet letter?). Abortions have been and are performed regardless of legal status. Prohibition is unable to end the demand for abortions; treating women with compassion, respect, and honor might. If, like me, you find yourself stuck somewhere in the crossfire -- not wholly aligning with either the pro-life or pro-choice movement -- please, please, please take action. Donate to a women's clinic or shelter. Inform yourself, and vote for legislators that prioritize the prevention of unwanted pregnancies over displays of partisan piety. Show compassion toward women who face(d) the tough choice to abort or keep their pregnancy. Refrain from judgement. Use your voice to help others see that a meaningful solution to this problem will only be found when we work together and honestly seek a better understanding of opposing views.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

To Remember December

So, what other photos from December do I want to get off my phone and on to this blog? Because let's be honest, that is what these monthly recaps have been about all year long. Sure, I got the idea from, but the goal was just to make sure there wasn't a memory I wanted to capture that didn't get shared. So here are Decembers unacknowledged moments. 

(Build at Lowe's)

For Ben's birthday, I signed the kids up to build some free ornaments at Lowe's. I'm sure that is just how he wanted to bring in his 35th year! While they were at Lowe's I took the little ones on errands around town. Then we all met up for lunch at Pizza Ranch. Seriously, Ben lives the high life. That afternoon he went wedding dress shopping (you read that right) with some co-workers. 

I don't have any pictures of it, but the next day we invited the wedding dress shopper (Angela Wang) over for Sunday dinner. It was a scaled back version of our Thanksgiving and totally delicious (if I do say so myself). Angela spent most her time playing with the kids. They had a very wild game of hide and go seek that lasted for nearly half an hour. It wore me out just watching them play, and Ben and I were so grateful she was the one to expel their energy that night instead of us! 

I tried to video Coraline calling Mara "cuey." You can kind of hear it, but it isn't as enthusiastic as usual. 

These two cute sisters kept bonding. 

This sweet baby slept and slept and got plenty of cuddles, especially while she slept.

On the 2nd Saturday of the month, I took Reid and Nell to the Hmong New Year celebration. Reid really wanted to buy one of the traditional male vests to show all his friends -- but I wasn't about to spend $80 no matter how cute he looked. We watched an amazing traditional dance, bought some eggrolls, and tried not to stand out as nearly the only white people there. Children, one day you may grow up and wonder if I went out of my way to expose you to people and cultures different from your own -- the answer is yes, yes I did. 

After the Hmong celebration we went to a friend's (Ben Ro--) birthday party at the Gymnastics Center. It was perfect for burning off energy. Coraline tagged along as well, while Daddy and Mara attended a baptism. Ben turned 5 and Reid and Nell proudly gave him a Lego Firetruck set they (mostly Nell) had picked out because they knew how much he loves firetruck/men/stuff.

Later the next week I went to Appleton to get a haircut. It's always nice to have a night out. I may have sat in the Toys R Us parking lot and just listened to music for more than ten minutes. I wasn't in a hurry to get home (even though all the kids were in bed). 

Nell was so proud of herself for putting on her pants without any help (or excessive whining). I couldn't pop her balloon, but I did have to take these cute photos to send to daddy. I had to tell someone! It wasn't long before she was asking me why her pants felt too small (as she kept tugging at them in the back). I told her they were backwards and she gave a quick giggle and fixed them. 

Reid 2010, Mara 2016
I decided I wanted to try and take photos of Mara in each of her siblings (and my own!) first Christmas outfits. We were not low on infant Christmas clothes. 

First column belongs to Reid, then Nell (with the jacket in the middle included as part of that snowflake outfit), the dress at the top (with the shoes) is mine, the tutu outfit on the bottom (middle) is Mara's, and the remaining three (dress and two footie jammies) are Coraline's.
I can't believe I'll start selling those next holiday season. It's been so fun to have a baby in our home for four of the last seven Christmases. It was the perfect little ending to have Mara fit so nicely into everyone's clothes (Reid and Nell's were size 3-6 mos and Mara, Coraline and mine were 0-3 mos, and Mara was right at the 3 mos sizing and could wear them all). I did actually get photos of Mara that match photos of both Nell and Coraline, and one day I might get those up for comparison as well. We'll see.

On Dec 22nd Reid had his holiday school concert. When his sisters saw him dressing up they both had to put on their Sunday clothes too. Here are some video outtakes. 

I volunteered to help for his class party the following day, and Reid was over the moon about that. I'd signed up to provide a treat and the mom in charge sent out an e-mail asking if any of us could actually go host the party since she might not be able to make it. I lined up a sitter and was all excited to be a part of Reid's school life. In the end, about six other mom's were there (plus the one in charge). There was hardly any need for me to be there, but I am really glad I went. I took along one of our Christmas Advent books because it went so well with the curriculum his teacher just covered (Christmas around the world) and she ended up reading it to all the kids when they got rowdy near the end of the party -- so I do feel like I contributed a little. My main goal was to make Reid feel special and proud, and I think that was accomplished. It sure was fun to see my boy in his element. 

Before I went to the party I got a chuckle out of Mara trying so hard to wake up. She really does take her sweet time coming to her senses. 

Even her sister's loud noises weren't enough to jolt her out of bed for her feeding. The ironic part is, I don't wake sleeping babies. So she had been crying enough to make me know she was ready to get up and eat. That bright eyed photo up top was taken before the video. So she had truly fully woken up and then slipped back into her slumber right before our eyes. 

Another pre-Christmas activity not pictured but worth note: our tithing settlement. Ben and I both got into the car and agreed that perhaps we were doing better at this parenting thing than we thought. Reid was so attentive and in tune. He answered all of Bishop's questions with so much thought and really surprised us with how well he is understanding the gospel. It was fun to see him act so responsible and personable in a gospel discussion. 

And now, we'll just skip over all of Christmas, since I shared that a couple days ago, and jump right into our final week of 2016.

Our week long winter break was a bit crazy. Reid caught an ear infection just as we were leaving Rick and Carol's. He vomited a few times on the car ride home (that was fun). I'm still not sure the vomits and the infection were connected (neither was the Dr), but no one else got sick so that was a bonus. Coraline did, however; take off her poopy diaper while the three big kids were playing together downstairs (that was also fun). The whole scene caused quite a ruckus and I threw her in some undies and onto her bed for a timeout (after she was washed up) while I went to the basement to hunt for stray poop. When I came back to reconcile our differences she was passed out. It was only 10:30 in the morning. The whole ordeal must have been as rough on her as it was on me because she was clearly exhausted!

New Year's Eve was really our first day out (not true, I took the kids to the gymnastics center's open gym the day before -- that was our first day out -- I forgot). We started the morning with a trip up to Appleton so I could attend the baptism of a friend's mother. I taught Mei Yer in Young Women's all those years ago and it was so lovely to see her mom join the Church. She is a Hmong immigrant so they are now attending Church up in Appleton for translation purposes. 

Mei Yer's older sister, Der, was the first speaker and she gave her entire talk in Hmong. I felt the spirit so strongly as she testified in a language I do not comprehend. I was almost moved to tears (and noticed a couple other English speaking guests were as well). It was a tender moment for me, as Church with all the littles doesn't always allow for a lot of spiritual growth. I only had Mara with me and she was sleeping peaceful, so with no other distractions the Spirit spoke so simply to my soul. I think it was an added bonus that the language was so Asian. It is a language family close to my heart.  

After we were all reunited (Ben took the non-infant kids to Goodwill) we went to get Reid and Nell much needed haircuts. Then we hit our favorite store -- Costco. Back in Oshkosh, we took naps and then headed to a wedding reception at the Church. Finally, to bring in the New Year, I took Reid and Nell to the YMCA balloon drop and Ben stayed home with the sleeping babies. 

As you can tell from the previous photo, we ran into one of Reid's friends (from 4K). It was fun to bring in the New Year with a familiar face. Prior to the balloon drop the kids ran around the soccer arena. After the balloon drop, they played in the bounce house. We got home just a couple hours after bedtime and kissed 2016 goodnight.   

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