New Year

So what do I hope to accomplish in the next year? Strangely enough...despite all the huge changes we're looking at, I really only want small resolutions.

Like starting school every day at 7:30.

or adding an actually art LESSON to our curriculum.

Truthfully, this has been such a crazy flippin' year that I don't want anything huge. I just want some peace, structure and quiet.

We're still moving forward with the farm, but if the house doesn't sell I don't think I'll spend too much time crying about it. I just can't.

I love my friend Karie who I met in NY. I just read a post from last month by her and it said, "It's been a little difficult letting the past go. Realizing that not all people are going to hurt you, the sky doesn't always fall on your face, the people I love are not all going to drop dead and sometimes things are just meant to be...quiet...and that's ok." Of course, like everyone we walk this path of life with, Karie's story is different than mine. But we have a couple things in common: we've both had a huge loss and a rough year. Personally I think she's doing a better job handling her loss than I am, but I am feeling her on that quiet thing because of some promises I've been made.

I dunno how much I ever shared about my pregnancy, but I really didn't want to have another baby. Hence the vasectomy, eh? But the surgery fell through the first time and then on June 7th I clearly heard the voice of the Lord tell me, "you will become pregnant." Yeah, I'm nuts. But I've listened to my inner voices enough to know that wasn't mine. And I was terrified. But by the time we got the positive test I was elated. I mean, I *know* God has a plan for me all the time, but when He flat out tells you about it?! How cool is that? I spend most of my prayer life saying, "if you'd just tell me what you want..." haha

So when the Dr thought it was a blighted ovum I knew he was wrong. And I laughed. And of course, I prayed like crazy. I doubted myself and I wondered if I was nuts. But then 2 weeks later we saw a sweet little baby and a precious heartbeat. I strutted around like a peacock, so proud of my God and what He had done. And then 2 weeks after that...well, that you all know. Now it all seems so pathetic. What on earth is 10 weeks? What amount of time is that? It's not even 1/4 of a year. But it was a whole lifetime to me...

Every promise I made myself during that time has fallen through. I don't run anymore; there's no more money for a trip in March; I haven't spent more time with God. I'm just so tired of failing myself that I can only do 1 thing in this coming year: cling to the promises I've been made by the only One who has never ever failed me.

Since the day I found out the baby was dead and kept asking "WHY?" this verse has popped up a lot:
Mark 4:22-"For nothing is hidden, except to be revealed; nor has anything been secret, but that it would come to light."
and then yesterday, for the first time studying in over a week, this popped up at me:
Psalm 112: 7,8-"They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts will be steadfast, trusting in the Lord. Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear; in the end they will look in triumph on their foes."

I still don't know why. But I know that no truth is hidden from me, except one that will be revealed in due time. And I can say that this whole year has made me honestly able to look at our future without much fear. This month we did a budget with 1/4 of the money we normally have. I'm not worried. I can promise you that comes from the Lord, because I am always panicked about not having enough. There is no news worse than losing one of your children. And we've done it. And we've survived it. And I'm ready for a NEW year. A year without any expectations or any broken promises. I'm ready to see what the Lord has in store and I'm okay if it involves serious moving and shaking or if it's just some quiet.

I'm sure as time moves on, (especially once we move past March), I'll have some loftier goals, but for now I'll be happy if I manage to get up the same time most mornings and open my bible. What better way to find a new me in the new year?


Newborn calves and other such stuff.

Like I said in the last post...I'm way behind. Sorry. Chaos seems to have gotten the better of us, despite my best attempts. But...we have had some REALLY good times! We threw a Christmas party at our house and had several people over to enjoy a meal, some games and decorating Christmas cookies. I was so proud of how nice the house looked!

Being so squeaky clean made it real easy to just pick up and leave to Wisconsin on Sunday night when we decided we'd like to see snow. We packed a couple day's worth of clothes and got out of dodge. While we were there it snowed real good the first day and then on the way home we had to stop and get a room because it was snowing so furiously in Missouri. Awesomeness! My camera was MIA (the Nikon is DEAD again, but neverfear...my Christmas present was a P100, so we'll be back in business soon!) so I don't have any pix from our trip. My mom took lots, though and those are on Facebook.

Actual Christmas Day was rather bland in our neck of the woods. We got up late and almost missed going to Dallas to pass out lunches and blankets to the homeless, but we made it. I would suggest to anyone trying that at least once...it will truly change your whole perspective! I love it and so does GraceAnne. Even Rhiya had an amazing time last year. This year she doesn't get here until tonight....in about 10 minutes....so we let the kids open 2 presents each when we got home yesterday and then we had an awesome ham dinner with some friends. Today we woke up to this:

Can my little man catch a break? I was chanting to myself over and over and over again, "I will not be angry." Notice it's the top...since the bottom pocket is blocked by the stinking plastic catheter. I called the surgeon's cell phone and he has no clue who Corbin is. Doesn't remember us from Adam. We were told to go to Children's, so up to Dallas we went. Thank God our friends watched the girls so Allan could go with me. We were so stunned we were literally silent the whole way up. Let me assure you, I rarely have NOTHING to say, so that was...strange. When we got there they told us it looked like a skin infection and gave him benedryl. I asked for a referral to the opthamologist and we left. No one wanted to listen to me tell about my son's history; after all, how could a lowly stay-at-home-mom know what's wrong with her child? Surely the Dr would know better. Too bad the benedryl did nothing. *sigh* Oh yeah..."I will NOT be angry."

So in the interest of saving the day we came home and got the girls and decided to go ahead and take them shopping as we had promised. They each got $20 and wanted to get something. I also had to pick up my camera from Best Buy, so we loaded up. But first we stopped by to see our new baby!!!! Clarabelle had her calf last Sunday so we dropped by to get some pictures this morning. Clarabelle wouldn't let us get too close, and I took these with the Kodak so they're not very good, but GraceAnne says "Holly is the cutest cow on EARTH!" and I must agree with her.

Momma never went too far...Allan tried to walk around to see if he could get close, but she's not having it just yet. In about a month she'll let us get closer.
There she is...#3 in our herd! The next baby is due in March. If it's a heifer we'll keep her and those 4 will be our herd. If it's a bull, we'll steer him and eat him in about 18 months. Since longhorns produce a new calf about every 11 months, we should be having babies Nov 2011 and Feb 2012. The new girls will not have their own calves until they're about 3 years old. By then hopefully we'll have our stuff straight and be able to handle that kind of volume. Processing 4 animals per year is enough meat for our family, plus about 3k in income. That's a pretty big deal when most of your expenses are cut by lifestyle.
On with the day...evidently everyone else on earth had the same idea we did and we waited in line at Best Buy for about an hour. During that stay, Corbin wouldn't stop trying to dive and smack the woman's purse in front of us and Violet kept climbing on shelving. Allan had taken GraceAnne to Borders to spend her money, so this fun was all mine. And then I found a FLEA on my son. Yes...a FLEA. How did that get there? I will never know. My head STILL itches from the thought of it. But we survived and I'm the proud owner of a mid-range camera. I'm really hoping it takes great shots. I'll let you know soon since we're doing our Christmas tomorrow morning.
We made it home and poor Violet pooped her pants. I announced to Allan that she was sick and thus started the evening olympics. She's had 3 baths and is now wearing a "diaper" and has puked on everything that resides downstairs. She can't keep down water or pedialyte so I'm keeping an eye on her to be sure I don't need to run her to the hospital. Allan is at the airport picking up Rhiya right this very minute and all the kids are finally sleeping, so I'm enjoying a quiet moment for once today. It's days like today that really make me scratch my head. I mean, we are SO incredibly Blessed...we have each other and the 4 most amazing children and we're moving very quickly toward an even more amazing life than the one we have but it somehow always seems to crap out all at once. I find myself holding my breath waiting at times I should be praying. I suppose I'll have to explore that and work on it.
Praying you all had a wonderful Christmas and a great weekend. Love and miss you all!

Corbin's Birthday

Way late...we've been a bit swamped!

breakfast of champions! :)
Terrorize the sisters--but they like it.
Open a present from Gramma...but wait on the rest till evening.
Clean up the mess we made opening the present. He's a tidy guy like his dad.
play in the toyroom, because school must go on!

Eat lunch from McDonald's because mom had to run keys out to dad on the ranch at lunch time. So we all got happy meals.
Mom bakes blue-striped cupcakes for the celebration!
lots of blue-BECAUSE WE FINALLY CAN!!!

Mexican for dinner. The BEST mexican next to Marie's (a friend who used to live here and cook mexican for us every week).

A very happy boy on his birthday!
And to finish our day, cupcakes, ice cream and presents at a couple very good friends of ours house. We are so grateful to have people who will step in as family since we are so far away from ours. I was so sad that we couldn't have a party for Corbin. I didn't plan enough in advance and so everyone was too busy. But Hope and Jeff said "c'mon over and we'll do it here" so we celebrated with them and their daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter. It was great!
Yeah, we got him naked for the big event.
Blue crumbs are adorable!
Jeff is REALLY excited about that present, LOL!
Oh my goodness that Rex doll is so cute. All the kids love to make it squeak. How cool we have a little boy to get dinosaurs for his birthday.
Corbin LOVES Jaida. He even tackled her to give her a kiss. Such a lover...just needs to work on his form. HA!
I got a little more to post...we'll see if it happens tonight. Things are a little interesting around here at the moment.



I woke up this morning and looked quizzically at my little boy. Something is special about today...what is it? OH MY GOODNESS! "HAPPY BIRTHDAY!" and the excited attention spread all across his face.

I'm going to try to take pictures of him all day like I did Violet in this post here. I'll check back in later.


Making Christmas #5: ICE!

OH SWEET REDEMPTION! ICE! is a spectacular event at the Gaylord Texan north of Dallas and since it's so stinkin' expensive and AMAZING, I knew the Kodak wasn't cutting it, so I trouble shot the Nikon and hoped for the best. It took great pix all day long and then when I got home BOOM! They were GONE. Needless to say I was devastated...and more than ready to chunk the $1200 camera out the window...but Allan did some more trouble shooting and managed to save my images. Note...a good camera does not a photographer make, but these are much higher quality than usual. :)

Follow the snowflakes to ICE! This year is Peanuts. Check out http://wefrozecharliebrown.com
They always have it decorated so nicely. This is a resort hotel. I LOVE the lone stars on the wall.
Inside the hotel before you get to the exhibit, the whole place is decorated to the nines. Of course we took photo-ops. I might be biased, but I'm pretty sure I have the cutest kids around...several people stopped to smile and give compliments as we were taking pictures. Way to make a mommy feel good!
AWWWWW! The big scratch on his head is why we missed family pictures.
There are several rooms set up and it gets colder as you go. The first room had a little movie about the making of ICE! and had SNOW! YAY!

The next room is where you get your parkas because once you get into the exhibit it's 9 degrees.

Entirely too fitting, don't you think??

There is an ice slide in the middle and the kids had a blast. We got so stinkin' lucky...since Allan is home this year, we went during a weekday before work let out. We got right through the line with no fast pass needed and got to slide on the slide as soon as we got into the room. That rocks because last year we sure did wait an hour to even get into the thing, let alone the hour it took to move through.

Violet got stuck right there and was so embarrassed she covered her face while the guy came to unstick her. When she got off she had a great big smile on her face, though, so I guess she had fun!

They crawled through here about 5x each and then we had to drag them away. What is so interesting about that, I'll never know, but I'm glad they liked it!
I searched for this carving the whole time I was there...Violet with Violet!!
at the end of the Peanuts carvings they have angels and the nativity. It is SO pretty with the lights shining through. The pictures don't do it justice. The people who carve this stuff are ingenious.
At the end we had some adorable snacks...I want to figure out how to do that, it can't be hard, they're just rice krispie treats on a stick and frosted. So cute! That look on Corbin's face is "WHERE IS MINE!?" He was so hungry.
on the way back to the car we had some laughs. Allan is the most amazing daddy. Violet was covering his eyes and yelling "CAN'T SEE, DADDY!" and he would run into a bush or swerve wildly and the shrieks were ear piercing but amazing.
GraceAnne was feeling left out because she's too big for Allan's shoulders, but she got some fun in before we loaded up, too.
Down here in Texas, Santa yells HOWDY and longhorns drive his covered wagon. Look! It's Clarabelle and Tracey :)
And here is just another small sample of why I love my husband so much...at ICE! when we bought the tickets, they gave us coupons for free Dunkin' Donuts and coffee. We drove around the whole town of Grapevine looking for a DD and the whole time we drove toward Dallas we looked, but couldn't find one. I was pouting for a donut, so Allan drove all the way to the other side of Dallas to the Krispy Kreme we knew was there and the traffic was THICK so it took us about 45 minutes to get over there. I figured he wanted a donut too, so as we were ordering I asked him what he wanted and he said "nothing." He drove all that way so I could have a snowman donut! AWWWWW!


What does it look like?

I want to paint a picture of what our farm looks like in our minds' eyes. First let me say that in order for this to happen we have to sell our house and find a piece of land. If the house doesn't sell in 6 mo, we will take that as the answer "no" and move on to making this place as sustainable as possible. We'll probably lease land in the area in that case, to keep our livestock on.

So for the next 6 months we're piling up every penny we can get our hands on, which won't be much since Allan isn't working, but we're the king and queen of frugal, so I know we can get a small chunk together. We need a mortgage that is less than what we have here. We'll accomplish that with the equity we have built up and the cash we're putting away.

We're looking here in Texas, but also all over the country. Texas would be great because of the LOOOONG growing season, (think 3 crops a year) and of course all our friends are here, but Allan is desperate for a change of seasons, so we're looking in Tennessee, Arkansas, North Carolina, etc. I have 3 requirements: 1. It must be a place that would naturally be farmed. We won't be living somewhere we have to import water or seriously amend soil 2. I want a long enough growing season to have a fall garden and 3. it must be a cheaper cost-of-living area so we can actually afford a house. The northwest coast almost perfectly fits all our ideals, but we could never afford a house and land up there.

We'll raise fruits and vegetables. Of course, the types will be location dependent, but we'll grow everything "naturally" (I don't want to deal with having to certify organic...it's too expensive for a small farm) and what we don't use we'll sell at the farm store on our property. We also want fruit and nut trees around the property, but not necessarily orchard style. That would be nice, but with the dollar amount we're looking at spending, we may not have enough property for that. With all that comes a big amount of canning and baking, but that's where I shine anyway. How cool would it be to need an "easy" meal in January and pull a jar of spaghetti sauce off the shelf that you raised and made on your own? Need nuts for holiday baking? There's a bag full of them in the freezer that you picked last fall.

The vegetables would all be garden-style with my boxes like I have here. I am going to change them up based on things we've learned over the year of doing this, but it will be "small." The only thing I really want a "crop" of is wheat. I am still looking into how much we'd need to offset most of our flour costs.

Everyone knows we want cows, chickens and turkeys to start with. Eventually I'd love if we could figure out how to expand into pigs and goats. Out at pasture we'll rotate the cows first, then chickens and turkeys in order to have fully pastured animals and help the soil build fertility. This will be so much easier in a warmer climate because we don't have to deal with much over-wintering, but if we move further north we'll just have semi-pastured animals. haha!

We'd like to have just a couple bee hives for honey.

We're looking into solar energy, geothermal and wind power. Our goal is to be as "off-grid" as possible. The bulk of our constant expenses are utilities and food, making up 2x what we currently spend on our mortgage. Since we don't have any debt, our focus to get expenses down has been the electricity, (far and away our greatest utility) and the food budget. Since we want to eat better, we've had a hard time cutting the food budget, (and I think if you knew what we spend, you'd say there's not much way to cut it for a family of 5/6 either. I am a really good shopper, even with buying locals and organics). Thanks to Allan's pension from the VA (there are some small benefits to losing your leg...LOL) if we can virtually eliminate our food and electricity expense and cut down on the mortgage, we will be free to do almost whatever we want. Now..."whatever we want" is relative...we won't be taking extravagant vacations or spending mass amounts of money on new toys or gadgets. By whatever we want, I mean, we won't have to bust our butts making sure that we sell X amount of whatever just to survive.

I want to make for ourselves and sell these things eventually, (we will start small and figure out how best to utilize our time/resources and then work to this and possibly more)
pastured meats
baked goods
milk and cheese
Allan's prosthetics--a shop on the property that he will open a few days per week

The baking and the classes are the most exciting to me, the rest is just natural. I want to build a certified kitchen on the property to bake and sell baked goods. I love to bake and I have been told I make some pretty rockin' stuff. I'd love to open our home and property to teach people how to do these things we're doing. I think a lot of my generation is ignorant to how to care for themselves or "live off the land" if you will. Sheesh, until a few years ago, if some catastrophe had struck I'd have been the biggest victim around...I didn't know how to do squat for myself. I had always thought it was a novel idea, but never looked into it. It was the first year of making and canning our own apple butter as a way to save money on Christmas presents that sparked my interest and we've come a long way since.

Obviously we'll still homeschool, (provided it continues to work out as well as it has...I'm going to guess we'll only get better at it as we go) and the kids will help us A LOT. They won't be slaves, my ultimate goal is to make this life as enjoyable as possible. We will all be working our tails off but we'll be doing it together. There will be no nights without daddy because of being called in or long days where nothing can get done because mom has to take sole care of the kids and they are fussy that day. Allan has been home for almost a month now and it has been amazing. We have gotten so much done and the kids are so happy to have him here. I know this isn't reality for everyone, but we're Blessed enough to have this option now. If we had waited a few more years, we'd be in an even prettier position, (the house would have been completely paid for in about 5 more years) but we'd also be even more used to the big income and the shiny stuff that commands our attention. It was getting hard to walk away from, so now was the time.

There is so much more to it than this...but this is a good start and hopefully makes it a little clearer. I know I've been so vague and crazy lately. My brain feels like it's humming most days. I will be more than happy to step away from some of this "noise" and find a more peaceful, fulfilling place where we can do what we believe is God's work for us and share that with others.


Making Christmas #4: Christmas at the Banks'

I don't have any pictures because I'm a bum, SORRY!! But on the 4th, we went to a Christmas party hosted by some friends from church. We don't attend EVERYTHING we're invited to, but we try to make it to as many as possible, (as long as we don't get too freaked...the point is to have fun and enjoy the season, not to see who can throw the biggest fit!)

The Banks' party is one I want to always go to for a few reasons:
1. Their house is AMAZING and the kids love to run around in the 50's diner room
2. We always see lots of good friends
3. Livia makes the most amazing Christmas treats and there's only 1x/year to get them!

I really wouldn't have posted this, but I wanted to share with you all one super amazing thing from the party...

Ralin was born 2 months before Corbin. They play together in the nursery at church, but I don't know to what extent because I'm never in there. When Ralin and his parents walked into the party, Corbin got really excited. I put him down and he walked right over to Ralin and gave him a HUG and a KISS! I couldn't even believe how gentle he was. All night long he'd find Ralin wherever he was and hug him. He was even leaning his head to the side to lay on his friend's shoulder and patting his back. Who knows what Ralin thought, but I was ecstatic. My little man is a LOVER and he's precious as all get out :)


Making Christmas #3: The Trains

Every year Northpark mall has a huge train display set up for Christmas. Allan loves trains and this year he has a son to share the trains with, so we HAD to go. The girls love it, too.

Little conductors!

The train tree. We may consider doing something like this some coming year...it was VERY cool.

Yes, my son is in his diaper...in public. But that's part of that not stressing about things during the holidays deal. He peed through his diaper on the way up and his pants were soaked. It was toasty warm in the mall, so he just got carried most of the time and whoever didn't like it could deal with it. He had a blast!

I can't explain it, and I used to think it would make me really mad if somehow having a son to show these things to made Allan "happier" than it made him to show the girls. He has been the most amazingly fabulous dad for little girls and they have been exposed to everything from being little ballerinas to working power tools to watching dad fix the car. There is just *something* about doing "boy" things with a little boy. It's not better, per se, just different and deeply satisfying. I suppose in the same way I tear up with joy when I see my little girls in the quintessential Christmas dress. I have always been so proud to see my man with his daughters, but seeing him with his son just lights up a whole new part of my life I didn't know could exist. I suppose kids are just funny that way, period.


Making Christmas #2: The parade

Every year our town has a Christmas parade. Every year but 1 it has actually been REALLY cold during the parade. It's never on the same day, but it is always cold. Pretty cool if you ask me! Oh, and by the way, I realize that I probably need a better camera for Christmas, but it is what it is for now.
We laughed pretty hard at the General Lee from the Dukes of Hazzard and the Hazzard County Sheriff
The last 2 years our little Gracie-Rayne has been in the parade! Can you see her in the middle of the very front, waving the highest? She's a daisy scout. We always cheer like crazy people while she goes past. In a small town, anyone could be a part of the parade, really, but we still feel like it's super special.

Of course, the best part of these Christmas things is family and friends. We met up with some really good friends of ours to watch the parade together. They have 2 of the sweetest little grandbabies! Violet and Hayden are about the same age and Corbin and Jaida are about the same age. We're so blessed to have such wonderful friends.

my little man! I just love to snuggle and cuddle him. He's not as cuddly as Violet was, but that doesn't stop me from soaking up every minute I can.


What is it really about?

Today our pastor talked about holiday stress. I can't say I never succumb, but I decided years ago that if the holidays stressed me out, I would cease to participate. It's just not worth it to me if I can't sit back and think about the real meaning of the season and what's really important. I can be stressed out any old time of the year.

Here are some ways that we personally try to take the stress and commercialism out of this holiday. Some have been successful and others we're not so good at yet, but we try and usually have a lot of laughs to go along with it:
-we don't buy a lot of presents. The kids get 3 each, (they are well thought out) and for extended family we try to do something handmade. Since we have 3 huge pecan trees in our back yard, we love to pick the pecans, get them shelled and mail them for Christmas. They are a hit with our northern families who don't get fresh pecans.
-the kids make Christmas crafts, at home. Yeah, they always bring cute stuff back from school, but our kids make cookies, paper trees and homemade bird feeders, (pincones slathered in PB and rolled in birdseed) at home.
-we play and sing (loudly and terribly) Christmas music. All of it. Sometimes the thoughtful stuff and sometimes the hilariously stupid ones. We even sing to that God-awful "Last Christmas" by Wham! and usually we make up new words.
-we read LOTS of Christmas books. We have a whole huge Pampered Chef box full that doesn't come out until the day after Thanksgiving.
-we budget whatever kinds of things will put our family in the holiday spirit so that we can feel more at "home." It's expensive to go home for the holidays and a hassle with so many kids, so we do stuff in the hopes that we are making happy memories for our kids that they can take with them. I can't explain this the way I want, except that maybe instead of "it's not Christmas without snow" they'll be able to take Christmas with them wherever they are...

So this December I think I might try to post some pictures of some of the things we do to make it Christmas to our hearts.

December 2nd we went to one of those drive-through lights exhibits. It was actually nice and chilly and it SNOWED inside the tent where they showed the holiday movie. Okay...they used a snow machine, but we'll take what we can get, especially when the following day was 75 degrees.

we put them in their new Christmas jammies and packed up to head an hour north.
we sang like fools all the way there
in the middle they have a place to get out and go ride rides, get food and drinks and watch a Christmas show. Talk about value adding!
we rode the carousel and had NO tears! The babies are getting so big!
we enjoyed huge Christmas cookies decorated with about a pound of frosting and sprinkles

And we stood in line to watch the Christmas show.
It was actually cold out, (cold enough for coats outside anyway) so it was pretty festive to us snowbunnies.
The kids waited eagerly for the show to start.
and it SNOWED!!! We had no idea about that part of it, so it was just amazing. I think Allan might have teared up just a little and I almost jumped out of my seat in excitement.
We had a LOT of laughs...like at this NERD here. Nice, Urkle

The walkthrough lights were very cool, too.

These snowflakes were lighting in succession, so the girls kept pretending it was snowing on them. Corbin thought it was all pretty awesome.
and that's all the pictures for this edition. I've got 2 other events to add, so keep an eye out :) Hope you're all making your own Christmases bright, too! And most importantly, remembering what's REALLY important this holiday.