The Dark Side of Halloween (No, not THAT “dark side”. The “Star Wars” one).

I am very giggly and giddy tonight. Halloween is over, I ate a lot of candy, and really, I’m just pretty darn tickled about our costumes this year.

I suppose I should start at the very beginning…

Gideon, 7 years old, saw this random “Boba Fett” costume in the Chasing Fireflies catalog early in the summer, and he fell madly in love with it. So much that he got a job, worked for hours and saved up enough money to purchase it by himself. It was like he was Jacob of the Bible and that costume was Rachel.

Now, I must admit, I didn’t “get” it.

Mostly, I think, because I don’t “get” Star Wars. I’ve seen enough clips of the movies through the years to feel like I’ve seen it, but if I really sit down and think about it, I don’t really know what the story is about or what happens in the end. So I guess what I’m saying is, I’ve never seen Star Wars.

My husband, on the other hand, spent the first seven years of our firstborn’s life shielding him from the Star Wars storyline. He wanted the entire trilogy and any surprise twists to completely blow our son’s mind, and I’m pretty sure I almost saw him tackle someone when they were referencing the Luke/Vader relationship in front of Gideon before he’d see the movie.

And so it was a HUGE deal when, after his 7th birthday, he and Gideon went to the house of our friends, Zac and Chrissy, where a really awesome Star Wars watch party was laid out for them – I really should dedicate an entire blog post to that sweet party sometime – and the rest is history. Gideon has been a pretty big fan of the franchise ever since.

Still yet, this Boba Fett costume that Gid was so set on having really just boggled my mind. I don’t even know who Boba Fett is, and it was a lot of money to throw down for a costume of any sort, especially one that looked like it could fall apart if you looked at it funny…

but it was his money, and he worked really hard for it, and we honored his decision. The costume arrived, and true to his quirky nature, he was stoked to wear it at every possible opportunity.

Fast forward to an evening in September when we were having our first rousing family discussion on this year’s Halloween theme.

After a few ideas had been tossed about, Star Wars came up and I immediately started shaking my head “NO” because Star Wars is not a family costume theme I ever would have imagined myself partaking in. Because, you know, I’m not a trekkie. (Just kidding. I said that to my husband tonight to get under his skin).

But later that night, and this is proof of how much I love my boy, I started to think things over. If we DID go with Star Wars, Gideon already had this beloved costume he could wear. Boba Fett. One costume down is a BIG deal when you have a six-person family, you know?

And it had been a really big rite-of-passage for him and his Papa to watch those movies together earlier this year. If we were ever going to dress as Star Wars this really was the year to do it…

I couldn’t deny that it just seemed like it needed to happen. Then and there, I decided this was a year to take one for the team. Star Wars, it was!

And you know what? If you’re going to take one for the team, you might as well GO for it and surprise your son with a costume he would never expect you to wear. My costume this year was a gift for Gideon, a token of my love, a reminder that I see him and hear him and I “get” him, even if I don’t “get” who Boba Fett is.

All that said, the reason I’m so giggly is because our Halloween this year was full of humor – I found myself laughing at every turn, even now as I upload pictures.

For one, Betsie kept telling people we were dressed up as “Star Whores”.

For two, the pictures we snapped before our Trunk or Treat kind of crack me up, for numerous reasons.

For three, my husband kept making lewd jokes about the characters he and I were portraying (you’ll understand when you see the pictures).

For four, Rebekah’s wig.

For five, the feminine spin Betsie put on her boyish costume.

It was just, altogether, a funny, funny night. I am sure I will always get tickled when I see these photos, and I hope they bring you joy, as well.

Oh! And I have an idea for you to tuck away for next year. Plan an extra twenty or thirty minutes on Halloween to find a spot with good lighting for picture-taking, have an easy little photo shoot, and you can just relax the rest of the night and let your kids trick or treat without snapping a gazillion photos. I told the kids that, if they would cooperate and give me some good pictures at the start, we would be done with all formal photographs for the rest of the night. It was so nice to know when we departed for our Halloween fun that these pictures were already in my possession.

So. Up first, we have Princess Leia. When I ordered this costume (free for us with our Amazon reward points!), I assumed we’d chuck the wig and just do Rebekah’s own hair like Leia’s, but DUDE…this wig was hilarious. I couldn’t part with it. (p.s. and if you’re a Facebook reader, you’ll notice Rebekah’s faithful “lady smile”).

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Next we have Boba Fett. There is no doubt that this night was especially fun for Gideon. He is the most costume-oriented child in our family, and it was a treat to dedicate a family theme to him. (Rebekah has dibs on next year’s theme, by the way. She, too, took one for the team).

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And now, little Yoda. At least that’s who everyone thought she was. In actuality, her name was “Yodette” because she had a hairbow. Betsie made sure that she corrected everyone on this point at the Trunk or Treat. “I’m YodETTE”. I also really appreciate the posing skills Betsie employed tonight. She was in rare form.

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Then we had a little squishy Ewok. I die.

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Then…hubba hubba…Luke Skywalker. I don’t know who Luke Skywalker is, but I think I love him.

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And THEN…Lord, have mercy…Darth Vader.

Gideon about busted a gut when I came walking out of the master bathroom in this get-up.

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My husband, by the way, was APPALLED by the way I held my lightsaber. “You can’t touch the blade!” he exclaimed. “You will LOSE your hand!”

Whatever, man. I’m new here, okay?

He also wanted me to take a scary picture where it looked like I was trying to choke someone, but I don’t think I nailed it. I just look like a weirdo.

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Good guys.

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And (since Gideon wanted to be on my team), bad guys.

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Then, of course, my husband and son had to act out a fight scene, and I swear to you, when I saw the last picture in this series, I fell over laughing. That one is going in a frame to hang next to Gideon’s bed.

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Group fight!

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Luke and Vader, going at it. Tee hee. My husband titled this Halloween “A Freudian Star Wars”. I’ll let you mull all this over.

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And, finally, a few family pictures.

I mentioned this on Facebook already, but my husband noted that, in the first picture, I look like a sheepish Darth Vader or a teenager whose parents made her dress up for Halloween.

And again with the lightsaber. I need to take a lightsaber safety course or work on my villain acting skillz, I guess. I just don’t think I have it in me to be fierce.

Oh, and also take note of  a detail my cousin, Jeff, pointed out: “And the award for most congenial Yoda goes to…

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Action shot! Again, props to Betsie for really going for it.

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I know I say this ever year, but…

best. Halloween. EVER.

~

p.s. when time permits, I’ll come back and add links, reviews and info to our costumes!

Mud (and New Arrivals).

A couple of weeks ago, my sister-in-law, Amy, was busy at the hospital bringing forth another nephew for me to love, and while we waited for the good news, we were living it up at my mom and dad’s house in the country, cousin style.

Mom and I have decided over the years that it is much easier to team up than to go it alone. Whether you are having a dinner party, or deep-cleaning your house, or keeping watch over a houseful of kids, two REALLY are better than one.

I could have kept my four kids at my house, alone, while she kept her four grandkids at her house, alone, and we could have talked to each other on the phone periodically, swapping stories about how bored the kids were and about how they were asking every five minutes when they were going to get to play with their cousins…

OR we could spend every waking moment together, sitting on the back porch, sipping coffee, while eight happy, nature-loving kiddos crawled, toddled, walked, ran, climbed, jumped and skipped all about us.

In fact, when this group of cousins are together, we hardly even SEE them – they speak their own cousin language, the fights are very few and very far between, and they play their little HEARTS out, from morning till night – leaving us to merely hold down the fort and brace ourselves for feeding and bathing time, because, as you well know, the payback for letting kids play hard all day is that they are hungry…nay, starving…and dirty…nay, filthy…by the end of the day.

And sometimes they’re REALLY filthy.

During the baby’s nap time, the littlest of the bunch disappeared to the front porch for a spell, and five minutes later when we went to check on them and make sure all was well, we discovered this…

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What can you do when you find a mess like this but to just let them GO for it? Their cleanliness was already beyond preserving, they were completely thrilled and occupied and we had a pot of coffee that needed drinking, so…

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we gave them a good scolding, we warned all the other children not to go NEAR that mess and we left them to it.

2-year old Abel, 3-year old Betsie and 5-year old Kate had the time of their life while the others seethed with jealousy that they hadn’t stumbled upon this muddy fun. But we had a new baby to meet that evening, and there was NO WAY we were going to administer eight post-mud baths before then.

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And every time I checked on their progress…

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they were a bit dirtier…

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and dirtier…

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and dirtier…

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and DIRTIER.

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And the porch? Lord, have mercy.

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But there are few things as precious in this life as children who are free at play.

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They can make the biggest, most colossal messes…

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but they’re so stinkin’ cute while they’re doing it.

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p.s. I totally left the cleaning of this ear to my mom. This was one of her kids for the week, after all, not mine. ;)

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And, in the meantime, Amy made us this:

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Welcome to our world, baby Jude. Can’t wait until you’re joining us in the mud.

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Mother Hen’s Seventh Birthday

So…speaking of “spirit-led parenting“, I’m really excited to tell you all about Gideon’s 7th birthday!

You guys know how I feel about holidays, in general, and birthdays, in particular. It’s my thang.

I love a good party, almost more than I love Hostess donuts.

Gideon’s parties have been especially fun and adventurous; if you were with me last year, you might remember that the first part of March was spent crafting Red Cross backdrops and collecting WWII memorabilia for the soldier party of the (last) century.

But this year was different, for some reason.

Even though I had a really fun (REALLY FUN!) theme in mind, I just wasn’t feeling it. My mind was picturing the entire party, but my heart was definitely being led in a different direction.

And so, finally, I listened.

The end result was that, rather than our typical birthday bash, we completely scaled back and spent Gideon’s seventh birthday in a more contemplative and simplified frame of mind.

Does this mean that I’ll no longer be crafting grandiose vintage-inspired parties for the kiddos? Heavens, no. I’m already planning Rebekah’s June picnic party.

But was this the right thing to do this year for this child? Most certainly, yes!

It was a BLAST.

Wanna see what we did?

(You’re in luck! I took lotsa pictures!)

~

The day before Gideon’s birthday, my Mom borrowed him for a bit, freeing me and the girls up to make him some special surprises at home.

This is a new tradition I want to incorporate into our celebrations from now on, because it was a really special time of thinking and talking about the birthday boy and working together to convey our love to him. I can’t help but think this will foster sibling affection, for both the recipient and the party planners.

First, we made him all sorts of paintings (like this almost-completed ship on the sea)…

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Then, while Betsie slept, Rebekah and I baked a birthday cake and cupcakes.

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Once Betsie woke up and the cakes had cooled, I decorated Gideon’s…

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while the girls decorated the cupcakes. Rebekah used sprinkles. Betsie used her hacking cough. (What’s a birthday without a few germs?)

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and here is their handiwork. Sweet sisters! They were as excited as I was!

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Later that night, we made a switch, leaving the girls at Grandmother’s for the night and picking up Gideon.

His birthday celebration had officially begun!

First, he got to order whatever he wanted to eat from our local Drive-thru. Then, after supper, we moved our mattress into the living room where we watched a movie together and spent the night. Baby Shepherd was very pleased to join us, even donning his tie-dyed romper for the occasion. He is such a hippy.

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SAD NEWS. Mr. Gore got came down with a stomach virus in the night and started throwing up.

But please, tell me the planning of this day was not indeed Spirit-led! If I had been trying to put together a big party by myself, I would have been devastated. As it was, I was able to keep a cool head and continue with our plans, even though my husband wasn’t able to join us until later that evening. I am VERY grateful to God for helping us have a great day, regardless of viruses.(And I am super proud of my husband for still managing to make Gideon a personalized Star Wars t-shirt that day).

So. After waking up and getting everything ready, I loaded up the boys and surprised Gid by picking up his great friend, Isaiah, and taking them to breakfast at McDonald’s. Isaiah is one of our favorite people in the world, and it was too cute watching him tote his giant gifts for Gideon all over the place. My son is blessed to have him for a friend.

p.s. these two can put down the pancakes!

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After eating and taking Isaiah back home, we drove to Grandmother and Granddaddy’s house, where my Mom and the girls had been working hard all morning to surprise Gideon.

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Our paintings were lining the walls…

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and everything looked so clean, simple, and pretty.

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After putting Shep and Betsie down for naps, Gideon, Rebekah and I embarked on what might have been my favorite part of the day, driving down to the creek to spend the afternoon doing some of Gideon’s favorite things.

First, fishing…

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Then, a picnic. The preparation was too easy, simply a galvanized tub full of Gideon’s favorite foods. Whole fruits and veggies, granola, peanuts, sunflower seeds, and…Pringles. 

confession: The Pringles were for me.

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U.S. Grown apple juice (and kids).

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It was quite fun to sit in the sun with nothing to do but pop blackberries into our mouths and spit sunflower seed shells into the grass. 

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I think we should have days like this more often…

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The kids agree with me.

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Sidenote: have you ever seen anyone eat a bell pepper like this? He loves them.

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After lunch, we drove to the road near the lake and gathered up a bucket of rocks.

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Then we drove back to the creek and threw them in the water. Are you noticing yet that this is the easiest and cheapest party I’ve ever thrown?…

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Now, if you’ll indulge me, a series of pictures of my seven-year old boy.

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and, if you’ll indulge me a little further, a couple of my 4-year old country girl…

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and now I’d feel badly if I left out Betsie…

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(Sorry, Shepherd. If you wanted to be featured in this part of the post, you really should have woken up sooner. Snooze. Lose).

After several hours had passed, we loaded up and drove back to the house, where Granddaddy was waiting for us to give Gid a driving lesson. This was a pretty big deal! Sniffle, sniffle. My little boy, growing up and driving off into the sunset…

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just kidding. They just drove through the pasture for a bit. I guess I can handle that.

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Then (after switching spots) they drove to the lake for some more fishing. And what Gideon didn’t know is that his Grandpa, Grandma, and cousins were coming for his party. When they arrived, my niece, Abigail, and I tiptoed up to the lake to surprise him!

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The rest of the evening was spent relaxing, eating freshly-caught fried fish (Gid’s favorite), and just enjoying the gift of family…

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Lastly, to top off a day of favorite things, Gid got to do a little burning. If you find this strange and/or confusing, just trust me that it makes a lot more sense if you live in Oklahoma.

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When the sun went down, we mozied inside where we popped all the balloons, played with all the new toys and enjoyed a sleepover together…

~

I share all of the above not just for my memories and not just to celebrate the beauty of life (my son’s, in particular), but to encourage all my fellow mamas – big party, little party, expensive party, cheap party, lots-of-guests-party, intimate party…it doesn’t REALLY matter. Just love on your little one, follow your heart, and the day will be a major success.

By the end of Gideon’s birthday, my goals for the day were completed: friends, fish, picnic, throw rocks, drive, cousins, grandparents, eat, cake, presents, burn the pasture.

And Gideon…now SEVEN YEARS OLD!!!…went to bed flushed, dirty, smokey, sticky and 100% happy.

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And I went to bed even happier.

(and wayyyyyyy less tired than usual).

(with wayyyyyy less clean-up to do the next day).

(with wayyyyyyy more money in the bank).

Our Faux Victorian Christmas

It all started with a dress.

But first, a bit of backtracking.

Every year, regardless of how scant or abundant our wardrobes are, we come up with Christmas and Easter clothes. Sometimes they’re casual. Sometimes they are built around a hair bow or an overcoat we already own. Sometimes they include a few hand-me-downs in the mix…

but every year, we get dressed in our new (or newish) duds and take some family pictures.

We don’t do this for Christmas postcards or even, believe it or not, for the blog…

we do it for me.

Because I wanna.

It might be silly, it might be unnecessary, it might be a TON of work, but…I love it.

Especially the outfits.

Last year’s Christmas clothes were hardy and festive, and even better, practical; thus, my intent this year was to find something similar, something that shouted “Christmas!” but, not exclusively. Something we could wear to church or to the library or even to play outside in, all winter and early-spring and late-fall long.

But then, scrolling through Boden’s summer sale, I saw a dress in the little girls’ section.

It was a satin party dress.

It was so impractical.

Even on sale, it was more expensive than any dress we’ve ever bought for one of our children.

And it was the LAST dress I needed, looking nothing like anything I had pictured for any of our Christmas clothes, ever.

So, obviously, I bought it.

Because the moment I pictured that dress on Rebekah Sunday, I was a goner. My sentimental brain went trotting along ahead of me, dreaming of beautiful Victorian Christmases, and simple and clean scenes of winter whites and creams, until I arrived (four months later) at this year’s “photo shoot” with two things in mind:

1. Memorializing all of our children in their various ages, but especially 4-year old Rebekah. On the cusp of girlhood, this was her year, and since her special dress was almost as beautiful as a wedding gown, I thought it would be fun to take some bridal-inspired photos that we might potentially use on her wedding day, like pictures of us getting ready, tying her sash and fixing her hair. I thought it would also be fun to get pictures of the boys getting ready, buttoning their vests and so on and so forth.

2. Memorializing our home. We all know that, unlike snapshots, professional pictures aren’t really a true representation of life. They are us at our best, with our clothes perfectly pressed and our hair expertly groomed. Well, I wanted pictures of my house like that, too, clean and shiny and all gussied up for picture day.

Alllll that to say, although these pictures almost didn’t happen (if Rebekah looks ethereal it is because she was throwing up for the five days leading up to this), we pulled it off, and I near about died when I saw the finished product…

it is everything I hoped for and more, and I have to brag on my friends Ben and Leslie at Benjamin Grey Photography for their truly amazing talent. I am so happy I paid them with real money this time instead of homemade granola.

I am also so grateful for my husband and my mom, without whom my schemes of whimsicality would never come to fruition.

~

First, the boys got ready…

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Then Rebekah, the belle of the ball…

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Then Betsie Fair, also the proud recipient of a Boden party dress (it is rare, indeed, for Betsie to get a non-hand-me-down dress, especially one made of velvet!)…

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Now I have to pause for a moment to prep you for the next pictures.

For the past year and a half, 2 1/2 year old Betsie has been obsessed…I mean it, obsessed…with lipstick. Before she could even talk, she would drag people’s purses to them and start puckering up her lips and grunting until they shared some lipgloss or lipstick or chapstick.

I have seen her perform this expression countless times, and I had no idea that Ben had caught it with his camera until I received our photographs.

Some photos are sweet, some are funny, and then some are just gifts.

These photographs are a gift to me. I have titled them “Betsie in a Nutshell”.

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Here’s a few more of Rebekah, sitting in my new favorite chair (more on that later)…

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and we can’t forget Baby Shep…

(goochie goo, you fat wittle bubbey baby!)

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Next, we all moved to the living room for a few photos…

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And we finished up outside…

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On a normal day, our life is anything but Victorian.

But it’s fun to pretend sometimes.

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Thanks for pretending with me. ;)

Santa’s Cutest Imposter

You guys know my sister-in-law, Amy. She’s the one who takes pictures of my kids’ birthday parties, who helps me make giant party signs at the last minute, and most importantly, who has a secret window into my brain; she is one of the only people in the world who can take the ideas that I have up there and make them happen in better-than-exact detail. I love her.

So creative, so talented, and so low-key about it, she can do near about anything!

But unlike me, when she does something neat, she doesn’t run straight to a blog and say “Hey world! Looky here at what I did!! Like me! Love me! Compliment me!!”

So I do it for her.

(I also nag her husband – my brother – for her so she doesn’t have to. My pleasure).

Anyhow, the other morning, during a free moment on a typical day at home, she set up a quick little photo session for her baby boy, Abel. He had recently taken his first sip from a real cup, and she wanted to get just one picture of him drinking milk in a little Santa get-up.

But not everything went as planned…

and what resulted is maybe the cutest series of pictures ever.

If you are feeling like a Scrooge today, these will most certainly get you in the Christmas spirit!…

or they’ll at least make you want an Oreo REAL bad.

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~

Nabisco…call us!

Kiss Me, Cousin

Thanksgiving week was so wonderful, and we spent every waking (and sometimes sleeping) hour at my Mama and Daddy’s house in the country with my brothers and their families, my Grandmother, and my cousin, Jon, his wife, Amanda, and their precious children. I couldn’t love that entire group of people more if I tried. Like-minded, like-hearted, we like each other. A lot.

But going through my pictures from our week together, one group of photographs stole the show, and I thought it might cheer your hearts to see them.

My brother, Pete, is a fastidious man, and he has fathered an even more fastidious son. Two-year old Brett is a model first child, clean-cut, particular, straight-laced, and very tidy.

And then there’s my Betsie. Also 2 years old, she is the polar opposite of Brett, messy, wild, free-spirited, and very sticky.

The two of them together provide endless entertainment, and while Betsie used to absolutely terrify all the firstborns in her life (she poked Brett right in the eye at his 1st birthday party), I’ve noticed that she is having a different effect on them these days, and that they find her more amusing than they do overwhelming.

But still maybe a tiny bit overwhelming…

Anyhow, we were sitting around the kitchen table one afternoon with the windows open when Betsie pushed a porch chair over to the window and started making faces at us.

Pretty soon, Brett came over to join her, and that’s when she, completely of her own inspiration, decided to try to kiss him.

Over and over and over and over and over again.

Brett would push her away, and then they’d both belly laugh before the next kiss attempt came.

We were in stitches, and I was so glad my camera happened to be sitting right there beside me when their game began.

And since they’ll probably hate these pictures someday, I thought I’d share them on the internet now while I have the opportunity…

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There is no moral to this blog post, really, only that 2-year olds are stinkin’ cute.

The world needs more of them.

And maybe a few kisses, too.

Banana Split For My Babies

My Mom is so much fun.

I heavily lean toward being a hermit, and I sometimes think if it weren’t for her, we would never leave our house. That woman’s got more energy than a spring colt.

(I agree. That analogy DID make me sound like an old lady).

Last week, after a couple of months of rarely leaving our house, she made a motion that we go to the local library and then surprise the kids with their very first banana split.

After hemming and hawing for a bit like an old curmudgeon, I seconded her motion.

And we all said “aye!”

I’m so glad I took my camera along, because the following photographs further support my theory that little kids are so easy to impress and that if you can’t afford to give them Disneyworld, no worries. You can always give them ice cream.

I snapped a few photos while Grandmother was ordering the top-secret surprise. The kids were excited and it was fun to watch the expressions on their faces as they talked and waited and tried to guess what was coming…

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Then, as always, they started getting antsy and wrestly. He pinched her…

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she pinched him…

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And I did my best to hold the fort down. Finally, it was time. Close your eyes, everybody!

(Not you, silly…the kids! You can keep your eyes open and keep reading).

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(As usual, Betsie peeked).

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Two banana splits and some french fries, coming our way! The fries were a surprise for me. :) Sneaky, sneaky Grandmother.

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Okay…OPEN YOUR EYES!

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Please indulge me as I take a closer look at those surprised faces…

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And we can’t forget Betsie…

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Rebekah is surpringly picky about her desserts and a banana split proved to be too much for her to handle, but Gid the Kid TORE into his…

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Betsie, too!

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In case you’re wondering, my Mom and I did help them eat those humongous treats, but since there is nothing cute about seeing pictures of grown women eat ice cream, I decided to spare you.

We had so much fun, we spent less than $15, and the best part was that the hermit got to return home before the afternoon was up.

If your kids have never been treated to a giant banana split, may I recommend an ice cream outing in the near future?

Pretty please?

With a cherry on top?

Home.

At approximately 1:30 on Friday afternoon, we pulled into our driveway…

They were waiting for us on the front porch, and my heart skipped a beat or two as they jumped up and clambered down the sidewalk to greet us, shouts of “Mama!” and “Papa!” causing tears to cloud my vision.

The one-hour drive home had never been longer.

The first to reach me was Gideon, freshly bathed and wearing my favorite shirt. My Mom said he was anxious to get cleaned up for us because he “smelled like a puppy”, which told me that he was as excited about seeing us as we were about seeing him. I gathered him into my arms before even leaving the passenger seat and we held on to each other for dear life. My son and I, perhaps more alike than any two people in our family, share the same struggles and the same strengths. This pregnancy has been hard on us, especially the last couple of weeks, and our reunion was what I had been living for that last day in the hospital. When we released each other, our eyes were definitely “waterin'”, our smiles almost too big for our faces.

After an extremely long journey, we were home. Both of us.

Rebekah was next, skipping towards me in the long, pink dress she never takes off, her hair in long, golden braids. She covered me with kisses and informed me that she was going to take care of me. Her cornflower blue eyes radiated happiness and contentment, warming me to my toes.

I’m always home when I’m with Rebekah Sunday.

And then came shirtless Betsie Fair, wearing nothing but pink, floral culottes and a spunky little ponytail, hopping joyfully across the cobblestones that lead to our driveway. “Mama! Mama!” she continued to exclaim, her happy little face causing me to melt into a puddle of mama goo in the floor of our minivan. Betsie was my MVP that last part of my pregnancy, keeping me entertained and distracted by her out-of-this-world cuteness and unbridled joy. Scooping her up, I hugged her tight while she manically patted me and giggled and squealed.

Home.

In a big jumble of bodies and beautiful chaos, we landed in the living room. There were presents of crayon drawings to be presented, everyone had important stories to tell all at one time, and Baby Shepherd had to be thoroughly inspected by three curious siblings.

And I?

I sat in my favorite chair and took in the blessed moment. Coming home with a new baby always brings with it a fresh perspective and for the time being, the noises weren’t grating, the responsibilities weren’t drudgerous, the to-do’s and expectations were nonexistent, and I was as happy as I have ever remembered being in my entire life.

“Mom?…” I asked, “would you mind taking a picture?”

It suddenly felt very important for me to capture this moment for my memories.

“Do you want me to put a shirt on Betsie?” she replied.

“No. I want them all just like they are…”

Like everyone else in America, sometimes our family photos are staged, and the preparation for them has left me breathless and sweaty and uptight. We might be wearing matching clothes and not a hair is out of place, but the smiles are probably not genuine and there is no story behind our photograph other than “we look nice today and our clothes are awesome“.

But this picture was different.

We stopped our reunion for the briefest of moments, we quickly gathered into a cluster, we looked at the camera, and our faces were already beaming before my Mom even had to tell us to “say cheese!”.

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The feelings I experienced at our homecoming will be impossible to hold onto. Life will eventually pick up speed and we’ll be back at the grindstone, going through our days, doing our chores, fighting negativity and frustration and cabin fever. This day was a gift, for all of us, and a sweet reminder that…

together, at home, is our very favorite place to be.

A Weekend Dance Camp

I love it so much when my friends pull awesome tricks out of their hats.

And my sweet friend, Megan, does so quite often, though she would insist that she has no such hat and certainly no tricks.

But that’s another reason I love her so much – a more humble and servant-hearted woman would be hard to find, and every “event” she plans and hosts with her children in mind has an extra heaping of thoughtfulness and tenderness and love…

thus, when she brought up the idea of employing two of her cousins for a two-day summer dance camp for all the little girls in our lives, I knew it would be special, for many reasons.

First of all, we live in a rural community. There are no dance studios in our town, and the closest one is quite far away. To enroll any of our daughters in a dance class would mean a lot of commitment, loading up and driving “to town” more often than any of us probably want to.

Secondly, we have a very like-minded group of mama’s in our church. We share similar thoughts on childhood, modesty, and worldview, not to mention the fact that most of us are working with pretty tiny budgets; thus, many of the more professional dance programs close to us wouldn’t necessarily be a good fit…but that doesn’t mean we don’t want our girls to experience the joy of dressing up in a tutu and twirling around like ballerinas!

And somehow, Megan was able to create the perfect scenario for all of us. Two days. Little commitment. Down the street from our houses. Laid-back. Experimental. Safe. Innocent. Inexpensive.

And the best part was, our daughters were surrounded by their best friends. What is sometimes a very uncomfortable situation for little girls (I was terrified when I took my first dance class full of strangers) became one of the sweetest bonding experiences they’ve had yet.

And at the end of the camp, all of their friends and family members joined in our church’s extension building to watch a very short – and sweet – recital. Anyone who has ever sat through a two-hour long recital to watch your child dance for 5 minutes would appreciate the 10 minutes we spent watching our own daughters dance, the entire time! And I can’t imagine what a confidence-booster this was for our girls, and all for the incredible and unheard-of price of $15.

After the recital, the girls walked down to the church’s parking lot where our friend, Kodi, treated them to free sno-cones from that morning’s Farmers Market. I hope they never forget that day, sitting with their pals after their first dance performance together, enjoying one of the best treats of summer.

And so I share ALL of the above not because I’m against a more professional dance scene – again, if we lived closer to a wholesome studio and money was no object, I would be the first in line – but because I know many of you are like us, living in small towns on small budgets. Take a cue from Megan, and find a way to bring a fun weekend of dance to all the little ballerinas in your life.

Take a look!

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A super special thanks to Megan for coordinating this camp, and for her sweet cousins, Katie and Kara, for being such amazing dance teachers and bringing their expertise to our small town at such an affordable price. You truly ministered to us, and to our daughters!

Gideon’s “Life Day” and a Puppy Named Jake (Part Two)

To read more about “Life Day” and the backstory to these photos, see Part One

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Should I go ahead and add this day to the “Top Ten Memories” file in my brain?

Yeah, I think so, too…

After spending Sunday night and all day Monday with his sisters at Grandmother and Granddaddy’s house, my parents dropped Gideon off at our shed and went driving around with the girls so we could have a moment alone with our son.

And our photographer friend.

(Told you I have a sickness).

It was a sweet reunion. Gideon was simply happy to be home. We, on the other hand, were about to burst with excitement!

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“Why can’t we go inside the house?” he kept asking.

“Just because…” I kept hedging.

Finally, we sat down with him and Mr. Gore explained all about his “life day” and that we were celebrating the gift of Gideon with a special surprise.

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Gideon likes surprises.

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We prayed and thanked God for our boy, and I somehow managed to keep from bawling like a baby…

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And then it was time for the blindfold. We wanted the puppy to be a secret until the very last minute…

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My  job was to keep him from peeking and to make SURE he couldn’t see!

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Almost there…

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Before we took his blindfold off, we let him feel his gift to see if he could guess what it was. Our calm little doggy kept so still and quiet. Good boy!

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Gideon told me later that he thought it was a stuffed animal. He still had no idea what was on the other side of that blindfold…

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When we took the blindfold off, he was, in a word, dazed. As a 4 -year-old, I distinctly remember him asking as he surveyed a pasture full of cattle, “Why did God make all these animals and not give me any?” This boy has been waiting a LONG time for a pet of his own…

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I noticed when I looked back at the pictures that his little cheeks were flushed with excitement (be still, my heart)…

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and for sure his “eyes were waterin'”.

Gideon’s eyes water a lot. He gets that from me.

p.s. I love this picture. (and all the ones after it).

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“What do you want to name him?” we asked, gently recommending the name ‘Huckleberry’, the name of his first stuffed animal, a little white puppy from FAO Schwarz, or ‘Jake’, his most favorite name for as long as we can remember.

“Jake” he said, confidently.

Even though we were secretly rooting for Huckleberry, we were pretty happy with that, especially since “Thunderfire” is his second favorite name.

In retrospect, I don’t think I can fully express how fulfilling it was to watch my son receive this gift. What a joy it is to care for someone so deeply, to know their deepest wishes, to understand their heart like no one else, and to bless them accordingly…

and so I think that experiencing this day with Gideon brought me a little bit closer to the heart of God; how our Heavenly Father must love us! We don’t give Him enough credit in our crowded, complicated, grown-up worlds.

So that just left one last thing…

After giving Gideon a moment to get acquainted with new best friend, we called my parents and told them to come back to the house. Gideon and Jake hid in the shed so he could surprise his sisters with our newest family member.

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“Close your eyes!” we told them, “Gideon has a surprise for you…”

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(Betsie ALWAYS peeks).

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I’ve never seen the whole lot of them so excited about something. It was a full-out dog party in our yard, and our household has consequently been abuzz for DAYS…

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I have so much more to talk about concerning pet ownership, about the similarities between puppies and babies, about how this little pup has stolen our hearts, but for now, I’ll just leave it at this…

Welcome to our family, Jake.

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We’ve been waiting for you for a very long time.

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I would be remiss if I failed to acknowledge Benjamin Grey Photography once more for these precious, precious pictures. What a gift it is to have talented and generous friends who will wake up early to minister to your family before a long night working the late shift. You blessed our hearts, Ben and Leslie, more than you’ll ever know. Thank you.

And special thanks to the sweet family who sold us this puppy and took such good care of him for us. You were a joy to work with! (and our daughter has already put in a request for a GIRL puppy on her 6th “life day”…)

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Surprising a boy