General update

An update written by Ben for a change. After all, Franci has written almost all of the posts on this blog. As it happens, the last one Ben wrote was almost a year ago.

Ben is busy with various things. Both being a dad by night (and evening) and a computer programmer by day. Ben is also an elder at church, helping lead services, organize various things, and helping out with various pastoral issues.

Change, they say, is as good as a holiday. Coordinating people and tasks has crept back into his job description — he recently moved to a new team within TripAdvisor and is managing three software developers. Content Management Systems (CMS) is what we’re tasked to build. Companies within TripAdvisor will be able to use this unified system to to easily produce hotel- and travel-related pages and websites. Commuting to work (an hour each way) can be tiring, but I use the time to read, or to write blog posts like this one.

Dad visited us recently, on the way to the International Conference of Reformed Churches (ICRC) in Toronto. Dad is very handy with wood, as you probably know, so he helped me build this picnic table (the pajama-clad girls appeared afterwards):

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Esther is growing in stature (and good will with God and man). Every day she gets up at about 6:45am, sneaks down the stairs, and plays with Lego or reads quietly in the lounge. Enthusiastic about any craft, she’s often making cards, pictures, or whatever else. “Emotional” is a good word to sum up her reaction to various things — much more so than either of the other kids, which can be both good and bad. Esther was also very stoked to have a few days recently when she had Mum all to herself for the morning — one of these mornings she got a special trip with Mum to the nail salon:

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Franci has a bit of a lighter (or different) load right now as our homeschoolers are taking a break. For a few weeks more she’ll be catching up on various tasks, sorting and tidying rooms, reading, etc. Franci has been keeping busy (outside of the usual family busyness) with serving at church in various capacities: Fellowship Meal (organizing our once-a-month church shared lunch), Sunday School, and catching up with and mentoring some women. Fruit and veggies have also featured of late: she bought 10kg of very ripe blueberries and made lots of jam, pies, etc; and she signed up to a veggie co-op through which we get a good quantity of veggies every week. For a photo, here’s one of her carrying Laurelin’s 4th birthday cake:

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Going to go camping in early September! Goal is for me to take a couple of days off work on either side of Labour weekend, go into the mountains (a couple of hours away), and set up tent. Good for the whole family to get away, and the kids are definitely looking forward to it.

Hannah and Peter were here recently and stayed a couple of nights when they drove Lydia and Andrew here from Lancaster, PA. How nice it was to catch up with both couples again. Hopefully Lydia and Andrew had a good time! His first time in the States, and I don’t think Lydia’s been back for many years either. Heading into the city on a bus, they caught the subway from the bus terminal down to JFK airport, where they flew back to Australia.

I can safely say that we’ve had a hot early summer, though the last couple of weeks have been a lot more mild. In the early part of July, Franci and the girls went regularly to a nearby friend’s pool and made good use of that. Inside it’s generally cool enough thanks to air conditioning, especially at my work where they seem to like making it feel like a fridge.

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Jetsetter was the TripAdvisor team that I was on, and jetsetting is what we’ll be doing (God willing) in late December and January when we fly to New Zealand for a trip in their summer. Just like last time, I’ll be going for about two weeks, and Franci and the girls will be staying on for several extra weeks. Joyful we are as we look forward to seeing family and friends again in person.

Kicking around a rough plan, Franci and I, for our family to head back to New Zealand to live (for good?) in the year 2020 Anno Domino. Kids will be a bit older then, and our hope is to visit South Africa and Namibia (where Franci was born and grew up, respectively) on our way back.

Laurelin is our most stubborn descendant. Laughs a lot, and causes plenty of laughter, too. Life will be good to her, we think, if she overcomes the sinful childish aspects of this stubbornness and turns it into determination (that’s what we’re working towards, in any case). Lately she’s had a break from preschool — during the school year she attends a local preschool three mornings a week, giving Franci a break and an opportunity to focus on homeschooling the other two. Laurelin recently turned four:

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Marica went to a five-day summer camp recently with a friend from homeschooling circles. Mostly outdoor activities, it was a Christian-run camp, and she had a blast. My update on her wouldn’t be complete without mentioning that apart from being our most outdoor-loving girl, she’s also our biggest bookworm, reading half a dozen thick books per week is not uncommon. More good books needed — please send title suggestions our way!

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Never one to shy away from geekdom, I’ve written a couple of technical articles about nerdy projects I’ve done recently. Naturally you can view those on my website, if you’re interested: a pentomino puzzle solver, toy Python-to-assembly compiler, and tiny Git client.

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The 12 pentominoes (18 with their mirror images)

Outdoors stuff tends to happen more in summer, so there have been lots of trips to the park, lots of playing outside in the sprinkler, and we hope to make it to the beach at least once.

Pulled pork is a favourite around here. Partly because there’s a nearby Southern BBQ place where we sometimes eat or get takeaway. Passionate about their food, we often get juicy barbequed brisket, pulled pork, and spicy baked beans — yum! Perhaps if you visit we’ll take you there?

Quite a bit of the time we’re too busy: mostly self-inflicated, partly a reflection of our involvement at church or with visitors, and with homeschooling things. Quiet is nice sometimes, and we’re trying to carve out enough of that here and there.

Reading aloud is something I really enjoy doing with and for the older two girls. Rarely do we go a week without at least several nights of reading another chapter in our book. Right now we’re about half way through N. D. Wilson’s A Door Before, a prequel to both his 100 Cupboards and his Ashtown Burials books. Really it’s a bit too intense for my taste, but we love his strong and realistic characters, his moral outlook, and his desire to bring solid fantasy from British to American soil.

Seafood festivals are a lot of fun: a Reformed church over on Long Island recently hosted one. Sun, seafood (lobsters, clams), salad, and sports were the order of the day — including a no-hands watermelon eating competition which I tried my hand at:

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Trees are a wonderful thing. Three or four weeks ago we planted a small (1.5 metre high) dogwood tree in our back yard. The soil that we dug out for the roots was probably the hardest, stoniest soil I’ve ever dealt with.

Unbroken is a great movie that Franci and I watched recently. Unusually good for a Hollywood blockbuster, it’s a war story that you should definitely watch (not to mention read about its fascinating hero Louis Zamperini).

Violin and guitar are the two new instruments that Esther and Marica will be learning this coming school year (aside from piano, which they have to take). Very rewarding to be part of a homeschooling group where the kids can learn quality music at reasonable prices.

We had a good time recently with Franci’s sister Angelique, who was here with her son Tyson for a visit in June. Went in to the city a couple of times, but mostly stayed local and did quieter things with the kids.

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Xylophones (well, glockenspiels really, but that doesn’t start with X) are another instrument that Franci will be using in the homeschool co-op music class that she’ll be teaching this coming year.

Yesterday evening we had our pastor and his wife around for dinner. You always know it’ll be a fabulous time with those two (and it was).

Zero more paragraphs to go after this one. Zank you for listening. Zon’t forget to comment if you have comments or questions!

The rest of the summer

(This post is pretty heavy on photos. Just a reminder that if you want to see larger versions of them, to click on a photo and you’ll then be able to view the slideshow of that particular group of photos.)

Trying to catch up here with the backlog of stuff I have to share, I’m going to try to condense the rest of our summer activities into one post. Here goes!

In July, a few days after we got back from our roadtrip, our cousin Eva came for a visit. Her time overlapped with Bryan and Alexia and their kids who also came to stay for a few days. It was great to have them and to have the (younger) cousins have time to play together and just hang out (the older ones). There were trips into NYC for sightseeing, swimming at a friend’s pool, and a clothes shopping trip for me and Alexia. One evening Bryan and Alexia made an amazing dinner for us. I forget what it was called, but it was wonderful. Thanks for stopping by, guys!

(A bunch of these photos were taken by Bryan. Thanks for letting me pilfer them, Bry.)

We were also happy to host our friends, the Roses, for a night on their travels from Canada back home. It was a short visit, but lovely!

Ben had a pretty low-key 35th birthday, with the usual gift giving in the morning. He and I went to see a movie as my present to him, which is a pretty rare occurence for us, and as a result a pretty special treat!

The next few weeks were taken up doing proper summery things like swimming, bubble blowing, running through the sprinkler, eating watermelon, having playdates, playing games, and doing generally silly stuff (like catching a fly and putting it in a lego maze).

One funny thing: sometimes when the older girls set the table, they like to write names on napkins, which takes the whole meal up a couple of notches on the fancy scale. One time Esther took this a step further even, and came up with descriptions too. Esther’s description of Marica had me in the kind of laughter that’s uncontrollable but that you’re not allowed to show. Boy, these kids!

The kids also took part in  some sort of summer ‘camp’ each: Marica went to 3-night camp with her friend, Willow; Esther went to a week-long art camp in the mornings, and Laurelin went to the summer program at her preschool to get her used to the new environment. They also did a VBS (Vacation Bible School) at a sister church about 20 minutes drive from here, which they really enjoyed.

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Laurelin’s first day of preschool!

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VBS

In August we traveled down to Tennessee again, this time for cousin Hannah’s wedding to Peter Weston. It was a beautiful affair, and a delight to spend even just a little time with so many great family members. Hannah looked amazing in a dress that reminded me of Kate Middleton’s wedding dress. (Peter cleaned up pretty well too.) I was glad that I could be helpful with the flowers and with some last-minute stepping in to help with the cake decorating. We were especially glad to be able to spend some time with Aunt Marti, and thankful that God was gracious upheld her throughout all the busyness and festivities of the weekend.

The Monday after the wedding, our lovely hosts, Mike and Paige, took us out on their boat for some fun. It was great getting pulled behind the boat in the tube, going crazy fast! Talking about Mike and Paige… man, these guys are fantastic. They were incredibly generous, kind and hospitable with their time, their home and much more. What a great example they are. I wish we lived closer to them!

After our tubing fun, we had one last visit with Aunt Marti and other family members. It was a precious time together, but not without some silliness too. See those amazing arm muscles that Eva has? Well, I got cocky and challenged her to an arm wrestle. I’m proud to say that we were a match — neither of us could get the other one down. All to say, I felt a little chuffed about that. :-)

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The day we got back the klutz in me misjudged a step at our friend’s house (the one with the pool) and I sprained my ankle really badly. The doctor reckoned I partially tore 3 ligaments — thankfully nothing was broken! — which meant that I had to be on crutches for the next 6 weeks, wearing one of those sexy black boots. I never realized just how painful a sprain is, and how insanely difficult it is for a mother to try and do just a few basic things around the home while hobbling around on crutches. Man! I’m so thankful for great friends who brought meals and helped out in other ways. I couldn’t have made it through without them! I was also thankful that I sprained my ankle at the end of summer rather than earlier — not that it’s ever really a good time, but hey.

Phew, if you got this far, you’ve done really well! Now just to catch up on autumn…

Random thoughts

The last couple of months have looked a little different to our usual routines. I’ve had a relapse of the Epstein-Barr virus which wiped me out but I seem to be feeling a fair bit better the last week or so; Ben’s been looking at different job options and has had multiple interviews with several different companies (no decision yet, though). Summer is upon us (hooray!) and I’m getting less and less inclined to do anything that resembles regular duties around here. The combination of the above three things have made for a rather unusual and unpredictable spring.

The girls are all doing well — in good health and spirits (most of the time), for which we’re thankful. Marica and Esther are now both voracious readers, and Laurelin, like a typical youngest sibling, wants to do everything they do. I wouldn’t be surprised if she starts reading at 3 — and not because I’m pushing her!

We’ve got 1 more week of homeschooling before we stop for the summer. Marica and I are looking forward to the break. Esther would like to do school all the way through! I’ve enrolled Laurelin in a preschool for 3 mornings a week starting in July. I’m hoping this will help the two older girls and me get some more focused schoolwork done.

I planted a veggie garden in the spring. It’s been really satisfying to see things sprout and grow. I keep going out there and thinking I should go get my camera to document it… but I haven’t. Gardening is such a nice chore, especially when you get to eat the fruit of your labor. We’ve had quite a few nice salads and herbs already, and look forward to a good crop of tomatoes, beans and more.

Politics is of course one of those topics that you can’t get away from these days. The general sentiment among the people I mix with is one of despondency — having to choose between bad and worse does not fill one with warm fuzzies. My main thought through all this has been: “How did it get to this?!” Ben and I have really appreciated this article written by Andrew Sullivan for New York Magazine that basically answers that question. It’s long, but well worth the read.

This summer is promising to be a lovely one. We’re looking forward to another Hoyt reunion in Georgia; a trip to Tennessee for cousin Hannah’s wedding; a trip to Vermont; several visitors — Ben’s parents, his brother and family, cousins, and some friends; the girls are all doing some sort of ‘summer camp’ — Marica to an overnight one, Esther to a daytime art camp, and Laurelin is doing a special programme at her new preschool. Add to that a plan to have many relaxing days at our friends’ pool, playdates with friends, picnics, ice pops, an abundance of summer fruit and sprinkler fun, and we’ve got ourselves a great summer to look forward to!

And on that note, if the posting on here becomes a little sporadic over the next few months, just imagine I’m trying to learn what ‘relax’ means again after a busy year. (Truth is I’ll probably be trying to get all the things done that don’t get done during the year like clearing out trash drawers and mending clothes and planning school for next year. But those things, when done, bring a certain kind of satisfaction that helps the whole relaxing thing!)

Beautiful autumn

I have a love-hate relationship with autumn. I love all the beautiful colors, the  cooler weather and the fun things the season brings like apples, cinnamon, pumpkin pie and hot chocolate. But… autumn is the start of a long cold spell that only keeps getting worse for about 5 months before it starts getting better!

But let’s focus on the positive instead and let me show off the pretty colors in our neighborhood and some cute pictures of the kids!

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Ben enjoying our rope swing (it’s great for kids AND adults!)

We took a field trip to a pick-your-own farm about an hour’s drive from our home where we had loads of fun (blog post to come), and picked some apples. Some of them turned into yummy apple pie. Can’t really go wrong there!

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One afternoon after church, the light on the porch was just so pretty, and when Laurelin sat down on a pumpkin and started playing with the little pumpkins, I just ran to grab my camera and snapped a few shots. This was before the squirrels started attacking our pumpkins, making them look like the apples my kids start eating and then leave lying around the house: a bunch of bite marks, but no real attempt at finishing what’s been started.

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Our new place

I thought it’s about time I showed you a photo of our new place. We moved in Memorial Day (with the help of some amazing and hard-working friends), and have managed to unpack all the boxes. There are still lots of little odd jobs to do around the place before we’ll be completely “settled”, but for now life can carry on again. Homeschooling has started again (though scaled back a bit for the summer). I still feel a bit like I’m on a treadmill that is going a little too fast and I’m going to fall on my face very soon, but it hasn’t happened yet, and so long as I keep plugging away at the ever-growing to-do list I might just avoid the face plant.

I love this house! It’s lovely and cute, we’ve got a yard, it’s beautiful and comfortable, in a great area, and great for hospitality (we even have a proper guest room now, so come visit!).

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We are so incredibly thankful for this house. I said to Ben the other day that if we hadn’t lived in our little shoebox under the stairs in Brooklyn first,

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and then in not-so-charming Jersey City,

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we just wouldn’t have appreciated this house. And so we are not only thankful to God for this house, but also the journey He took us on to get here. While I know we won’t be here in the long term, it’s good to have a place of our own to call home at least for the next few years.

Some nice things

I like autumn. It’s not so hot, there are pretty colors everywhere, and the change of season brings all sorts of nice things like warm slippers and hot drinks, nice decorations and good smelling candles, and fun kids’ crafts…

I changed up the decoration on my buffet and put 3 cute little pumpkins on it, and they just make me happy with their cuteness.

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Earlier this month we made some coconut and orange zest shortbread, which tasted just lovely, and was fun to make with the kids.

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The shortbread goes quite nicely with a cup of pumpkin spice latte. (Make a cup of strong coffee, blend it with a cup of milk, a couple of tablespoons of pumpkin puree and about half a teaspoon of cinnamon, with a dash of nutmeg.)

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Another nice thing around here is that there is only one alien left among us, yours truly. The girls got their US passports in the mail and now officially have dual citizenship.

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Recently I realized that with the colder weather Laurelin will need her duvet out, which I then realized I didn’t have a cover for. So I rummaged in my fabric stash and combined 3 fabrics and some ribbon that were all actually intended for other projects in my mind, but combined perfectly to make this cute cover.

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If your daughter asks you for french toast…

If your daughter asks you for French toast, then you’ll be tempted to just say ‘no’. It’s a weekday, after all. But then you’ll remember that you want to be more of a ‘yes’ parent than a ‘no’ parent. So you’ll say yes.

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If you say yes, then you’ll remember that you have half a bag of frozen berries in the freezer that isn’t great for smoothies because all the raspberries and blackberries make for a very seedy (literally, not figuratively) smoothie. So you’ll turn the berries into a sauce for the french toast.

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If you make berry sauce for french toast, it will be so delicious that your 1-year-old will want to eat lots of it. She’ll like it so much she’ll smear it all over her hair too, so that her hair won’t miss out on the yummy sauce.

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If her hair doesn’t miss out on the yummy sauce, she will be a sticky monster. The sticky monster might ask you for some french toast!

(And sticky baby monsters are very, very cute.)

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If you know the book If you give a Mouse a Cookie you’d understand the reference of this post. :-)