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. :-)

Why I quit Facebook (for now)

Disclaimer: this is simply my reasoning for giving up Facebook for the foreseeable future. I’m not saying any of this to make you feel like you should quit Facebook too.

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I thought I’d give a bit of an explanation to those who might be interested on why I deactivated my Facebook account 3 months ago (since a few people have asked).

Giving up Facebook was a decision that did not come to me easily. And I should probably say right from the get go that I’m not necessarily quitting forever. I really like Facebook. I like scrolling down the news feed and seeing what people have been up to, checking out their photos and reading some of the interesting articles they’ve linked to. I really miss that feeling of connectedness — showing someone that I’m interested in their life, even if it’s just with a simple ‘like’. I really miss the fact that I now don’t know when someone’s had a new baby, or got a new job, boyfriend, or girlfriend; I can’t see people’s wedding photos or their cute videos; I don’t know what people are thinking through the articles they’re posting. I’ve had withdrawal symptoms, where I’d sneak onto Ben’s Facebook account, until I asked him to change his password so I can’t do that anymore! I had become somewhat addicted… Going cold turkey on Facebook was harder for me than I thought it would be!

For months, I had a growing sense of unease with how much time I was spending on Facebook. It’s not like I was spending hours a day (or even an hour!), but since starting homeschooling, my time has become incredibly limited. I have precious few hours left in a day that aren’t taken up with homeschooling, or with preparing, eating and cleaning up meals, or just trying to keep this place looking half sane. And then I’d waste it by zoning out on Facebook?

I think part of the temptation for me to zone out on Facebook is that I’ve been so tired for months and I seem to just not have the self-control to handle it at this point in my life. It’s so much more beneficial to me to take a 20 minute nap than to zone out on Facebook for 20 minutes!

Tying into being tired: I was also concerned with the kind of browsing I was doing. Nothing about it was deliberate. It was the kind of aimless scrolling and browsing you do where you retain maybe 10% of what you read. I might be reading interesting articles, but in reality I was actually just skimming them. I was escaping reality and zoning out. Doing that in front of a T.V. makes you look like a slob; zoning out in front of a computer makes you look important. You can say something like “Mamma is busy on the computer right now” and it sounds like I’m doing something worthwhile.

Facebook’s nature makes it very easy to spend 2 minutes or 2 hours on there. With the result that I could quickly check it for 2 minutes on my way to the bathroom, get distracted and actually spend 10 minutes instead. And this might be right during a school day. If a friend knocked on my door uninvited at 10am and said, “I’ve come to show you my holiday photos!”, I’d invite them in, but politely explain to them that I’m in the middle of schooling my kids and that her photos would have to wait. Then why on earth do I think it’s legitimate to do that on Facebook? Somehow, somewhere along the track I lost the sense of how absurd my Facebook usage was.

All this has gotten me thinking more about how I want to live deliberately. I don’t want to be zoning out and wasting hours of my life that I will never get back. I want to think carefully about what is worth spending time on or for. I want to be present in body and mind for my children.  I want to remember that spending time on people is more important than spending time on things. I want to consciously be able to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to things that will enrich the lives of my family. Interestingly, that means cutting out more and adding in less. For me, that meant cutting out Facebook for now, so that I could be more present. I’m making some other changes too, and need to make many more. But it’s a start.