Monday, July 31, 2017

Mercedes' 7th Birthday Letter

My Dear Sweet Mercedes,

Today you are SEVEN! I am so proud of the person you are becoming. My favorite thing about you is your kind, loving, sensitive heart. A heart that is starting to love Jesus. It's all a mom could ever ask for. This year, we started really digging deep into the Bible. Praying together every morning and every night, and throughout the day. We've had so many great conversations about God, Jesus, the Bible, salvation, sin, Satan, and the world. You are learning to see everything from a Biblical point of view. Your heart is open to all of these concepts. You have accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior and are seeking to love Him, obey Him and learn more about Him. You are starting your relationship with Him through prayer, scripture and worship and it is such a joy and a blessing to see. You are asking how to hear God's voice. You are asking about baptism. You are asking how to read scripture on your own. You are writing in your own prayer journal. You are asking me to find worship songs on Youtube so you can sing to Jesus throughout the day. It's amazing to watch and I love answering all of your questions and helping you figure everything out. I can see the fruit of all you are beginning to learn, understand and believe in your attitude and your actions...in way you love and serve your younger siblings, the way you respect and obey your parents and your teachers and the way you are so open and willing to serve and help in any way you can.




This year, you have really embraced your creativity. You love to bake and help me cook. You watch Master Chef Junior and dream of going to cooking school when you're older. You love to play your guitar. You love to create your own choreography and play "dance recital" with your sister. You performed beautifully at your recent Dazzler Spring Show, and you dream of doing a solo routine as a senior in high school. You love all things arts and crafts. Lately you have been asking to own a pottery wheel and learn ceramics. Whatever you end up doing with your life, I know it will be something creative. I love watching your personality develop and the way you are starting to have strong passions and desires for these things. I love it when you share your hopes and dreams with me.


You are patient, have a long attention span and pay attention to tiny details. The older you get the more I see these strengths show in your artwork and in your dancing. I know they will help you with whatever you set your mind to as you grow.


You love watching YouTube videos of people making crafts and baking, too. You get a lot of your ideas and inspiration from other artists and are always asking to try new crafts and bake new things.


You are such an amazing big sister. You play with your little sister all the time. You call each other "twins" and "best friends". You share all your clothes and all your toys. I love watching your relationship grow stronger and I pray you always feel this way about each other. You are also a wonderful sister to your little brother. You adore him, and he makes your heart happy. You are more than willing to babysit for me whenever I need you to, especially in the car while I'm driving! You read him books, feed him snacks and make him so happy.


You have taken off reading this year, which will take your ability to learn, dream and create to a whole new level!


You are also very active, even when you're not dancing! You go on long bike rides with your dad, scooter at parks and nature trails, and you are quite the little swimmer and gymnast! You dream of being a gymnastics, dance or swim teacher someday.




You have such a good brain, so many dreams and desires, so many interests and talents, you have so many doors open to you. You could do anything you want and I can't wait to watch you reach your goals and succeed at whatever you decide you want to try. It is such an honor and a privilege to be your mom and watch you grow and thrive.


My prayer for you this year is that you continue to seek God and your relationship with Him through Jesus Christ. I pray that you will start to seek out friendships with kids your age, since this has been a struggle for you, my shy little introvert. I pray that you will put less pressure on yourself to be perfect in school this year, and instead to relax and embrace your mistakes and start to accept that failing to understand something perfectly the first time is just part of the learning process. I thank God for the strong bond you have between me and your dad, and pray that it continues to stay strong. I love that the older you get the more you are willing and able to express yourself, your feelings and your desires, and tell us what hurts your feelings and what makes you feel safe and what scares you and what excites you and what you are passionate about. Open communication is definitely an answer to prayer, as you have struggled in the past with letting yourself open up and be heard. 


You are such an amazing kid. I'm so blessed to be your mom. I am so happy that today we get to celebrate YOU, and I can't wait to find out what this year has in store for you. I love you, sweet girl! Happy Birthday!





Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Emerald's 5th Birthday Letter

My Dear Sweet Emerald,

Today you are FIVE! You are a bundle of happy, goofy, stubborn, compassionate, spunky, helpful, loud, bossy, snuggly and adorable all rolled up into one little girl. You are EXTREME. Whatever you do and whatever mood you are in, you give it 100%. Daddy says you get this from me. You laugh hard, cry hard, scream loud, love big, help tons and you ALWAYS want to be in charge. "Dynamite, Firecracker and Volcano are words that come to mind when describing all that is YOU. And I mean that in all the bad and the good ways. You are not afraid to show off who you are and let your emotions flow, and that is a beautiful quality to have. I remind you that every day and a million times a day you face a choice. To obey God or to walk away from Him. Such a big lesson for a little girl. But sweetie, you are headstrong. Stubborn. Prideful. Independent. You have big ideas and your own mind and you will do or say whatever it takes to make what you want happen. And with those qualities comes the danger that you will choose to walk away from the ones who love you...God, me and your dad...and follow your own path. A path that is not protected by God. So we pray together every day, lots of times a day. We learn about love. We learn about discipline. We learn about consequences. We remember God's promises and we remember His truths. We memorize scripture and we learn stories of people who have both loved God and walked away from Him, in the Bible. We work to build a strong foundation of love and trust and obedience to God and I pray every day that "when you are old you will not depart from it." (Proverbs 22:6). I pray that God softens your heart and you will choose Him every day of your life. 

There are so many things that I love about you, sweet girl, I hardly know where to begin. Your bright blue eyes. Your baby doll face. The way you still want to be held and cuddled. How you tell me you love me a thousand times a day...even when you're in trouble. Watching you play on the playground...and make sure all the big kids are being fair and sharing the slide with the little kids...and watching how all the big kids listen to you! I believe you have a gift as a leader and I love watching you use that gift to be kind and fair to those smaller than you. I love watching you become more independent...making your own peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and fixing your own bowls of cereal. I love the way you play with your little brother. You make him laugh harder than anyone else in the world, with your silly faces, funny noises and goofy games. He adores you. The way you play pretend with your sister. You come up with so many fun games, stories an scenarios to act out. You are so strong...I love watching you climb trees, ride your bike, run as fast as you can and dance! You are so smart...I love reading Bob books with you and listening to you count to 100! You can add and subtract and draw all your shapes. You color me the best pictures. 

I'm not gonna lie, being your mom requires a special kind of patience. And I fail you. A lot. I don't always make the right decisions. I don't always handle your attitude, meltdowns and tantrums the way I should. If I'm going to be totally honest, most of the time I feel like I have no idea what in the world I am suppose to be doing or how to solve all of your problems. But I promise you I'm doing my best. I promise I'm never going to stop praying. I'm never going to give up on you. And I am NEVER going to stop loving you. Even when I'm angry. Even when you hurt me. Even when you scream at me and I scream back. I wouldn't trade being your mom for anything in the world. You are priceless, sweet girl. And I am so thankful you are my daughter. For the good and for the bad. You are a blessing and you are mine. And I thank God for you every day. 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Baby Girl. I am so thankful God gave you to me. 



Thursday, November 17, 2016

Emerald's Kindergarten Books (Year 2)

I cannot keep up with how fast Emerald learns. She turned 4 in May, and at the beginning of the school year we started her 2nd year and 3rd curriculum of kindergarten. Last summer, she learned to read. This school year is really almost too easy for her. Still, she enjoys it and is learning some new things. The rest is review and practice.



Her favorite subject is Bible. We use a book from Christian Liberty Press, which takes her through the Old Testament from Genesis to Ruth. We read one story a day with questions at the end to make sure she was paying attention. Math, phonics, social studies and science are from A Beka. She is flying through these books and has already finished her science book. Health is from Steck-Vaughn School Supply. It was one of the only kindergarten health books I could find. Most homeschool curriculum don't start health until 1st grade, but her sister does health so Emerald wanted to too! Her math and phonics books are not going to keep her challenged or last all school year, so I also bought her Hearts and Hands from Christian Liberty Press. It is meant to be a review book to complete along with their math and phonics books for additional practice. I'm going to have Emerald start it once she's completed the rest of her subjects for the year. We also read Bob Books from the library every day.

It is incredibly difficult for me to keep this girl challenged. She will be more than ready to start 1st grade once she turns 5!

Mercedes' 2nd Grade Books

We are a few months into our homeschool year. Mercedes is absolutely thriving! Last year, in first grade, she wasn't quite reading and writing at the level needed for some of her subjects to be easy for her. Language and Phonics were hard because she was expected to do a lot of reading tricky words and writing sentences so some days were frustrating. Last summer she really took off reading. We went to the library at least once a week to pick out level 1 readers and we sat down and read for at least a few minutes every day. 

By the beginning of the school year she was EASILY reading at level 2 and this has helped a TON with her Language, Letters and Sounds (Phonics) and Spelling and Poetry. She even loves math, which was also very hard for her last year. 


If you ask her, she will tell you that she loves all of her subjects and each one is her favorite. Bible is Christian Liberty Press. She is going through the Old Testament from 1 Samuel to Malachi. We read one story a day, with some questions at the end to make sure she was paying attention. The rest of her subjects are from A Beka. Letters and Sounds, Language, Spelling and Poetry, Health, History and Science. She reads level 2 readers from the library for at least 15 or 20 minutes a day. Ben is teaching her guitar using Alfred's Kids Guitar Course 1 which is the perfect book for young beginners. He gives her a lesson on the weekends and we practice the homework every day during the week. 

10 subjects seems overwhelming, but she doesn't do every subject every day. She does certain subjects Monday, Wednesday and Friday and others Tuesday and Thursday. Bible, Reading and Guitar she does every day. I figured out how many pages she needs to do in each subject every week in order to finish by the end of the school year. Most days she asks to do more than she needs to and we almost always finish the school day by 1 or 2 pm with lots of breaks in between subjects. It helps that she really LOVES her school. This is motivation enough for her to have a good attitude and get her work done quickly.

Homeschooling 2 young girls who are both learning to read while taking care of a newborn and recovering from surgery has definitely been a challenge, but we are doing it and it is amazing. Homeschooling continues to be one of the most rewarding parts of my job as a stay at home mom. I love helping my kids learn and watching them develop a passion for learning. I continue to consider it a joy and a blessing!

Monday, November 7, 2016

Baked Apple Cider Donuts


We have recently discovered a new fall recipe that is absolutely DELICIOUS and my whole family loves. These baked apple cider donuts are super moist and full of flavor. My girls and my husband devour them. They are definitely going to be added to my "must bake at least once during the fall season" list. 

I have adapted this recipe to make it gluten free. The original recipe comes from: thefauxmartha

Ingredients:

Donuts:

3 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup + 2 tablespoons apple cider
1 cup gluten free flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons honey
1 egg

Topping:

3 tablespoons butter, melted
1/4 cup apple cider
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a small saucepan, melt butter. Stir in cider. Let cool. Add sugar, honey and egg and whisk until evenly combined. Whisk flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg in a medium bowl. Stir together wet and dry ingredients. Do not over mix. Add batter to piping bag and pipe into greased donut pan. Bake for 7 minutes. Let cool. Combine melted butter and apple cider. Mix together cinnamon and sugar. Dip donuts into butter mixture and coat with cinnamon sugar mixture.

Makes 12 donuts. 


Wednesday, November 2, 2016

I Loved My C-Section!

Seven weeks ago, my third baby was born. His name is Dominick. He is amazing.



I was more anxious during this pregnancy than when I was pregnant with either of my two girls. I hadn't had a very positive labor and delivery story with either of them. My pregnancy with Mercedes lasted 21 days past my due date, and I was in active labor with her for 53 hours. My labor with Emerald went just fine, but her shoulder ended up getting stuck in my pelvic bone while I was pushing her out (a condition called "shoulder dystocia") and she was in distress when she was born. For the first few minutes after her birth (it felt like forever), several doctors surrounded my little girl trying to get her to breathe. Nobody told me if she was okay or not or if she was going to die...because nobody knew. Besides several bruises and 2 cones on her head, she ended up just fine, but spending several minutes trying to prepare myself for the possibility that my baby might not be alive took a toll on my emotions and I hate looking back on her birth experience and feeling those emotions every time I look at her hospital pictures. After two not so pleasant labor and delivery experiences, it was very hard for me to even consider the possibility of a third child.

When I got pregnant with Dominick and my new midwife reviewed Emerald's hospital records, she told me we might need to consider a c-section. Emerald was 9 lbs 4 oz and Dominick's ultrasounds throughout the pregnancy showed that he would be a bigger than average baby as well. We got several opinions from other doctors and midwives at the hospital and they agreed that a c- section, in my situation, would be less risky than a vaginal birth.

Ever since I started getting pregnant and having babies, c-sections have been a worst nightmare for me. I'd heard dozens of c-section horror stories from people I know personally and from random internet forums. I'm a very natural minded person when it comes to health care, and there is nothing natural about giving birth by surgery. It terrified me. My anxiety through Dominick's pregnancy was horrible. I had nightmares about my upcoming surgery almost every night during the last trimester. It's all I could think about during the day. And I could not keep myself off the internet reading c- section stories, trying to find positive ones. Positive c-section stories are almost non existent online.

Then 3 weeks before my c-section, I ran into a friend I hadn't talked to for a while and told her I was having a c-section. She shocked me by saying "Oh I LOVED my scheduled  c-section! I'm so excited for you!" 2 days before my c-section I was talking to her again. She said, "Are you remembering that I loved my c-section? It was amazing."I held onto those words as I anxiously awaited the last few hours until I had to go into the hospital for my surgery.



I had a HUGE list of things I was anxious about. Most of my fears came from stories about other people's nightmarish experiences. But those stories and my fears ended up the exact opposite of what I actually experienced. 


Fear #1: Not being able to eat or drink for several hours before surgery would make me sick to the point of vomiting.

Reality: I was so excited the morning of my surgery, eating and drinking was the last thing on my mind. I rinsed my mouth out a couple times that morning so it wasn't so dry, but other than that I barely noticed any discomfort. And my stomach was just fine! Thank God for adrenaline. 

Fear #2: They would not be able to get my IV in before surgery. This fear was actually legit because I have small veins and most nurses have to try multiple times to get the IV to stick.

Reality: My nurse was fantastic and got the IV needle to stick on her first try!

Fear #3: The notoriously nasty oral antacid (Bicitra) that they give you on an empty stomach at the hospital would make me vomit...a common story on c-section forums.

Reality: They gave me an antacid through my IV and it wasn't even an issue!

Fear #4: The spinal would make me nauseous and vomit on the operating table, another common c-section thread story. I have a bit of a vomit phobia if you haven't noticed yet.

Reality: The spinal DID make me nauseous and at first I did feel like vomiting, but as soon as I mentioned it to my anesthesiologist, he adjusted my meds through my IV and it took about 10 seconds for my stomach to feel completely normal.

Fear #5: My baby would be taken away from me for hours and I wouldn't get to meet him or bond with him. Or just that I wouldn't get to hold and feed him right away like I did with my girls, which might affect our bonding process.

Reality: As soon as Dominick was born they gave him to my husband who placed him right by my head. I got to kiss him and touch him and smell him, just like I wanted. When I was ready, they cleaned him and weighed him right next to me so I could watch. Then they gave him right back to my husband, who walked next to me as they wheeled me to my recovery room. Once in recovery I got to breastfeed my baby immediately. It all happened so fast and honestly, I was pretty drugged up and happy which probably made the time go by faster. I didn't have an ounce of separation anxiety. It was perfect.


Fear #6 My recovery would prevent me from bonding with or taking care of my baby.

Reality: I had no problem feeding, holding or cuddling my baby even the day of my surgery. My husband and the nurses were amazing and completely accommodating. Someone was always around to help me lift him, change him, swaddle him, or help me to cuddle him in a more comfortable position.

Fear #7: When I got back home, I would not feel well enough to take care of my baby and other two children.

Reality: My husband stayed home for a week and a half after my surgery. By the time he went back to work, I was completely capable of doing what I needed to take care of my kids. Yes, I was sore. Yes, I had to take it easy and let go of my perfectionist tendencies to have a clean house and keep the kids busy/happy/entertained/doing something productive every second of the day. I took a lot of naps with the baby. The girls watched way too much TV. We ate a lot of sandwiches and cold cereal. The girls learned how to fix themselves their own snacks. But it wasn't impossible. It was good. Way easier than I expected.

Having a c-section was a huge blessing for me. My 9 lb 3 oz baby most definitely would have gotten stuck like Emerald did, with possibly a worse outcome...I heard my doctor telling my midwife during the surgery, "This baby is trying to be a shoulder dystocia baby even with a c-section!" because, apparently Dominick's shoulder was stuck in my pelvic bone already and they had to work extra hard and give me a bigger incision than normal to get him out safely. I no longer believe that having a c-section means having a nightmarish birth story. For me, it was the opposite. It was my best birth story. So I want to give the internet a positive c-section story for nervous, anxious mamas to stumble upon as they await their dreaded c-section. I can say with 100% honesty that I LOVED my c-section. It was perfect. And the outcome was a perfectly healthy baby. Which, in the end, is all that really matters.


Monday, August 22, 2016

"Cupcake Shop" (Coin Counting Practice)


Mercedes learned to count pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters in her first grade math book last year. To practice this skill over the summer, we played games like this. The girls set up a "cupcake shop". Emerald was the "baker", and would tell Mercedes a random price for each cupcake. Mercedes would pick which cupcake she wanted, count out the coins correctly and give them to Emerald, who placed them in her play cash register. The girls were not even aware that they were learning. My favorite kind of "school"!




Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Mercedes' Hawaiian Themed 6th Birthday Party


My baby girl just turned 6! She requested a volcano cake and pool party so we decided on a Hawaiian theme. 


Most of the decorations came from my mom's basement. She got them from The Oriental Trading Company for a party she did a few years ago.




Mercedes had a small pile of presents waiting for her when she woke up. An electric guitar, amp and lesson book, a tropical outfit to wear to her party and a few small toys.


I made all her meals festive. This was her breakfast...cinnamon rolls, scrambled eggs and fresh strawberry and blueberry smoothie.


Lunch was all her favorite processed junk food that we never have in the house...chicken nuggets, mac and cheese and hot dogs. And a special novelty around here...apple juice!


We got the idea for her cake from this Nerdy Nummies video. Mercedes made her own video you can watch HERE.




With dry ice, it actually smoked! This was a huge hit at the party.


To go with her cake, we made pink lemonade and rainbow fruit kabobs. The plates, cups, napkins and tablecloth came from Party City.






Everything was super festive and fun. Mercedes had a great day and an awesome party!

Friday, July 29, 2016

Mercedes' 6th Birthday Letter

My Dear Sweet Mercedes,

6 years ago, you changed my world. 6 years ago, you made me a mom. For 6 years I have loved you more deeply than I ever thought possible. For 6 years, you have been my life. You and your sister and your soon to be little brother. But you started it all. You started me being a mom. You were the one that showed me it's possible to love another human being more than I love myself. You showed me that I would happily sacrifice any part of myself if that's what's best for you. You gave me the best purpose for my life, the best reason for waking up every day. You and your siblings. But it started with you.

Being the oldest means I made all my first parenting mistakes with you. I push you harder, expect more of you, ask more of you and have the least amount of fun time to spend with you. You have to share more, work harder, have more patience and more responsibility than any of your siblings will ever have to. I'm not doing it on purpose, I promise. From what I've heard, this is just life as an oldest child. Part of me feels guilty for not being able to raise all my children the exact same way. Part of me feels like being the oldest means you got the bad end of the deal. But then I see you. I watch you interact with your little sister. I see you becoming someone amazing. With a huge heart, tons of patience and a complete willingness to help me whenever I need you. You are responsible, thoughtful, kind, smart, a hard worker, and selfless beyond your age.  I have to think that maybe, maybe being the oldest is good for you. Maybe you are learning lessons that will turn you into an amazing human being. Lessons your siblings won't quite be able to learn in the same way as you can, as the oldest child.

You are truly turning into an incredible little person. I love to try to guess what you will end up doing when you grow up. Whatever it is, I bet it's going to be very creative and artistic. You love all things music. You love to sing, dance and you just requested (and will receive!) your first guitar and guitar lessons from Daddy for your birthday. You love to paint and color. Your new favorite hobby is adult coloring pages. You just completed one that took you three weeks! You have such a long attention span and patience for projects. You also love to bake and film baking videos, and to watch other people's baking videos online. You are also very active and into fitness. You love doing my workouts with me, especially yoga. You are getting so flexible and good at balance! You completed your first year as a part of Dazzler's Christian Dance Team and will start your second year in a few weeks. Over the summer you have been busy with gymnastics class, swimming and riding your bike with no training wheels!

You are beautiful inside and out and I'm so happy that you belong to me. I love being your mom. You make my job so easy and fun. I love you, sweet baby girl. Happy Birthday!

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Mercedes' Summer School (1st Grade, 2016)



Mercedes completed 1st grade last spring. To keep her brain fresh over the summer, we have been checking out Level 1 readers from the library for her to read to me each day. Sometimes she flies through a whole book in one sitting, other times she just reads a few pages a day and the book takes us a week to complete, depending on the difficulty level. Even though they are all Level 1, some are super easy with a single short sentence on each page, simple words that repeat and rhyme, and some are very challenging with full paragraphs of difficult words on each page. I try not to push Mercedes to the point of frustration. I encourage her to read as much as she can handle but not so much that she gets discouraged. We usually end up reading about 15-20 minutes a day. Her favorites are Splat the Cat books and My Little Pony books.

After she reads to me, I reward her by reading a few books of her choice. Ben has started reading the girls chapter books in the evenings before bed, too. Their favorite books of the summer are from the Magic Tree House series. 


The other subject that doesn't get a summer break is Bible. Ben does Bible with the girls after dinner every night. He chooses a Bible story from one of our 4 Bible story books (Biblically accurate Bible stories told at a level a child can understand). He uses "My Good Night Bible by Bean Sprouts, Big Ideas in the Bible by Charles R. Swindoll, The Children's Bible in 365 Stories by Mary Batchelor and Egermeier's Bible Story Book by Elsie E.Egermeier, revised by Arlene S. Hall. He reads a devotional every night out of The One Year's My Princess Devotions, the preschool addition by Karen Whitings,and helps the girls memorize one Bible verse a week from the book I Can Learn the Bible (52 scriptures every kid should know) by Holly Hawkins Shivers. Whenever there are Bible verses to look up in any of these books, Ben uses Mercedes' NIV version Precious Princess Bible by Zonderkidz.

We have also been spending lots of time this summer playing outside, coloring (we are really getting into adult coloring pages lately), painting and doing other crafts, and playing games. The girls' current favorites are Slamwich and Ruckus. We have a pool pass so more often than not we go to the public swimming pool at night when Ben gets off work, and in the afternoons on his days off. The girls are both taking a gymnastics class this summer and love to practice their tricks and make up dance routines every day. This summer is a beautiful balance between physical activities, unstructured play time, arts and crafts and school review.