Saturday, September 29, 2012

Simplicity . . .

It seems like we're always striving for a balance of simplicity mixed with worthwhile activities in our family.  Sometimes I think, "We're too busy; there's too much going on."  And then other times I think, "I participated in more activities by this age than Anna has. . . is she doing enough?"   Are other families out there worried about the balance?  Am I the only one who doesn't want the kiddos very busy with extras (now or in the future)?  A lot of Anna's friends are already involved in SO much . . . they have some activity/practice/event every night.  Some kids and families thrive on that, I'm sure, but I'm not one of those people.  I love the relaxed downtime at home.  I think it's been on my mind alot because last weekend we had NOTHING on our schedule.  Which is rare.  And I loved it.  (We did have our regular 3 hours of church on Sunday.)   It was a great, low key weekend. 

There are so many good things to participate in; how do you choose?  We want our kids to be involved and develop their interests, but we also want to keep life simple with plenty of time that isn't completely structured or planned out with activities.  Anna just started first grade and so far she's done a year of ballet, a handful of "College for Kids" (science based awesomeness on Saturday mornings at NMU . . . love that she's so in to science stuff!), and swim lessons.  Last school year she didn't really do any official extras and that was mainly my fault because Caleb was so complicated, and also because of the whole house buying/fixing/moving thing.  Although I think if it was up to Anna, she'd want to join and try out everything.  Such a social butterfly.  This school year for Anna, we're considering a session of gymnastics at the YMCA (they're usually 6-8 once a week lessons), one more round of swim lessons in the spring, perhaps soccer next summer?, and Anna really wants to try out for the youth musical The Little Mermaid.  We'll see.  We're just going to let Ben do the preschool thing since that's going great for him, plus he's little and we don't want to overwhelm him.  Maybe next summer he'll choose a summer session for a sport at the YMCA or maybe he'll try out swim lessons? 

I know it's going to get more complicated the older everyone gets, which is why I want to always be aware and consider.  Anyway, enough rambling about what's been on my mind lately.  Speaking of down time, here are a few fun things we've been up to as a family at home.  Enjoy the randomness:

We had a dance party one night before bed with some glow stick glasses.  The videos Ethan took turned out cool and dark with little glowing figures moving all around.  Glowing or not, the kids love Ethan's dance parties!  :)  (And Caleb is a pretty cute little dancer . . . or more of a bobber, really.) 

This past Wednesday Anna had a half day, and we wanted to make it special since she isn't usually home with us in the afternoon.  During Caleb's nap, we got out our Fall/Halloween decorations and put them up, did a little sticker/paper plate craft, had some yummy hot chocolate, and snuggled up and watched a movie.  When Caleb woke up, we played out side in the brisk, sunny weather and collected fall nature stuff for a future project.  I LOVE fun, simple days with all my kiddos home. 

Anna sometimes gets to stay up a little later than her brothers.  We usually put them all in bed at 8pm, and tell Anna she can read for a little bit - til 8:30 or 9pm.  This night she talked Ethan in to having some Frosted Flakes with her, and looking through one of their favorite books - People by Peter Spier.  (Awesome book, totally recommend it.)  We love working in little moments of alone time with the kids.  They're so much more enjoyable when they're all split up.  :) 

So, speaking of alone time, Benjamin came into our room around midnight a few nights ago.  He never ever gets up in the middle of the night - he's usually the first to fall asleep and the first to get up (around 7:30am) and he's out like a light in between.  So we were surprised to see him, and enjoyed the snuggles, but were a little curious what the story was.  Well, earlier before bed, Ethan had shown Anna and Ben a small part of The Avengers movie we'd rented because Ben is obsessed with super heroes.  Well, apparently it was too much for little Ben-Ben.  He needed to hold his momma's hand and talk about how the movie was just pretend.  Sweetness.  Then he went right back to bed 15 minutes later. 

These pictures of Caleb J. are on here because my  last post had many photos of the older two on their first day of school.  So, it's his turn, and I love how they captured my sweet potato's personality.  I've really been enjoying my alone time with the chubbs, although it does seem to go quickly.  (Ben goes three mornings a week for three hours.)  And it doesn't seem to be quite as much of a break as I was picturing, since my almost 2 year old is always moving from one thing to the next and is still in the pretty time consuming phase - diapers, snacks, messes, active . . . you know, typical toddler stuff.  But like I mentioned in the last post, Cabers usually watches a movie for about an hour of that time, so I have a little bit of time to get stuff done.  And as for the rest of the morning - it's fun going on various outings with Caleb (although a little painful lugging him around :), but my favorite mornings are just hanging out at home, playing in his room or down in the basement family room, and trying to get him to TALK. 

Final pics - these kind of go along with what I've written about in this post - loving family time at home.  I think the only picture I've put on the blog of the entire outside of the house was last winter when we moved in . . . and I think the house looks even cuter surrounded by green of the leaves and grass and plants instead of snow.  hehe.  I didn't get any pictures this summer when everything was blooming in the front.  Next year.  These pictures show that one of our trees in the back is already changing color . . . and the photo doesn't come close to capturing the beautiful, vibrant red!  I see it out both of my kitchen windows whether I'm sitting at the table or doing dishes at the sink.  We see the beautiful colors from our big bedroom windows too, since they overlook the backyard.  Oh my gosh, it makes me so happy. 

I've said it in multiple journal entries before, but I'll say it again - I LOVE our house's location.  It's right in town and so close (walking distance) to so many things, but surrounded by beautiful woods in the back.  Perfection.  This is our first Autumn in the new house, and I am loving it. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Back to School . . .

The beginning of September, Anna started 1st Grade, and a week later Benjamin started preschool.  Oh my babies!  It has been such a smooth transition for both of them, and I am SO grateful.  I had worries that going all day, every day (instead of half time for kind-y-garten) for Anna would be a hard adjustment . . . and just too much.  And you may recall that Ben tried preschool last year, and it just didn't click . . . so I was concerned about this second go for him.  Well, we're in to week 3 with Anna, and she recently said out of the blue, "Now that I go to school all day, it goes by quicker."  Yay!  I was concerned the days would drag by for Anna, but no.  And Ben-Ben was so excited to go to preschool today for "sharing day" (like show-and-tell).  I was concerned that he would just not enjoy preschool again this year, and that's not the case.  So happy for my little munchkins.   

Anna likes her teacher, likes that she gets homework sheets sometimes in 1st grade, is making new friends, and gets to walk home from the bus stop all by herself.  (It's a block away . . . and I watch from the front yard still, even though she doesn't want me to.  hehe.)  I feel like Anna is gone at school so much, but the boys must still be time consuming enough because I don't have too much time to dwell on missing her.  Which is a good thing.  Oh my, she's growing up!

Benjamin did not have any crying moments, asking me not to leave, or hard transitions for preschool this year.  Whew!  One year older must make a big difference, and I think it's also going well because he is attending a fantastic preschool, and has great teachers!  His main teacher said that he's warming up, shares during circle time, and plays with the other kids, but that he's one of her quieter boys.  Ha - not at home!  Ben hasn't said he doesn't want to go (a good sign!), and almost seems like he looks forward to the three mornings a week he has preschool.  And he's already telling me about lots of things he's learned at school.  Woo hoo!

And then there was one (Caleb).  The older kid's school schedule leaves me with alone time with the babe for 3 hours, 3 mornings a week.  What do we do with all that one-on-one time?  I talk to him.  A lot.  I didn't realize how overpowering Anna and Ben's noise, questions, and conversations were until they were both gone.  Ah, the quiet.  And it seems like Cabers is becoming more communicative now that his noisy older siblings are gone.  Good for Caleb.  We also go to MOMs group things, the library, walks or park, run errands, or just hang out at home together.  Sweetness.

I have loved how the kid's school schedule has made me more scheduled in general.  I get up at about 7:30 because I don't want the mornings rushed.  We initiated "no TV before school" and the kids don't mind a bit.  (We don't have cable or any channels, so really it's "no movie time" before school.)  It makes for leisurely breakfasts with good conversation, and sometimes there's even time for coloring or books after Anna and Ben are all ready.  I've just been feeling more productive since I have to get up and get going.  Anna and Ben go to school at 9am (Ben only goes three days a week, and I pick him up at 12pm). 
After they're gone, I let Caleb watch one movie in the morning (the ones he likes are about 45 min - to an hour) so I have some time to get stuff done - laundry, computer, clean, whatever.  (If it's a morning Ben's home too, he chooses something to play with, since it's not his "TV time")  After that, we do something fun together for a few hours until lunch (either we have something to go to, or we do our own thing).  Lunch, chatting and nap time for Caleb around 1pm.  During Caleb's 2+ hour nap I have Benjamin entertain himself for half the time (he usually chooses this to be his TV time), and then I do a game or craft or something with Ben the other half.  So I have another hour to myself.  Yay!  I usually prep for dinner during that time, or clean up lunch, or eat my own lunch (I don't typically have time to feed myself during the boy's lunch), or fold, or if I haven't used the computer in the morning, I'll typically do it then.  And, if I'm being honest, sometimes I just relax some too. 
Then Anna comes home at 4pm, and I spend some time with her while the boys play; help her with her homework, get her a snack, chat with her about her day.  And she gets a little TV time before dinner, or time just to unwind.  Then it's dinner around 5:30, family time, and bedtime at 8pm.  Then Ethan and I have 3 hours to ourself.  Ahhh.  I know it seems simple, but this little schedule makes me happy.  I love it.  AND I don't feel completely exhausted in the evenings now . . . so I'm actually starting to work on my endless list of projects again.  Oh, and I've been going to bed at a decent hour too.  Having a regular sleep schedule is something I've always struggled with (I always want to stay up later to enjoy my kid-free time a little longer), but it's been working well so far this school year.  I typically do 11:30 ish - 7:30 ish.  And do I dare admit that during the summer I had gotten in the habit of letting the older two watch TV every morning when they woke up (around 7:30), and I'd sleep/lounge until Caleb woke up around 9am.  This new schedule feels so much better, I hope I keep it next summer too!  Ok, enough with the specifics . . . it's just new and exciting for me, and for such small changes, it makes a world of difference.  I hope we keep it up.  :) 

Well, starting school was a biggie for us for September, but I should mention we had a fun Labor Day weekend as a last hoorah before school started.  The kids slept in a tent in the backyard with Grampa Dew, then we all made a big, yummy breakfast together the next morning.  We hiked Sugar Loaf Mountain later in the day.  And we went out to the Johnson's Beach for a Labor Day picnic and swimming.  Another big event of the month has been our niece Charlotte's baby blessing.  It was a sweet, touching day.  (But I don't have any pics of it. :(  Oh, and another biggie - Ethan took a week off of work, and it was awesome!  It's just so nice to have him around, helping out.  It made the first week of school an easier transition, and he got to be more a part of all the excitement.  And he loves extra time with the kiddos.  Ethan was determined to become Caleb's favorite during his week off, but it didn't quite happen.  :)  However, Eth's back started hurting that week as he mainly took care of Caleb, and my back/shoulders felt better than they had for awhile.  Hm, curious.  (Um, Caber McChubby Pants would be to blame.  hehe.)  Anyway, such a fun week.  Can't wait for his next vacation time.  (So far in his first year, we've only taken vacation days to work at the house, move in to the house, and a few for out of town long weekends, oh and a couple for Eth to go to Scout Camp.  It was so great having a week with Eth just hanging out at home!)   

The rest of the month has mainly been random activities we try to work in in the evenings.  We've had a lot of rainy weather this September, so we've been reminded of our typical "winter activities" (indoor activities) lately:  running around at the Dome, walking around the mall, library, playlands, etc.  We've worked in a couple walks and parks too, in between the rain, but it's definitely evident that winter is a'coming.   Which is fine.  I love the fall.  Love the cool, brisk weather.  Love the smells and the colors.  Love the clothes I can start wearing again now that I'm not so hot all the time.  Love the coziness.  Love taking the kids to watch the home football games down the street.  Love snuggling in the morning because we're actually cold.  Love the kids getting excited for Halloween.  Love it all.  So, happy fall to you all!  

Anna's first day of First Grade.  It was a beautiful, sunny morning, and Sweet Pea was excited to go.  AND she saw her cutie friend, Kate, at the school.  Adorableness.   (Side note:  This is Anna's favorite outfit right now, that she picked our herself.  Her style icons are currently Eloise, Madeline and Fancy Nancy . . . from the kid's books.  So, fanciness, knee highs, and prep school are Anna's thing right now. :)  

Ben's first day of Preschool.  Another beautiful, sunny morning, and Ben-Ben was excited to go too.  (Side note - My dad called on the first day of both and said, "Where do I need to be?"  I think Grampa Dew got used to helping send off the kids the last  two years.  It was nice to have him and my mom share in the excitement though.)
Cabers had to wear these OshKosh overalls that are Ben hand-me-downs before he outgrew them.  They baaaarely fit.  Cute, little farmer. 
I don't typically take pics of the kiddos when we're walking around the mall, but wanted to photo document one of our go-to activities for when the weather isn't nice.  We walk around, they climb around on the rides, we window shop, and Eth always buys a little bag of Jelly Bellies from Sakley's.  But this time, Benjamin actually got something - a Mario lunch box!  He doesn't take a lunch or anything with him to preschool, but this will be for next year.  Since we were a few weeks into the school year, this $20 lunch box was on sale for $5.  Love a good deal!  

Labor Day weekend, my dad had a tent sleepover with the kiddos in the back yard.  They loved it.  And the second pic is bright and early Saturday morning snuggles with Grampa Dew.  Cute.  Then we all made a big, yummy breakfast together.   
Sugar Loaf Mountain!  We hiked this on Saturday morning, Labor Day weekend.  I took lots of pictures, and couldn't narrow them down.  I love this picture - Caleb is pointing to the water and complaining.  It just looked close to him, he didn't understand why we didn't just walk over and go swimming.  hehe.
At the top!  Grampa Dew with the grandkids on the hike, and Anna and Ben celebrating making it to the summit.  (And every doggie they saw, they had to ask if they could pet, of course.) 
Taking in the views.  It was a little stressful making sure none of the kids fell off the mountain, but we all survived. 
We had a picnic lunch at the top, and this was the only tiny piece of shade the kiddos could find, so they huddled together. 
Caleb, finishing up his lunch after everyone else was done.  Such a good eater.  hehe.
We all took turn carrying the toddlers.  We did try to let them walk some, but they kept trying to explore.   Cutie cousins. 
We made it!

Ending with some randomness.  Benjamin still loves dress up - knight/pirate/koala combination above.  (All the kids love the dress up box, really.)  And the final pic is Anna looking through a Where's Waldo before she goes to school.  I had to throw in a pic to document the new schedule.  :)  Also, I think that Anna and Ben knowing that they get to color or look at books once they're all ready for school helps them get ready quickly.  Nice bonus.  I may not post quite as often these days, but the posts sure are looooong.  hehe.  Ok. Done.