Our Jim Thorpe Getaway

Several weeks ago our family squeezed in a mini vacation. We were looking for something that was just a couple of days, very low key, and not far away. Jim Thorpe was an area we’ve been meaning to explore, so we decided to head there this year. Here are a number of pictures taken while we were there:

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Our first stop was to Hickory Run State Park. One attraction there is this huge boulder field. It’s a great workout to work your way any distance across this jumble of boulders, though I did wonder how many broken ankles and twisted knees it has claimed. Don’t worry, we came through unscathed!

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Our next stop was a hike to Hawk Falls.

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The last thing we did at Hickory Run was a trail called “Shades of Death.” It was my favorite!

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Despite the name, this trail had lots of beautiful sights to behold. It was slightly challenging, but well worth it.

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It was the perfect way to end our adventures at Hickory Run.

After a fast food supper, we stayed overnight at a Holiday Inn Suite. Actually, we stayed both nights there and had a great experience. The free breakfast was probably one of the best I’ve ever had at a hotel. Lots of hot foods and even a pancake machine, which my gang was kind of fascinated with. For this big family, it was well worth it. The free hot breakfast, along with a packed lunch and snacks meant we just had to buy dinner out.

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The next day brought us to the actual town of Jim Thorpe. We first stopped at the Jim Thorpe Memorial, which is where I took this cool statue pic.

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Next we went to town, which is pretty and has plenty of neat architectural building details. There were a bunch of cute little shops and such, but traveling with a pack of boys was not conducive to my checking out “cute” shops. So…we were in the town for maybe 55 minutes and they were itching to leave. Nice, huh? (This Real Family Vacation moment brought to you by the Craig family! You’re welcome.)

Oh well, our next stop was enjoyed by all.

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Our next destination was the No. 9 Coal Mine.

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I was able to get about zero good pictures within the mine, but I can tell you that we all learned a lot and enjoyed our time there. Our tour guide, Larry, was hilarious and made it even better. My take-away was that I would never, ever want to work in a coal mine.

This next picture was from the museum portion of the tour.

I think the sign says a lot, don’t you?

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After the mine we stopped at Lehigh Gorge State Park, which boasts a gorgeous waterfall trail called Onoko Glen Falls. This sign is what we first saw once approaching the trail. A little disconcerting, especially while hiking with kids, but we pressed on.

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Onoko Glen was SO beautiful, though And we didn’t die. Or fall. Or anything like that.

This is a shot looking down some of the falls.

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My photos do absolutely no justice to this place. In person I found it breathtaking.

We wrapped up our day by stopping at a Butterfly Sanctuary and eating at a fabulous Italian restaurant. The third day we were planning to drive to Ricketts Glen State Park and do some hiking and exploring, then head home in the late afternoon/evening. However, a very ugly forecast (which included extreme thunderstorms/hail/etc.) for the whole area convinced us to pack it in and head home early.

Well, that’s it for this trip. Next year we seriously hope to travel out west, specifically looking at Zion National Park and a few others in that vicinity. I am super excited for this to possibly finally happen!

Dear Kiddos…

Dear Kiddos,
We are only a couple of days away from a brand new school year. Are you excited?!? I kind of am, though a quiet house will take some getting used to again. I enjoy it, but boy am I glad to see that bus roll up in the afternoons! It’s not the same without you here.
I can’t believe you’re all as old and as big as you all are. I am blown away that this will be the last year our family will have kids in elementary school… AND that we have not one, but TWO in high school!! And yes, once again I am writing you a letter to prep you for a new school year. Bear with me please. I’ll keep it short and sweet this time.

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First, I’d like to remind you to be kind and respectful to each one of your teachers. There will be some that you love and some that probably won’t be your favorites. You know this already. Each one is to be treated with the utmost kindness and respect. Teachers have one heck of a tough job these days, so please do your best to brighten their day. Look for ways to help them out in any way you can. You have no idea what a big influence you may have on them!
Try your absolute best, even if you have a subject that doesn’t come easy for you. We are at the point where you older guys are required to take some subjects that may not be such a piece of cake. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! A teacher would rather you ask for help than see you struggle and not admit that you need a bit of help or need something explained in a different way. Dad and I are always here for you, in whatever way we can assist. Yes, we are old and our school days are long past, but we’re not total dummies either. Please don’t forget that we are always on your team and are cheering you on.
Now onto your classmates. Oh boy, what can I say? Pretty much what I always have, and that is to be a little light to everyone around you. Treat others the way you’d like to be treated. It’s very cliché but oh-so-true. Boys, respect the young ladies around you and be good role models. Act like the godly young gentlemen we have strived to raise you to be. Daughter, continue to be a godly young lady. We are SO glad that you all don’t try super hard to “fit in.” It’s not worth it. Be who you are, but more importantly, remember WHOSE you are. No matter what.
You guys are awesome. We are so stinking proud of each one of you. I pray that you will all have a great school year! Dad and I are here for you.
Love you all SO much.
Mom

****To read the letter I have posted the previous two years, click here.

Textile Lovin’

Here’s a little update on what I’ve been working on lately….

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I’ve been digging through my fabric stash and creating pictures with them.

This farm scene was my first attempt.

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The clothesline with “quilts” was a last minute inspiration, but really my personal favorite part of this piece. I was going to do a garden at that spot, but couldn’t bring myself to actually sew it on there. It just wasn’t quite right.

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My second piece was this sweet little cottage scene. Little is not the correct word though—it is actually quite large, measuring over 16″ by 20″.

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Vintage yo-yos discovered at a yard sale make perfect flowers, especially with a sweet button sewn onto the middle.

My favorite part of this scene is the little fox curled up in his den at the corner. (Or you could call it a cat, it sorta looks like one!)

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Part of why I enjoy making these is using up such a variety of fabrics. It is a good excuse for my fabric hoarding I guess! I love finding just the right piece of fabric, ribbon, or trim for a certain area. Some are newer materials, but I use a LOT of vintage finds, which I really love!

My next attempt was based on a real place, not a made up one.

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For this one I loosely based it on a picture of the Bass Harbor Lighthouse in Maine.

A variety of corduroy and wool tans and browns create the rocks. If I had to redo this one I would make the sky a tad bit brighter blue.

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The last piece I finished represents the Bodie Island Lighthouse in North Carolina.

I don’t *love* this one as much, it’s just kind of okay for me.

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As each one has been rather large, I decided to scale down a bit. Pictured above is a piece I just started. Nothing is sewn on yet, just pinned down. Typically I pin a bunch of possibilities down and edit from there. Here I am recreating a scene from the Jordan pond area of Acadia National Park. I have a lot of work to do on it yet, but I wanted to show a bit of my creative process.

First I usually sketch out a rough idea, then begin to pull fabrics that may work. I strive to not only use color schemes that work, but to incorporate lots of texture too.

Not a single one ends up exactly like what I originally envisioned, and that’s okay…sometimes it turns out even better.

So there you have it, this is what I’ve been working at lately! This is fun for me and I so enjoy the creative process in this. This is how I unwind!

A New Artist in the Family

The last time you’ve heard from me, I gave an update on the new job situation with my husband. If your recall, he began work at a fancy wood place. They import specialty hardwood lumber from literally all over the world, then sell it to artists and craftsmen who seek out such material for furniture and many other projects.

I have to kind of laugh sometimes when people assume that I’m the “artsy” one in the family. Sure, that’s my gig and I love it. I sometimes say that I can’t NOT make stuff, it’s just how I weirdly operate.

Well, though I kind of knew it before, there’s another artist in the family, and it’s definitely not me….

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You see, my guy has been making these beauties.

Lots of fabulous vases, all made of highly figured woods.

The neat thing is these were all either dug out of the rubbish bin, or purchased from the bin of stuff that is all basically “off-cuts,” end pieces of wood that are a size/shape that is not optimal for selling.

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So he takes these cast-offs, uses their natural shape, and turns them into something gorgeous (and useful). Some are fairly rare woods, like the one pictured above. Koa grows only on one island in Hawaii. (This was a spalted piece of Koa with other figure in it too.)

Pretty much ALL of them are super figured, even to the level of what he would call “instrument grade.” Check out this one…

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My pictures truly don’t do them much justice. They are amazing in person.

We just figured out a neat way to mark the bottom with what species of wood they are made from:

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This particular piece is Tasmanian Rose Myrtle, a neat variety from…you guessed it, Tasmania.

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Pictured above is a beautiful piece of Tiger Maple. Check out that striping!!

He left the bark on the back side to add even more interest.

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All have a glass test tube insert for holding water and the stems. Jeff is also experimenting with using interesting bottles as well.

He has enlisted me to be his saleslady, so if you have any interest in purchasing one, we would love to hook you up. You can contact me directly, or I do have some listed on an Etsy site. (I’ll be adding more to Etsy soon.) Each makes a timeless gift, and they are all so unique.

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Place a showy bloom in them and you add instant class to wherever it sits!

 

 

Taking a Different Path, Part 2

I’m back again, this time with Part 2 of our story. (If you haven’t read Part 1 yet, take a minute to do so. That way you can have a clue what I’m talking about!)

I pick up at the point where my husband went to his first ever interview since deciding to leave his job of many, many years. He had been injured that very morning, but went ahead with the interview, and did NOT get the job. Bummer, but we figured it was not meant to be.

Within the next week there was a big meeting to discuss future plans within his company. Since all of the head honchos were there at the same time, he shocked the lot of them by telling them he meant to leave the company, plus some reasons why. Within the next several weeks he was convinced by them to at least stay on through the holidays, which he finally agreed to do (He is truly my better half—he was so much nicer and more gracious than I think I would have been.)

In August we took a big family vacation to Maine. It was truly a time of refreshment for our family, and also the time we sat our kids down and told them what was up. We had a time of honest sharing and praying over the whole situation. I asked Jeff what HE would really like to pursue as a future job, not taking into account wages, benefits, etc. Topping his list was anything involving wood, a longtime passion of his (when we had free time, which was not very often). Other then that he had no one thing that he was honed in on trying.

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Post-vacation, Jeff went back to work, but with a very clear sense that he no longer belonged there. Before we knew it, the holiday season was again upon us, historically their company’s craziest time of year. In the back of our minds was always the question of “what in the world is going to happen to us after this?” However, working oodles of hours doesn’t allow one to complete a job search very well. I watched my husband working himself to death, trying to do a good job and making sure the company was well prepared for his leaving. He would leave super early in the morning, come home maybe by dinnertime, and be sound asleep by 7 pm every night. He was working like a madman and I was feeling like a single parent.

Well, Christmas soon came and I nervously wrote out our situation in our Christmas card letter, asking folks to lift up our family in prayer. At this point he hadn’t applied or sent a resume anywhere else yet, and I started to get very nervous. On January 2, the kids went back to school, but Jeff had a day off. He had by then compiled a list of possible places to apply and I helped him sharpen his resume. Many of them had no job openings listed, but he took a chance and sent or dropped off a resume anyhow.

For the place at the very top of his list, he physically stopped in to drop off a resume. The owner of the company, who often travels, happened to be there and ended up giving my husband about an hour-long tour of their facilities and talking with him. The owner told him they had no openings, but they were thinking about maybe hiring someone else. He took his resume and Jeff came home wound up, excited about this particular place. About two weeks passed and we had no leads, other than one other place that was maybe interested in him. At this point he had already given his company a final date, even though there was not a new job lined up. I remember one day I was feeling incredibly anxious about the whole thing, having no idea what our future held. I was lifting the whole thing up to God, and had a clear comfort from Him: “My daughter, don’t you fret. Trust me. I’ve got this.” Immediately I had a calm that can only be attributed to coming from Him. I laid my trust in Him and recognized that His plan would be revealed in the right time.

In mid-January, Jeff had an unused week of vacation time from the previous year to use or lose. He used it to keep on the job hunt, still not having much luck. That same week he got a call from the wood place he was most interested in. Could he come in for an interview that week? Sure! He went in for the interview and was offered a position that very same day. (Of course, he said he would consult with his wife first before making a decision.) I really felt like he should go for it, and it was set that he would start in February. He went immediately from one job to the other, without any period of unemployment, so that was a huge praise.

Well, that’s the long-winded back story on how my husband decided to leave his career and start completely fresh somewhere else.

How has it been? Well, strange for him to start out as the new guy who knows the least, especially coming from somewhere where he had worked there pretty much the longest and knew all the ins and outs of the company. Great in that he now is home for breakfast with his family every morning, has about a 10-15 minute commute, and has great hours. Oh, and a long mandatory lunch break. We’ve been sneaking little lunch dates at least every other week together. Not so great is a huge initial drop in income and navigating new insurances and the like. I had to learn about COBRA and  rollover benefits and fun little things like that. We’ll survive, it’s just a matter of adapting for awhile. With money we had diligently scraped up and saved, we paid off our mortgage 2 years early, so that’s been a big burden lifted. (Another praise item–one of our kids had an injury needing stitches at the ER. It happened the same week we all became insured again! Thank you Lord that my boy wasn’t hurt worse–and for that timing.) But it’s all been worth it to see my husband not completely burnt out and passionate about learning new things. His new company does some very interesting things and has “interesting” customers that he tells us about at dinner. He now has more time for us and is toying with different wood projects. (Let this shock you–he is now on Pinterest! It’s too funny, actually. Never saw that one coming….)

Thank you to those who have prayed for us these many months. I give God the glory for lining things up the way only He could do, and we are completely trusting Him for whatever the future may hold.

Taking a Different Path, Part 1

I have shared approximately zero about this topic on my blog yet, but today’s the day. Those who know us personally know that our family (well, my husband specifically, but it affects us all!) has undergone a big life change in 2017. My dear man, back in mid-February, chose to leave his career of nearly 28 years.

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Here’s the back story….

Jeff has been a butcher all of his adult life, and for the same company too. He had learned and mastered many different roles within the company and enjoyed his work. It was where we had both envisioned him working until retirement. Back in 2015 he lost a finger–ironically, not at work, but at home on a lawnmower belt. At that time the surgeon informed him he was not to work for 6-8 weeks, as the risk of infection was too great to be handling raw meat and other such things. So, very unexpectedly, my husband was off for a good portion of a summer. At the time, though it was a complete bummer that he was now minus a finger and temporarily out of work and a paycheck, it wasn’t the end of the world, could have been much worse, and I had the strong sense that it happened for a reason. Why, we had no idea, but I really felt like when that happened it was a catalyst for a change of some kind.

He went back to work with gusto at summer’s end and things were basically back to normal. At the end of 2015, after a very stressful holiday season with many long hours, one night he was nearly crying and told me “I can’t go through another holiday season there.” We felt a change coming but had no idea what that was yet, so we just prayed about what that may look like in the next year. He trudged through the beginning of 2016 and worked as normal. I felt the call to begin working part-time and got a job as secretary at our home church.

One evening in July, Jeff was feverishly working on something on the computer. I could see the frustration etched on his face and asked what he was working on. “A resume” was all the response I got. Though I knew this was likely coming, I was still a bit in shock.  He had seen an ad for a wood distribution place that he apparently was interested in and planned to send a resume to. We both slept little that night, tossing and turning and praying. He sent it in and got a call for an interview the next week.

The morning of the interview he went to work early, before anyone else was in yet. As he was pulling out a rolling metal cart out of the smokehouse, it tipped over and landed on top of him, about 1,000 pounds between the cart and the meat on it. I was later sickened when I heard that a metal bar or pipe was firmly lodged right on his windpipe. Miraculously he was somehow able to wiggle out with just some burns on his face and neck, bumps and bruises, and a sore back. (I was also a little ticked that he didn’t tell his wife until late that afternoon!) The poor guy went to a job interview with a bandaged face and neck, a missing finger, and limping badly from his ordeal that morning. He didn’t get the job….

Stay tuned for Part 2, Coming soon!

Making Your Home a Refuge

Refuge. That word has been rolling around in my mind for the last several days. It keeps popping up in my thoughts and, though I have not blogged in awhile, I knew I had to write about it.

Here’s what got me started….

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This building in the picture. St. Paul’s Chapel, New York City, NY.

My daughter and I took a bus trip to NYC this past weekend. We visited a lot of the main tourist spots you would likely think of—Brooklyn Bridge, Times Square, Central Park, and so on. But this place, St. Paul’s Chapel, was one of my favorites. I have no explanation why, other than it felt like a place of refuge to me. It was used as a refuge for many on the day of 9/11, plus for rescue workers in the many months following that tragic day. It was used as a center for rest, meals, sanitation, etcetera round the clock. Entering it for the first time almost 16 years later, I could see why it felt like a refuge. For myself and my daughter, hustling around NYC all day, it certainly felt like a refuge as well. It was beautiful, fairly quiet, and not completely humming with activity.

Since then the word refuge has stuck with me, and since I am a Mom, specifically the question, “am I making my HOME a refuge?” I sure hope the answer is yes. You see, we don’t exactly live in a war zone or anything like that. It may seem like quite the opposite, as we live amongst rural, beautiful farmland in a relatively conservative area. However, we aren’t locked up in our own little world all the time. I have a husband who dutifully goes to work every day, providing for our family. My kids all attend public school, plus are involved in other activities. I work part-time, plus attend to the myriad of details that come with running a household of 7. We certainly don’t live in a bubble.

Here’s why I hope my home is a refuge. The world out there can be tough–for the grown-ups as well as the kids. They need somewhere, after a long day at work or at school, to feel like they can rest, be refreshed, be loved, and not feel bombarded by the world. As my kids keep getting older (funny how that happens, eh?) I see the need for them to have a refuge more than ever. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard one of them say after coming in from school, “Oh, I’m so glad to be home!” Or I’ve heard my husband say, “It’s so good to be home.” This is why I’ve made it a point to be home when my older guys get home. Some of the best and most open dialogues we have had is that first hour after school. This is why I try to have a nice cooked meal (and a hug) awaiting my man when he gets home from work. This is why I try to keep things at least semi-organized and not chaotic feeling. There’s enough chaos out in the world, they don’t need it at home too.

Sure, our house is no showpiece. It won’t be on the cover of Better Homes & Gardens any time soon, and that’s okay with me. My crew is comfortable here and they don’t feel like they live in a museum. My kitchen is not perfect, but it’s well used….like, all the time. I’m not serving up gourmet fare, but no one goes hungry and they all seem to enjoy my meals. We’re not always wearing the trendiest outfits and my kids might wear the same three shirts all season long (their choice), but the laundry is kept after and we’re not in debt paying for superficial things we can’t afford. We’re not perfect parents, or even the perfect husband & wife, but we try our best and try to honor God in what we do.

It’s important to me that each child feels unconditionally loved, secure, and refreshed by coming home. Same goes for my husband. My greatest role is still as a Mom and a wife to these precious ones, even though they aren’t exactly little anymore.

Am I making my home a refuge? I hope so. And I hope yours is too.

 

Handmade Christmas 2016: Fingerless Gloves

Howdy, and welcome back. I hope you have a chance to enjoy this gorgeous fall weather!

Fall is definitely here, so I thought it would be a perfect time to share this wonderful crochet pattern. I have been cranking out different pairs of these cute fingerless gloves as of late.

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The pattern is not difficult, and I think that if you have a just a little bit of crochet experience, you could easily make these. It appealed to me because I am not an expert crocheter and am intimidated by making ones with fingers!

I found this pattern on Red Heart Yarn’s website, and it is free to access and print out.

They would make a super cute, stylish Christmas gift for a child, teen, or adult.

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This particular pair is modeled by my 11 year old daughter, who has been wearing a purply pair of these that I made almost every morning to school!

These beauties don’t use up a ton of yarn, and take maybe 1 1/2-2 hours to make (depending on how many interruptions you have!). Once you make one pair, it’s easy to crochet up some more.

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Great for chilly fall days and the approaching winter cold. The Red Heart website has tons of other cute glove patterns too!

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How We Do Life

I think it’s fascinating how so very different each family is. Their traditions, their way of operating, and just the way they roll. It really got me thinking about how our family does life, how WE roll. Our family is not perfect. No family is. We have numerous flaws, oddities, and times we have to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and vow to do better. We’re all different….and that’s a good thing, isn’t it?

This is how we do life:

God is the center of our home. Everything revolves around that—our marriage, our parenting, everything else.

We say please and thank you. Even Mom and Dad do this, even with something as insignificant as passing the salt. Manners are important and show respect.

Family dinner is a high priority, and we always pray before we eat together. It’s just not the same when we all have to grab something and rush out the door, or when someone is missing. This is where we share about our day, the highs and lows, and just hang out for a time.

We expect good behavior. I am not a yeller–never have been, probably never will be. And no, I wasn’t really into “time outs” when the kids were little. There may have been an occasional swat on the backside when deliberate misbehavior happened. My kids aren’t angels, but they certainly aren’t brats either. I have no explanation for this, other than that they are just expected to behave!

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We love to read. Yes, all 7 of us. There is no secret technique or formula that we used when our kids were little, except that we read to them a lot and they saw us reading for pleasure. It caught on, and it warms my heart to see them all devouring books.

We try not to overschedule ourselves. This is such a balancing act once everyone gets to a certain age, and right now we’re in the thick of it. Each child is in at least one activity. However, we are deliberate about not being too busy and will say “no thanks” to things that will make for an overly hectic week.

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We have a minimum of technology in our house. Seven people, one laptop. No personal Ipads, Ipods, tablets or anything. (Our oldest did get a very basic cell phone for his 15th birthday.) They ask before they use the computer, and if playing games on it, a timer is usually set.

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We try not to be materialistic. We have learned to live on one income, and live well on it. Secondhand clothes are just fine by us, as well as older vehicles and a not-big house. Christmas and birthdays usually are simple. Things aren’t too important, but people are.

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We serve others as best as we can. My husband is the prime example for this and is literally one of the most selfless people I’ve ever known. My parents are also great examples of this. I have become better at this as an adult (I think), but there’s always room for improvement. It is a joy to serve together, especially when it’s something the whole family can do.

Vacation and time away together is important to us. No, they are usually not fancy affairs, but that’s okay. We shoot for one week in the summer, just us, away from all of our usual stresses and things that pull for our attention. We’re not into overly crowded, “touristy” places. Give us a cabin in the middle of the woods somewhere and we are usually happy campers.

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We try to foster curiosity and a love for learning. I would label my husband and I as self-starters, or perhaps “self-motivated” people. We enjoy learning new things and encourage that in our kids. There is currently a continual pile of books on the couch, homemade contraptions or inventions in nearly every room, a plant cart in my living room, and a cricket farm and “lab” in my basement. No, our house is never picture perfect, but that’s okay with me. There’s a lot of love here and I’ll not squelch their innate curiosity. (Though too much clutter and mess does make me crazy.)

We are foodies. Kind of. My husband and I entered marriage in a unique situation—that is, we both knew how to cook. I do the majority of cooking during the week as I am the “at home” parent, and he does some meals on the weekends. We don’t eat out a whole lot as it gets wicked expensive for 7 people! Plus homemade is healthier. We have taught each kid various cooking skills, so hopefully they know how to fend for themselves once they grow up. As I’ve said before, to their future spouses: You’re Welcome.

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We try to be real. It’s interesting that my oldest, now in high school, is so very perceptive of “fake” people. I can’t stand it either, and hopefully I never come across that way. (You have permission to call me out on it if I do! Or slap me.) Like I said earlier, we are real. We are flawed. We are human.

Well folks, that’s how we do life around here. Each family has their own ways, and that’s cool. So now if you suspected that we were weird before, you got your confirmation by reading this!