Friday, February 23, 2018

Bret's Seventh Birthday Letter

Dear Bretsterboy,

You sure have grown up a lot this year! I can hardly believe you're a big 7-year-old now! You really savored all the excitement and special things surrounding your birthday this year. You even made some "Happy Birthday, Bret" signs with big #7's on them to help me decorate! ;)

With a guy you made out of random objects
You are still as busy as ever "making stuff" just about every day. Every package that comes in the mail is repurposed into some sort of creation. You received a roll of duct tape from Grandma & Grandpa for Christmas, and that opened up all kinds of new possibilities for "making stuff." Your creativity is always accompanied by your singing and are one happy kid whenever you're making something, whether it's out of cardboard, paper, or straws; or if you're coloring or writing. Your goal lately has been to figure out a way to make a car that can drive. Sometimes you are just sure you've got an idea that will work, but it always falls through. I have a feeling it is one of those things you think about when you're falling asleep at night. You have quizzed Daddy about how engines work and been assured in no uncertain terms that you will not be allowed to make your own internal combustion engine, which made you decide to start working on an engine that runs with magnets. You're still trying to work out the details on that! ;) In the meantime, Grandma & Grandpa's minivan died and it occurred to you that since it's just sitting there, maybe you could figure out how to fix it and then we would let you have it. Sounds logical, right? So, the main things you wanted for your birthday this year were a watch and a car you could drive in.

This past summer you were very busy catching more butterflies, and capturing all sorts of insects and spiders. You spent an afternoon catching bees with Cody, and somehow you both avoided being stung as far as I could tell (although you had a container of extremely angry bees that you showed me when you were done! Of course, I didn't know what you were up to until you were done doing it!) Another afternoon, you made a collection of garden spiders, looking for the biggest ones you could find! I refused to allow either the bee container or the spider containers reside in the garage like the butterfly and worm containers do! In the late spring/early summer you were always after Daddy to take you to one of the ponds by our property so you could catch little fish with your net. Cody has never been very good at that, but this year he finally got the hang of it. It was a little crushing for you the first time Cody caught more fish than you, but overall you are enjoying having Cody grow up enough to be able to do all the things you can do! You spent a great deal of time this summer building a cornfield. Daddy had told you and Cody that you could dig all you wanted in a designated area. It was somewhat mounded, so you busied yourselves digging for a few days in order to level an area of it. When you realized what a big hole you'd created, you thought maybe you'd make it into your own pond. Unfortunately, despite all the trips you made with pails of water, it always ended up soaking into the ground. Those were some very dirty days. The water just ran brown off of you boys when I got you into the shower! You boys worked so hard and had so much fun! You abandoned the pond idea and returned to the construction of your cornfield. When it was finished, you took some corn from Daddy's pigeon feed and planted it in rows. Then you constructed a fence out of yarn and sticks. You even weeded your field every now and then, and sure enough, you grew some corn! It never got to full maturity as it was too late in the summer by then, but it was gratifying for you nonetheless! You had so much fun this summer at the lake, too! You got brave enough to start jumping in and no you're obsessed with that. You always spend quite a bit of time trying to catch fish, and this year Daddy helped you catch some crawdads. You really liked those! The other kids at the beach were in awe of you and your collection, too. You brought some home and kept them in the kiddy pool in our backyard. Those poor crawdads lived in there for weeks, and you and Cody played with them a lot!

This year you got to play your first organized sports. You LOVED it! Your first few weeks of soccer, you were so excited that you could hardly play. At home, you were great and you played hard; but at your games, you were so excited you'd pretty much just hop around and grin. ;) By the end of the season, you were getting much more focused, though. You and Cody put in a lot of hours playing in our yard against each other and against Daddy. You are very driven to conquer a thing once you begin it! Now you can hardly wait for soccer to start up again! We put you in wrestling this winter, and that has been really fun for you, too. You are becoming pretty analytical, so you love the strategy of learning the moves. I usually have no idea what you're talking about, but you love to tell me about your moves and when you would use them, etc. You were in 3 tournaments this year. The first one, you were kinda out of it because you were sick. But the next two, you won 7 out of your 8 matches, and pinned 4 of your opponents. Then, you love to rehash everything about your matches for the next week. It's pretty hilarious and exhausting, but we love you! ;) You love to FaceTime with everyone you can think of after every game or wrestling tournament so you can hash it over with them, too. (And we're so thankful for your sweet Grammie, Grandma & Grandpa, and Aunts who take the time to listen to you and celebrate with you!)

Winning your first tournament (Amherst) a few weeks ago
Daddy is your absolute favorite person ever. Remember when you were a baby and you would hardly let him hold you? It's like you're trying to make up for lost time now! When Daddy's home, you try to monopolize his every free moment. "Dad, wanna play War cards?" "Dad, wanna play Trouble?" "Dad, wanna play Monkey-in-the-Middle?" Or just trying to instigate wrestling/tickling.

On the other hand, you are still a bit of a mommy's boy. When we hired some babysitters (our first time ever, yikes!) a couple months ago, you were good about it, but you told me the night before that you were going to need me to snuggle with you a lot before they came. ;) You are so sweet!

These days, you and Serena have a complicated relationship. You love to laugh, and find very few things worth getting upset over. She, on the other hand, upsets rather easily (which you find funny). So, we often have opportunities to work on paying attention to when our teasing is no longer funny to the person we are teasing. ;) But, you and she are both quick to brag on each other to other people. And you love to team up on adventures. And whenever Serena gets to go somewhere without you, you make sure she has a sweet little note and picture from you to take along!

You and Cody are the very best of buds. It is hard to even imagine a couple of brothers who enjoy each other more than you two do. When you are in a silly mood, you just have to look at each other and you'll burst out laughing uncontrollably. A large percentage of your days are spent rough-housing with each other, so sometimes I have to enforce "quiet zones" in the house in order to preserve my own sanity. You do almost everything together and look out for each other. Cody's life pretty much revolves around you at this point, and he is content to let you come up with his agenda each day. Now and then, he spends a day playing horses or school with Serena, and then you are a lost puppy because you don't like to play those things. Sure, you could build or make something or do any of the other things you normally do with Cody, but you are the type of person that craves companionship, so you just can't find the same enjoyment in those things when Cody's not there to do it with you.

You make friends easily and love to play, play, play! You love to play with your cousins when we go to Iowa, and consider them among your best friends. But you also have good friends among your wrestling/soccer mates, the kids that you hang out with at the dance studio while Serena is in class and Mommy is teaching piano lessons, and also the kids that come to our house for piano lessons. And then, of course, there are the random children you befriend at the beach or the park or the library.

School has gone really well for you this year. You are in first grade, and you work hard (usually). Now and then, you have a rough day and you try whining or negotiating to get out of doing school, but thankfully those are few and far between. ;P The most exciting thing has been that you've learned to read this year! We worked on it last year, but it just didn't click. This year, it's like you cracked the code, and you just took off with it! Now you love to read, and have been progressing very quickly! Your favorites are silly stories, like "Frog & Toad" or "The Berenstain Bears." You also do very well with math. You finished your 1st grade book a couple weeks ago, so we're on to the 2nd grade one now, which made you very proud.

With learning to read came a desire to write your own stories. I love running across your little stories, with all their phonetic spellings! 
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I'm also teaching you piano lessons this year, and you have been a very apt student! You will be finishing the beginner book next week! You love to sit down and plunk away on the piano, and are pretty good at reading notes!

With all your silliness, your twinkly eyes, and quick laugh, it is easy for people to miss what an earnest, sweet boy you are. Even though you disdain all things you deem "girly," you have an eye for beauty and you love colors. You are very sensitive to others, and people are often surprised when you reciprocate pleasantries and by the way you ask such good questions that show genuine interest in others. You are quick to compliment others, and very giving. You have a beautiful faith in God, which I see reflected in the way you pray. At this point, though, I would have to say that your favorite Bible stories are the ones that involve fighting and battles. So, the Old Testament, definitely. ;)

With your dog, Cato, at a field trial last spring
<3 p=""><3 :="" add="" also="" for="" i="" little="" love="" make="" me="" notes="" now="" p="" pictures="" the="" to="" which="" you="">I just love my Bretsterboy so much! I'm so thankful for you, my sweet, precious boy. You are a bright spot in each day, and I secretly love that you still wake me up in the middle of the night to tuck you back into bed.

Love, Mommy

Saturday, December 30, 2017

A Little about Gram

Dear Serena, Bret, and Cody,

I want to write down a few things for you about Gram to help you remember her in the coming years.

Gram was born on September 13, 1934. The world was very different back then, and she attended a one-room school house as a child! She married my Grandpa, Dean Rabe on January 25, 1953. She had three sons: Keith, Kevin, and Kent. My daddy, Kevin, was born on April 20, 1957. Gram died on December 27, 2017.

Gram would probably say that the most important day of her life was the day she was saved, October 31, 1975, at her brother-in-law's funeral. She celebrated that day every year, and I got a text from her every Halloween reminding me that it was the day she was saved and rejoicing that "the devil lost me that day! Thank you, Jesus! I John 2:15-17." ("Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.") Gram loved to share her testimony. She was never shy about telling others about Jesus, and there are many people who were saved through Gram's witnessing about Jesus' salvation. Even in the letters and cards that Gram wrote to you three, Gram always wrote about Jesus. "I'm glad to hear you love Jesus! I love Him, too!" 

Growing up, we never lived near our grandparents, so we tried to make the most of our visits and store up our memories from our times together. Gram was a great one for treasuring memories. She kept notebooks of memories, and wrote on the back of every picture to help herself remember all the details. One of my favorite memories as a young child is playing Sunday School Bus with Gram. Gram was the "bus driver," and all we kids would be the kids she was picking up to take to Sunday School. The "bus" was on the stairs, and we would take turns "being invited" to church, and then we'd sit behind Gram on the "bus" and we'd all have a great time "bumping" along to church! Gram loved to sing Sunday School songs with us, too! I mostly remember singing "1-2-3, Jesus Loves Me" and "Jesus Loves Even Me" with her. I think those were her favorites. 

When I was little, Gram did a lot of sewing for us. She made adorable matching outfits for all her granddaughters every year for many years! She did beautiful work! She also crocheted sometimes. She made each of you a special blanket when you were born, and I loved having a soft, handmade blanket made with love to wrap my newborn babies in! Gram taught me how to sew when she would come to visit. I'm not sure at what age exactly, but I do have quite a few doll clothes that I made! I hand-stitched a lot of those little clothes, and came up with my own patterns for many of them. She gave me scraps of lace and ribbon, and random buttons that I loved using on the things I made. She taught me how to use a pattern and sew with a sewing machine sometime between the ages of 10-12, I think. You know that is a skill that I still use and enjoy now! I think Gram valued the domestic arts a lot. She loved handmade things and making things personal and pretty. 

Another thing Gram taught me was how to make pies. I'm not sure how old I was when she taught me that, either. Probably between 10-12. Her recipe was 2 cups flour, 1 tsp salt, 2/3 cup Crisco, and 1/4 cup ice water. Gram made beautiful pies and was known for them among her friends. She taught me how to patiently roll out the crust (her recipe had a tendency to flake off, so it needed a lot of TLC!), carefully transfer it to a dish, fill it, add a top crust, and then pinch the edges to look pretty. I use a different pie crust recipe now (butter is so much more forgiving than Crisco!), but pies are still one of my favorite things to make in the kitchen! Thanks to Gram, I have never used a store-bought pie crust!

Gram was a very good cook, I remember. She loved to teach me how to make different recipes, and many of them I still use. The cinnamon roll recipe was hers, and the sugar cookies, and she made the best peanut brittle (though I haven't made that since Serena was a baby; maybe we'll try it next year). But the thing I remember most about eating at Gram's house was her pretty table. She always had a table cloth, a center piece, multiple pieces of cutlery and multiple sizes of plates and bowls at each setting, pretty glasses, pretty serving dishes, etc. Everything was plated and lovely. She took pride in setting a pretty table.

Gram always did some gardening. She was especially fond of growing sweet corn, and she would freeze a bunch of it every year. She made the best refrigerated dill pickles when I was a kid; I have the recipe for that, and we'll try it some day when we have some extra refrigerator space! And she loved to grow iris. I remember once she took us to a beautiful iris farm (I have no idea where!), and we got to pick out a bulb. There were so many beautiful colors! Iris are a very showy flower, with big, ruffly petals. I think we'll plant some in Gram's memory. She would like that.

There are a couple things that always make me think of Gram. First, cardinals. She loved cardinals. She loved anything red, really. It was her favorite color, and she wore it often and looked so pretty in it! Also, apples. All our apple dishes came from Gram. She had 24 place settings, if I remember right, and every extra dish you can imagine. Her kitchen was decorated with lots of cute apple things.

One of the things that we did every time Gram came to visit us as kids was go shopping. My memories of this start when we were living in Minnesota and my mom (Grammie) and Gram would drive us an hour away to the city of Mankato, which had the nearest shopping mall. Then, Grammie & Gram would drag us all over the mall; but we liked it for three reasons. First, because we got to eat in the food court, which meant we had our choice of about 10 different fast food restaurants. I remember I always picked Sbarro. I loved their greasy pizza and their soft, warm breadsticks with the big clumps of garlic seasoning and parmesan on top! Secondly, we liked our trips to the mall in Mankato because we always got to ride the carousel! Gram would buy us tokens, and we'd pick our favorite horse (oh, the agony of that decision!) and we'd wave to Gram, Grammie, and (of course) the carousel operator every time we went around! And the third reason we loved our shopping trips with Gram was the Dollar Store. The mall in Mankato had a Dollar Store, and Gram would give us a few dollars to spend in there. The best thing I ever bought at that Dollar Store was a big blue backpack with pink trim. My sisters also each bought one, and we used those every time we went somewhere. We'd pack them to the max and dragged them along on our trips Illinois and Missouri, and somehow they held together for years!

Gram loved to play piano and have us all sing. I remember when we were little she would play us a song after we went to bed, and then we'd beg her for another...and another...and another...until the grown-ups told us "that's enough! Goodnight!" Heehee! Our favorite song that Gram would play was "Princeton Loyalty." It was the school song at Princeton High School, and written by Gram's cousin (I think). I have a copy of it and I'll play it for you sometime! When we got older and were able to play, she loved to listen to us. She was a wonderful encouragement to our musical endeavors. Gram loved teaching piano lessons, and it made her heart so happy whenever she found an eager, hard-working student! Gram was always involved in the music of her church through the years, whether at the piano or at the organ. She taught me how to play the organ and the accordion; but I haven't been able to play either for at least 10 years, so I don't know how much I would remember!

Another thing we did every time we were with Gram was play games. Gram loved to play games. When I was little, she had a few travel-size games that she would bring along when she visited. Our favorite was Junior Monopoly. When we got older, we played a lot of Rummikub and Mexican Train dominoes with her. Those were the nights that we would laugh so hard that our cheeks hurt by the time we went to bed! I don't even know what we would find to laugh so hard about, but it must have been pretty funny! 

Gram had lots of little phrases that she loved to use. I know I'll think of more as time goes on, so I'll add them in later. For now, only three come immediately to mind. When we'd play games, every time Gram rolled a 3, she would move her game piece and say, "1, 2, 3, Jesus loves me!" Another phrase that Gram loved to say was, "You have not because you ask not." She found all sorts of unconventional situations to apply that phrase to! And, when we'd say goodbye at the end of a visit, she'd almost always say, "See you here (and then she'd point down), there (and then she'd point out), or in the air (and then she'd point to heaven)!" 

It was very important to Gram to build a relationship with each of you, her "Great-grands," as she would say. About a year ago, she agreed to be pen pals with Serena to give Serena some practice with her cursive handwriting. Gram faithfully wrote Serena a letter about once a week, always thinking of interesting little things to tell her and encouraging Serena in her schoolwork, piano playing, and living for Jesus. Gram loved to snuggle you all and read books with you. She was so excited this Christmas to hear each of you play your piano songs for her. It made her really happy that you are learning to play. Every Christmas since I can remember, Gram made a special birthday cake for Jesus, which was basically an edible Wordless Book. She even had little cards that she had written Bible verses on to go along with the cake. It was a layered chocolate cake (of course, beautifully plated), and the dark inside was meant to remind us how our hearts were black with sin. She made a pretty, fluffy white frosting, and covered the entire cake with it so we could not see the chocolate. The white frosting was to remind us that the Bible says that Jesus' blood and forgiveness of our sins would make us white as snow. The birthday candles were red, to remind us of Jesus' blood which He shed on the cross for us. The gold flame was to remind us of the streets of gold in heaven, where God's family will live eternally. And then, Gram would decorate the sides of the cake with some plastic evergreen leaves to remind us to grow in Christ each day by reading our Bibles and praying.

Gram would want you know that she is in heaven now. She is with Jesus, Who she talked about and loved so much here on this earth. She is reunited with so many people she loved, including my Grandpa, my uncle Keith, my little cousin Michelle, and of course, my Dad (your Grandpa Kevin). I had always envisioned Gram being a part of our lives here on earth for many more years, and it makes me a little sad that she is gone from us already. But I don't think I've ever known anyone who was more in love with Jesus and saturated with Scripture as Gram was. I'm glad you knew her for the few years that you did, that you got to experience her kisses and hugs, and that you got to hear from her lips of Jesus' love for you. Someday we'll see Gram again, and (as Gram would say), "What a day that will be!"

The last time we saw Gram, December 23, 2017

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Cody's Fourth Birthday Letter

Dear Cody-Bear,

How are you really turning four this year?! You have been a joy beyond anything we could have imagined!

You have anticipated this day very much for a month or so now. After Serena had a birthday, you were pretty excited that you were going to have one too! Especially since that meant you'd have some cake. ;)

Of all you kids, you have presented unique challenges. Easily the "best" sleeper since baby-hood, in the past year, you have hurtled such milestones as switching to a big-boy bed and throwing away your paci (both on the same night, no less!), and growing out of naps and staying dry at nights, too!

You and Bret are inseparable buddies. You fight and play and play-fight constantly! You are in a constant state of trying to copy if not out-do Bret. This past summer, you always fell asleep within a few minutes of being put to bed because you were so worn out from traipsing all over the place outside with Bret all day long! Once you are asleep, you are completely dead to the world. When we were trying to help you get the hang of staying dry at nights, I would take you to the bathroom before I went to bed; but you were so out of it, I'd find myself begging you for 5-10 minutes to go potty and trying to keep you from falling off the potty. ;D That trick had worked so well for Serena & Bret, but you are a different kind of animal, Cody!

Serena loves to mother you and teach you things and tries very hard to get you to play along with her, but more and more you are finding that you prefer Bret's adventures. Poor Serena! Her little babies are growing up and she is a little lonely!

You have many talents. Your go-to show-off talent is hopping on one leg, but you also like to make noises with your mouth, which is pretty hilarious. You can make faces and eyes at people that no one can match! When you are in doubt about how to answer someone, you make this face where you squint one eye, and turn your head so you are looking at the person out of the corner of your other eye while your mouth is screwed up and pursed to one's classic! ;)

You love to read and pour over books when you get a quiet moment. But mostly you just do whatever Bret is doing. Your pathetic attempts to build, draw, color, and even build snowmen are a constant source of merriment for me. I try not to let you see me laughing, though. ;)

You think Daddy is pretty awesome and that he can do anything! You and Bret look so forward to Daddy getting home each afternoon/being home on weekends so you can play with him and "help" him! Daddy has been pretty impressed with your ability to throw a ball and swing a bat in spite of being a year and a half younger than Bret! You still prefer Mommy when it comes to being everything else, though. No one can snuggle quite like you can, Cody-bear! You have a way of relaxing your entire body that is irresistible! The best part is that you absolutely do not mind my kissing your squishy cheeks all I like!

You are built so differently from Bret. You are just an all-around bigger boy than he was at your age, in height and weight. This was never more apparent than this past summer as you two boys spent your days shirt-less! ;) You and Bret wear nearly the same size; he is 2" taller, but you are 2 lbs heavier.

We are so thankful you are our little Bear and our hearts are full of prayers for you as you grow and learn and change with each passing day.

I love you, my 4-year-old Cody-Bear!

Love, Mommy

Friday, August 05, 2016

Serena's 7th Birthday Letter

Dear Serena-bambina,

I can tell you've been feeling very grown-up as this birthday has approached! You are trying so hard to be more mature in your interactions and reactions...with varied degrees of success! ;) Regardless, the effort has not gone unnoticed!

In this past year, you've become more of a true help to me! I love that you often come into the kitchen and ask me if you can help. (You even put that on your "To-Do" list..."Ask Mommy if I can help her.") You've learned to wield a kitchen knife with softer fruits/vegetables, you make hummingbird food all by yourself (measuring out water and sugar, and bringing it to a boil!), and you are a quick study in following recipes. Now, if we could just break the finger-licking habit.... Heehee! ;) One of our favorite times are right before bed, when I play with you and your stuffed animals for a bit. I make your bear Sarah do all sorts of silly things, and I love when you can't stop giggling over her antics! We talk about things that are going on, books you've been reading, and events coming up. You show me things that you've written. (I'm so glad that you like for me to read your things! They are too precious!) And you were such a tiny baby just a short time ago!

Daddy really loves cuddling you on the couch and hearing what you've been up to during the day. Sometimes you're too "busy" for cuddling and chats; and sometimes your cuddle sessions turn into tickle fights and trying-to-get-away-from-Daddy...but somehow he knows what to say to get you to come back for more!

He loves taking you on errands or down to Jason's for a training day; you act like such a big girl and make us very proud! You've been a great help with the dogs, especially this last litter of puppies that Breeze had. You worked so hard socializing them, taking them for walks, and checking their water. Daddy was trying to think of how to pay you in a way that would be a true reward for your efforts and responsibility, and then you asked him for dance lessons! It has become the perfect "own" your lessons, and take extra special good care of the puppies without any complaining, knowing that you are earning those lessons! Then, last week, you got some lotion for your birthday from Aunt Jessica. It's your first scented lotion all your own, and you love it so much! You mentioned that you might like to buy some more when this bottle is empty, and I said that you could certainly do that. You said, "Yes, it's nice that Daddy has a way for me to earn money. There's lots of things I'd like to buy." I love drawing out these kinds of conversations, so I said, "Oh really..." in a way that left it open for you to continue. "Yes, I really want a horse. So, of course I'll need to buy a barn, too. And I want a rabbit." I see more negotiations in our future! ;)
Your relationship with Bret and Cody has definitely changed over the past year. The boys are not really your "baby" brothers anymore, so those sweet motherly interactions you used to have are fading into memories. Now there are a lot more teasing/bugging interactions instead! ;P It's amazing how different your natural inclinations are from theirs! They can hardly go 10 minutes without jumping/throwing/wrestling/running or some other manifestation of masculine greatness, while you can spend an entire morning completely engrossed in your paper dolls. Every now and then, you convince the boys (or at least one of them, and the other goes along since they seem to see themselves as a package deal) to play dress-up or do a craft. You share your paper dolls and babies, and you've even taught the boys how to sew! But when it comes down to it, you really just want a sister. Whenever you have a bad day, if I sit and listen to you long enough, you'll finally tell me (with lots of drama) that anything and everything that is wrong in your life boils down to the fact that you don't have a sister. And couldn't we just adopt one?!

In spite of your lack of sisters, you really do have a pretty good life here as the only girl. You are Daddy's princess...or pumpkin, depending on his mood...and my sweet companion. About six months ago, you finally got your own room, and you're enjoying the little perks that go along with that (like staying up later than your brothers!). You love all things girly and still prefer to wear beautiful dresses every day, while your shorts and tops lay practically untouched in your drawers.

The other day, I found a list in your room (you're a great one for making lists...wonder where you got that? Haha!) entitled, "Things to be." On the list was store keeper, librarian, hymn writer, and doctor. For the last three or four years, you have been adamant about your intention to be a school teacher; but over the last few months, you've started to open your mind to other possibilities. Sometimes, you plan to be a school teacher and a doctor during the summers. Most recently, you have become completely obsessed with being a ballerina when you grow up!

Your love of reading has continued to blossom over the past year. You have read so many books; I can't even keep track! Some days, you read 100+ pages of a chapter book. Other days, you'll spend an hour or two reading picture books from our collection or that we've picked up at the library. Topic doesn't seem to matter to you; you find everything interesting. It's like you can't stand to have books in the house that you have not yet read. The boys generally pick out topical books at the library - butterflies, worms, trains, sharks, snakes, bmx, sports, etc. - and you read them all!

You love to play with your dolls. Grace, your American Girl Kirsten doll, is your "little sister" (except when you're sad about your sisterlessness, and then Grace is just a doll), and you usually get her up, feed her, and dress her most days. Your paper dolls get a lot of play too. On paper doll days, your room is a complete mess of paper dolls, clothes, and accessories strewn everywhere. I cannot imagine how you manage to keep track of it all! You are also enjoying Barbie dolls these days.

During the school year, you wanted to play school every day. You gave me a bell, and I had to play teacher while you did your actual schoolwork. Thankfully, you told me when to ring the bell...I'm not sure I could have remembered all the appropriate times to do so otherwise! ;) You'd do your little "chores" and then ride your "horse" (bike) to school (up and down the driveway twice). Some days you loved school; other days not so much. The hardest part was not that you didn't want to do it, but that the boys did not have to do it, and you really wanted them to play school with you. This was your first year of "real" school. For history and science, you read lots of non-fiction books (that I researched and put on hold at the library) on various topics, and then told me about them. You learned how to write in cursive. And you fell in love with math. You are on the threshold of mastering your times/division facts, and excelling at 3rd-4th grade geometry/pre-algebra/story problems/measurements and money concepts. Daddy and I are doing our best to keep up with you and your love for learning!

Busy at work in your first math book -- over 300 pages, completed in about a month! We could hardly get you to take a break!

All your reading has introduced you to some pretty fascinating people. When you find out about someone you think is interesting, we have to reserve (at the library) all the books we can about that person. You have been obsessed with Helen Keller for months on end now. Sometimes, we have to call you "Helen" and do our best to read your sign language (you're a little too fast!). We found a Braille primer at the library, and you often study Braille, and try to teach it to others. ;D Grandma gave you a book about Fanny Crosby, and that inspired you to start writing hymns. Oh, your hymns!! They are some of the most precious things I've ever read! In our homeschool co-op, you love getting up on stage and giving "presentations" in front of everyone. You did one about Helen Keller in which you "taught" the sign language alphabet; and you did another on Fanny Crosby, and shared a few of your songs.

Your love of getting up in front of people found a great outlet when Grandma and you started doing plays together. You love planning out parts and costumes, and acting out a story in front of an audience! I think that's part of why you've become so obsessed with ballet. You have read and studied several books from the library about ballet. You have learned the French words for different ballet positions and steps, and have begun studying about a couple of the great ballerinas. You listened to a CD with excerpts from famous ballets so much, that you can recognize and name them and what part of the ballet "story" they are from. It is really fun to see you pointing your toes and doing your ballet steps down the hall! I love it! :)
First ballet lesson! You were so, so excited!!!
Our Serena-ballerina! ;)

We are all so blessed by you each day, and thank God for giving you to us. You have such a sharp mind, a delightful imagination, a remarkable self-assurance, and a sweet love for Jesus. I see you working on keeping your passions under control and learning to live more self-lessly (aren't we all?), and it makes me proud to be your Mommy! I love you, my sweet Serena-bambina, more than you'll ever know!

Love, Mommy

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Bret's Fifth Birthday

Bret once again had special guests brave the winter weather to celebrate his birthday with him!  Last year, it was Grammie & Aunt Jessica; this year, it was Gramma & Auntie Anna!  We all had such a great visit together, and of course it was so fun to celebrate Bret's turning 5 with all the extra love!

Traditional birthday cake - made by the Birthday Boy himself

Mr Five Year Old

Heehee! I just love this one!

Bret figured out how to blow up balloons all by himself, but it was painful to watch!

Such careful placement of all that candy!

Opening up presents is always a fun part of birthday parties! ;)

The three rugrats - er - munchkins

He really REALLY wanted a lot of candy on his cake. I don't think he could have squeezed another piece on there! ;D
We did our traditional weighing/measuring, and Bret had grown 3" in the past year! Still, he is only in the 14th percentile for height/weight (35.7 lbs; 41.5"). But, boy, is there a lot of personality in that little package!

Also per tradition, though a little late, I did a birthday interview with Bret. :)

First half

Second half 

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Bret's 5th Birthday Letter

Dear Five-Year-Old Bretster-Boy,

Despite my several attempts at manipulating you into staying 4 for the rest of your life, you obstinately clung to the belief that you had to turn 5.  When I pressed to know why... "I need to grow up so I can be a farmer and grow lots of corn and I will send you lots of corn.  Don't you like corn, Mommy?  Don't you want to have lots of corn from me?"  I don't really know where this obsession with growing "lots of corn" comes from, but it was pretty convincing.  So, we went ahead and let you turn 5.  *sigh*

Ever since you were just starting to show us your first grins, we noticed the special little twinkle in your eyes. You have yet to outgrow that! Your grin and your twinkly eyes are your trademarks!  ...And the dead give-away when you're up to something!  Which you often are.  Your mischievousness has grown markedly in the past year, and caused not a small stir in our family dynamic!  Of course, Serena and Cody receive the brunt of your teasing, but you do your best to rouse reactions from Daddy and I as well.  Your favorite new trick right now is trying to scare us.  You sneak up so quietly, but I could swear that the twinkles in your eyes are as bright as fireworks, and just as impossible to ignore, even when my back is turned!  You give out your very loudest and scariest RAAWWWRRRR!!!!! Your body almost doubles over with the effort! But, the excitement of it is almost too much, and you start giggling before the end of the roar has been uttered. It is hilarious! Other mischief can easily be categorized as either "pushing buttons" or "exaggerating." You know exactly what to do to get your siblings upset. Sometimes, I wonder at your ability to read people; it actually is a little astonishing just how good you are at what you do! Maybe someday that skill will be of real use to you. For now, you sit back and twinkle at the predictable responses that you elicit; sometimes you even get in trouble and say you're sorry, but don't think I don't notice that your eyes are still twinkling as if to say, "It was totally worth it!" As far as exaggerating, you certainly have a knack for it! I've never known anyone to be able to come up with such outlandish scenarios as you do! I suppose it's your tactic for dispelling possibly touchy situations.  For example, if we say "Bret, stop waving your hands around at the table.  We keep our hands down while we eat." You would probably respond with something like, "Or you'll throw me off the roof?" Wait, what?! When you get the laugh you were hoping for, you continue to make it even crazier, "All the way down to the pond? And I'll never come back? And a big fish will eat me?" You get the idea. Sometimes, you use it just out of the blue to get us all wondering at you. "I'm going to eat you, Serena. And then, I'm going to eat the whole house. And I'll be bigger than the sky. Do you believe me?"

We had a man come to work on our internet connection after the move, and he happened to have a bandage over his nose. The next day, you wore these stickers over your own nose, and I was pretty sure I knew why!
Even with all that crazy talk that might make a person wonder if you're all right in the head, you have been showing some signs of intelligence. ;) Your counting and basic math skills have taken off this past year, and you like to show off by saying things like, "Mom, 7 and 4 make 11!" out of the blue. You still like drawing letters, and have a pretty good handle on about half of the alphabet. You even started writing block letters after you saw me doing it for a cousin's birthday card!

It is Serena's goal to be the one to teach you how to read (mostly by making you memorize passages of books)! So far, no real progress has been made; but I am constantly amazed by her tenacity and your patience! ;D
If you have any moments in between creating mischief and playing with your toys, you generally gravitate toward the "black table" where we keep all the artsy-craftsy things.  You love pulling out some paper and drawing designs and faces and stories. You love fiddling with little scraps of things and trying to tie/glue/tape them together into tools/jewelry/knick-knacks. Serena proudly proclaims to anyone and everyone that you are the "artist of the family," as though every family has one. ;) It is undeniable, though, that you have an appreciation for all things beautiful and a drive to create things. One of my favorite examples of your appreciation of beauty happened this past fall. You'd been playing outside in the late afternoon, and as the sun started to set into a gorgeous array of colors, you came running into the house, "GUYS!!!  Come see the beautiful place I found!!!" Your creative drive also has you spending lots of time building with blocks, Duplos, Zoob pieces, or your building set; creating all manner of buildings, furniture, vehicles, and random inventions.

Hard at work at the "black table"
Serena has been trying to teach you how to weave using a loom we picked up at the thrift store. You love making things!
This past year, we moved out to the country, and your world opened up pretty wide as you spent your summer days tramping around outside catching bugs, butterflies, and the occasional toad. Winter put a stop to those discoveries, but you often talk about how you can't wait till the butterflies come back. You've also found the fun in climbing trees, and love to brag about how high you can climb. One of our maples has a nest that you'd really like to peek into, if you could just get up the nerve to climb that high! ;) Thankfully, your fear of heights keeps you from climbing beyond your limits, so I don't worry too much about you out there (...yet). You've had a lot of fun playing in the snow, but I think you're going to have to fatten up a bit more so you can retain your body heat better for next winter!

You boys found so much to do in the dirt and even in the rain this past summer!
One of the monarchs you caught this past summer
The best part about the snow for you and Cody has been the digging!
You have to be one of the most good-natured kids I've ever met. You are one of the first of the kids to wake up each morning, but since we have a rule about staying in bed until a reasonable hour, you amuse yourself with happy little songs and noises until you manage to wake up your poor brother (who could really use more sleep, I think!). We have a rule about making beds when we get dressed in the morning, and you decided of your own accord to get that little chore out of the way first thing; so when I come in to get you out of bed, you are cheerily perched atop smooth covers. (In spite of your mischievousness, you are generally pretty fastidious about things like making your bed just so and not sharing food/drinks with other people.) ;) Even when you get your feelings hurt or get yourself into trouble, you recover quickly and get back to your naturally happy disposition.

I loved how you enthusiastically cheered Cody on while he learned to ride your bike on Serena's birthday. Even though it meant that you had no bike to ride, you were so sweet to let Cody use your bike so much for the next few weeks until Daddy brought home a "new" big one for you!
I have to say, you're a bit of a show-off. Your current favorite tricks to show off are hopping on one foot and running. Because you are so fast! ;) I have to admit that I often get you to show off how fast you are just because I love to see the face you make when you're trying to be particularly amazing. Plus, it's a good distraction when you seem to have so much energy that you keep getting into trouble.

I love this picture because it really captures the mischief in your expression!
One of my favorite things about you is that you are such a giver. You love to find or get little "treasures," but you rarely keep them for long; you get so much enjoyment from giving them away and watching someone else have them. You have such a sweet and loving heart, in spite of all your bugging people and pushing their buttons! Serena and Cody are lucky to have a brother like you! You love to help Serena and give her things that you make. She likes to give you scraps from her sewing to see what you'll make from them. You love to help Cody learn things and take care of him. When we started sending him to your Sunday School class a couple of months ago, you took great pride in helping him stay with the class and get adjusted to the routines there. I love that you usually call him "Code," but when you're filling a more big-brotherly role, you call him, "my little brudder." I love how when you and Cody play/work together, you both speak in deep, gruff voices, as though to add legitimacy to your cooperative "labor."

Speaking of your little "brudder" reminds me of how much we love the way you talk!  You have a tendency to add "r's" where there are none (i.e., for the longest time you called Fed-Ex, "Ferd-Ex;" and you still often say "someprin" instead of "something"), and to use "d's" instead of "th's" (i.e., you'll say, "over dare" rather than "over there"). But, when you would say "thirty" it would come out "firty." When you figured out how to make the soft "th" sound a couple months ago, you spent a few days saying "thirty" over and over. ;) Oh! And you learned how to whistle this past year, too! An accomplishment that you like to show off, believe it or not. ;)

Playing "Candy Land" with your "little brudder" and your bears. Incidentally, you won every game. ;)
Over the course of this past year, especially with the distraction of our move, your mail obsession abated. You still have an uncommon excitement about the mail, and can hardly stand for anyone to go to the mailbox without you, but it has toned down from the frantic excitement that used to accompany every piece of mail that entered our house and especially the pieces of junk mail that filtered into your possession! Still, a piece of junk mail every now and then puts a smile on your face; and one of your favorite things about Gramma and Grampa's house is the basket of junk mail they stock for you!

This past year held the very special event of your salvation by faith in Jesus. As a result of things you'd been hearing in Sunday School, you started one week toward the end of the summer to ask me various questions about making "Jesus the Lord of your life." By the end of the week, you made the decision to make Jesus the Lord of your life, and prayed to Him about it. Since then, you have emphatically owned your position as one of God's children and mentioned it confidently whenever the occasion arises. We're so glad to see your faith in God, and pray that it will grow and flourish in the years ahead!

Your taste in books and stories has grown more "boyish." You enjoy looking at books that are topical...frogs, toads, turtles, birds, trains, construction equipment, farming.... A book we have that explains what happens to your food after you eat it had you drawing intestines on the bellies of the people you drew for quite a while. You also enjoy books with some adventure in them..."The Three Billy Goats Gruff" gets you particularly in the mood for pretending you are a big green troll that wants to eat everyone. ;)

I love these pictures of you and your beloved "John," the bear! 

You are a lover of a boy, and might have a bit of a tendency to be a "momma's boy" at this point. (Though you are infinitely impressed by your Dad...and especially in his ability to build things. You are quite convinced he could build an entire house, though when he installed a toilet here it took you almost two weeks to work up the courage to use it yourself. I think the sight of the thing sitting on the floor in the kitchen while he was taking out the old one was a bit disarming. Anyway, that was a bit of a rabbit trail!) ;) You have a great capacity for loving and being loved and I intend to hold you and kiss you as much as I can while I still can.

Some of the things you built today

We love you beyond words, our precious Bretster-boy!

Love, Daddy and Mommy