Thursday, July 24, 2014

Evelyn the Adventurer

In June I was blessed to be able to visit our oldest daughter, Anna, and her husband, Aaron. When the Lord gives me the great blessing of one of these trips to see our married girls, I try to take one of our older children who is still living at home with me. That way that kiddo and I get some one-on-one time. This also gives that child the chance for some time alone with his or her oldest sister. While Jim and I are constantly amazed at the many benefits of being a super-sized family, we also realize that one of the dangers of being part of a large family is getting lost in the crowd.

This time it was Christina's turn to travel with mom. Not only did she love getting some sister-time in with Anna, Christina thoroughly enjoyed having her two nieces to herself. Both Brielle and Evelyn (pictured here) seemed to delight in getting some "Auntie Tina" time.

On one of the days during our visit we visited a large local park for a lunch picnic and some playtime on the play ground. Brielle, who had just turned two a couple of weeks earlier, ate her first-ever sub. The very small "children's size" sandwich looked so big in her bitty toddler hands.

After hungrily making quick work of the big lunch, my favorite two-year-old was off to conquer the play equipment. We were surprised to find ourselves alone on a beautiful day, but that meant Brielle could climb to her heart's content.

The photo above has quickly become a favorite of mine. The Lord allowed me to capture my oldest grandchild in all her glorious toddlerness (Yes, I just made up that word!)...chubby hands, rolls around her wrists, tiny feet, wispy-wavy hair, fair skin and pink, chubby cheeks. Ahhhh...our Creator is beyond amazing!


Last summer Brielle was too young to truly understand the magic of a playground, but this summer every ladder and slide is her delight. She slid down slide after slide as her mama and sister watched.

As a younger sister, Evelyn, wasn't content to just watch. Though she was a couple of months from turning one, she wanted to try whatever her sister was doing...and she was fearless.

Evelyn wasn't content just to try out the slides. Even though she wasn't yet walking independently she was determined to make the ascent up the slide. Anna, Christina and I thought this little one would quickly tire and give up. Boy, were we wrong!

The 10-month-old took stock of her goal and started the arduous climb. (The photo above is also now one of my favorites. I just love Evelyn's happy look of determination.)

Although it's hard to see Anna's hand in these photos, Evelyn's mama was keeping very close in case Evelyn's strength flagged.

We were stunned when Evelyn reached her goal.

Evelyn's adventures weren't over, however.

Once she'd climbed the slide, she wanted to do it again...

...and again and again...

...and again. Before she ran out of spunk, Evelyn had made the steep ascent SIX times! Who knew a baby could accomplish such a feat!!!

The little slide-climber was so exhausted she fell asleep sitting up in Auntie Tina's arms while drinking her bottle.

All this time Brielle had also been busy. Both little girls were ready for their much-needed afternoon naps... we headed for home after a magical trip to the park.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Zoo Trip on Sarah's 20th Birthday

Today we had a great reason to celebrate coupled with the most unbelievably beautifully weather. Sarah turned 20 today, and we had the opportunity to visit the renowned Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha on one of the coolest days in July in years.

We allowed the birthday girl to pick the first exhibit we'd see and she choose the cat house. The first tiger we saw wanted to play peek-a-boo.

The second tiger was quite photogenic, lying regally upon the straw. The sign said she has given birth to two litters of cubs, a remarkable feat considering her left front leg is missing at the shoulder.

Next we moved on to the lion's home.

What majesty!

Zhenya's all-time favorite animal is the snow leopard.

I don't know whether these two are twins, but I couldn't help but think of our twins, Alison and John.

After we left the Cat House, we went to a nearby statuary area that's perfect for a photo opp. Our group seemed so small today since only eight of our children made the trip to the zoo. John is currently in Boston on business. Kirsten is in northwest Nebraska doing an internship on a ranch. Anna and Alison are both living with their husbands in faraway cities.

On our next stop, our attention was then arrested by some playful orangutans. The monkey had a burlap bag clinched in one foot. We watched as she shimmied up a tree just outside the window where we stood watching, swung upside down from one drain pipe to another at the roof line and slid down another tree. All the while she was switching his grasp on the burlap bag from foot to hand and back again.

As we stood watching, she found a wide spot in the sun where some massive tree branches came together, plopped herself down, and pulled the burlap bag over her head. She was ready for a warm and "private" morning nap!

We rested for a bit on our climb up to the desert habitat. One of the things that makes the Henry Doorley Zoo so beautiful also makes it a tiring experience ~ the many steep hills in the zoo's layout.

After seeing "Kingdoms of the Night", an exhibit of nocturnal animals and the desert habitat, we had lunch and then went on to visit the zoo's wonderful tropical jungle exhibit.

We were fascinated to watch a variety of monkeys, as well as otters, tapirs, hippos, macaws, snakes, bats and numerous species of birds.

We also realized as we made our way through the crowded exhibit that we were tired and ready to make the two-hour journey back home.

Before leaving I took one more photo of our beloved daughter who entered her twenties today. 

Throughout our wanderings in the zoo today, we paid special attention to the sign near each animal to learn about its native habitat. The reason we were so interested is that many of the animals we saw today make their homes in Africa. In less that four months, Sarah will be moving to Zambia to teach preschool and kindergarten at an orphanage for a few months. (I'll share more about Sarah's plans in a post within the next week.)

After seeing so many exotic animals today whose natural habitats include Zambia, we all wonder what amazing tales Sarah will have to share with us regarding her African adventure! We're so delighted and thankful to see the little orphan girl we added to our family just after she turned seven grow up with such a big heart for serving the least of these! God abounds in lovingkindness!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

What's Worked for Us: Nurturing Sibling Friendships

Sometimes those of us who are bloggers tend to be self-indulgent. This post is one of those cases. I just love this photo of our oldest daughter, Anna, and her sister, Faith. Anna is 23 and Faith is 14. Though the girls are nearly 10 years apart in age, they share a close friendship. That makes this mother's heart sing. I invite you to share my joy!

As our children are growing up, we do everything we can think of to encourage them to be close-knit. This has meant limiting outside activities so that we can spend more time together as a family. It's required teaching, training and nurturing in our kids an understanding of the crucial step of taking responsibility when they sin against a sibling and seeking reconciliation immediately upon the recognition that they've done wrong. Our kids are not allowed to speak critically of one another or tease in an unkind way. This means the two of us have had to model these standards in our marriage and in our relationships with our children. Crazy as it sounds, we've even gone so far as to ask that our children not call someone outside their siblings their best friend (until marriage). We encourage them to always think of each other as their best friends, and to say of others, "She is one of  my best friends." 

Now that seven of our kiddos are grown, three more are youth and two in their last years as elementary-age children, we're seeing the fruit of our many prayers that their friendship would remain strong. The twelve of them (and now our two sons-in-law) cherish the rare chance to see one another now that we've spread out across the country. We thank God for His powerful grace in this area! He abounds in lovingkindness!

The photo above was taken at a wedding of dear friends which all of us we attended in May in Pennsylvania. Anna was one of the bridesmaids, and Faith assisted me with my photography assignment. Being together in the bride's dressing room, the sisters didn't miss the chance to savor a sweet hug.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Too Busy to Pose: Evelyn at 10 Months


Before traveling to the home of our oldest daughter and her husband last month, I was certain I would come home with many worthy photos of our newest granddaughter, Evelyn. That balloon burst quickly when I saw her in motion. She is one fast and curious baby! I only came home with a few photographs that actually have this princess in the frame. In most of my pictures, she's rapidly moving out of the photo and onto her next exploration. I can tell you that I did bring home a renewed determination to continuing studying photography so that, by God's grace, I can keep up with this sweet, happy, contented strawberry blond as she grows!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Happy Hard Goodbye with One Regret


This weekend our family traveled many hours west. We had two missions. One was to visit my parents. The second was to drop Kirsten, our 19-year-old, off for a two-month internship. In our family, we've come to love internships that take place before a young person is committed to a college major or a career. 

As I've mentioned a number of times, Kirsten left her first home in Russia 3-1/2 years ago with a passion for horses. As Kirsten moved toward the end of high school, we weren't really sure how to help her pursue her passion. Oh, how we prayed for God's leading. And He was so faithful! 

This spring, Kirsten "stumbled" upon a ranch owned by a Christian family in western Nebraska. This family provides a "wild west dude ranch" horse-back riding experience for guests who come from all over the country (and even beyond the borders of the US). While that family hosts tourists, their main emphasis is ranching. They currently have more that 300 head of cattle on their 3600 acres. Thirty-six hundred acres! That size of responsibility boggles my mind!

Kirsten will help with the care of the family's guests. She'll help with cooking and dishes, etc. She will also get the chance to participate in the some of the family's ranching. In fact, the role she took on bright and early the first morning she was there was to mount her favorite horse, Cactus, and help round up 15 stray steer that had broken through the fence and "visited" their neighbors. She got to ride for over four hours in a real, working-ranch situation. 

When we talked to Kirsten the night after her first full day, she was elated with the experience! She commented on how much she enjoyed riding horses for a purpose, rather than just pleasure. She loves the sense of purpose she feels as she teams up with Cactus to 'get the job done'.

The family is loving and kind.  They immediately began treating Kirsten like one of them. A sweet bonus for Kirsten is that they have an older teenage daughter; the two of them seem to have great chemistry. 

After this glowing report, you may wonder what the "one regret" is that I mentioned in the title. Thankfully, its a small "Oh, if only..." kind of regret. I just wish I had thought to get a photo of Kirsten in her newly acquired cowgirl hat. The one she chose at our local western store combines the sun protection she will need with serious bling that fits her personality! She looks fit to be a rodeo queen when wearing it!

Here are some pictures from our family trip together:

I took this photo during  picnic on the way to the ranch. Even though five years separate these two sisters, Faith (right) and Kirsten have developed a tight friendship. I know they will miss each other!

The ranch's 3,500 acres are located in northwestern Nebraska is far off a public road and in an area of great natural beauty. In all honesty, after living adjacent to the state for most of my life, I didn't realize such dramatically different topography and fauna existed in the state. I thought all of Nebraska was cornfields!

Here, Kirsten's siblings are being introduce by Jeff, father and rancher, to the horse Kirsten will ride--Cactus.

The boys enjoyed socializing with some of those who will be Kirsten's friends during these next two months.

We hugged Kirsten individually several times over. Then all drew together for a group hug. It was time for the rest of us to load up in van and wave our goodbyes. Kirsten will certainly have our prayers during this adventure of a lifetime!

As we drove away, we thanked God for the beautiful scenery that will surround her this summer.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

A Happy Painful Reunion


This weekend our family traveled to Denver to visit my parents. As always, being with them was wonderful. However, Our hearts ached to see for ourselves the progression of my mom's arthritis. Her daily pain has grown that much more severe since we last saw them in November. Repeated compression fractures in her spine have also robbed my beloved mom of several inches of height over the past couple of years. 

Despite the suffering both my parents are enduring due to my mom's arthritic pain, they are bravely facing each day. In May they celebrated their 53rd wedding anniversary.

In the early evening of July 4th, my Dad help my mom out on their front step so that we could get a picture of them with the ten of their grandchildren we had with us. In all, my parents have 14 grandchildren.

On Saturday, I asked my mom if could take a photo of her in the soft morning light falling on the front of their house. Despite the pain of that even walking to the front door now brings on, she bore the beautiful glow of happy grandmother surrounded by grandchildren. I thank God for my parents. I am especially grateful to the Lord for the amazing grandparents they have been to our twelve children!