Good and Complete

We started a family tradition in the last year or so to spend Friday dinners together at a restaurant. Usually we try to visit a new place, but often we have difficulty in deciding (Wes always chooses McDonald’s or Hardee’s or Steak n’ Shake), and settle on one of our favorite locations.

A few weeks ago we went to a local Chinese restaurant for the first time. It was decorated in red lanterns, dragons and vibrant paintings and had a small fish tank in one corner that kept Wesley’s attention. We talked about Chinese culture during our meal, and Wes was amazed that he actually likes chow mein noodles with his “sticky rice.”

It was a fun night out, and we had an excellent Chinese waitress. She enjoyed interacting with Wesley, and she asked him questions about his hobbies and interests. He’s very good at being receptive, and it was fun to watch.

Later, while paying our check, the waitress asked Steven and me if Wes was our only child. This isn’t a new question; we get this often, and frequently in public places. She was kind about it, and I’m sure it was well-intended (because surely if we had another kid, he/she would be as cool as Wes, right?). What she went on to describe has stuck with me for the last several weeks:

The Chinese word for “good, complete, right” (好) is a combination of the words “girl” (女) and “boy” (子).

I wish I would have said something in return other than, “Is that right? How cool!” It sat funny with me. I mean, I’ve personally come a long way on this subject. I’ve turned a page and have focused on our little family of 3. I know in my heart that I’m good mom and wife, and we’re in a really, really good spot – the 3 of us. We’re close. We do a lot together. We have many experiences that neither Steven nor I ever had the chance to do as children.

But I’ve always had this back-in-the-mind feeling that God’s got some bigger plan for us, and I don’t know what it is. (I try so desperately hard not to guess or jump to conclusions because I know his timing is perfect, and mine is not!) It could be as simple as loving on and supporting our nieces and nephews more, or those special kids in our kid’s life. We’ve been testing that out, and it’s so. much. fun. I find my heart’s grown 3 sizes larger since my “page-turn.” I adore the little people all around us – watching them develop intricate personalities, interests and skills.

Alli, 11, is our intelligent and athletic niece. She reads at a much higher level than her age, and she’s amazing at softball. She has a big heart and concern for everyone and goes out of her way to be inclusive. (Remind me to tell you about the time that she intervened a bullying situation between classmates.)

Elli, 8, has so many interests that are like me in music, art and dance. She’s doing well on piano and is starting to take guitar lessons. She is graceful in ballet and is now in hip hop. She can paint, too! I love her spontaneous spirit.

Jeremiah, 6, has recently learned how to solve Rubik cubes. He solved one that stumped all of Steven’s coworkers. He has the most clever sense of humor and astounds us with his ability to absorb information. He loves LEGOs and Star Wars and has a gentle, kind demeanor.

Anna, 6, has the independence and sometimes stubborn nature that defies her tender beginnings as a 3-lb preemie. She has the biggest, most alert eyes that have determination to keep up with her big sister. She is silly, fun, and she earns her nickname, Anna Banana.

Josiah, 4, is a bundle of energy. He always has a smile or a mischievous grin on his face, and he constantly makes me laugh. Mom and I used to joke that he sorta resembled Dopey the dwarf as a baby, and though he’s not “dopey,” he just melts your heart like that little character does.

Our nearly-nieces and nephews are just as special. Beatrice, 5, Jovia, 3, and Oliver, 1, are the best little friends Wesley’s ever had (and likely TO have), and JoJo even calls me “her good friend Leah.” Levon, 3, is an lively little boy who Wesley tries to take under his wing every time we hang out. And dear Lucian, 1, our sweet godson. We get to see him in a few months over Thanksgiving!

OR it could be as simple as sponsoring a child. And that’s exactly what we’re going to do!

jastin-sanga_2016I’m pleased to introduce you to Jastin, a 5-year-old boy who lives in India. Wesley chose him to be his friend and “pseudo-brother” because of his similar age, and likely because of his cool Tom & Jerry shirt. Because this is a very new decision, we haven’t yet made contact with Jastin, but Wesley’s warming up to the idea and getting excited to be a part of his life. Wes has been asking many questions about culture, faith and climates, and it’s an opportunity to open conversations about our faith and heritage.

Sponsoring a child isn’t a new experience for us. Steven and I briefly sponsored a child with a large organization when we were first married, but admittedly, we were not ready to make such a commitment. I regret that we were unable to continue supporting the child, and it’s frustrated me for years. I remember thinking that it would be a good time to revisit the commitment when we had a child of our own to keep us accountable.

This relationship with Jastin is uniquely special to us because he is sponsored through Mid India Child, a ministry of our dear friends in India. I grew up knowing missionaries David and Sheela Lall as my Indian aunt and uncle, and their three kids, similar ages to me and my sister, soon became our Indian “siblings.” My parents were their forwarding agents on the United States side of things for nearly 30 years – they are very close friends, and we’re lucky enough to see them several times a year as they travel across the globe.

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David and Sheela with the Fernsler cousins on Memorial Day

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A very pregnant me with my Indian siblings

Shiny, my Indian sister, and her husband, Tommy, have taken the reigns and have formed Mid India Child as a way to link all of their central Indian ministries together under one roof through child sponsorship. They run a girls’ boarding school and a special-needs school for abandoned children, provide school and community supplies to villages and slums and college scholarships. Other ministries within the extended Lall family include film production, an orphanage, Bible college, eye hospital, church planting, boys’ vocational school, and many other things I often forget to mention!

So, while we don’t have a girl to “complete” the Shattuck family, we already feel complete. And now that Jastin’s a small part of our small family, I feel just a little bit more proud and full. Good and complete!

So, get ready, Jastin. You’re now part of a small American family who wants to do big(ger) things and make an impact. We love the people who will directly help you through Mid India Child, and we love you, too.

Posted: September 22nd, 2016
Categories: Leah
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Anniversary Lagniappe

Steven was scheduled to speak at the Louisiana non-profit association’s annual conference in Baton Rouge on the day after our 9th wedding anniversary, which was a great reason to have a fun weekend away. However, it was a destination with recent police shootings and a devastating 1,000-year flood. (Steven: “We sure know how to pick ’em.”)

We flew into New Orleans and drove one mile west to Baton Rouge. Along the way, we passed several closed exits off highway I-10, and there was standing water nearly all along the road, but we made it safely to the hotel and conference site. Most of the damage affected the eastern part of the city and surrounding parishes/counties. We had the unique opportunity to watch local news of families in the worst areas (Ascension Parish, namely) plow through the clean up process with adrenaline and hope. The area has Catholic roots, and it was encouraging to see trust in God in action. I spoke with several conference attendees about the community’s endurance after Katrina – but the need for and lack of mental health services.

Our anniversary dinner was at a cute, downtown oyster bar – Jolie Pearl. We had a stack of various charbroiled oysters and fried shrimp before another storm came through to flood the already-soaked ground.

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The next day’s weather was pleasant, but HOT. Louisiana humid and sticky hot. Steven had to work all day at the conference, so I spent my time doing independent things. It’s now become a tradition to get a massage, haircut or shop while Steven speaks. I scheduled a haircut at a local Aveda salon, found free wi-fi in the mall food court to catch up on some work, and then went to a see a movie.

By the way, you HAVE to see Florence Foster Jenkins. It made me laugh-snort and cry, which means it was superb.

Afterwards, I met up with Steven at the conference for a closing social reception. On our way to New Orleans, we stopped for local favorite beignets and coffee with chicory at Coffee Call. Fun Fact: chicory is a woody plant that is ground into coffee from a French tradition to stretch coffee beans supply. Beignets (ben-YAYs) are fluffy funnel cake-tasting fried dough with powdered sugar dumped on top. Everywhere I’ve seen, they are ordered in 3s, but the ones at Coffee Call are huge – like the size of donuts. By mistake we ordered “to go” and fought powdered sugar in the rental car.

We didn’t check into our French Quarter hotel until after 8 p.m., though in New Orleans, that’s considered early. French Quarter isn’t quite as busy on a Thursday night as the weekend, but Deanie’s Seafood at 9 p.m. is still packed with families and couples eating a fried seafood dinner. Another pile!

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Later we wandered some New Orleans streets and enjoyed a quiet(er) evening in the hotel courtyard. It was just as pretty in the morning for breakfast:

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…which fueled us up for a day of walking around the city. I was in NOLA in early 2014 for the Alzheimer’s Association national conference, but hardly saw the city. Steven had never been, so we had a few things on our bucket list: Cafe du Monde (famous coffee and beignet restaurant along the Mississippi River), French Market, Jackson Square, hurricanes and poboys and live jazz at Preservation Hall. Later we explored the World War 2 Museum, rode a streetcar and watched entertainers along Bourbon Street. It was a fun, packed day, and we were incredibly sweaty.

Before leaving for the airport, we visited a New Orleans historical museum and walked around a few streets the next morning, and GUESS WHAT WE FOUND?!

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Leah’s Pralines! Of course we bought some.

It was a quick but good trip – a lagniappe (pronounced LAN-yap, a New Orleans term for a bonus gift or “a little something extra”). It’s hard to believe we’ve been married nearly 10 years. Our relationship has changed over the years: we don’t have long conversations or look longingly into each others’ eyes. We don’t often hold hands or touch in public. But we do enjoy being in close proximity. I’ve found that when we’re together in a new place without Wes, we like to wander around and observe locations together – many times we’re deep in thought and subconsciously link arms or hands. We’re also more apt to jokingly tease in a way that doesn’t happen as often at home.

Occasionally getting away is great for us. View our photos from the trip here.

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Posted: August 21st, 2016
Categories: Leah
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Clavicle Fracture

In keeping with our theme of first-time experiences, today was one for the books.

Around 12:15 a.m., Steven and I woke to a loud bang followed by a long wail from Wesley’s room. I was pretty amazed with Steven’s cat-like reflexes: he immediately sprung from the bed and ran to Wes’ side. I mean – within SECONDS. He found Wes with his right shoulder on the floor and head in the air.

He hasn’t fallen off the bed in a least a year, so this was very unexpected. When he had fallen before, Wes was able to calm down from the initial scare and fall back asleep. Steven did manage to calm him enough to tuck him into the covers and slip back into our bed this morning, but after a few minutes, we heard consistent whimpering.

It was my turn to check on our guy. I crouched down to his eye level, and he grabbed my finger. “Mama, it hurts.” Big tears from exhausted eyes. Quivering chin. I tried to turn him over from his stomach to his back, but he loudly protested.

“Where do you hurt?”
“My ARMMMMMM!” More cries. “Neck!”

I poked a few places until I found the spot – between his right shoulder and neck. “Buddy, I think you hurt your collar bone. I’m so sorry.” He started to cry hysterically – partly from pain, mostly from exhaustion.

He and I moved to the guest bed and I tried to prop him up as best as I could. He finished off the last of the Tylenol. We slept fitfully for the remainder of the night. I knew I would have to make an appointment in the morning.

I had doubted that anything was broken, so my original thought was to swing by the pharmacy clinic to have him checked for anything serious before heading to school. I had a meeting scheduled for 9:30 that I didn’t want to miss. Steven thought my plan needed rethinking: “They won’t be able to do anything at the clinic; better call his pediatrician.” (I’m so thankful for his clear brain when mine is so muddy with Mom-panic.)

They couldn’t see him until 10:30, so I packed up Wesley’s bag with ice packs, pillows and the DVD player and planned to keep him in my office until the doctor’s appointment (so I could make the 9:30 meeting). We arrived at work early and made camp…

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…until his pediatrician’s office called and asked us to “forget the 10:30 appointment and come right away.”  The rain made the commute seem like forever, and of course we had to stop for gas because that would have been another mess of a situation, but we made it in one piece (haha).

Wesley was obviously in pain, but he was still in good spirits and hammed it up with our nurse. We love her, and Wes feels very comfortable around her. To make things even better, she just went ahead and conducted his 5-year-old check up right then and there – which was supposed to happen later this month. (He grew a whopping 3 inches this year! 70th percentile for height/67th for weight.)

His pediatrician is equally as awesome. While she didn’t initially think it was a fracture, she noticed an uneven clavicle and ordered an x-ray just to be safe. She assured me that even if it WAS broken, it’s a self-healing area and easily treatable with over-the-counter pain medications.

Conveniently, the x-ray technicians were just below her office. Wincing more frequently, Wes still handled the x-ray like a champ:

“So, did your doctor tell you to go back to her office?”
“No, she told us to go home and that we’d receive a phone call after the results were given.”
“I’ll call her right now. I think you better go on back up and talk now.”

Uh oh. I gathered at that point that it was a true break. Bummer! And then: WHAT NOW?! Somehow I had forgotten her reassurance from earlier.

We went back upstairs and they immediately took us to a waiting room. The doctor came in, and she looked about as surprised as we did. “It’s a fracture!”

I asked a ton of questions because amazingly, neither Steven or I or anyone in my house growing up had ever broken a bone. Did you know that your body gathers all its calcium to cover a bone fracture? A deposit calcifies and you can actually feel it under the skin as a “bump,” and it shows up on a follow-up x-ray (which we scheduled in 3 weeks). Eventually the bump flattens out and takes the shape of the bone it healed. Amazing!

She said a sling might help in addition to pain medications. By the time we were ready to leave, I felt relieved – like this wasn’t a big deal. Our nurse gave us a free sample of Advil and told us where to buy a child’s sling.

The pain medicine was starting to wear off during the sling fitting session at the pharmacy, but again, he handled it well. He talked more about getting soaked from the heavy rain than his “break in his neck.”

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We met a group of coworkers for lunch before heading back to the office to get some work finished. He happily laid on the floor and curled up to watch a couple movies. He was so quiet that I nearly forgot he was with me until a giggle or, “Mama, this movie is so silly!” escaped his mouth.

My coworkers were great with him today. He was quiet enough that they were productive, and he was sweet and sassy enough that they wanted to engage him in conversation toward the end of the work day. He loved the attention and special “office time” – offerings of candy, kitchenette treats and even tattoos! Health fair swag are usually kids’ treasures.

He “wasn’t quite ready” to leave for home when I was. In fact, after finding a cake pop, he licked his fingers and said, “This is the best place I ever been to.”  #TakeYourSontoWorkDay?

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Changing clothes is difficult. We decided it was okay to go without a pajama shirt, which he giggled about. “My belly is showing!” He was a little cautious about his bed, too, but we installed a guard rail and loaded him up with pain killers. So far, he’s sleeping soundly.

What a weird day. I’m pretty proud of him, though. I don’t think I’d be nearly as pleasant after “busting up my collar bone,” as he puts it.

Wish us luck over the next 3-4 weeks!

Posted: August 15th, 2016
Categories: Leah
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A Summer of Firsts, or It’s Good to be 5

Much has happened in the last 8+ weeks, including several first-time experiences for our growing kid. As my mom has said in response to Wesley’s reports, “it’s pretty good to be five.”

First (Minor) Celebrity Encounter
27797142723_96e0d03001_kWe participated in the summer reading program at our local library, and one of the prizes Wesley earned was a voucher for tickets to an Indianapolis Indians game. Library Night happened to be held on his actual birthday, and we scored some front-row free seats right behind the bullpen for the opposing team.

The pitcher sitting directly in front of Wes was Elvis Araujo (Lehigh Valley IronPigs / Phillies). He kept glancing back and winking at our fidgety son. It might have been the “I’m 5 Today” sticker badge that looked very worn from the day’s activities, or it might have just been because he’s a nice guy: Mr. Araujo turned around, smiled, and gave Wes the baseball he was practicing with. Wes lit up.

Wes ended up getting too unruly and fidgety for our cool seats, so we packed up our Monday Night Dollar Menu hotdogs, popcorn and cracker jack and headed to the lawn seats to stretch out.

Instead of watching the game, Wes ran around and threw his new baseball, and eventually Steven joined in. Their game of catch was so wild that they lost the baseball to the fenced in area around the scoreboard – which eventually featured Wes in lights for his birthday!

It took some coaxing via social media to get a staff member to help us retrieve the baseball and turn Wesley’s frown into an exhausted birthday smile.

First Chewing Gum
My sister started a tradition with my niece and nephews: once they turned five, they had access to big-kid perks – bubble gum and soda. Why not ride on the band wagon? We aren’t big soda/coke/pop drinkers in this house, and Wes wasn’t impressed with sparkling water. But THIS:


First Booster Seat
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His Diono car seat is built to last up to 100 lbs, and it’s solid. Supposedly you can remove the 5-point harness straps by following the manual diagram, but I ended up having to CUT it off because it was so sturdy. Whoops. Guess it’s a good thing we’re not backtracking!

It’s a small change, but he does feel big. I mean, look at the size of him!

First Time Off Training Wheels
He and Steven practiced off and on for a week. It started with, “I think I want to take off the training wheels,” and accelerated from there. We can now take our evening walks with the bike (although it does require a little more time because of the occasional fall).

We finally invested in knee and elbow pads to address some of those battle wounds.

First Bad Haircut
Two failed attempts to get an appointment at our typical kids’ haircut place resulted in a last-minute rush to a cheap salon near our house that doesn’t specialize in kids’ cuts. I figured they’d know what I meant by “all-around trim” when glancing at Wesley’s moppy hair. While he was hamming it up with the stylist (I was pretty entertained by overhearing his offbeat humor and engaging conversation), I waited in the designated area. Truthfully, when combed and wet, it looked fine. We paid and left for home.

At dinner, his hair started to dry and looked…moppy. Steven said, “Did ya get a haircut? Because it looks the same.” At first I thought he was joking that we should go back to fix it. Being the apologist, I tried to find an excuse for the stylist but was unsuccessful. Steven went outside to finish yard work, and Wes and I went back to the salon 30 minutes before it closed.

They were surprised to see us. I asked them to trim it shorter, and they did. A LOT shorter. Wes continued to be snarky with the stylist, but there was a slight panicky tone in his voice: “What are you doing?” “What does my hair look like?!”

In what seemed like ages, he hopped down from the chair. He had the 5-year-old decency to wait until we were in the parking lot to announce “that was the worst haircut ever.” I thought he was still on his joke-kick, but nope. He really hated it.

I started to chuckle about the last few hours. “It’s only hair; it will grow back, Bud.” I couldn’t stop giggling. Once home, Steven got in on the fun-tease, and while still slightly annoyed, Wes started to laugh back. He had so many hair snippings all over him that a shower before bedtime was necessary. Bubbles everywhere; family laughter; short, short hair.

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First Tennis Lesson
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When t-ball lessons ended, we asked Wes if he wanted to try a new sport this fall. “Maybe tennis!”

His answer thrilled Steven, so I found an opening with the area National Junior Tennis League. I mentioned the affordable cost to our Reynolds friends, and they signed up Beatrice! They had their first lesson last weekend, and it was pretty adorable.

Wes now wants to play tennis with Steven nearly every evening on the street in front of our house.

First Goodbye, Hello, New School
IMG_4342Because his Prep-K class at a different school doesn’t start until the end of August, we are in a weird limbo period. At his current preschool/daycare, the kids transitioned classrooms, so he had to say goodbye to his favorite teacher, Miss Kelly, and join a temporary class (Sunflowers!) for a couple weeks.

Earlier this year, Steven and I made the decision to wait for Kindergarten. He’s probably very ready for Kindergarten based on his daily experience in the classroom, but we felt like it was a unanimous hesitation, and why push it? He’s our only kid!

The same private school I attended as a kid offers a Prep-K class for those in his age bracket – in fact, the age cut off for Kindergarten is 5 by June 30 (his bday is in July). This means he won’t be the only 5-year-old in his class! We’re excited to experience a “real” school environment this year – complete with breaks, after school care and lunchboxes.

He attended a practice Round Up Day earlier this week to visit classrooms, the library and meet teachers. Another few orientations are down the pipe line (is it normal to receive emails nearly every other day from schools as a new family?!), and then class officially starts in 2 weeks. He can’t wait.

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With all these other “firsts,” I’m kinda glad I don’t have to adjust to Kindergarten Mom just yet.

Posted: August 10th, 2016
Categories: Leah
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Exterior House Painting Reveal

It looks so different. If you ever want to meet your neighbors, paint the exterior of your house. I think I’ve talked to nearly everyone on the street – and so far everyone likes it, albeit with opinions.

Remember when you were pregnant and people asked about your birth plan? Haha, painting your house is kinda in the same category of public opinion and knowledge. Not that I care, really. I have had so much trouble and anxiety on selecting colors, that I’ve actually SOUGHT help.

Months ago I found a photo in a color swatch brochure of a house with a similar roof line as ours.

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I used it as an example when we replaced the roof last fall.

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I was still on the fence about the colors, so I took our painting company’s advice and met with a painting consultant to confirm swatches several weeks ago, and she reaffirmed my selections, saying that it would “look great.”

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Then the dreaded waiting period began. I kept asking friends and family if they thought I was making the right choice – I mean EVERYONE is painting their homes GRAY and NAVY. This is a completely different spectrum! I feel like everyone was being nice about it and assuring me it would be fine. It didn’t keep me from waking up at night, though.

On Monday, the painting crew arrived for a walk through and began prepping for the week. We were assigned a team of foreign exchange students, who were friendly and enjoyed playing with Wes and the dogs. They instantly loved them back.

Steven was out of town for the day, and the Reynolds came over for dinner to celebrate Jovia’s belated birthday, get sweaty in the bounce house and watch the painting crew. It was a perfect day, really.

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Tuesday was the first painting day. When we approached the house after work, it was impressively different. The way the sun hit the tan color, though, made the color look yellow, and I started to have major doubts. But the back and side of the house looked great, so I bit my lip and literally prayed that I would learn to love it.

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Wes certainly did. “Mama, look! I like our yellow house!”
Facepalm. It’s not yellow! It’s tan! My fingers were crossed that the warm white trim color would help soften the yellow tint. After work on Wednesday, we came home to this:

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By now, everyone in the neighborhood was in it. I watched people point and drive by slowly (do they hate it? what are they saying?!); I spoke with people I hadn’t in months: “It looks AWESOME!” and “You really hit the nail on the head.”

There were also several questions – even months before the painting began – on whether we’d paint the brick. Though Steven has little opinion about color choices, this was one decision we made together: not to paint it. There are several houses with similar features as ours in the neighborhood that have successfully pulled off a single color for both the siding and brick, and they do look nice. And though there are some places around the house that show water/paint run off on the brick that could have been covered up by paint, it wasn’t really a debatable decision.

We actually like brick and its variances. We left the family room fireplace unpainted as well because we like it. It’s nearly impossible to restore to its original coloring after its painted, too, and who knows? Maybe red brick will come back in style in the next few decades…and we’ll be trendy!

Back to Wednesday’s progress: So far, so good. And the weather had held off its forecasted thunderstorms.

Until Thursday. There were a few scattered storms, but the guys got the trim done and started on the doors and porch. Wes enjoyed waking up each morning to see his new friends.

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Mom and Dad were in the neighborhood to return a borrowed ladder at a friends’ house on our street, so naturally they stopped by to check out the handiwork. I asked if it was weird for them to witness their house of 26 years change colors, but they seemed pleased with the outcome thus far.

We had hoped to complete the project by Thursday, but the crew needed another half day to finish the porch and touch up random places. We semi-grudgingly went to bed knowing that we’d have one more day to dodge and avoid certain windows while getting ready in the morning.

I was a little nervous to come home on Friday because of conversations at work about the porch (floor) color. Apparently people don’t paint porches anymore, but we couldn’t just leave the blue-gray floor, and an all-white porch seemed like too much. And shutters? I kept going back and forth. But my prayers (seriously, I did pray that I’d like it), seemed to work, because approaching the driveway was beginning to be fun.

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After the final walk through, I attached a handful of white painted shutters before hopping in the car to see Wesley’s last preschool 500 bike “race.” It was just as adorable as you can imagine.

IMG_3771We spent Friday evening on the freshly painted front porch, then had dinner on the back patio. Wes was clearly enjoying himself, as he looked up at the house, then the porch umbrella, and announced, “It’s really nice to spend your life with people under the umbrella.”

Sure is, buddy.

The paint crew gave Wes his very own painting t-shirt, which is now a coveted item. As I’m looking more closely at areas they painted, the quality of painting around specific areas (door frames, mainly) was mediocre, but they were great to our family, and at least I didn’t have to climb up a ladder with a paintbrush.

And yes, I’m still debating the color of the garage doors (should they be tan? red?), and I couldn’t get all of the shutters properly installed. But that’s ok because I’d like to replace them with wooden (maybe functional?) shutters in the somewhat near future. Everyone knows that a project like this is never fully finished.

THAT ALL SAID — the photos are misleading; it really does look warm and inviting in person, which is exactly what we were going for.

The day we moved in:                                        Today:

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Instead of grays and dark blues, we’ve opted for browns and reds. I’m sure we’ll still get asked when we plan to paint the lower brick portion, too, haha. Despite my uncertainty, we’re starting to really like the “finished” product. It’s the Shattuck way to be different, I guess.

Come by and visit!

Posted: May 29th, 2016
Categories: Leah
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O Canada

Things the three of us have commented on regarding the differences between the U.S. and Canada:

  • Washrooms vs Restrooms or Bathrooms
  • “It’s a long, long way from our house.”
  • British spellings of words (centre, colour, realise, etc.)
  • Metric system (although much American radio and TV is available in Ontario, so you still get Fahrenheit and miles)
  • Inexpensive food and goods at museums and attractions (whereas it’s hiked up tremendously in the states!)
  • Poutine craze vs best local burger or pizza
  • Absence of billboards! Instead, there are many inspirational lines of advice along the road.
  • Lots of honking drivers
  • Cleanliness, even in public bathrooms
  • Labels and signs in both English and French vs Spanish (I was surprised at how much I could translate with my unused, limited knowledge!)

We’re home now, but the road trip to Ontario was entirely fun. I think we all needed a break, and we were in good spirits throughout the week. Nevermind a mild case of extensor tendonitis, there were lots of smiles, giggles and teasing.

IMG_3525Day 1 (Saturday) – We started on the road around 10 a.m. after packing up our pantry into coolers for snacks along the way. Wes did pretty good; he had very little concept of “a long way,” but he got the hang of it after I compared the timeframe to over a dozen episodes of Octonauts. We were nearly in Detroit when Siri/Google Maps took us on a wide goose chase. A bridge had gone out on our route, and we were redirected into a no trespassing zone within a metal factory. Apparently there is a small ferry nearby, but we didn’t stay to check it out. It was so weird. One minute we were on a residential street with houses all lined up in a row, the next we were surrounded by railroad tracks and barbed wire fences.

Once we finagled our way through the detour, we crossed into Canada and drove through Windsor on 401. Our phones lost signal, so we had to rely on our 2008 TomTom GPS, which we haven’t used in ages. (Sidenote, our TomTom was once stolen, and nearly 2 years after the incident, a police officer recovered it and drove it to our house. I still find this amusing.) It was fun to drive through Canadian countryside, watching the many windmills stretch across the landscape. We stopped at an uber-clean visitor center/rest area and got a map to direct us to Niagara Falls, since TomTom was only mildly trustworthy.

We stayed just north (west?) of the Falls at a shady Hampton Inn next to a giant Buddhist temple, but it was comfortable enough. Dinner that night was at a local bar & grill, where we had our first taste of Canadian fish and chips – a favorite Shattuck travel food. Downtown Niagara Falls, ON, though quaint and lined with lighted arches and a clean playground, is not very “happening.” We felt like the only people around, but it looks like it could be more frequented in the summer months.

Day 2 (Mother’s Day) – Wesley was so disappointed that we didn’t get to swim the night before, so I promised him we would swim in the hotel after breakfast and before heading to Niagara Falls. It was such a sweet morning; we had the pool all to ourselves, and it couldn’t have been more enjoyable to start the day. Wes was terribly excited about the water – it was the first time he’s been in a pool since last August! We packed a picnic lunch (that we didn’t end up eating/having), along with my Mother’s Day cards/gifts, then headed to the car for the Falls.

We parked in a free, off-season spot, which was great, but it was also 3 km (2 miles) away from the main strip. We thought it would be fine to walk because we’d been in the car for so long yesterday, and it was – on the hike down river. Wes took some great photos of our trek, and it was fun to see some the sights easily missed: a stranded boat from the early 1900s, an abandoned power plant, blooming cherry blossoms.

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27027175475_bf1a034c7d_zOf course the first stop was the boat ride into the mist on the Hornblower Cruise (Canada’s version of Maid of the Mist). We’d been talking about this upcoming experience for days, maybe weeks, and Wes was almost as excited as Steven was to get on board. The giddy boys threw on their ponchos and grabbed a spot at the front of the boat. Wes got a little overwhelmed by it all, but he still says it was the best thing about Niagara Falls.

His feet were beginning to ache at this point, and we entered cranky-pants phase. Cranky Wes has trouble listening and following directions, so the rest of the morning was a mix of frustration and elation. The original plan to head back to the car for lunch seemed daunting, so we grabbed a quick bite at Tim Horton’s before completing the Journey Behind the Falls tour – where you get extremely up close (and under and behind!) to the falls and extremely wet.

We did have reservations for dinner at one of the falls-view restaurants, but we opted to head back to the hotel to rest after an exhausting day. But first we had to walk 2 miles back to the car. And then it started to rain. Hahahahahahaha. You can imagine how grateful we were to see our car.

26291575214_e8e21c455e_zSince we were didn’t make it to our planned picnic, I opened up my sweet presents from Wesley in the hotel room before we all took a nap. He beamed with pride at the handmade card and bracelet he worked so hard on for me. So perfect.

Dinner was at a local BBQ place we spotted while in downtown Niagara Falls the night before. I had amazing poutine (a Canadian staple dish of french fries, gravy and cheese curds. It sounds gross, but it’s really good. I first became a fan when we visited family in upstate New York several years ago.), which I gobbled up after our fun, long day. Wes got a second wind of energy, so I suggested we drive by the falls at night to get a different perspective. It really was a Mother’s Day for the books. I love these guys.

Day 3 – Toronto day! It’s only a couple hours’ drive from Niagara Falls, and because the route hugs Lake Ontario, it was really fun to site watch: American businesses intermixed with names we’d never heard of, fruit trees of all sorts, street signs in both English and French. I could hear Wes taking a bunch of photos from the back seat of the car.

We had rented an Airbnb in the heart of downtown Toronto, but the instructions for checking in were vague. We ended up waiting an hour at a metered parking space before meeting with the condo owner/host, who then hopped into our car to direct us into the maze of her parking garage beneath the building. The process was strange and so was she, but the place was perfect for us. Giant windows overlooking Lake Ontario and the Toronto Islands allowed us to watch every kind of transportation go by: airplanes landing at the small island airport, sailboats racing each other, streetcars on cables, trains transporting thousands of commuters. Wes was stoked and asked to take our photos in front of the city with his camera.

BACKLIT ON A CHEAP CAMERAAA

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Later, we walked to the ferry dock. Wes complained about pain on the top of his feet from yesterday’s walking, but we thought we’d have a shorter amount of walking to do today – ferry (sitting) and bicycle (rented from island). It was a longer walk to the dock than expected, and we took turns carrying our 40 lb guy…whew.

26856931571_261746b2b4_zLots of locals bring their bikes on the ferry to explore the islands. We enjoyed the short ride and the view of the city from the water. During the summer, a children’s amusement park and petting zoo is open on Centre Island. We headed there first, knowing it would be closed, but we were able to find some roaming peacocks on the property. The island is basically a giant state park. It’s very clean and welcoming, with signs everywhere requesting people to “Please Walk on the Grass.”

On our hunt to find a bicycle (I was starting to give up at this point; poor Wes and his feet!), we discovered a pirate ship, multiple playgrounds and a long pier. The wind made it a chilly 50-ish degrees, but the sun was out, and the views were incredible.

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Back at the condo, I helped a wobbling little kid rest on the couch while I rubbed his sore foot muscles and Googled for tendonitis remedies. He thought it all very entertaining. We watched hockey before retiring for the night.

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The boys went on to bed, but I enjoyed a few minutes watching the downtown lights and reflecting on the past year before celebrating my birthday the next day.

Day 4 (Leah’s birthday) – I woke up to all kinds of nice words and hugs. “Mama, I’m so, so glad that you’re my mom. It’s your birthday!” After a thorough inspection of the sore feet, we determined that they had healed enough to endure a walking tour around the world through Toronto’s various neighborhoods. We started off in Chinatown and worked our way through Kensington Market, where we had yummy local food (and picked up a discounted Mother’s Day cake for my birthday dessert later), and on toward Little Italy for Wesley’s first cannoli. I think he liked it.

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I rubbed his tired little feet back at the condo before we crashed hard for the rest of the afternoon. We had a big night ahead to prepare for.

26875610721_597a6e41d5_z (1)Thankfully our walk to the CN Tower was only a few blocks away, and because it was a Tuesday evening, it wasn’t crowded at all. We rode a glass elevator to the “top” (the viewing area is actually toward the middle of its height, but the view is still impressive) of the country’s tallest building and sat down for a 3-course dinner in the tower’s revolving restaurant.

We had a great time pointing out sites seen and recognized – especially along the lake. After our dinner, we walked down a few flights to watch the sunset and experience Wesley’s favorite thing ever: the glass floor.

We came back well past bedtime to eat cake, because why not add more fun to an already fun day? And it ended the best way: with extra hugs and kisses from my loving family. “Mama, I’m so happy it’s your birthday.”

Day 5 – The reason why we picked Ontario for our vacation destination and at this time of year is because Steven’s business sponsored a 1-day donor retention conference held in Toronto. While he attended the conference, Wes and I ventured to the Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada.

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Yes, I know of his love of sea creatures and the Octonauts, but I’ve never seen him so mesmerized. He loved watching the fish and sea animals, and he equally loved playing in the indoor playspace built to knock out extra kid energy. We toured the museum twice and spend 3 solid hours there.

We found Nemo and Dory! We saw his favorites: several different types of jellyfish and sharks. Many of them.

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It’s another great venue for people watching. Toronto is the most ethnically diverse city I’ve ever visited, and it was most evident in the school groups on field trips that day. Kids of all different skin and hair colors, faiths and dress – playing together. I loved it.

Wes had expressed his interest in riding a streetcar for the last few days, so when Steven asked us to meet him later at the convention’s after party, we embarked on an adventure with the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC). First we walked to the streetcar station across the street from the condo, but there was no way to purchase a ticket or token there. Google told me that we had to purchase fares at Union Station, which was a 20-minute walk away, and Wes’ feet couldn’t possibly handle that. I finally found a convenience store within a large professional building that sold tokens. After trying to explain what we wanted to do to the clerk, who looked at us like total foreigners, we headed back the way we came. The tokens are smaller than dimes, and it ALMOST got lost within my wallet of change because Canadians like to give $1 and $2 CA coin change instead of dollars, but we managed to hop on.

The TTC stop by our condo is one of the first before heading north, and we quickly realized that our timing was terrible – it was the evening rush hour. People crammed into the car like sardines, and of course we got stuck in an area where someone had spewed their lunch of chicken noodle soup. After an unpleasant 15-minute ride, we made it to the restaurant. Wes still thinks the streetcar trip was worth it, even if it wasn’t quite the magical experience he dreamed about.

The three of us walked through University of Toronto campus and spotting a local pizza joint for a quick dinner.

Day 6 – The morning was a little crazy because, since we were living like locals with Airbnb, the condo management company didn’t exclude our car from mandatory evacuation for a garage floor powerwash. We had to move the car by 8 a.m. What luck, huh? It was even better when we got stuck in Toronto rush hour traffic for an hour. Lucky for us, there’s a Tim Horton’s donut and coffee shop in any direction you look, similar to Starbucks here, which does help to soften the blow a little.

We drove another few hours west and stopped in Sarnia and Port Edward, which is the southernmost point of Lake Huron on the I-69 Michigan/Ontario border. We stretched our legs and snapped some pics before cleverly using up the remaining Canadian cash on gas (to the exact cent!). We crossed back into the US and drove through rainy weather until home.

Screenshot 2016-05-15 at 10.49.48 PMThe guys did well this trip, but they both have bouts of homesickness, and they were so grateful to roll into our garage. Before bedtime, we played a round of Candy Land at the kitchen table while eating popcorn and listening to music.

“Mama, I really liked our vacation, but I love, love, love our house.”

Check out the full album of photos here, and Wesley’s unique camera shots here.

Posted: May 15th, 2016
Categories: Leah
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Birthday Eve

I know I should be heading to bed right now, but perhaps I’m still awake because I’m sitting in a quiet living room in downtown Toronto, listening to my littlest snore peacefully and my handsomest ruffle the bedcovers, while I have this view:

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Or maybe it’s just because it’s the eve of my birthday, and I tend to reflect about the past year and the one ahead during the last few pre-birthday hours. Probably both.

It’s Year 33, the same age that Jesus died after 3 years of ministry. I remember vividly thinking/worrying about this during my 30th birthday: How can I live well for others in his honor and glory? And now: Did I accomplish much in 3 years?

I know I can’t change the world, but I can give time, kindness and love to others. Last year was difficult, and I soaked up wonderful time with my immediate family. Steven and Wes give me encouragement and strength to conquer anything. Their support gave me the desire to “pay-it-forward.” In January, I made a commitment to be more present for the people in my life. I’ve enjoyed going to recitals and birthday parties and regularly meeting up with friends. I’ve made an effort to carve out time to address even the smallest needs at work and at home, and it’s made me feel needed and valued.

And while I still struggle with occasional feelings of insecurity and self-doubt, they have developed into more consistent feelings of assurance, trust and faith.

I feel confident in my profession and career.
I am comfortable in my skin and appearance.
I dearly love my husband and son, and we’re close.
I trust God for the direction of our lives.

Yes, I can always be a better wife, parent, family member, friend or coworker. I know I still have much growth and life ahead of me, but today – in Toronto with my loved ones – I feel like I can take on the next year.

(These sillies are the best things.)

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Posted: May 9th, 2016
Categories: Leah
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10 Months Later

IMG_3134The house. We’ve remained pretty busy during the colder months, and as of last week, we completed last year’s summer project list with the fence repair! Whew. It felt so good to cross off that last, important item.

2015 Unfinished Summer Projects:
Repair rear fence
Remove wallpaper: 1/2 Bath ([still] TABLED: Steven has hinted enough that he actually likes the wallpaper!)
Remove wallpaper: 3rd Bedroom
Paint: Master + Bath, Entry/Stairwell, Dining Room, Family Room

Sofa slipcover in Living Room

In January, Steven had the wallpaper removed in the 3rd bedroom and the walls painted for the beginnings of my own craft/painting room. Because the room gets the most amount of sunlight than any other in the house, I picked the same soft white paint color as the entry – mainly so I would have enough extra paint to do the family room myself. I still need to organize some things, but doesn’t it look like it has potential??
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In March, I decided to jump into the thick of it and start painting the walls and trim in the family room – the only room in the house with original brown trim and crown molding. The project took 2 weekends and nearly 20 hours, but it was so worth it. I found dried paint in my hair two weeks later.
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For giggles, this is what the family room looked like when I was a kid.
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(Yeah, so there’s a story behind the photo on the right of my sister and I. My grandma, who had dementia, was in a goofy mood that day; she posed us and then snapped this pic. Great memories.)

THEN Steven and I went to find new bedroom furniture for Wes. We found the best set(!) that he’ll use for ages and ages, and it looks great in his room. Here’s an adorable photo of Wes spinning around in his room right after the furniture truck left.
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While we were shopping for bedroom furniture, Steven spotted this wonderful small sectional and fell in love. After we bought the bedroom set and left the store, I called them back and added this piece, because why not? I hate that we said goodbye to the beloved couch of my grandma’s (which for the life of me I couldn’t find a slip cover to fit!), but it was a good time to move on.
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And now the fence is fixed! We didn’t want to replace the whole thing – just the sections with holes to keep the dogs contained. I mean, you can clearly see where the new sections start, but nothing a little spray paint can’t hide.

Now that we’re “done”… naturally I need to put together THIS summer’s project list, right? Believe me, it won’t be nearly as aggressive. Here’s what we’d like to do this year, and we’re already off to a good start.

Summer Projects:
Paint: House Exterior, Porch, Trim, Doors
Replace porch furniture
Kitchen Drawer Pulls
Weeding & landscaping
Replace interior doors

We’ve been outside every nice weekend day and weeknight to start cleaning up from the winter and clear out some overgrowth. Some of the “weeding and landscaping” is/will be fairly extensive – removing old roots, stumps and dead ash trees. I’m not planning on planting much of anything new this year, but will instead get ready for next summer’s possibilities.

I guess the exception is Wesley’s new addition to the yard: Tree-Rex. We received this baby Shumard Oak from the Indiana Earth Day Festival last weekend, and we planted it where an old fir tree had been removed. Wes is in love with this little tree and even gave it its own birthday party.

We hired a company to paint the exterior of the house in June, which is super exciting and nerve-wrecking. I feel like picking the right colors is essential. Did you know that painting consultants exist?! Sherwin Williams is scheduled to come to the house this week to look at the roof line, other homes in the area and our building materials to help me choose paint colors.

It’s amazing what some elbow grease and new furnishings do to make a place feel like home. Our evening walks have started up again, which helps us meet more neighbors and feel even better about our decision to move into this space. We’ve definitely settled in to a rhythm here – our little place in this city. We’re loving it.

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Posted: April 27th, 2016
Categories: Leah
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Confessions from an Aging Off-Brand Consumer

tasteeosI’m one of those people who buys things on sale, uses coupons and frequently purchases store brand items to save some money. This is one of the things that drives Steven most nuts because he has a specific preference on many items. Throughout our marriage, I’ve learned it’s best to go ahead and buy the $4 box of Cheerios, but I still skimp on products that only I use.

The ironic thing here is that I’m an advertising graduate in a marketing and communications career. You’d think I would be highly brand loyal, but with the exception of make-up and soda, I’m all over the place.

However, the last several appointments to the dentist, eye doctor and hair salon have led me to make major changes, including brand non-loyalty. I realize I’m not old, but man, I’m starting to feel oldER based on the scolding I’ve received in the last few months. And everyone asked me what products I was using.

“Your teeth are fine, but you have gingivitis pretty bad. If you don’t change your dental hygiene, you could lose your teeth in a few decades or less.”

I guess I’ve always known that I could treat my gums better, but this was a wake-up call. I ditched my 6-month-old toothbrush and bought an electronic Sonicare 2 Series with plaque control. I’ve liked it so well that I bought the kids’ version for Wes (and it has an app, of course!). Twice daily I use dentist-recommended POH dental floss and follow up with Listerine mouthwash, which replaced my Target brand substitutes.

“Your corneas are pitted along the bottoms of both eyes. It’s reverseable, but if you don’t change your habits…this is how people lose their eyes.”

I was floored. I’ve never had eye health issues other than needing contacts/glasses. I started to blame it on my 2-month delayed appointment and I made my contacts last that much longer, but this new eye doc quizzed me well. How long do you wear your contacts? How much screen time in a day? How long do you use the same contact lens case? She asked these AFTER she noted my pitted eyes, and then firmly told me to change what I was doing.

Did you know that you’re supposed to use a different contact case every two months? I’m also guilty for keeping solution in the case for far too long. I swapped out my off-brand solution for her recommended BioTrue and now regularly insert Refresh Tears eye drops to keep my eyes moist until they heal.

“Yeah…your hair could be healthier.” (This was the nicest of the recent “fear tactics” by far.)

I don’t often get my hair cut, but I’ve had an unusual amount of breakage that I’ve never attributed to less-frequent trims. I blame it on last fall’s Atlanta escapades, where I lost my toiletries and had to use hotel products that possibly ruined my hair. Possibly my hair was already ruined?

This week I started a hair repair strategy with Argan oil – replacing my drugstore, whatever’s-on-sale shampoo. It involves a hair mask procedure, which tacks on an additional 10 minutes, but until I chop off several inches later this year, my fingers are crossed that it will help. I’m using nothing fancy here, just something I found on Amazon, but again…hopeful. I also pulled out some (rare, in the cabinet name-brand) products I haven’t used in a while – Kenra Blow-Dry Spray and Silkening Gloss.

Never have I felt dirtier and more embarrassed. Each doctor/specialist assured me that my hygiene wasn’t bad, per se; rather my body has been able to tolerate a lot over the years, and now, well, it can’t. Next month is another birthday, and I’ve got to get my body into shape by changing not just the routine, but the things I use. Did you SEE all the name brands above?!

Steven jokes that my time spent getting ready in the morning and before bed has more than doubled, but I’m really trying to make good, healthy choices before things get out of control. This extends into other areas of my life, too, as I leave my early 30s and enter mid 30s. Somehow that slight age difference seems older, scarier and more permanent.

My hope is that next appointments will be full of praise, but I’ll probably still buy off-brand cotton balls and bandages and the occasional “Tastee-Os” to offset the cost of my new splurges.

Do you have experience with any must-have product I need to try?

Posted: April 10th, 2016
Categories: Leah
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When the Cat’s Away

Steven has been traveling frequently – I think I’ve counted 13 days/nights without him in the last 3 weeks – which makes it increasingly difficult and less motivating to clean, cook and keep normal routine. Getting out the door in the morning is harder than ever. It’s not like Wes and I have been lazy, though; in fact, we’ve been plenty busy:

12809601_10103279786348868_651774396093999713_nCatching up with friends and family. A few weeks ago, we met Rachel for dinner and then brought her back home to hang out for several hours. Wesley so desperately wanted to have a pajama party and was disappointed that she didn’t think to bring some to change into.

And at least twice in the last month, we’ve met the Reynolds clan at the mall food court because the indoor playground is like the kids’ mecca. Wes loves to play hard with B & J, and Julia and I get to hang out while kids are entertained.

I’m including FaceTime chats in this category because there’s been a lot of that recently, too – with friends far away, birthday greetings to cousins and giggles from Wes’ bed to Daddy’s hotel room before lights out.

Being crafty. Move over, Octonauts! Wes now requests to watch Amazon Prime’s Creative Galaxy on repeat. When we’re sick of TV, we get out crafts supplies to make our own projects. It’s great that he understands basic terminology (“that’s called action painting!”) and finds freedom in artistic expression. He usually adds commentary when painting or gluing something together. “This is a chocolate tornado that used to be a tree, and I changed my mind about this thunderstorm – it’s actually a white, fluffy cloud.”

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“Isn’t this SO COOL?! Daddy’s gonna love it.”

Finishing projects. It took me 20 hours, but I’m finally at a stopping point in the Family Room. Over the last handful of weekends, I painted the trim, crown molding and walls to match the entry and foyer. Whew.

Making music. Wes keeps finding random, small instruments I’ve collected: jaw harp, harmonica, recorder. And he wants to learn how to play them all. He actually has pretty good rhythm for guitar/ukulele strumming, and he doesn’t hammer piano keys like many kids do. We like to make our own “garage band” in the Living Room. And if we’re not playing instruments, he likes to pop in old cassette tapes of mine and my sister’s that were left at the house by my parents.

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Snuggling and lounging. Yes, lots. Especially on weekends without Daddy. It’s fun to rent a RedBox movie or find one on Netflix and share a blanket together. The dogs, Jake and Lucy, are professional snugglers. They’re the best at keeping us company (especially me at night).

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Reading. We keep visiting the library and bookstore to add to our collection. Our current favorites on rotation are Officer Buckle and Gloria, The Kissing Hand, George and Martha, Caps for Sale, Mary Alice Operator Number 9 and Tikki Tikki Tembo. Sometimes when it’s just the two of us at home, we’ll read more than our normal 3-books-before-bedtime because why not?

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When Wes goes to bed, I read until an atypical hour and kick myself in the morning for staying up so late.

Playing. Dance parties, board games, being outdoors. On Saturday we invited my parents to join us for an Easter egg hunt at Broad Ripple Park. Though the weather was bad and the “hunt” turned into picking eggs from a large tub, it was still a perfect time. Once we went to see Zootopia for an extra special treat. Speaking of treats, it’s best to partake in ice cream as much as possible.

While we do know how to entertain ourselves, these little “mice” are always anxious to welcome Steven home from his travels.

Posted: March 21st, 2016
Categories: Leah
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