Saturday, December 12, 2015

Weekly Wrap-Up {The Final Stretch}

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The final week of Nutcracker Tour! Grace is, of course, very sad to be done with the tour, since it's one of her favorite times of the year. But the end of Nutcracker does mean that it's almost time for Christmas break, so she'll adjust just fine. : )

On the homeschool front, there is not too much to report. Ryne is enjoying the relaxed pace and is knocking out his hefty reading list to complete before school resumes in January. I'm, as usual, quite behind in my reading.

Anna had a pretty big week. She had a very helpful doctor visit on Monday -- we're hopeful she might start getting relief from symptoms we always attributed to her low iron levels, but could be something else entirely. She spent most of the week finishing up a computer class she's been taking at the community college. Due to her health issues and some software issues, she got behind in the class (although it sounds like everyone else was behind too) and had to work almost nonstop for several days to get it all done before the final on Thursday. She did get it done and aced the class, but she was very glad to cross that off the to-do list! She received a much-needed boost on Wednesday evening when she checked her email and found out she was accepted to one of her most competitive college choices!

On Thursday, I baked a turkey for the school potluck lunch being held Friday. It's only been the last few years that I've started hosting Thanksgiving, so my turkey baking experience is limited and I usually overcook it. Naturally, the turkey I baked for the potluck was my best ever -- completely moist and tender. Grrr. Not that I don't want a yummy turkey for the school, but it would be nice to have those results for my family. I think my success was due to not having a million other things to be doing at the same time -- putting ten million side dishes in the two ovens at different temperatures and different times, getting the table set, making sure the kitchen doesn't look like a war zone, and taking a shower are all distractions to successful turkey baking. ; )

Thursday night I dropped Grace off at ballet, rushed home to check on the turkey, made a 45-minute appearance at Marc's office Christmas party (which was, thankfully, on our side of town), and then picked Grace up from ballet. When I got home, I carved the turkey (something I usually leave for Marc, but he was still at the party, so I received instruction via youtube!). By then, I was exhausted, but we still had a batch of sugar cookies to make for the potluck. Anna was awesome and mixed the dough, and I decided to just cut and bake them in the morning.

Friday's schedule was a work of art: The morning half of the Nutcracker tour was cancelled, so Anna and Grace left for school at 7:30. Grace was going to attend her first class, and then she needed to leave for Nutcracker warm-ups. I finished the cookies around 8:15, quick showered, and then headed to school with all the food. Marc came with me, because at the party the previous night he lost his keys, so he was going to borrow Anna's car while she was at school. On the way to school, he got a call from a woman he works with -- his keys had somehow fallen into her purse! We dropped off the food, grabbed Grace, borrowed Anna's car, and headed our separate directions.

Grace and I enjoyed another wonderful day of Nutcracker Tour and I got all teary-eyed for the mom of the one ballerina who is graduating this spring. I may be taking my role as a mom to a senior a little too far. How I'm ever going to survive this year, I have no idea!

We finished with Nutcracker around 4:00, Marc picked Anna up from school, they went to pick his car up from the house where the office party had been, but that was actually just a rental he's had for a month since getting in a wreck, but the dealer called to say the repairs were done and he could pick up his car that afternoon, so that's just what he did after Anna dropped him off (catch all of that?). He picked up frozen pizzas on the way home, and we all just collapsed. It was one of those blessed nights with nothing on the schedule, so we just relaxed. It was wonderful!!!

Saturday was pretty low key too. Grace is probably waltzing this very moment, as I type -- her last Nutcracker performance of the year, at a local police academy. This is Marc's first time to see her dance in Nutcracker, so I'm excited that he gets to not only see her dance but how neat it is to take Nutcracker on the road.

I know I'm not alone in this crazy schedule stuff. It really is amazing how much we can squeeze in a day or week, right? It can be overwhelming at times, but we really do treasure so many of these memories. Nevertheless, I'm ready for some more lazy nights like last night! We have one more week of school -- finals week for Anna. The final stretch!

Enjoy your weekend and happy homeschooling!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Weekly Wrap-Up {Nutcracker}

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It's December! How did that happen?!

It's also Nutcracker season, so we've been very busy with rehearsals and performances. Grace's ballet studio does a Nutcracker school tour, in which they pack up the set, costumes, lights, and everything else needed for a ballet performance and perform selections from Act Two for various schools. It is such a neat experience -- with the bonus of getting to miss school three Fridays in a row. ; ) They also have two Saturdays with performances. This year, Grace is in the Waltz of the Flowers.

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Since my last weekly wrap-up (I missed a couple of weeks), Ryne had his Classical Conversation finals, we hosted Thanksgiving for part of my husband's family, Anna and I attended a career night for one of her top college choices, and I tried (but didn't do a good job) to help her stay calm as she finished up an application to another top choice. We've decided The Common Application is just plain evil. It loves to eat essays and mess with formatting until you give up all patience and just hit submit. I think everyone at the Blue House will be happier when the whole college application process is done!

Although CC is done for the semester, Ryne will continue school for a couple more weeks. The break is when we try to make some progress on his non-CC subjects and when I supplement the CC material.

This semester, I was a little disappointed in his government studies. It was really more of a short survey of American history, although they did spend a fair amount of time learning about the Constitution. I love that they used original documents as their reading, but I felt there were a lot of critical gaps compared to a typical American government class. Plus, Ryne already earned his American history credit last year, so I really needed this course to be different. I had already planned to supplement a little over the break by reading Showdown at Gucci Gulch as a legislative case study, but now I've also added in a traditional high school government textbook that I bought used on Amazon for him to read over the break. I might have to have Anna read it at some point too, because I'm noticing some of the same gaps in her education. She has an amazing background in political theory, but doesn't know some of the basics of how our government works. Thankfully, Ryne doesn't seem to mind the heavy reading load; in fact, he seems to be taking after his mom in that he loves anything to do with history and political science.

Slowly, slowly I continue to plug away at getting caught up after a hectic first semester. I've never been so ready for a Christmas break! My reading list for the break is about a mile long, but I've hardly started. I also haven't started my Christmas shopping and I've barely started decorating. I still have pumpkins and mums on my front porch! Granted, the weather has felt more like pumpkins and mums than Christmas trees and snowflakes, but hopefully we can at least get the lights on the tree tomorrow.

Have a wonderful week! Happy homeschooling!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Weekly Wrap-Up {How Good it is to Thank the Lord}

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A photo I didn't have a chance to share a few weeks ago -- how did these kids get so grown up?!

My timing has been off this week -- on Tuesday I was convinced it was the end of the week and I needed to start writing my weekly wrap-up, but then I couldn't remember what had happened during the week. By the time Friday did roll around, I got my post mostly written and then forgot about it until Sunday afternoon. Oh, well. : )

I have a newish routine for my Mondays. Ryne's Classical Conversations class is 30 minutes away from our house, so in the past I've either stuck around at CC -- sometimes attending Ryne's classes, sometimes running errands, and sometimes just hanging out in the car reading or even taking a nap! The one thing that didn't make sense was wasting all that time and gas money to drive back home.

Last week, I joked about how my kids were excited to get to ride the yellow school bus, and I must admit I've had my share of yellow school bus fantasies. How wonderful it would be to have the house to myself. Peace and quiet, productivity, a chance to do the things I can never get done when everyone else is home. Writing it out sounds so selfish and trivial, but I know I can't be the only one who feels this way from time to time. Okay, daily. ; )

Last month, I dropped Ryne off at CC and then headed home because I desperately needed to get something done at home. I don't even remember what the emergency was, but I remember having my yellow school bus moment and thinking, this is the life! Now, don't get me wrong. This past summer God gave me the confirmation and conviction that homeschooling Ryne through high school is what I'm called to do and I'm honored to be able to do it. But that one Monday at home convinced me that it is worth the cost of time and money to have 4-5 hours at home alone. I get a LOT done and it starts out my week on a relaxing tone. Now that I've decided that this is generally what my Monday routine is going to be, I'm starting to tweak how I want to structure the day.

This past Monday was spent mostly in the kitchen, making food for that night's cross country team awards banquet. As I made a quadruple batch of bacon breadsticks and baked a pumpkin dump cake, I watched The Lost Tools of Writing DVDs that I've been meaning to get to for the past year and half. See why I'm liking this new routine? : )

If an emotional breakdown was prevented during Anna's last cross country meet, there was no getting off the hook at the banquet that night. The banquet lasts almost 4 hours, but that's because our amazing coach talks about each athlete and how they contributed to the team -- not just athletically, but through their spiritual character traits. I was so blessed by the things said about both our kids. It was a special night!

Tuesday and Wednesday were just normal routine days, and I just want to say I LOVE normal routine days! It's been such a whirlwind this fall, that we really take notice when we have the opportunity to just buckle down and get things done. Ryne only has a couple weeks left in the CC semester, so the easier schedule is timely.

One thing I'm so glad I decided to do this year is take algebra along with Ryne. Until this week, that just meant watching the Math U See lesson with him and then I'd take the test myself to make sure I was following the material. If I made any mistakes, I reviewed the lesson and usually figured it out pretty quickly. This week's lesson was about graphing inequalities, and I finally decided I was going to have to do some of the daily assignment work before doing the test. I worked through several problems, then took the test on Wednesday and scored 100%. Woo hoo! How funny for me to be that excited about doing well on a math test. Going through the course with Ryne is actually quite helpful -- not because of the ego boost -- but because I am able to help him so much better when he gets stuck on something. A few weeks ago, I got a week behind and when he needed help, I made things much worse before I took the time to go through the lesson myself. I'm so glad I listened to this advice from homeschool veterans -- take math with your child (ideally, you'd even work ahead of their pace).

Thursday was a fun day. I got to keep a secret from Ryne all day, and it drove him crazy. : ) I count that as a blessing too, because many kids on the autism spectrum would not be able to handle such uncertainty. While it was annoying to him, he was able to deal with the teasing. So, what was the surprise? Tickets to a Star Trek symphony performance -- they played one of the movies on a giant screen while the symphony accompanied. Ryne loves both Star Wars and Star Trek, and he's obsessed with the soundtracks to both series. He got a couple different soundtracks for his birthday in August and has listened to them nonstop, so he was in his element at this event.

While Marc and Ryne were at the symphony, I got to go out to a restaurant with some ladies from our church, which was also a lot of fun. Grace was at ballet class and Anna was preparing for a big debate for her rhetoric class.

Friday afternoon, Anna's senior class conducted their debate in front of the entire the secondary school body and I was able to go watch. This wasn't one of those emotional senior year "last" moments, but it was still a pretty significant event -- for her because it was a big project her team had worked hard on, for me because it was an opportunity to see her classical education come full circle. Nine years ago I casually browsed the library shelves for anything on homeschooling and brought home The Well-Trained Mind. The book sold me on the idea of homeschooling, but the classical method intimidated me. Yet, by the grace of God, we survived and I can see how it really does equip the student in so many ways. I'll have to expand on that in a future post, maybe next semester as we get closer to graduation.

As soon as the debate ended, I started getting notifications on my phone about the tragedy in Paris. And then 30 minutes later, Marc called to say he had been in an accident on the interstate. There were no serious injuries -- he's sore, but thankful his car held up well to the impact. It needs significant repairs, yet it could have been much worse. We're praising God for His protection.

And we are praying for the people in Paris. This morning a verse of a hymn we sang in church served as a beautiful reminder that God is in control and offers a glorious future, free from sin and evil.

When as the grass the wicked grow,
When sinners flourish here below,
Then is there endless ruin nigh,
But You, O Lord, are throned on high:
Your foes shall fall before your might,
The wicked shall be put to flight.
How Good it is to Thank the Lord, (Verse 3)

Finally, since I'm still finishing this post up Sunday night, my heart is also heavy about news I just received that a dear friend is having to say good-bye to her father, just like I did a few months ago. I'm praying God will fill her with the same peace and comfort He did for me.

I'll probably have the above hymn in my head all week, which is a good thing. It is good to thank the Lord, not just for happy moments of which we had many at the Blue House this week, but also for the hard moments because they teach us to cling to God.

How good it is to thank the Lord,
And praise to You, Most High, accord.
To show Your love with morning light,
And tell your faithfulness each night:
Yea, good it is your praise to sing,
And all our sweetest music bring.
(Verse 1)

May you have a blessed week! Happy homeschooling!

Friday, November 6, 2015

Weekly Wrap-Up {Celebration!}

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Whew! What a couple of weeks it's been -- the Royals won the World Series!!! More on that in a bit.

Sorry, I missed last week's wrap-up. I was out of town for the kids' last cross country meet of the season and just couldn't find the time or energy for blogging, so I'll try to recap two weeks at once.

Classical Conversations: Two weeks ago, Ryne had his first debate. They had been studying the debate process all semester, but this was their first actual debate with teams and everything. I'll admit, it was pretty awful, but I'm so proud of him.

First of all, the kids picked their own topic and didn't realize when they chose it how impossible this particular topic would be to research and argue, for either side of the resolution. That made preparation a giant headache for everyone, but it was a good lesson to learn and a mistake they won't repeat if they get to choose their topic again. : )

Second, my son is just amazing. Debate is hard in general, but a thousand times harder for a kid with autism who has trouble verbally expressing himself. Several of his statements were hard to understand and his points didn't flow well. Yet, he did it, and I think he even enjoyed it. He has no fear of speaking in front of people (which can also be a problem sometimes!), because he doesn't get all caught up in what other people think about him. He does, however, thrive on the interaction with people. When he was growing up, I would never have thought he'd be an extrovert, but I think he is! That leaves me as the only true introvert in our family, and we wonder why I'm always so stressed out. {Kidding, dear family!}

Moving on. Two Thursdays ago, Grace had her choreography night at ballet, a tradition the middle grade ballet students do each year around Halloween. Instead of just dressing in costumes, like the youngest kids, they get to choreograph their own dance to perform in front of the class. Grace stayed up late Wednesday night trying to get all her homework done and then spent most of Thursday working on her dance, which was a cute (poking-fun-of) day in the life of a One Direction fan, using music from The Piano Guys. I had my phone all ready to record her performance at class that night, so, of course, I totally forgot to record it and I'm going to hate myself forever.

Soon, you will notice a recurring theme.

Friday, we left for the out of town cross country meet. That evening the team had a meeting and the seniors each got to share a few words about their cross country experience. I sat hidden in a corner so no one would be able to see my tears flow when it was Anna's turn to talk. I was doing pretty well holding myself together until the very end when she got teary, but then as she started to get emotional Ryne walked right up to the front of the room and wrapped his arms around her. Waterworks, ya'll. That was too much for this momma to handle.

After that, I figured Saturday I'd be an emotional mess since it was Anna's last cross country meet ever. Instead of puddles of tears, however, we had rain puddles. It rained and rained and rained all morning. There was no thunder or lightning, so the races went on as planned. But it was my daughter's last race and I was not going to let the rain prevent me from getting the perfect photo of it. I take thousands of pictures each cross country season, of every kid on the team. If I do say so myself, sometimes I get pretty amazing pictures -- of other people's kids. My own kids' photos usually turn out so-so. I think it's because I have a harder time focusing on taking the photo since I also want to cheer them on. Yet, this was my last chance for Anna, so I just wrapped a plastic bag around my camera and kept snapping away.

She had a pretty good race with a strong finish. I stood near the finish line taking continuous photos as she approached, but it was exciting because she hadn't had that kind of kick at the end of her race for more than a year. And then as soon as she passed me, I burst into tears. That was it, her last race.

The rain continued through the award ceremony and the team prayer afterwards. Everyone was soaked to the bone, so it was a little hard to be emotional when you just wanted to find dry clothes and food. Momma meltdown prevented, but it was also a bit of a letdown.

At least I'd have great pictures of her last race. How could I not when I took hundreds just of her?

Nope. The best ones were so-so, and I'm going to hate myself forever.

Sunday was Grace's 13th birthday!!! And guess what her big present was? The Royals winning the World Series!!! Yes, we had previously arranged it with the team, so while the rest of the city was sweating it out when the game extended into 12 innings we were as calm as could be. ; )

Tuesday was the big celebration for the champions. Parade at noon and rally at 2:00. City officials were planning for 200,000 people to crowd downtown Kansas City. Area schools cancelled classes. To accommodate the crowds, buses would be available at various locations around the metro area to shuttle people in. In my great wisdom, I decided taking the shuttle would be much easier than trying to find parking downtown.

Well, I wasn't the only one who had that bright idea.

This was taken when we first got in line -- these are the people who showed up in the 15 minutes after us.

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And this is about two hours later. That's the line of people still in front of us.

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The crazy thing is that NO ONE complained. When city officials traveled down the line to tell us we probably wouldn't get there in time for the parade, no one left. We just kept steadily moving up the mile-long line, cheering and waving each time another busload of people pulled out of the lot. Thankfully, we brought sandwiches with us, so we just stuck it out for three hours. You can tell we're homeschoolers in that my kids were excited that the bus we got to ride on was a yellow school bus -- ha! Or at least they were excited until we got on the bus and it was 100 degrees and our bus driver got lost. Still, no one got mad -- everyone just kind of laughed it off and helped the bus driver find her way back to the highway. I was beginning to wonder what planet I woke up on that morning!

A few more than 200,000 people showed up for the Royals celebration. The mayor's office said that it may have been 800,000, and I don't doubt it a bit. For a metro area  with a population around 2 million, that's a pretty big crowd!

Our view was a bit more limited.

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It was almost impossible to be in a bad mood that day, but yes, I'll hate myself forever that we didn't get to see the parade. Everyone I know that drove in themselves somehow found a parking spot and got amazing pictures of the parade. The rally, which is what is shown above, was cool in that we got to be part of it, but the parade would have been much better.

Photos of the daytime fireworks will have to substitute for photos of players and the trophy (or even a decent photo of my kids, because even those didn't turn out well).

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My favorite photo of the day was actually from the car on the way home (we had Marc pick us up rather than wait three more hours for a shuttle; even with Marc getting us it took awhile to get out of downtown).

My parade shot. Ha!

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The rest of the week was a little anticlimactic. : )

You know me, I'm a visual person. It kills me when I'm not able to capture the moment with my camera and I beat myself up for not doing a better job. It's in those times I'm reminded that words can also preserve those memories. So, I apologize for the length of this post, but these were all memories I wanted to hold onto a little longer. There was a lot of celebrating happening the last couple of weeks: a son who didn't back down from a hard task, a daughter who finished strong, another daughter just starting out her teenage years, and a team that made a whole city proud.

Have a great weekend, and happy homeschooling!

Okay, just one more thing... in case you're wondering what the big deal is about the Royals, here's a link to my favorite article of the week. It's a good read even if you don't know a thing about baseball and couldn't point Kansas City out on a map (most people I meet have no idea what state the city is in). : )

Royals Crowned Kings of Improbability and MLB
If there ever was a team that could find itself two runs down to the Dark Knight in the ninth inning of a World Series game and think, "Cool, we've got these guys right where we want them," this was that team -- the kings of improbability. They'd spent an entire postseason acting as if down were up. So why stop now?
Bye, for real this time!

Friday, October 23, 2015

Weekly Wrap-Up {From the Front Porch}

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Ah, the difference a week can make.

Last week, we were worrying about how my husband would survive if the Cubs ended up meeting the Royals in the World Series. I did mention the discussion was premature because there was still a lot of baseball to play. Premature, indeed. It just took four games and the Cubs were done for the season (ouch!). Oh, well. Cub fans agree: there's always next year.  : )


Meanwhile, we continue to cheer on the Royals!

Other than baseball, this week has been mostly about me getting caught up on everything. I've hardly made a dent, but it does feel good to be making progress.

I'm looking forward to a Monday morning when I'm not feeling completely guilty about Ryne not having done something for Classical Conversations. Last year, his community day was on Tuesday, giving us Monday to put the finishing touches on everything and get ready for class day. I didn't like having CC on Tuesdays because it's one of the days the girls are home from their 3-day-a-week school, but I didn't get to spend much time with them. So when our CC community switched to Mondays this year, I thought I would love it. Instead, I just never feel prepared and our weeks start out stressful. Part of it has been life circumstances, and part has been the increase in difficulty and workload. Apparently, you can't please me either way, so we'll just have to make the best of it. ; )

Monday afternoon, I met with Ryne's tutor for a sort of parent-tutor conference, and he had some very encouraging things to say about Ryne. He also confirmed some of our struggles, but overall I did feel better about things.  The most important thing is Ryne really likes CC, and that makes it worth it. We will hit our groove for the year -- it's just taking a little longer than last year.

Monday night I fell asleep as the Royals were losing. The score was high on both sides, and when my alarm went off in the morning, I was sure the game was still being played and the score was more like a basketball score than a baseball score. Thankfully, I always set the coffee maker to start 15 minutes before my alarm, so pretty soon all was well with my brain. The Royals' loss was confirmed, but the score was 8-11, not 88-111.

Wednesday afternoon, Anna and Ryne had a cross country meet. It was Anna's second-to-last cross country meet. I'm so not ready for all the last things we'll encounter this year.

Thursday was the day Anna completed two more college applications. Unlike the last things I was referring to in the previous paragraph, I think we'll all be very glad when she clicks 'submit' for the last application. We just want to move ahead to the part where they all accept her with tons of scholarship money and she gets to decide where she wants to go for the next phase of her life. Or at least that's how it should work. ; )

Friday morning brought a light rain. I think one of my favorite moments of the whole week was sitting on the front porch, drinking a hot cup of tea and listening to the rain and watching the deer eat grass across the street. I was only out there about 10 minutes, but it was heavenly. The afternoon was spent helping Ryne prepare for his debate on Monday, and trying to get caught up on all my school reading. We're reading Through the Gates of Splendor this week, which is one of my favorite books of all time.

While working on this weekly wrap-up, it suddenly occurred to me that it would be delightful to return to the front porch with my afternoon coffee and my favorite book, so that's where you'll find me for the next hour or so.

I also have a couple thousand cross country photos to sort through this weekend -- that should definitely help me cope with all those senior mom emotions. : (

Have a blessed weekend, and happy homeschooling!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Cross Country Team Lunch: Baked Potato Bar

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When I offered to host our kids' cross team for an after-meet lunch last year, I debated between a taco bar and a potato bar, knowing that it would be easy to have people help out by contributing ingredients. I can't remember exactly why I ended up choosing potatoes over tacos, but it was a real winner and we decided to do it again this year. It great for those athletes who just burned off their spaghetti dinners from the night before and works well for a large group of people. The potatoes are filling, so guests aren't having to repeatedly go back through the line for seconds (or thirds and fourths, if we're talking about my son). : )

A couple of weeks ago, I found my shopping list from last year, making the planning even easier. I thought it would be even more helpful to just record my lists and tips on the blog to make it even easier when I host again next year. I've already had several people ask me about ingredients and planning, so this might be the first "helpful" post I've had on this blog in a long, long time! ; ) I apologize in advance for how long it is -- I could never be a food blogger!


I do most of my shopping for the potato bar at Costco, just because we're a Costco family. There might be better deals at Sam's or elsewhere, so shop wherever you like the best. The 20-pound sacks of potatoes at Costco are particularly good because they are large potatoes -- about a pound apiece. This year I bought 3 sacks ($8.99 each) and ended up with 56 potatoes. You might think that people won't want to eat that much potato, but the kids really love it, and both years I've only seen a few people split a potato, and there's been very little food going in the trash.

Preparing the potatoes works best as a two-person job. Marc washed and I patted them dry, pricked them a few times with a knife, brushed on some butter, and wrapped them in foil. We used olive oil for a handful of the potatoes for our dairy-free guests. I found pre-cut foil sheets at the dollar store last year, and it really is a nice time saver. Not necessary, but helpful for a big project like this.

I have a double oven and was able to fit all the potatoes into the two ovens. Last year I bought 4 sacks of potatoes (way too many!) and used a roaster in addition to the ovens. I haven't got the cooking time down to an exact science yet -- this year I started cooking the potatoes about 5 hours before we ate, starting at 325, upping it to 350, and then decreasing the temperature to warm. The smaller, upper oven cooked the potatoes faster than the bottom. When wrapped in foil and stacked together, these large potatoes stay warm for hours -- seriously, we set the leftover potatoes on the counter to cool and they were still slightly warm by the evening! I've read that people cook them in batches and keep them in a large cooler to keep warm until serving time, which would help if you don't have a double oven or roaster.


That covers the potato cooking, so let's move on to the best part -- the toppings!

Here's the list of toppings I used to serve 50-60 people:

Large crockpot in photo; recipe below.

Small crockpot -- 1 block of Velveeta and a small jar of salsa.

Both years I've bought too much, so a small or medium sized jar is probably plenty.

Crumbled Bacon
I bought the 4-pound pack at Costco ($14.99) this year and we probably could have used two 4-packs; the bacon is very popular.

Sharp Shredded Cheddar Cheese
I bought the big 2-pound block from Costco ($4.79) and shredded myself.

Chopped Green Onion
2-3 bunches are plenty.

Sliced Black Olives
I used one small can I already had in my pantry but probably should have used two.

Sour Cream
Large 3-pound tub from Costco ($4.39), used almost all of it.

Grilled chicken, diced
I think we used about 2-3 pounds of chicken. I bought the multi-pack of chicken breasts at Costco ($19.52, but prices vary) -- can't remember how many pounds, but it was probably 4-5 and we knew we'd be able to use it for other stuff. 

Sauteed tricolor peppers, onions, and mushrooms
I bought these at my regular grocery store -- one small container of pre-chopped peppers (it was cheaper than buying the peppers whole), one large sweet onion, and a container of sliced mushrooms. I added some salt and pepper and sauteed in olive oil so our dairy-free guests could partake.

Steamed Broccoli
Barely steam the broccoli and it will stay nice and firm (I probably overcooked ours just a bit this time). It won't stay warm, but it won't be soggy, and the potato and other toppings will make it seem warmer than it is. : ) I bought the large bag of precut broccoli at Costco ($4.79) and used more than half of it -- the rest will go in a chicken casserole tonight. ; )

We used almost all of the 3 sticks I put out. I used another stick when preparing the potatoes.

Salt and Pepper

The first year we did this I had other families contribute toppings and desserts, but we ended up being short on desserts and it was a little difficult to coordinate who was bringing what toppings (an online sign-up would be the best way to handle that, but for various reasons we couldn't do that last year). This year I decided to just do the toppings myself and have others bring the desserts. This team and its coaches are very dear to us, so I really view this as my gift to the team. Nevertheless, if you want to divide up all the parts of the meal, it should be very easy if you just list out everything you need on a google doc or some other online form and have people plug their name in.


I'm not really a big chili fan, but it is one of the most popular toppings at the potato bar -- probably a toss-up between that and the bacon. First, a funny story: When I was in junior high and had to take a Texas history class, one of our assignments was to bring our favorite chili recipe and the best recipes would be chosen for a cook-off. Being a Michigan transplant, my mom didn't have a Texas style chili recipe for me to borrow. I copied down her one chili recipe and took it to school. My science teacher found it and promptly made fun of me for bring a recipe that had kidney beans in it -- "Kidney beans?! Texans don't put beans in their chili, just meat and heat!" I was so embarrassed.

Fast forward to adulthood, my husband loves to make hot, meaty, and beanless chili, but it requires half a day to make and several scoops of sour cream added for the more sensitive mouths to enjoy. When I need a quick and easy chili recipe, I turn to my trusty Southern Living cookbook. And guess what? Their Easy Texas Chili recipe has beans in it! Man, I wish I could show it to that mean science teacher. ; )

Yet, beans on potatoes always sounded like carb overkill to me, so I searched all over Pinterest for what kind of chili people use on potatoes. Every example I found used a bean chili; even Wendy's uses a bean chili on their potatoes, so I finally decided I was overthinking this and just made the Easy Texas Chili. The only problem is that when made in the crockpot, it turns out way too watery. So this year, I adapted the recipe and it turned out perfect. We only had about a cup left over out of a triple batch.

Easy Texas Crockpot Chili 

(fills a large crockpot)

4 pounds ground beef
1 large onion (or equivalent of 3 small onions)
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 (16-ounce) cans chili hot beans, undrained
1 (16-ounce) can mild chili beans, undrained
2 (12-ounce) cans tomato paste
3 cups of water
3 tablespoons chili powder
2-3 teaspoons salt to taste

Ingredient note: I use the two different kinds of beans because I like the variety. I use Bush's Best Chili Beans, Red Beans, Hot Chili Sauce and Bush's Best Chili Beans, Kidney Beans, Mild Chili Sauce (in honor of my science teacher). They are both gluten free. Or I really like the Westbrae Organic Chili Beans, which also has the different types of beans in one can, but it is not labeled gluten free.

Cook ground beef, onion, and garlic ahead of time in a Dutch oven; brown beef until it crumbles. Drain and store until day of the party. About four hours before the party, combine the ground beef mixture and all other ingredients in the crockpot and cook on high until bubbly. If it looks too thick you can add a little more water.

I feel like now I should, in the spirit of Pioneer Woman, say, "Here's the handy dandy printable," but I don't know how to make a printable version (another reason I could never be a food blogger). I guess you'll just have to cut and paste. : )


I bought cups, plates (buy sturdy ones!), and utensils at Costco last year and saved all the leftovers to use this year. I bought fall colored napkins at the dollar store last year and still had plenty for this year.

Keep your food stations spread apart if you have a big group of people. I had the line for the potato bar start in our living room and made sure nothing was in the way of the line. Drinks were served at the little kitchen desk. Desserts were on the kitchen counter. Trash was on the opposite end of the kitchen.

The drinks we serve are simple: chocolate milk (cross country team favorite), apple cider, and a beverage dispenser with water. We went though about 3 gallons of the chocolate milk and 2 gallons of the apple cider (Costco, $4.39).


Ha! Who knew that you needed a strategy to eat at a potato bar? Well, my darling husband wishes he had done things differently this year and had a helpful tip: Instead of just smothering your potato with your favorite topping, such as chili and cheese, top half your potato with your tried and true favorite and then use the other half to try something new. Thankfully, he got a second chance with leftovers. We both discovered this year that the grilled chicken with queso and sauteed veggies was our favorite! Just a little wisdom from the pros. ; )


I think that covers everything, but feel free to ask any questions or share your own favorite tips!

Oh, forgive me, but I have to share one more cute story. When I went to the regular grocery store to get the last of my supplies, a darling old man pushed his cart up to me in the produce section and asked, more as a statement than a question, "Have you seen the potatoes?!" Well, I certainly had potatoes on my mind, but since I bought those at Costco I couldn't imagine how he'd know about that. He then pointed at the potato section and showed me that the 10-pound bags of potatoes were on sale for a dollar! He was so excited about that amazing deal that he just had to show me. It was so cute! I felt so bad, but no matter how good a deal that was, I just couldn't make myself put another giant bag of potatoes in my cart. I'm sure I'll regret that in a week. : )

Happy potato eating!

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Weekly Wrap-Up {Baseball & Potatoes}

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This was a good week. Insanely busy, but good. And, Lord willing, I think it was the last of the insanely busy weeks for awhile -- now it's just back to normal busy, which sounds so good right now. I feel like I've been in a never-ending sprint since the middle of June.

Monday was Classical Conversations day and I was 85% sure we should just quit for the semester since we continue to fall behind, but our tutor reassured me that it was all going to work out. We only have about a month left in the CC semester, so we do need to work hard this week, but I'm feeling a little better about it all. Except debate -- neither of us are liking that subject and it's the hardest to keep up with.  I'll try to write more on our CC experience next week.

Tuesday was the day our beloved Chicago Cubs won the National League Division Series.

Wednesday was the day our local, and also much-loved Kansas City Royals won the American League Division Series.

Thursday was the day everyone asked what my poor husband will do if they meet each other in the World Series. He's a third-generation Cubs fan and is about as devoted as you can get. Come on, we have a son named after the Hall of Fame Cubs second baseman, Ryne Sandberg.

Side Note: People generally assume it was Marc's idea to name our son Ryne, but it was actually my idea. Marc's initial suggestion for a boy's name was Addison Clark, for the cross streets of Wrigley Field. Thankfully for our then-future-son, Marc was quite pleased when I mentioned I really liked the name Ryne. ; )

Back to baseball. Although the Cubbies are our first love, it's really hard not to love the Royals too. And this town is so much fun to live in when they do well. So, of course, we want them to win! Unless . . .

Well, there's still a lot of baseball to play before we get to that point, so we'll just cross that bridge when we get there.

Thursday was also the day we finally got lab results back from Anna's tests to try to find a cause for her low iron levels. Negative. This puts us at a crossroads for deciding what's next, but no matter what we do, it looks like Anna will be regularly receiving IV iron infusions. While we would love for her to just be able to take iron pills and be okay, it is finally nice to know the long-term treatment plan and be able to plan accordingly.

Friday was the day Anna submitted her first college application. She should have had this one in weeks ago, but life has been stressful for her this fall, so it is what it is. Meanwhile, I'm trying to cope with the thought that she won't be around a year from now. Again, we'll cross that bridge when we get there. Sometimes denial is good. : )

In the midst of all of this excitement, I was busy preparing to host a baked potato bar party on Saturday for Anna and Ryne's cross country team. Every year, the team attends a meet that is not far from our house, so last year I decided it was a great opportunity to do something fun for the team. We had a great time and decided to do it again this year. Having done it before made planning and preparation so much easier, but it was still a big undertaking. It doesn't look like it in the above picture, but I made 56 potatoes and all the toppings! And I cleaned my house, which hasn't happened for ages! I'm going to try to do a post next week about the specifics, but I'll just finish by saying it was a wonderful day. Exhausting, but wonderful. I'm so glad Marc took this photo on his phone, or I'd have no proof we actually pulled it off again because I was too busy to get out my camera.

Oh, and our Baylor Bears also won today and are currently ranked #2 in the country! What kind of crazy sports world are Marc and I living in?!

Updated to add: Cubs lost their first game of the National League Championship series, so it's not a totally perfect sports world anymore. But, like I said earlier, still a lot of baseball left to play -- go Cubbies!

Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Happy homeschooling!

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Weekly Wrap-Up {From Rocky Mountain High to Ewww, Gross!}

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With a blog named Blue House Academy, you'd think these weekly wrap-ups would have a bit more school related updates than I've had lately. Sometimes life just takes over and homeschooling gets neglected, but hopefully this was our last week of major distractions and events. Ryne has, in fact, been working very hard every day and I have a stack of papers to look through. I'm glad one of us is doing our job! Unfortunately, there are many areas where he has needed my help and I have not been available, so we have much to catch up on.

What has kept me so busy and distracted?

After finishing last week's wrap-up, I hopped on a plane for a quick visit with my sister in Denver. We spent 12 glorious hours in the mountains on Saturday and then I caught a 6:00 a.m. flight back home Sunday morning. I didn't want to haul my camera bag, so I just have iPhone pics, but they are still lovely. I was about a week too late to see the really pretty fall colors, but the gorgeous weather couldn't be beat. Part of me felt guilty for leaving during such a busy time, but I had planned it back in August after my dad's funeral, before I knew September and October would be even more jam-packed that usual. But the other part of me was so grateful for a nice little break from the chaos.

Sunday, Anna and I drove to the St. Louis area and checked into a hotel so we could get up bright and early Monday morning for testing to try and determine the cause of her low iron levels. We were there all day, with a long break between appointments, and didn't get home until almost 10:00 Monday night. We were a bit exhausted! We're still waiting on some of those test results, so no answers yet.

Tuesday morning I attended parent-teacher conferences at the girls' school. Marc was getting ready to leave for the airport to go on a short business trip when he discovered evidence we had mice in the kitchen. Lovely!

He was able to set a couple of traps before he left and I started pulling everything out of the cabinets. In all our years in this house, we've only had a few mice, but they never got all in the cabinets like this mouse did. Yuck!

Normally I just clean with vinegar or baking soda, but I wanted something stronger for this mess, so I went to Target for cleaning supplies and a frozen lasagna (tearing apart my kitchen did give me a good excuse to not cook this week!). By evening, I was exhausted and went to bed without getting the kitchen clean.

Early Wednesday morning, I reminded myself I needed to pray about the mouse situation. Less than a minute later I heard a loud snap! come from downstairs. My stomach turned as I pleaded with God that I meant for the mouse problem to get fixed after Marc got back in the evening. I'm a big wimp about these things, so I just swept the mouse and trap into a cardboard box and put it out on the deck.

After Wednesday morning Bible study, I had lunch with a dear friend whom I hadn't seen much of for several months. That afternoon I alternated working on math with Ryne and cleaning the kitchen. I put Izzy (my dad's dog, who is now living with us) on her chain in the front yard. Sometimes she likes to stay out there and watch the world go by. While she was out there, I passed by the front door and noticed she was chewing on something. At first I thought it was a stick, but then I wasn't sure, so I went outside. She had crawled under the front porch and found a skeleton of some small creature!

Seeing that was about 10 million, trillion, gazillion times worse than sweeping up a dead mouse.

I finally finished cleaning the kitchen Friday night. I had to clean everything in all our bottom cabinets and drawers. I sealed gaps in the cabinets with steel wool and put peppermint oil soaked cotton balls in all the cabinets and drawers. Meanwhile, Marc has been pondering what to do to keep the dog from exploring underneath the front porch.

This is one of the grossest weeks I've ever experienced in the Blue House, so basically I'm just ready to move.

Or at least go back to Colorado for another mountain retreat.

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Hope you're enjoying your weekend!

Happy homeschooling!

Friday, October 2, 2015

Weekly Wrap-Up {Run With Endurance}

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Hanging out at the team tent during last Saturday's XC meet.

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so a great cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. ~ Hebrews 12:1-2 NKJV
It's one of those weeks where I just want to quit. Quit Classical Conversations because we're behind in everything. Quit trying to find answers to my daughter's low iron levels because we've been trying for almost three years and it's just too hard to keep getting our hopes up. Quit making dinners because I don't have the energy (I already quit cleaning the house months ago, so no worries there!). Quit the college application process because she's still trying to figure out what she wants to do. Quit every activity because it's just too much.

Yet, this week has been amazing in that God keeps interrupting my pity party with grace. Each day has had one of those powerful only-God-could-do-that moments to point me to His goodness, mercy, and sovereignty. I got a glimpse of just how hard God is working in other people's lives when He appears to be silent. I was reminded He's working just as hard in all my problems, but I was also given some much needed perspective and humility. I don't need to quit everything, but I do need to lay aside some of my attitudes.

So, I'm keeping this week's wrap-up super simple: just a reminder to myself, and maybe you too, that the call is to just keep running, with our eyes fixed on Jesus.

Happy homeschooling and have a blessed weekend!

Friday, September 25, 2015

Weekly Wrap-Up {Grace for the Crazy Days}

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Oh, Fall, how I love thee.

Golden flowers everywhere.

Pumpkin spice lattes.

Crisp mornings.

An established rhythm to our days.

Ha! When will I learn? Every time I say life is starting to settle down, the craziness kicks up a notch or two. Or three. : )

Monday morning started out with me fighting off a mini panic attack. Mondays are our Classical Conversations day and there were a couple of things Ryne didn't complete. Thankfully, I fought off the guilt by repeating one word throughout the morning: grace. I knew that our CC tutor would give us grace, but sometimes I need to give myself grace.

The assignments that didn't get done are from his debate strand, a subject completely new to Ryne (and me), and he needed some coaching. Yet, in order to coach him, I needed to understand it better and I just never found that time to get caught up on it. So I sat in on that session of his CC day and got it figured out.

Now I just need to find time to go over it more with him. I don't know if this is an autism thing or just his learning style, or both, but Ryne can study pretty independently when he has a routine in place and at least some basic understanding of the material, knowledge he can build upon. However, if it's something new like this, he struggles at just digging in and figuring it out on his own or even getting started. Funny, writing out my thoughts on the matter reveals to me how I can be praying for his homeschooling.

Tuesday was a much-needed workday at home. I did, however, get some sad news about a dear friend's father, so my heart was heavy.

Wednesday morning was full of baby bliss -- I was a helper in one of the baby rooms for Bible Study Fellowship. Two hours in a room full of 4-9 month old cutie pies! I'm fully loving my stage as a mom to teenagers, but a morning with snuggly babies was a wonderful change of pace. BSF often uses long-time class members to volunteer in the children's program for the first two weeks of class as newcomers get used to the schedule and program, so next week I will finally get to meet my new small group for the year.

Thursday. I cannot begin to describe how crazy-full this day was. It involved four hours of driving across the state to the St. Louis area for a medical appointment for Anna. Marc was already there for business, so I got to see him for about 5 minutes before I drove another four hours back home to take Grace to ballet class. By the time we returned from ballet, Marc was home too and we talked for about 5 minutes before I collapsed into bed. So I spent 10 minutes total talking with my husband, half on one side of the state, and half on the other side of the state!

Today is the fall carnival/fundraiser for the girls' school and then tomorrow is our biggest cross country meet of the season. Being done with the carnival will help ease our busy schedule a bit, but we have another trip to St. Louis scheduled for next week and another the week after that, so crazy will still stick around a little longer. Thankfully, God's grace is more powerful than the crazy.

If I ever find some free time to sit down and putter, I will be editing a batch of photos from a little photoshoot I did a couple weeks ago with Anna in a field of sunflowers. I still want to have professional senior photos taken, but this was a fun prelude. The hat was an accessory we used for just a few photos, so we set it aside for a moment, and then forgot all about it! An hour later we suddenly remembered the hat and had to retrace our footsteps through thousands of sunflowers. Thankfully, we had left it in a place a little easier to find than on the ground, so we were reunited with the hat. : )

Happy homeschooling, and have a blessed weekend!

Linking up with Kris at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Weekly Wrap-Up

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Shakespeare in the Shade: Ryne and his Challenge I classmates and tutor, reading aloud The Taming of the Shrew

Last week Grace read my blog.

As in the WHOLE thing.

From June 11, 2008 to July 23, 2015!

Granted, I've never been the most prolific blogger, so it really didn't take her that long to read through every post, but I was surprised at how much she enjoyed reading it. It got me thinking that it really is a shame I've stopped chronicling our adventures, so for her sake, I'm going to make a better effort.

With that, I'm bringing back weekly reviews, except that I'm going to try to keep it really simple. A picture and a few highlights are my goal (I've even cheated by using a picture from last week!). To keep myself accountable, however, I will be linking up with Kris at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

This marked Week 5 of our homeschool year! Our school year got off to a very rocky start due to sad circumstances, but we're finally starting to hit our groove. Ryne is in Classical Conversations' Challenge 1 program, and we're really behind in a couple of subjects, but I'm trying not to stress too much about it. Overall, CC is going very well for him this year. It's just him and three girls in the class, but he has a male tutor to make up for being the only guy in the class. It seems like a pretty neat mix of kids.

Tuesday was my entry into my mid-40's (44, to be exact. How can that be?!). The first excitement of the day was getting a call from Anna to say she drove her car into a ditch just outside our neighborhood. She was fine and the car was fine -- she just caught a tire on the edge of the road as she was turning and couldn't recover quickly enough. We live in a semi-rural area, so the roads aren't the greatest and I've even caught a tire there myself before. In God's Providence, Marc was still at home and was sitting right next to me when I got the call, so he took her to her community college class and then waited for the tow truck (it's a pretty deep ditch). Everything turned out fine, amazingly, I stayed calm the entire time. That might be a first!

In the afternoon Marc and I had a meeting across town to attend and afterwards we went out to dinner. It wasn't a planned date, but turned out to be a fun little birthday celebration. Tomorrow night will be our annual family tradition of celebrating my birthday by watching The Sound of Music. I think we started doing it before Grace was even born, so I'm pretty sure between the five of us we could quote the entire movie.

Wednesday was the first week of Bible Study Fellowship! BSF is probably the only thing that can keep me sane enough to be able to homeschool through high school, so I'm very happy to start up the new year. : ) I volunteered in the children's program and had the most perfectly behaved group of 3 and 4 year-olds I've ever seen. They were a bunch of cuties, but it was almost eerie how good they were!

Thursday afternoon was spent at Anna and Ryne's cross country meet. Anna has been having health issues and wasn't supposed to run, but she decided to try anyway and ended up taking 7th place. Her varsity girls team won the meet for the 8th year in a row. Ryne was the 5th runner in on his JV team, which also won the meet. And I had a sweet reunion with a friend I knew years ago from BSF. All in all, a great afternoon!

The strangest thing to happen all week? My cell phone has become a magnet for receiving wrong number calls this week. So far, I've received 5 different calls not really meant for me, but the best was Sunday night. I answered my phone, even though I didn't recognize the number, and it was an automatic message, saying I was receiving a non-collect call from a correctional facility and then it gave the first name of the person calling me, which happened to be the first name of my sister! I figured the only thing that would result in my smart, law-abiding sister calling me from jail was going to be quite the story, but alas the poor woman had called the wrong number so I have no tales to tell. I do hope that it's not really like it is in the movies and that the woman used up her only phone call on me!

That wraps up our week! Happy homeschooling and enjoy the weekend!

Monday, September 14, 2015

My Dad

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Dad passed away a month ago, August 14th. It was expected, yet unexpected.  He had gradually declined from Alzheimer's for several years, but he also had months where he had more significant decline and then he would plateau for awhile.

For Father's Day, my sister had taken him out to a Cirque du Soleil performance and they had a wonderful time. It was not easy because his mobility wasn't what it used to be, but they were able make it up and down stairs and he enjoyed the performance. Less than two weeks later, we were getting calls while we were on vacation in Michigan that he was experiencing a lot of confusion and having balance problems.

By the time I went out to see him a week later he was unable to walk, wasn't able to feed himself, and pretty much didn't recognize me. He started receiving hospice care. We were told that he may have had a silent stroke. But as the week went on, he slowly started getting better. By the end of the week, he was still in a wheel chair but in pretty good spirits. He knew who I was and we had delightful conversations. Of course, I was thankful for the improvement, but the emotional strain of the week on my sister and me was intense -- such ups and downs.

I traveled back home, and then a week and a half later our whole family returned to Denver for my niece's wedding. Dad was doing much better, and Marc and the kids had a wonderful, but short, visit with him. He was still in a wheelchair, but he recognized our whole family and was delighted to see everyone. After the wedding we went back home and started getting ready for the new school year.

At church that next Sunday, I told people I thought my dad was experiencing another plateau and I didn't think anything was imminent. I thought it might be several months. Two days later I received a call that it was time to come back to Denver. Dad's body was just shutting down. My sister and I spent the next few days at his side. He was not responsive, but we spent the time sorting through pictures and retelling and remembering all the stories of our growing up years.

As a follower of this blog, you must know by now that I'm a visual person and that photos are important to me, but I don't think even I realized just how important they would be this past month. With Alzheimer's you start saying your good-byes long before your loved one is actually gone. Every time I left Denver I wondered if it was the last time I'd see my dad, even if he was doing well. Because he had a more aggressive form of Alzheimer's, we knew things could go downhill pretty quickly. So it wasn't the good-bye that was so hard. God gave me so much peace through it all (and I do mean it came completely from God, because my natural tendency in any stressful situation is panic, pity, and worry). This time I had no doubt God was in control every moment. But the hurt was still hard. Because my mom passed away ten years ago, this was the end of an era. The day before my dad passed away would have been their 49th wedding anniversary. Going through the photos reminded me of how blessed our family was, and my heart started to heal. My parents didn't get to live deep into their retirement years, but they lived their adventure from day one. My sister and I had an amazing childhood. So many good memories.

The week following Dad's death, I worked on a photo slideshow for the service that was a tribute mostly to Dad's life, but also Mom's. I'm not posting the slideshow on the blog because it's long and we didn't want it on youtube, but the above are just some of the pictures I used (some of the above weren't included in the slideshow, but I thought my kids might like to see a few more of their grandpa and mom together). Everything about Dad's service felt so perfect and brought such peaceful closure. For ten years I struggled with my memories of Mom being clouded by the awfulness of brain cancer, and I feared that my memories of Dad would likewise always be framed by Alzheimer's. But after spending hours and hours putting together the slideshow and then watching it at least 20 times since then (and counting, because I still watch it almost daily), my mind is now filled with images of happy times and wonderful memories of them both. We weren't perfect, and there were still hard times, but it all comes together to form the story of our family -- a story I will always treasure.

I could write so much more, but just know that God was good to my dad, and God used my dad to bring a lot of people joy.

God is good.