Saturday, December 30, 2023

Monastery of the Holy Spirit and book binding with Uncle Patrick

After hiking Arabia Mountain, we headed over to visit the Monastery of the Holy Spirit. It was interesting to visit a modern monastery since we'd only ever seen ancient ones (like St. Anthony's in Egypt, circa 300 AD). The Monastery of the Holy Spirit was founded in 1944. At first the monks stayed in an old barn on site (in an interview with the last surviving founding monk, he said that staying in the barn wasn't always comfortable, but if Baby Jesus could be born in a stable, they could handle staying in a barn). 

Arabia Mountain

On Thursday before the weather turned cold we headed out on another hike, this time to Arabia Mountain, a large granite mountain in the Lithonia area that used to serve as a quarry. It's no wonder that Lithonia was named, as it was, after rocks. It's a very rocky area (pity we didn't get to visit while Rachel was in her geology class)! The etymology of Arabia Mountain is not well-recorded, but the consensus seems to be because the quarry workers used to complain about things being "as hot as Arabia" while they were cutting granite in the summer. 

Having been hiking in Southern Utah, I can imagine how hot it gets when the sun starts beating down on all that exposed rock. We'd like to return later this year, perhaps when the diamorpha are blooming, but I don't think we'd consider this hike in the summer!

Here's Miriam at the start of the hike, in front of one of the little pools:

Thursday, December 28, 2023

A quiet day

Monday (Christmas) and Tuesday (Boxing Day) were warm and wet days. We received so much rain that the river is threatening to overflow its banks. So we stayed at home and did Christmassy things, which we might have done anyway, given that it's Christmas and there's much to be done at Christmas. 

Today was chillier, but drier, and still we stayed home, working on our book binding skills (Uncle Patrick, our expert book conservator, is a very patient teacher). To be frank, a large part of our reasoning for staying home today was my terrible monthly cycle, which lately has included a migraine (both as prelude and postlude, a very painful set of bookends), frequently threatens to overflow its banks (just like the Chattahoochee River today), and as some kind of a sick joke decided that a 21-day cycle is as good as a 28-day cycle (and thus showed up twice in December). I have not been very happy about it, so we largely stayed home and worked on our books.

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Kennesaw Mountain

On Saturday we hiked Kennesaw Mountain. The timing of our departure may or may not have been selected to ensure our absence during a hot chocolate stand some kids in the neighbourhood were putting on. I...just have this...thing...about lemonade stands. I can't stand 'em! They feel a little coercive to me and I don't think they really teach children about entrepreneurism. Unless they state that the funds are going to be donated to a good cause, I just can't put down $2 per cup of hot cocoa. (I have hot chocolate mix in my house for much cheaper than that, thank you kindly). We've thrown a hot cocoa stand, ourselves...and then donated all the proceeds to Lifting Hands International, a favourite non-profit of ours. But, that could be just me, and I've been know to be a bit of a Grinch sometimes.

Anyway, we left in the morning and didn't get back until the afternoon. 

First we visited the museum and the kids all worked on the Junior Ranger booklets. They even had "Wee Ranger" booklets, which Phoebe really enjoyed. It was her first time earning a badge and she was over the moon to be doing "math" with the big kids!


Tuesday, December 26, 2023

The High Museum

After spending a few days doing—in Benjamin's mind—not much, we were all happy to go on an outing to the High Museum of Art on Thursday (December 21). We knew Grandpa didn't get off work until noon, but Patrick was supposed to meet up with friends later in the day, so we decided we'd leave earlier in the morning, so we didn't invite Grandpa. But then I remembered that the kids were supposed to be on puppy duty, so we wouldn't be able to leave until right around noon (when they go to visit the puppy), so we decided that if we were leaving that late we should just invite Grandpa and leave right around noon. And then soon after we decided that, our neighbour texted to say she'd be working from home and thus wouldn't need the kids to check on the puppy, so we could have left earlier in the day, anyway...

It was a confusing morning, but we managed to get out the door around the time we said we were going to leave. And we got back home with time for Patrick to pack for his sleepover. So it all worked out!

Here we are checking out an outdoor exhibit called "Happy Joylanta."

Monday, December 25, 2023

New do, who dis?

One thing Uncle Patrick wanted while he was here was a haircut from Miriam. She was a little nervous because she's only done buzz cuts on her dad, grandfather, and brothers, but Patrick wanted something a little fancier—a haircut with the top left long. I've been working on learning how to do such haircuts for my little boys who—unlike their father—don't like buzz cuts, so I helped a little and Patrick was helpful in walking Miriam through the process as well. 

Heiss Holiday Humbug 2023

I finished this newsletter on Christmas Eve and distributed it to a few friends and family members, but I'm just getting around to posting it here today—on Christmas itself. We didn't take pictures until December 18 (the day Uncle Patrick flew in) and we've been busy, busy, busy since then. 

We had a pretty wonderful year and I can see that next year is shaping up to be just as full. And I suppose that's what we want—a full life. I have heard so many analogies about what makes life beautiful—pianos need both black keys and white keys, music needs dissonance and resolutions (those are actual terms, right?), tapestries need both warp and weave (sometimes it's your turn to really let your colours shine and other times you sit silently at the back of the fabric, lending quiet strength). What makes life sweet and unique and wonderful is taking all those things—the difficult and the pleasant—together. So this year, like all years, wasn't a perfect year, but all in all, life is wonderful. 

Thursday, December 21, 2023

UGA Graduation 2023

I got an email telling me that my library privileges have officially been revoked, so I guess that means it's official: I've graduated!

I'm really sad about my lack of library privileges, but I've graduated.

I didn't go to graduation but that doesn't mean we didn't celebrate! Graduation happened to fall on our anniversary, so we'll count our anniversary celebrations as my graduation celebration as well. 

To make things really official, I asked on the Buy Nothing Group if anyone had some robes I could borrow and a neighbour responded that he happened to have his daughter's robes in a closet at home—along with her mortar board and tassels (from UGA's education program, so they were even the right colour!). It seemed like a perfect fit, so I borrowed them...

Now, am I missing the Master's hood? Yes.

Did I know I was supposed to put both tassels on the hat? No. 

Was the robe sized for someone between 5'1" and 5'3"? Yes.

Am I even close to being between 5'1" and 5'3"? Not really, no. 

But, if you ignore all of that (and only take pictures from the waist up), I looked like a real-life graduate! So I prettied my family up and then dragged them out into the woods to take family pictures by some rusted-out tractor bits. Naturally.

Here I am holding the books I analyzed in my thesis:

Uncle Patrick is here!

Uncle Patrick arrived late on Monday night, so when the little kids woke up in the morning—surprise!—they had a visitor. It wasn't really a surprise; we'd talked about it before his arrival. Rachel and Miriam had gone to the airport with Andrew to pick him up. Benjamin, Zoë, and Alexander were unquestionably excited for him to come. But before I took Phoebe downstairs for breakfast we talked about Uncle Patrick again (and pulled up some pictures for her to look at and so forth). 

She did a pretty good job accepting him into her home, though I'm sure the treats that he gave her (hand-selected by Uncle Patrick's special someone in Vienna, who felt—probably correctly—that the children would enjoy sweets more than the ornaments he'd picked out for them (though I think they still appreciated the ornaments)) helped her warm up to the idea of...him.

Sunday, December 17, 2023

With Miriam Heiss at the organ

This evening our stake had a Christmas musical fireside and all of the kids (except for Phoebe) got to participate. The primary kids (Benjamin, Zoë, and Alexander) sang 'The Nativity Song' and 'Estrella de Luz.' They missed yesterday's rehearsal (because we were busy dismantling that clubhouse), but I'd worked on the music with them on my own so they still went up to sing. I love how our stake often (even usually) does something in Spanish at each event. We have two Spanish-language units in our stake; I think it's only fair to switch off on which language is being privileged (or utilized).

The youth (Rachel and Miriam) sang a song together that no one in our ward knew about until today. So that was interesting. At the very least their bodies made the choir look bigger.

Miriam also participated in a youth orchestra (comprised of one violin, one cello, two basses, and Miriam at the piano). They did very well together. 

Miriam also played 'Angels We Have Heard On High' at the organ. She'd practiced at this building on this organ several times and nothing had ever gone amiss, but in the middle of her performance the air conditioning system kicked on and blew her music away! First one page fluttered away, but she wasn't too concerned because she'd already finished playing it...but then the page she was on flew away, too! Fortunately another pianist up on the stand retrieved it for her and put it back up, but it was a real knuckle biter for a second there. 

My hands flew up to my mouth and everything. 

Once again I didn't take any videos of anything! But people from the stake were filming it, so I hope they'll distribute video of it. Who knows. Otherwise, perhaps we'll record Miriam playing her piece after church next Sunday.

After church today, Grandpa recorded Miriam playing a couple of pieces on the organ. The first is 'Still, Still, Still':

Saturday, December 16, 2023

18 years!

Somehow or another, the movie Elf was released 20 years ago (in 2003). It doesn't seem real that 2003 was twenty years ago, but the calendar keeps telling me it's the year 2024. 

Andrew and I first watched Elf together in Vicenza, Italy, in the Eldredge's basement, where we'd stopped by for a few days so we could visit Vince and Verona while on our honeymoon late in 2005. They were so gracious to allow honeymooners into their home! When Dave picked us up at the train station (quite late at night) on Boxing Day (December 26), the moon was a waning crescent but must have been rather bright because I remember some discussion of the song 'That's Amore," where the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie. 

I'd always thought the lyrics were big piece o' pie. 

I was wrong.

Anyway, we hung out in Vicenza (and watched Elf) and went to Venice (where we walked on a bunch of bridges and ate a lot of gelato) and Verona (where we saw Juliette's balcony and ate a lot of gelato) and had a really great time. We also went to Rome (arriving, if I recall, on transfer day when Andrew had only been home for one transfer (or maybe it was that we got married right around what would have been his next transfer had his mission not ended)). We visited the mission home and I got to meet his mission president. We spent a day in London (and stopped by to visit my friend Andrea Rowbottom!).

And now here we are 18 years later (or so the calendar tells me), still living large.

We went to the temple last night while Reid hung out with the kids (Rachel and Miriam are both old enough to babysit and could totally handle their siblings, but sometimes it's nice to not have to be "in charge"):

Christmas concert I

This morning Andrew went to pick up a little red Christmas dress for Zoë (from the Buy Nothing Group, of course), but the kids had already started getting ready to go to the retirement home where our homeschool group was performing. Phoebe and Zoë wore the matching jumpers that Miriam made last year and I didn't realize how excited Phoebe was about matching with Zoë because when I walked up the stairs holding a pretty, new dress that was very obviously Zoë's size, she got very worried. 

"No! No! No!" she commanded, waving her little hands wildly. "Put 'way! Put 'way! Matching woes! Matching woes! Matching woes! Me! O-zee! Matching woes!"

"Oh, are you wearing matching clothes with Zoë?" I asked. "That's okay. This dress isn't for today. I was just going to show it to Zoë. She's not going to wear it. You can still match, okay?"


So, here we are at the nursing home, waiting for everyone else to arrive...with Phoebe and Zoë in their matching outfits:

Friday, December 15, 2023

Favourite Things Party

I went to the Relief Society Christmas party this evening. It was a dinner, which was awkward, because I didn't want to take off my mask to eat. But I just ate before I went and sat and visited with people while they ate. It was tempting to take off my mask because truthfully I hadn't eaten very much before I left, so I was pretty hungry (it had been a busy day and we only finished with the clubhouse at 6:15 or so, and my ride was picking me up at 6:30), but I stuck to my convictions and kept my mask on.

I recently saw someone somewhere explain their reasoning for wearing a mask by talking about the other leading causes of death in the United States. There's heart disease (695,547 deaths/year), cancer (605,213), accidents (224,935), and diabetes (103,294), to name a few.

I wear a seat belt, try to eat balanced meals, get regular exercise, refrain from drinking and smoking...

So naturally—of course—I will also wear a mask. 

Anyway, let's just say that the girl I was sitting beside for a good chunk of the party admitted that [a redacted relative] had wanted to come to the party but [redacted relative] was sick...with COVID. And her husband was sick with COVID. And their children were sick with COVID. 

And I was just very happy about my decision to keep my mask on. That's all. 


The second half of the party was a "favourite things" exchange. I...wasn't sure what to bring...because I don't really feel Like, there were women giving passionate monologues about the gift they gave: "This lipstick will change your life!" and "That is the best-scented lotion in the world! Now you, too, can smell like me!" and "You have no lived until you have used a frother!" 

Meanwhile, I can't think of anything that's my favourite of anything. You have a favourite body wash? Neat. I use soap. Like, whatever's-in-the-shower...soap. Soap that I haven't thought about long enough to even have an opinion on. Do people go around actively smelling each other?

Anyway, I know I can't be the only one to struggle with choosing a favourite thing because the gift that I got was a bag of Hershey's kisses and the giver was like, "Yeah. I don't have a cool story about my gift. I just like candy..." And I was like, "Word." Because...I get that.

Choosing something—a favourite something—to give away was agonizing. 

Funny learning stories

Zoë has been watching Victoria (with Miriam, whose favourite show when she was eight was...Victoria). She's gleaned all sorts of wonderful knowledge from this series, such as the fact that mothers have to push the baby out (she did not realize this was the case and has a new respect for mothers), as well as the following joke:

Q: What's the difference between a funny Dutchman and a tube?
A: One's a silly Hollander and the other is a hollow cylinder.

Last night the episode centered The Great Irish Famine and Zoë, who usually asks questions throughout every episode, sat stoically through the show. She had been doing her best not to cry. When the show was over she lost her composure and sobbed nearly until midnight. I had to pull up our family tree to prove to her that we had no relatives in Ireland in 1845 (because she was worried about that), but even then she was distraught because so many people had died. The Irish population was cut in half, so it was no small thing (and was handled abominably). 

I'll be looking for materials to help Zoë learn more about this subject, but today we spent the morning making Christmas cards for our co-op teachers, tending to our neighbour's puppy, attending co-op, and then dismantling the clubhouse (we took off the roof today, which felt like a real-life STEM assignment (I've been a co-teacher for the upper elementary STEM class this semester)). 

There are no pictures of the roof being removed because it was an all-hands-on-deck situation. We put some ratchet straps around the roof itself, tied ropes to the straps, and then lowered the roof to the ground using the frame of the clubhouse as leverage. Grandpa and Rachel stood on the ground below the clubhouse, with ropes going over the front and back walls, and Andrew and I stood inside the clubhouse with ropes going over only the back wall. And...well...nobody died...and the roof is off.

Here's a picture of Andrew removing the last f the nails before taking off the last wall/frame:

Sunday, December 10, 2023

Christmas emotions

Phoebe brought me a granola bar just now and said, "Need help. Need help ope-mmm bar. Me have. Need help ope-mmm bar me have. Please." And I have to admit that her grammar is, like, way off, but that was a pretty big idea she put together!


It rained most of the day, which was unfortunate because I was hoping to do some work on the clubhouse today. We'll have to pick a day next week to get things done (because it's supposed to rain next weekend as well). 

Andrew drove the girls downtown to take the ACT this morning. Why? Because this is a testing year for Miriam, so she has to take a test anyway. And Rachel wanted to take the ACT again in the spring or early summer. But then the ACT company (or whatever) sent me an email offering a Buy-One-Get-One deal and sucked in. If they take the test in December then they'll get a free retake test in the spring or summer. So I figured why not?

Saturday, December 09, 2023

Soundbites from the back seat...

On the way downtown (well, technically only to midtown), we heard the following conversations from the back seat...

Miriam: Can you count to five?

Phoebe: 1, 2, 3, 4! 1, 2, 3, 4! 1, 2, 3, 4, 5!!!

Me: She’s learning at a very rapid pace. Just a few weeks ago she could hardly string two words together, remember?

Andrew: I know!

Phoebe: Uuuuuuhhhh blaaaah ugggghhhaaaa maaaaa!

Andrew: And…then there’s that…


Beatrix Potter Day

We haven't done many (any) field trips with our co-op, in large part because I'm too afraid to drive much of anywhere (and that's on me, I get that). But today's field trip was scheduled far enough in advance on a fortuitous day at the end of the semester when Andrew was able to come with us! One of the moms in our group planned an outing to a new musical having its world premiere at the Alliance theater— Into the Burrow. It's based on characters created by Beatrix Potter and was really quite an incredible performance. 

Thursday, December 07, 2023

Sometimes I'm hard to please

I like to think of myself as a pretty easy-going person (emphasis on the pretty), but sometimes I think my kids probably think I'm altogether unreasonable. 

This morning Zoë finished up loading the dishwasher and then went the extra mile and ran the cycle. When it finished and popped open and I got to peek inside I expressed my displeasure because it was half empty! First of all, there were still dirty dishes left on the counters (my kids have this thing where they can only see dirty dishes in the sink...the ones on the counter are invisible) and second of all, if there hadn't been more dirty dishes I would have preferred to wait to run it until after lunch (when we inevitably make more dishes). So while I appreciated her help in doing the dishes, she got a little lecture about being wise stewards and not wasting resources (of time, water, money, electricity, etc.), a lecture that she probably found confusing because...

Earlier this morning Zoë wanted to put in a load of laundry, but it turns out that that load of laundry was ginormous! She took each of the kids' laundry baskets from upstairs and emptied them all into the machine at once (which I didn't know until the cycle stopped and I went to put things in the dryer because my children, like me, have this thing where they forget about doing laundry while it's washing and sometimes leave things in the washing machine far too long). So while I appreciated her help in doing the laundry, she got a little lecture about not overloading the washing machine and...well...

I began to feel a little unreasonable.

Overload the machine? Get a lecture. Under-load the machine? Get a lecture.Overload, under-load...

Signs your baby is growing up

Today Phoebe got into a box of Kleenex, but she only pulled out enough tissues to use as blankets for each of the little dolls she was playing with. Once everyone was comfortably tucked into their makeshift beds on the couch she stopped pulling out tissues. 

Before when she'd get into a box of Kleenex it was to pull every last tissue out of the box and shred it all over the living room floor. Eventually she figured out that was a no-no and figured out they were only for noses, so she'd help herself to one every time she felt like blowing her nose (and she felt like blowing her nose as often as she got a hankering to yank a tissue out of the box, believe me).

But now? Now she's playing make-believe. 

And that's how I know my baby's growing up.

Tuesday, December 05, 2023

Stake Dance

Just a note that a few nights ago in a last-ditch effort to get the kids' attention (because they were being unruly, naturally), Andrew hollered, "Yo! Listen up!"

And because sometimes my children's mother is sometimes equally unruly, I belted out: "Here's the story about a little guy that lives in a blue world, and all day and all night, and everything he sees is just blue—like him!—inside and outside."

Andrew gave up and joined in as the kids' jaws dropped open in amazement:

"Blue's his house with his blue little window, and a blue corvette, and everything is blue for him, and himself, and everybody around, cause he ain't got nobody to listen...."

This is about where the kids lost it, because by this time Andrew and I were jumping around the living room singing, "I'm blue, da ba dee da ba di, da ba dee da ba di, da ba dee da ba di..."

Rachel was like, "No way is this happening. This is not a real song. These are not my real parents..."

But alas, it was happening, it is a real song, and we are her parents. 

"Pretty impressive, really," Andrew and Rachel agreed. "Considering it's not a polka song."

My repertoire knows no bounds.

Mandela Effect re: conversions, transfers, etc.

Today Alexander chose to do his science reading with a laptop open beside him so he could verify facts because in his book he read that baby hedgehogs were called hoglets and that didn't feel very true to him because while he's heard of piglets, he hasn't really heard of hoglets before. But the internet confirmed that baby hedgehogs are often called hoglets and he felt better about verifying that fact. 

Benjamin, meanwhile, was perplexed because in a math problem he solved a few days ago it said that $1 was equal to ¥90 and today a different math problem told him that $1 was equal to ¥80. We researched a bit about how exchange rates change (usually once per day) and what factors might affect that change. 

In fact, today $1 is worth approximately ¥147.

Monday, December 04, 2023

Homemade ornaments

I didn't take many pictures while we were working on our Shrinky Dink ornaments this evening because I was so busy working on my own...and trying to keep Phoebe from wreaking havoc. Here's one of Miriam putting some Mod Podge glaze on Alexander's ornament:

Two year olds in tutus

Phoebe has discovered the joy of tutus. She has found so much joy in them, in fact, that she needed to wear one to bed last night.

She's been working on sleeping in her own bed (not last night but the night before she stayed in her bed from 10:30 PM until 8:30 AM and I have no complaints about that) but last night she woke up at midnight and then also ended up in our bed and was a little wriggly-worm.

Saturday, December 02, 2023

Making Christmas

Miriam baked cookies yesterday, experimented with flow icing last night, and this afternoon she whipped up some buttercream and allowed her siblings to finish decorating the cookies she had leftover. The cookies turned out great (I'm sure Miriam has pictures of her beautiful creations on Instagram) and the kids had a lot of fun together.