Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Joyous Christmas

Happy holidays, happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, peace on earth, good will t'ward all men, season's greetings, and fill in your politcally and religiously correct blank here! I wish blessings on all of you to have as joyous a Christmas as we will have counting our blessings, starting with these 5 lovely little blessings. I'm in the full swing of holiday family portrait sessions and designing cards for them, and it just didn't seem right for my own family not to have one! It's amazing how impatient I am with my own darlings during a session in comparison to anyone else! And I apologize publicly to them for losing my temper, cursing the sun as I'm sure it set faster than normal tonight, and blaming my husband for his typical male sour, "I hate photos," attitude for infecting the rest of us, and wanting go home after just a few shots. And not just because this little jewel came out of my camera when we got home, but because I truly love and appreciate all you do for me, dearest family!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Can't wait to be 8!

Levi, my son, my only son, turned 8 on September 28 and was baptized today. He has that big, gap-toothed grin that kids have at this age, and tugged at his collar and kept untucking his shirt all during his photo op!
He seemed so nervous to get baptized, even though he has attended several as a spectator. So we spent a lot of time explaining that it was a first step, a commitment, albeit a necessary one to regain God's presence, and that every Sunday when he repents and takes the Sacrament it's just like getting baptized all over again. But he was still so nervous that he wanted his friend to go first. He said it was easier than he expected, probably because Dad has to do all the work!
Afterward we went to a party at his friend's house to congratulate the boys on their decisions. They spent most of the evening playing Wii while the adults visited. It was a lot of fun, but we should have made more of a ceremony or some sort of toast at the cake cutting.
Levi, I hope you continue to grow as you have been into a caring, sensitive, and affectionate young man who has faith in Christ and always strives to do what is right. Continue to be brave, yet learn to turn the other cheek. Seek out the similarities in your fellow man, yet appreciate, tolerate, and even accommodate the differences that make us all unique. Always inquire of the Lord to have His spirit to guide you in your decisions and bridle your actions and passion, turning your boundless energy to serving Him. We love you, and God loves you. We are all proud of you for this step you have taken.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

My New Photo Art business

Pal Photo Art is now open for business! Over the past 2 years I've been busily working away to improve my skills in both photography and business, and after a name change and logo redesign I'm excitedly opening my first "season." My site is currently undergoing a branding makeover, and I'm really excited about the new look!

November is family photo update time for all those holiday cards! For new clients who book before the end of the year, the sitting fee is waived, and for established clients, the sitting fee is waived when you purchase 25 custom-designed greeting cards.

Happy holidays, everyone, and happy photos!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Paint on your Face

I have a friend who is a face and body paint artist ( with whom I'm working on portfolio building and event photography. Following is her rendition of my children adorned. Of course, as much as my children are enjoying their newfound "modeling" status, this new venture has not come without the absolute, undying, requisite, profound need to buy more photography stuff!

Imagine Zoey posing here at the bottom. Baby face paint is lovelier in the mind than on the hands. Or in her eye.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Father's Day!

In honor of all our dads out there, here's a fun crafty card to make for him. Gift not included, but I'm sure he'd prefer the card to adorn the gift rather than to just BE the gift!

Click on the image, zoom out if needed, and print.

One of my best memories of my father while I was growing up was sitting at the dining table with him, our origami books and piles of colorful papers spread about us, folding, folding, folding. The day my husband arrived home with a stack of origami books and papers made me so nostalgic, watching him repeat the folding, folding, folding with our own little ones.
Since I started doing the church bulletin, the back always has some fun children's activities on it: usually an origami design courtesy of his suggestion. I draw the line at flying objects or noise-making clickers, but it's so fun to see all the paper sculpture everyone carries around after the meeting. Lately I've been trying to tie it in to a scripture or gospel concept just to justify it remaining on the program!

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Biodegradable Seed Pot

These paper seed/cuttings pots are designed to be transplanted right to the garden and then biodegrade like peat pots to eliminate transplant shock.

After coming across some online, I wanted to try making some that didn't need tape or staples to hold the folded box together when opened out. Neither stainless steel nor cellophane are on the list of vital nutrients for my garden soil. The newspaper pots still need some tape or staples, but since copy paper is more stable it can do without.

I finally found a plan that used the flaps formed at the top of the pot folded down to secure the box and prevent it unfolding, but since I don't take the newspaper, (and let's face it, all our news comes with a .com at the end of it now anyway,) I needed a pot that was made from standard copy paper.
(If using a half sheet of newspaper, just fold in half again after Step 2 and proceed as usual.)

These stand up to normal watering as long as you don't move the paper pot while the soil is wet, or the bottom will fall out. Allow the bottom to dry, and then transplant outdoors.

To print, just click on the image to enlarge, (zoom out if needed), and choose File>Print, or right-click on the enlarged image and choose Save As, then print from your image viewer.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Who needs brothers?

Levi seems to think all his problems in life would be solved if he only had a brother. Which makes me want to sing, If He Only Had a Brain. Let's face it, his sisters build forts, wrestle, play trains and dinosaurs, do karate, and Taya built him this bow and arrow. Granted, they do spend a lot of time playing princess and Barbie, dancing around in frilly skirts, and painting their nails, but honestly: I don't think brother lack is a major concern around here. He should be more concerned about that missing elbow that needs Photoshopped back on!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Taya One One

I think it was a few days ago I blogged about her turning 10, and now she's already 11! It must be nice to have so many birthdays every year, all that extra cake and ice cream. Maybe somebody gave her a speed-up-time clock, or maybe she built one for some science fair. I don't know how she does it, but amazingly she gets older and older faster and faster, to her delight and my horror. Not horror at her, I mean, just look at her! With a personality to match, she's one amazing still-little girl!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Blues

No, we don't actually have the blues, we're not sad: look at how happy we look! No Easter dresses this year, (have you SEEN how many daughters I have?! If not, just look at the photo, Einstein.) I ended up in blue, noticed Taya was in blue, and then like the family fashionazi I am dug out everyone's blues. Troy willingly goes with the flow, which makes his domestic life so much simpler, and Levi is always happy to match Dad. Though frankly they didn't even notice until I pointed it out to them during church. And then I realized all the bluebonnets are out this time of year and arm-twisted our friend David who attends church with us to graciously swap family photos shoots. Though climbing down a hill in spike heels wasn't my idea of a good time, (those idyllic bluebonnet fields are actually full of thistles and thorns and mud with a freeway speeding by), and despite the full sun time of day which results in yet another Easter squinting family photo to treasure, (when will we learn to stop taking these right after church? When it stops being so convenient. And when I stop using so many parentheses. Stay on topic, girl!) we had a wonderful and relaxing Easter Sunday. And we weren't distracted by any bunnies nor eggs. We do all that pagan stuff the day before and the day after. On Easter we eat ham. And think about the Resurrection. While we sing in the choir.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

8 months

Zoey is 8 months old, and it somehow feels like what I really mean is that I'm 8 months pregnant. She's the most advanced fetus I've ever seen: sitting up, smiling, eating solid, food, and check out how well she wears that clothing! I've never seen a fetus do that trick before now. I'm also pretty sure she's the smartest thing ever; unless you count my older 4 kids, in which case it's a 5-way tie. I will say she's the cutest baby because all my other kids are no longer babies! Yeah, I know you covet my perfect children and my photography skills, and I can say that because most of you just look at the photos and never read this part. And those who read this far love me just the way I am, and are susceptible to suggestive subliminal messages. That wasn't very subtle, was it? I think this is the part that qualifies as my "Mindless Ramblings." Just pray she grows up to be just like her dad! Unless you've read his Slightly Unstable blog, in which case just be glad your own kids aren't in our gene pool!

Sunday, April 05, 2009


I have had this Singer anniversary edition sewing machine for several years now, and it worked, but it didn't have a table, and wasn't in tune. Since it didn't have a table, it didn't sit level, and the mechanism hit the desk when it was running. One morning when my sewing student was here, and my kids were out of school, we were all sewing around the big dining table (my student had hers, my daughter had mine, and I had my serger). Troy must have felt either left out or too masculine perhaps from lifting weights that morning, and pulled out my old black Singer to fix it up. He got it oiled and tuned, and a few hours and Craigslist clicks later came home with a new table for it too! I found him and Levi rewiring it into the table for a knee button, so no more foot pedal. We're such nerds. I have to be honest, that's kind of why I married him. When we were dating, a big group hopped into our cars to drive to Yellowstone, and we were the last ones in the caravan. He started his car, and as everyone drove away, smoke billowed out from under his hood. I was pretty disappointed to miss the park as I hadn't been since I moved to Idaho. He diagnosed the green goo pouting out of his radiator as, "This is no problem! My dad is the automotive professor on campus." The thing limped up to his dad's shop, and 2 hours later we were watching elk cross the road in Yellowstone Park! Several months after that, we were watching a movie with some friends, and my attempt to make popcorn yielded some black smoke, sparks, and some very burnt kernels. Disappointed again, (I love popcorn!) I brought him the air popper and sat down to watch the movie. He brought it back to the kitchen, and 15 mintues later walked into the TV room with a giant bowl of fluffy, buttery popcorn! I literally thought, "I have to marry this guy." It's a good thing he liked me too!

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Three Front Teeth

Okay, so I hate to admit it, but my kid, my son, my only son, our only shot to get this boy thing right, has 3 front teeth! Not by any fault of our own save for an unfortunate flaw in genetics. His right lateral incisor (can you tell we took him to a pediatric dentist?) fell out to reveal not its successor, but a giant central incisor otherwise known as your front teeth. Saw-edged to perfection, right on time, just wrong place.
So the cracked, rotten, infected, gray front tooth we've been praying would fall out was still in there, twisted and sticking out like it deserved all the limelight! Seriously, praying, because the cost of getting the thing yanked totaled $150 per tooth! Can you believe that dental insurance doesn't cover anesthesia for children?! Injections, yes, so technically it's covered, but who is going to allow that on a 7-year-old?! So funny gas was called for. We even went in to the extraction appointment, gas tanks all hooked up, and the dentist said, "If you just really work on that thing, you can get it out today." So we left as he packed up all the gas tanks again (sorry, Aaron!), and Levi got to watch TV the rest of the day while he twisted and yanked. We even tied dental floss to it while he pulled and twisted some more. We told him the dentist mentioned that the tooth fairy would bring TEN DOLLARS if he got that thing out that day, and after goodnight kisses and tears that it hadn't come out, he came out asking Daddy to do something about it. Lacking any dental tools and dental degree, Troy pulled out the needle-nosed pliers, grabbed a hold, and twisted that thing right out! Levi was still hunched up with his eyes squeezed shut waiting for the yank, and replied, "Wow, that didn't even hurt!" Sure was a lot of blood, though, and a root about a mile long! And bright and early the next morning Levi had two five-dollar bills under his pillow!

So does this kid have personality, or what?

Playing Dumb

At the park the other day, 2 twin girls were playing in a mud puddle from a recent Texas splash and dash spring storm, and their older sister showed up and said, "Ew, ick, stop playing in that!" A neighbor mom told her, "Don't worry about it: they've been doing it the whole time you were gone. They won't be any cleaner if you make them stop."

Wow. Now THIS is how to be a laid back parent, I observed.

I asked her what response she would give to the mild freak out of, "Oh, she's eating rocks!" I so frequently hear when my babies are sucking on pea gravel. Yes, it's gross, yes, it may be a choking hazard, but I'm so sick of constantly fishing them out that I've just given up. However, in an attempt to not admit that I am knowingly allowing my kids to participate in activities that promote choking, I "pretend" I don't notice, which always yields that friendly piece of warning advice that she's sucking rocks...again. So then I "pretend" I'm surprised and grossed out, and like a good mom and say, "Ew, yuck, spit those out."

My friend just laughed and told me that if I'm a laid back mom, I need to wear that. What I'm doing instead is looking incompetent, perpetuating the space-case reputation (not that it's totally undeserved, but to a much lesser degree than it appears).

So in an attempt to not look incompetent, I am in fact making myself look incompetent. It's better to just let them do things like play in the mud, eat inorganic matter, or practice toddler gymnastics by climbing on rickety objects (it's a lot cheaper than Gymboree!), than pretending I don't see it and acting flustered when it's pointed out.

I've also learned that if I'm getting "that vibe" from someone that they don't think I can handle 5 kids, that it's probably not all in my head as I have previously thought. It's probably because I inadvertently lead them to believe that by playing dumb, and that instead it's really time to step into my role of parenting "old school" style.

Any witty or quick responses for, "Back off, hover mom!" are welcome in the comments. Help me educate the would-be CPS-dialing watch dogs!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Children's Museum

Dad thinks he's hilarious. "Just gimme the marshmallow!" I can't tell if she looks more like a juvenile version of Frankenstein, or a baby with baby marshmallows stuck all over her face.
Levi's called it in to the authorities as child abuse. It certainly is nice of the children's museum to provide telephones for such purposes. He thinks it's a mock metro control station, but we know better! Who gave that kid a phone?!
They have an adorable new exhibit on Mexican-America culture, taking paintings and building 3D sets from them. Here my girls enjoy a fiesta, in case that wasn't obvious. I sure wish there was sound on photos because they rocked those guitars. They're really good. I wish I could say the same for my little pocket camera. It's really bad. But what I trade in quality I gain in convenience. My big camera has a tendency to cause head injuries when the kids walk next to me slinging it around. I think it weighs more than my baby. But the head injury thing explains a lot in regards to my kids...

Friday, March 13, 2009

No, it's not Halloween again

Here's Daddy's new jacket. Finally! I bought this fabric about 3 years ago intending to make Troy a windbreaker fleece jacket for Christmas. I didn't. The next year I tried again (if thinking, "Hey, I ought to finally make that jacket," counts as trying). This year, I actually got the fabric out, cut it out, and mostly sewed it before Christmas. It's a good thing I had a back up gift. After weeks and weeks go by of "I can do anything in 15-minute increments," Troy finally has his new jacket. It fits him a lot better than it fits the girls. It should, as that's kind of the point of custom made. And it took long enough, it had better be worth it!

Small Group dynamics

"I'm not 'just a mommy,' I'm an anthropologist, creating and studying my own small society"

Wednesday I went in to visit with Levi's therapist to get some advice on how to proceed in dealing with his ADD. My oldest daughter also most likely has it too, as probably Troy and I also, but Levi deals with it in more disruptive ways than his sister's propensity to doodling flowers and creative writing during class lectures.

So we spent a lot of time on my parenting style and philosophies, and somehow my youngest sister way of "hiding" things didn't seem like such a good plan anymore. Maybe I really am a bit of an oddball. I see myself as a boring, conservative, mini-van driving, suburban, YMCA card-carrying soccer mom even though my kids are in gymnastics. But I have 5 kids. I'm Mormon. I do things a little differently. I'm a wannabe homeschooler. We eat whole wheat bread from wheat I grind myself. My extended family is very colorful. Maybe there really is a hidden little drummer who is only in my head. And what to me is a conscience decision to let my kids learn from small decisions and avoid being "helicopter mom" may seem to others, who don't realize that I keep to myself because I'm overly talkative about trivial things, that I'm oblivious, unengaged, inattentive, in short, that I have parental ADD!

So my own small society just had to get a little bigger. I have a "problem child." I have become accountable to someone other than myself, and not the CPS. It's to my village that I've enlisted to help me raise my children: their teachers, my neighbors, our friends. Perhaps I should face up to my attempt as the salmon swimming against the current hasn't been as unobtrusive as I thought.

As one friend put it so aptly, "You're not explaining, you're not defending, you're educating. You do things in a way that's worked for hundreds of years, and society has changed. If you see yourself as an educator, people will not misunderstand you so often."

I'm a very self-conscious anthropologist, er, mama. Perhaps it's time to open up a little and let some of that go.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Bring Your Sister to School Day

CPS officer: Did you carry your baby sister to school yesterday?
Levi: Yes, because my mom and dad forgot her at home.
CPS officer: Did you get in trouble?
Levi: No.

This is why we don't base conclusions on anything a 7-year-old says. Last week Levi was getting ready for school, I brought the girls with me while Troy stayed here with the 2 little girls. Levi, thinking Troy was not home (as if we have ever left our kids home unattended, he still somehow thought we had even though Troy was in fact in our room getting dressed), picked up the baby (who was playing on the rug in front of our open bedroom door) and tried to walk to school with her. Our neighbor saw him on the sidewalk a few houses down from ours (certainly not all the 4 blocks to school that Levi reported) and handed the baby to me as I was walking back from the school and Troy was finished dressing and wondering if he was mistaken and I had really taken the baby with me after all. Now, I see this as a frightening and unfortunate experience of misplaced intentions on the part of my son, trying to be helpful, yet a great success story of our "village" support and safety system kicking in. And just because Levi only recognizes time out or grounding as punishment, he certainly did get in trouble! Chastisement, many serious talks about how we would never leave them home alone, lectures on learning good judgment, and having baby-holding privileges revoked only appear not to be punishment to him, yet with good intentions gone seriously awry are more valid and effective punishments than time out.

Enter the CPS officer.

And my piece of advice to anyone out there who has ever had any suspicions of child abuse or neglect: except in obvious circumstances, PLEASE speak directly to those involved before picking up that phone. If you have witnessed this or have strong suspicions, make the call. If you are merely head scratching, vague wondering, maybe, "bad feeling," take appropriate measures first, such as speaking to the parents and asking for the reasonable explanation. And here is why.
The CPS, without our knowledge or consent (on the strength of a single phone call with well-intentioned yet out-of-context information gained through the informant's relationship with my 7-year-old ADD son) went to our children's school, pulled them out of class one by one, and in a recorded interview asked for extremely personal information (that we have tried and tried to instill in them to not divulge without our permission, especially to strangers or when we are not present), such as their full names, address, phone number, sleeping arrangements, family interactions, and of course their private parts.

This is wrong.

It undermines all our attempts to keep them safe, from falling prey to tricky ploys by adults to lure children into behavior that is innapropriate. The next time someone asks my 5-year-old questions about where she lives, or about her private parts, it will be that much easier for her to give out this information because, why not, she's done it before. She has no idea what's legitimate or not.
So my kids came home Friday after school and dropped this bomb on us, my 5th grader understandably terrified and my young children completely clueless about the future danger they may face from a chink out of their safety armor. I could care less about the home visit; I knew they'd walk in and know right away the allegations were baseless. But what I cannot take back is the invasion of my children's privacy that makes them more vulnerable to the next person who asks innapropriate or personal questions.

The CPS itself recommends:
"Will the person know I've reported him or her?
Your report is confidential, and it is not subject to public release under the Open Records Act. The law provides for immunity from civil or criminal liability for innocent persons who report even unfounded suspicions, as long as your report is made in good faith. Your identity is kept confidential.

What are Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation?
  • Abuse is mental, emotional, physical, or sexual injury to a child or person 65 years or older or an adult with disabilities or failure to prevent such injury.
  • Neglect of a child includes failure to provide a child with food, clothing, shelter and/or medical care; and/or leaving a child in a situation where the child is at risk of harm.
  • Neglect of a person 65 years or older or an adult with disabilities that results in starvation, dehydration, over- or under-medication, unsanitary living conditions, and lack of heat, running water, electricity, medical care, and personal hygiene.
  • Exploitation is misusing the resources of a person 65 years or older or an adult with disabilities for personal or monetary benefit. This includes taking Social Security or SSI (Supplemental Security Income) checks, abusing a joint checking account, and taking property and other resources.
What if I'm not sure?
If you have reason to suspect abuse, but are not positive, make the report. If you have any doubts about whether or not it is abuse, call the hotline. They can advise you on whether the signs you have observed are abuse."

The social worker we spoke with recommends that the informant should first consult the parents about concerning situations where reasonable. If preserving confidentiality is your concern, the report is quite detailed and usually very obvious as to who called it in, even though the identity of the informant is illegal to divulge. Making that call without first expressing concern is far more damaging to a relationship than the parent knowing who made it after the conversation.
Every parent has scary stories, and so many things can be easily taken out of context. The investigations by the CPS are very invasive, so be aware of what happens after that report is made, and do your best to make sure your reaction to the situation is appropriate. It's not a simple call and a little knock at the door. It is an extremely strong response.
We appreciate our "village" that we've carefully assembled of friends, neighbors, and teachers, watching out for us, helping us, supporting us, by invtervening to keep our kids safe, or by expressing their concerns to us directly, but while the CPS definitely has its place, please be reasonably sure if their place in your particular situation is appropriate before making a report. One of the best ways to do this is simply to express your concern to the children's guardian, and then make a decision on whether or not an expert is needed.

Furthermore, the ability of this agency to do an end-run around our parental rights by using the childcare and public school system to question our children is wrong. When 50% of the reports to the CPS are actually found to be baseless, the net is too wide, catching up in it too many unaffected children who are then placed in disturbing and possibly traumatic circumstances. There are better ways to obtain inverviews from allegedly abused or neglected children.

The Texas Family Code states:
(a) The investigation may include:
(b) The interview with and examination of the child may:
(1) be conducted at any reasonable time and place, including the child's home or the child's school;"

However, the home interview has been found to be subject to 4th and 14th Ammendment limitations that require due process by obtaining consent or court order before entering the home. Allowing children to be interviewed while they are not in our care should carry with it some controls and requirements beyond an initial report, and should not be the first step of an investigation. Parents should always have the right to be informed of official interviews of minors, regardless of whose care they are in at the time, and barring enough evidence or imminently dangerous allegations worthy of a court order to conduct interviews, parents should have the right to consent to or deny the interview.
Child interviews are innacurate and often not considered evidence. If a child is truly involved in neglect or abuse, the interview alone will not and cannot substantiate it: there will be other signs. Child interviews should be used in conjunction with home visits and caretaker interviews, and only when steps have been taken to reasonably assure that a child interview is necessary or beneficial. Again, they should not be the first action taken!
To make your voice heard, contacting your state representative is easy. Laws are created and changed by our request, and our power to be heard is tremendous, especially in local government. In Texas, use
and type in your address to find your representatives. Our children cannot consent to questioning, and no one should be able to consent on their behalf other than their legal guardians. The CPS cannot be allowed to make that determination, which is how the law now stands by allowing interviews without parental knowledge or consent when children are in childcare.
Please comment if you are interested in being involved in the process or participating in a group letter to our state representatives on this specific area of the Texas Family Code.
This can so easily happen to any of our children. Protect yourselves by always being vigilant, asking for help from your support system (like a neighborhood watch for crime, make sure others have an interest in protecting your children), be approachable so those with concerns will involve you before they involve the state, and fight for laws that do a better job of identifying children who are truly victims of abuse or neglect.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Six months and crawling

Yeah, I know she's adorable. You don't have to tell me. Unless you want to. That's what that little comment button is there for. So go ahead, let me know. You don't have to think she's adorable for her to still be adorable, though. She already is. But sometimes mommies like to hear that. Or read it, as is so in this case. I'm making her not as cute, aren't I? Well, I made her cute in the first place, so hurry and leave a comment before I sabotage her!