Nine

How is that possible?? Another year, another boy worth celebrating. Nine years seems like a lifetime ago – well it is I guess if you are Jack.

Today we celebrated our growing, shining, loving, silly, smart, artistic, oldest son. Jack loves animals and knows lots about them. He requested a Wild Kratt’s themed party, so we aim to deliver. I found a farm/zoo nearby that listed some interesting animals on their website. We had never been so you just don’t know. Set low expectations.

Of course the day started super early with three very excited boys. Jack picked the Tim Hortons chocolate Tim Bit cereal for breakfast (ewww) and the others were happy to join in. He finally got to open the gift that had been delivered earlier in the week and had been driving him insane. Thank you Grandma and Grandpa for the bow and arrow. They had it out and were shooting at the box before 7 am.

With two buddies in the back seat beside him, we set off for the Farm. We were greeted by a lovely owner who lead us around to all the animals on the property. Thanks to COVID we were the only ones on the property and it’s was great. We fed the goats maple leaves as they clamoured to get through the fence. Tate initially stayed way behind me and just watched. When she suggested we could go in the lemur cage, he nearly climbed up my leg. But watching the others feed the cute little creatures fruit, he slowly calmed and then asked if he could go in too! Will wonders never cease.

We saw all black chickens and roosters (is that even a thing?), tortoises, a rabbit and a guinea pig, emus, peacocks, mandarin ducks and bengal cats. She brought out one of their HUGE shepherd dogs. It looked like a small bear. It was so calm with the kids. Tate eventually let me put him down and he pet the dog. We couldn’t believe it. Exposure is good, I guess.

They had a small playground which made them all happy and a picnic table for lunch break before the rain. The sky got greyer and greyer but thankfully never rained. It was a great morning learning about the animals and being outside. Highly recommend a visit. Sometimes, a plan actually works!

We came home for cake and gifts. I kinda got out of control with the cake and it turned into a huge tower of deliciousness. Joel managed to cover it and turn it into a creature power disc with a lemur on it. If anyone is around, stop by for some cake. We’ll be eating it for months.

Of course the highlight for Jack was the gifts. His thoughtful friends made him very happy. (And us too, he was busy all afternoon!). It was so nice to see him playing with a few friends and being a silly, happy boy. Let’s pray it can continue this fall.

Jack is a great kid. He is kind, very loving and helpful to his younger brothers. He puts up with a lot for them and they love when he is around. He is easy to be around and has so many growing skills and talents. We are thankful he is part of our family and pray God continues to grow him into a man who walks by faith and not by sight.

Family Camp

A week ago we enjoyed a wonderful week of Family Camp at Camp Crossroads. After months of the same and way too much screen time, I am finally inspired to write about another Unruh Adventure.

We were all very excited to go to camp. Joel grew up going to Crossroads so he had lots of memories and stories to prepare the boys. They were pumped for nature and swimming. And that’s just what we got and more.

As soon as we arrived, we were greeted by enthusiastic staff who directed us to our cabin. The boys were super thrilled that our cabin was right across from the swings. Before even taking one thing out of the car, they were off exploring. Another family was already there and within minutes Jack and their son were off checking out the climber. I love how kids just make friends with strangers. Of course Joel knew his dad from Niagara and lots of connections were made.

The week kind of continued in that easy, relaxed, joyful way. Because of the unknowns this year with COVID, they had focused mainly on family camps. They created a hybrid week – kids over 7 could sign up for two sessions each day. Jack chose crafts and swimming. So did his new friend. Fantastic. Each morning the younger kids had a play program also, which Tate and sometimes Clark grudgingly went to. So we had 2 hours to ourselves each day. How awesome is that! Joel did some canoeing and kayaking, I went for some walks, read a bit and lots of playing with Clark. He just loves us so much, he didn’t want to leave, even though we tried to convince him…alot.

The weather was gorgeous, so most of our free time was spent on or in the water. Clark enjoyed the canoe rides, happily clutching his paddle and pointing out the sights. Everyone enjoyed swimming in the pretty cool lake, even Tate went up to his neck and tried on a life jacket. Big steps for him. They spent hours digging and dumping in the sand and water. Jack had a great time with his swimming group. They canoed around the point and swam with life jackets in the deep water, lots of games off the dock. They had this amazing water chute from a wooden platform that shot you down into the water on an inflatable raft. Jack LOVED it and Tate even went down 5 times. We were so proud of his bravery. (“It was actually really awesome.”, he reported).

Of course, every mother knows the highlight of family camp is no cooking for the week. We all lined up at each meal, trying to guess what it was based on the smells. The boys did a great job finding something to eat. They loved choosing a different juice every morning with breakfast, cookies in a bag to take back for a bedtime snack and finally our turn for hot chocolate at dinner.

The boys also discovered the amazing invention of the Tuck Shop. As all the treats were listed off, they listened with wide eyes. We can pick any of that? Yep, it’s camp. Jack and Clark quickly chose something. Tate hemmed and hawed and finally picked orange Crush. Which he’s never had in his life, not even sure if he’s had pop. He was in his glory. “This is amazing! I’m so glad I picked the orange drink.” was what we heard for the rest of the day. Clark was quickly convinced this would be his selection the next time he visited this magical store.

Evening chapel was a delight. Live worship was great. They had a program for the kids each night. Clark blindly followed the first night and was in tears when we picked him up. He was not so easily fooled the following evenings but in true Clark form, sat quietly at my feet playing with rocks and sticks for 45 minutes. The speaker was awesome and focused on the Lord’s Prayer, encouraging us to use it as a model of how to pray. It was a great encouragement for my soul.

The staff were so lovely and positive. They were kind to our kids and full of fun activities. We saw people we hadn’t seen in years and months and made new friends with some other families. The environment only pointed to the Creator even more. It was such a renewing and relaxing week. Clark has thanked God that he got to go to Camp Crossroads almost every night since we got back. I can’t wait to go back.

Puzzles

Nothing makes me happier than seeing my boys play with things I bought for my kindergarten classrooms.  Right now, Clark is all about puzzles.  We do the same horse puzzle at least once a day.  He loves a glow in the dark dinosaur one I had for years as well.  I’ve been looking for second hand puzzles to keep him going.  Most days the living room floor is covered with puzzles.  Because why would you put them away after you finish them??

I love teaching kindergarten.  Watching their little brains figure things out is fascinating and exciting.  Puzzles are always interesting to watch.  Really young ones just try and jam the pieces together.  As they get older, you can give them strategies – look for straight pieces, put the same colours together, find the corner piece, etc.  Even as adults, we did puzzles as a family at Christmas.  I loved the challenge of it.  Making a jumble of seemingly mismatched pieces fit together into a finished picture.

As I’ve been going back through pictures, I remembered puzzles were a theme at our wedding.  We liked the idea that we each brought different pieces of ourselves to the marriage and we fit together to make a more beautiful picture.  As we are entering our 10th year of marriage, I think that imagery is even more true.  Marriage is challenging and it takes effort and sometimes different strategies to make the pieces fit together but it is still a beautiful picture in the end.

Over the years I watched many little hands putting these puzzles pieces together.  I never thought my own children would be playing with them.  I cried at my loneliness, frustrated at what others had, choosing to move forward despite not having kids of my own.  Watching Jack, Tate and Clark now, touching those same pieces… it’s amazing.  I can see now how God was working on my heart and fitting pieces together in the background that I could not see.  I do not claim to know how God works or why He does what he does.  I still have lots of questions about life and the injustices I see.  Yet, I cannot deny that He did answer this prayer.  I see the lead of love.

Look up this great song by Caedmon’s Call – also from our wedding…

Looking back at the road so far
The journey’s left its share of scars
Mostly from leaving the narrow and straight
Looking back it is clear to me that
A man is more than the sum of his deeds
And how You’ve made good of this mess I’ve made
Is a profound mystery
Looking back You know You had to bring me through
All that I was 
So afraid of 
Though I questioned the sky, now I see why
Had to walk the rocks to see the mountain view
Looking back I see the lead of love
Looking back I can finally see 
How failures bring humility
Brings me to my knees 
Helps me see my need for Thee
Looking back You know You had to bring me through
All that I was 
So afraid of 
Though I questioned the sky, now I see why
Had to walk the rocks to see the mountain view
Looking back I see the lead of love

The pieces of our life puzzle are not yet finished.  

International Dining

This second COVID lockdown has the potential to push me over the edge. Online learning is not my favourite thing with more than one child in school and a toddler who would also like attention.

I have been encouraged by a friend to do a daily joy dare. This involves writing down three blessing from each day. This definitely helps keep my mind refocused on the good things that are still happening and how God still has His hand on our lives.

One of my unintentional favourite things of this time has been our family international dinner nights. Now before you think I’m such a thoughtful, intentional parent, let me explain it’s inception. Three weeks ago, I made a soup for dinner. The further I got into the recipe, that I thought sounded delicious, I realized there was no way my kids were going to eat this Indian inspired dish. I refuse to make more than one meal or waste food so I went into teacher mode. Time to do some selling. We were going to learn about India! I pulled out my Lonely Planet guide, our world map puzzle, looked up some educational YouTube videos and hoped for the best. They were all into it and everyone of them ate their entire bowl of soup. I was shocked. Tate soon asked, “What country are we going to learn about tomorrow?” Oh, I was just going to make burgers… Since they were all so interested, I decided this could be a weekly event.

Last week, we learned about Bolivia where Joel had gone for a year with YWAM. I made Saltenas, a Bolivian street food, kinda like an empanada. They had ground beef, potatoes, green beans (because I forgot peas) and some different spices. Joel had a pillow case from his trip and some pictures of the incredible, packed city of La Paz. We watched a video about the most dangerous trips to school, this one being children in Bolivia. The kids couldn’t believe the lengths these children had to go to in order to get an education. Again, they all ate their dinner, Tate being the most positive about it. “This is so delicious!” How are you the same kid I have to spoon feed spaghetti and meatballs to?? Every day after that, he asked what country we were learning about that night at dinner. I guess we are going to keep going with this.

Tonight, we focused on Bangladesh. I had lived there over 10 years ago for three years. I spent the afternoon pulling out my little momentos and looking through photos of my awesome experience there. I chose a fairly neutral chicken curry, mixed vegetables, rice and naan for the meal. I thought they turned out delicious but you never know… Our optimistic eaters were starving (another personal favourite parenting strategy) and kept commenting on how good it looked and smelled. (Victory!). They loved being given permission to eat with their hands and scoop up the curry with the bread. They watched four videos about Dhaka and other parts of the country! Tate said part way through the meal, “I know why we are learning about these places. Because we haven’t been there and they eat different foods and do different things but we can learn about them and they are good too.” Oh my heart. Okay, fine. We’ll do it again next week.

Though unintentional, we’ve create a new routine and it brings me joy amidst the monotony of lockdown. It made my heart so happy to remember all the lovely people and places I had seen while living in Bangladesh. Though crazy and wild, it was some of the best years of my life.

I have done cool things. I am adventurous. I added to society as a teacher. This is just a short window in the overall scope of my life. Though my world feels small, this is hopefully opening our minds to places beyond. There is so much to see and learn. It is amazing that I can share that with my own kids and maybe inspire them to go someday to somewhere new and exciting. When airports open again. And they can afford their own plane tickets.

“The Best Birthday Ever”

Happy New Year now translates as Happy Birthday, Tate in our household. Our new year’s eve tradition does see us staying up til midnight but includes fondant and icing and no champagne. Which is really fine with me, especially this year. There was no where to go anyway, so some good worship music and couples cake decorating was a decent alternative.

Tate turned five today. He was so excited for his birthday. He loves a good party and when it’s all about him, its even better. I put him to bed last night and soon heard crying from his room. “I’m so excited about my birthday. I can’t wait til the morning!” Much tossing, crying, back rubbing ensued. He held out til midnight! I guess that’s one way to see the new year come in.

The birthday boy was happy from the moment he woke up and was smiling the whole day. He feeds off attention and being with his brothers. He had such a good attitude about not being able to invite anyone to the party. He must have said ten times, “This is the best birthday ever!” He is easy to please. Praise the Lord.

Our Wild Kratt’s (a fantastic PBS show about animals and their creature powers) festivities started with animal toast and juice. The boys changed into their creature power suits (which they were shocked that I had “made” with fabric) and were ready to get their first creature power disk. They became polar bears and went outside to use their sense of smell and sight to find the animals hiding in the snow. Next they turned into snowshoe hairs and hopped in the snow in the blue circles all the way to the “giant” snow pile.

Back inside, we had a gift break with a FaceTime call with my parents. Tate’s personalized pencil case with crayons and Wild Kratt’s colouring book was a hit. Since he’s turned five, he can magically colour so much more carefully. Bizarre. By then they were starving, so we had some animal appropriate food to refuel.

Another gift from talented grandparents came next. Grandpa Unruh built a beautiful treasure box out of walnut and maple. The perfect gift for this little collector. He immediately ran to his room to find things to fill it with.

Our final two animal powers were elephant and bat. They used their elephant trunks (the vacuum cleaner hose) to suck up various balls and put them in the bucket. Finally, their echolocation skills were handy to find their way across the room blindfolded. That was the end of the “party” but the boys continued to create more power disks of other animals, add pouches to store the disks on their shirts and other things I didn’t even catch. It was so fun to see their creativity and imagination put to use, even working together for part of the day.

I am very thankful that the day seemed to match the anticipation of the birthday boy. Tate is at such a fun kid. He has blossomed this year since starting school. He has become stronger, more confident and independent. He dresses himself without a moment of whining – most days. He is positive and encouraging to his brothers. He is quite knowledgeable about most things, in his opinion and very quick to share this knowledge with his younger brother. He is creative in his play, often heard making up stories downstairs on his own. He has a heart for worship and sings as he plays and creates his own worship songs based on a mash up of key spiritual phrases he’s heard. When he is rested and well fed, he is delightful. When he’s off, he’s way off. He is a boy of extremes. It’s never dull.

Tate, you are the cutest five year old I know. You make me smile with your creative take on life. You see things differently than most. Your attention to detail makes you notice what others often miss. You are a joy to our hearts. Happy Birthday. Five is going to be great.

2020 – What a Year

This is the time of year we receive yearly updates from family and friends. Beautiful photos of families, calmly standing together and smiling. Cards with well wishes for the new year. Joel’s asked where our’s is…

I just could not pull myself together enough to do it. The thought has passed through my mind several times but I just don’t know where to start or what to say. However, when Tate drew this picture, I knew it would be the appropriate cover to our (never to be sent) cards.

It’s been that kind of year

I have had a love/hate relationship with 2020. It has taken much but I am well aware it has also given much. Since Joel and I first got married, I have been working on family “yearbooks” – one photo book devoted to a chronological telling of the year that was. While we were in Morocco I totally bailed and spent my time writing on the blog to remember our adventures. Since the first lockdown in March, I had a bit more time on my hands and returned to the website to catch up on five years of missed books. I quickly realized I could use the text from the blog to tell the story and Joel’s millions of pictures to illustrate it. It became like a mission to work through a year. I started with 2019, when we began in Morocco and ended in Canada. It was like a emotional reflection of all that we had left behind and going through the process of leaving all over again.

As much as it made me sad for those I missed, it was such a sweet treat to reread the crazy trips we had gone on and see all those familiar faces and say good bye once more. When the book arrived, the boys loved looking through it. Tate was especially happy to have a book all about him (apparently). I realized again, that’s why I was doing it. For them to try and decide which of them is the baby in the picture, to remember people and places in their lives and to have a book that was all about “me”. When I heard them saying things like, “That’s when we were in Italy!” or ” That’s me at the Giant’s Causeway!” I knew it was worth it.

Once I got started, I really got into it. Then the website had a half off sale. I banged out 2018 and 2017. I was so thankful that I had written those blogs with all those details. I’d never remember what we did or what was happening in half the photos. I can barely remember what I had for breakfast! I also purposed to stay on top of 2020 and each month added a few pages of the important events and cute faces. I am thankful for the gift of time to look back and to get projects done that would have never happened.

So as we come to the end of 2020, I do not want to stop writing our story. But it has been hard and often times very unmotivating. Being “stuck” together with the same five people can seem like a record on repeat. What is there to say? Homeschooling is not for me. We didn’t get to properly finish the school year. Summer sports were cancelled, favourite places shut down. We didn’t get to see family and friends for ages. Hospitals closed to loved ones. Don’t get me started on masks… As much as I thought I could handle being isolated, it’s getting long. I miss friends, like talking face to face with other adults. I don’t see too many in my day.

However, looking back, I can say there are things that I’ve loved about this year. I have seen my boys’ relationships with one another strengthen and bloom. They (mostly) love playing together. The grouping changes but overall they are good buddies. They are learning from each other, which can be dangerous but cute to watch. They do fight but there seems to be more playing and loving.

My kids (and all the others I’ve seen) are resilient. Tate started JK this year and I was so worried about how our super sensitive, not very flexible boy would do. Masks all day when inside? After the usual first few days of tears saying good bye, he got into a routine and is loving it. He doesn’t know any different. He loves his teachers and is making friends – I think. When I ask him who he played with, he replies, “Mom! We can’t play with anyone!” And that’s fine, apparently. He’s happy every day and I usually have to ask him at the end of the day if he wants to take his mask off. Jack is the same. They just roll with it. I’m so proud!

More family time can be hard but also lots of fun. We live in an area with much natural beauty and we’ve had time this year to explore. We’ve learned all our boys like to hike and it’s a great time together. And if all else fails, time with Daddy wrestling or bird watching makes everything better.

Celebrations can still happen, just different. Everyone still had a birthday this year and cake to go with it. Some had more of a celebration, depending on the restrictions. But everyone felt loved, special and hopefully made good memories.

We all learn new things. Jack took swimming lessons this summer. Tate started gymnastics this fall. He now loves it and flips all over demonstrating his moves. Jack and Clark have taken on skating. Jack has done really well and loves going every Monday night with Daddy to the arena. Clark is now able to stand by himself on his skates and shuffle forward to Daddy. Joel’s back may be permanently damaged but he has boys that are skating! I have found a shared love of Lego building with Jack. We were given a elf clubhouse for Christmas. It was so fun working together to build it. We even pulled out the Lego castle my brother had as a kid and worked together to follow the 40 year old instructions. We were pretty pleased with the results.

And some things just stay the same. Everyone needs to experience baking with Mommy. She both loves it and continues to struggle with control in this area. Play food feasts are a long experience and require a table full of all the toys with a very cute chef. Friday night pizza is always good. And we will take every snuggle we can get.

Jack, Tate and I also took on the church’s memory verse challenge in the spring. There was a child appropriate amount of verses to learn but Jack quickly decided to learn the whole passage. Over the month of May he memorized Colossians 3:1-17. Just by listening to Jack and I repeat the verses over and over, Tate was able to say most of it too. There are so many good chunks in there for living a God-filled life. Which is my goal. Most of it isn’t easy.

But God is faithful. He does not change. During this advent season, we are waiting for His arrival. We will celebrate His birth and the gift of a saviour. We are not alone. He is with us in this mess. And for that, I choose to put a few verses from Colossians 3 as the signature to 2020 and at the top of my goals for 2021 – “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body, you were called to peace. And be thankful.”

Even for 2020, I am thankful. Peace to you all for the new year.

Louise

Last night we lost our grandma and mom.  Joel’s mom Louise went to be with her Saviour after a very quick illness that caught everyone by surprise.  There are many broken hearts because of her passing.  I know she had an impact on so many people.  I only came onto the scene in the last ten years but I still have many memories and gifts that I will treasure.  I choose to remember her for the legacy she has left behind for me and my family.

She was a kind, compassionate, caring person.   Her gentle caring nature is one of the biggest parts of her I see in Joel. She helped raise a good man.  She modelled kindness, empathy and emotion.  I see in Joel so many of these things.  His tender heart is a direct gift from Louise.  She was so warm and made friends easily.  She talked to everyone she met.  Another trait she passed on to Joel.  I am thankful for an example of how to love and care for others.

She was so supportive of those she loved.  From the very beginning, she welcomed me with open arms into the family.  If Joel picked me, she did too.  She communicated frequently with her kids, checking in on them, sharing in their joys and sorrows, sending many sunset pictures.  When I had complications after Jack was born, she eagerly took a night shift with me and Jack at the hospital and later alternated weeks with my mom at our house while I was on bed rest.  She remembered every birthday with a generous gift and made sure everyone got something special that made them happy.  She hosted my friends when we wanted to give them a taste of the beauty of Northern Ontario.  Though probably unhappy we were moving to Morocco, she helped us pack up our life.  She came twice to visit us and took so much pleasure in seeing our life and meeting our friends.  She is the only person who commented on every single blog I wrote.  She read them all and had an encouraging comment for each one.  She was the one of the first people to encourage Joel to pursue art and saw his talent as a gift.  That has lead to a career he may not have found on his own. I am thankful for a legacy of support, encouragement and care and I hope Joel and I can model some of that for our boys.

She loved God’s creation.  As previously mentioned, I don’t know how many sunset, lakeside, fall leaves pictures we received every year.  Despite living in Muskoka for years, she never stopped appreciating it’s beauty and eagerly sharing it with those she loved.  She loved the many creatures that lived around her home.  She had peanuts on the ready for the little “chippies” that she literally had eating out of her hand.  Her love and knowledge of birds was passed on to Joel.  They would call each other when they saw something new and looked through bird books together.  She loved to travel and see different parts of the world.  She told me the story many times of her leaving Niagara for a new, unknown life in South America when she was so young.  Though she struggled, she said it made her a stronger, wiser, better person.  She and Larry travelled all over visiting friends, their children (in Australia and Morocco) and many new and interesting countries.  Her appreciation for the beauty around her is reflected in the many, many pictures she took.  Though it sometimes makes me roll my eyes, I love all the reminders of the special memories we’ve made and the incredible places we’ve seen.  I am thankful for her love of this world.  I see it in her grandsons looking through binoculars at the birds in our backyard, when one of them yells out “Look at that view!” while we are driving and watching her son capture every little moment that makes him smile.

She was talented.  She made many cozy flannel blankets for loved ones to snuggle under.  One Christmas, she had spent months sewing an interactive book for Jack. The detail, creativity and effort was unbelievable.  When COVID hit, she immediately began making masks for us.  Of course, she found cute, boy-friendly fabrics, unique for each grandson.  Later, she even managed to use her sewing machine and skills to somehow write their names in stitching.  We were all impressed.  She and I shared a love for healthy foods and she was alway passing me her favourite recipes or some yummy samples to try.  I am thankful for her creativity which Joel uses everyday and I see growing in Jack and now Tate as they draw and colour.

She loved Jesus and passed that on to her children and her children’s children.  We had many discussions while preparing meals in the kitchen or playing with the kids or on walks about our faith.  She was sure of relationship with God, His persistent pursuit of her and His hand on her life.  She was thoughtful and open to asking questions and making me think about things.  She prayed for all of us daily and loved hearing our boys retell Bible stories in their adapted way, sing songs to God and quote memory verses.  I am most thankful for this legacy of faith she has passed on to Joel and our boys and pray that because of her life others come to find Jesus.

She was so special.  We miss you Louise.

Tate is Four!

January 1 will never be the same for us.  Sure it’s the first day of a new year, but really, it’s Tate’s birthday!  That’s what really matters.  Especially when he’s four.

We were in Chatham with my family, and they graciously agreed to join in the celebrations.    There was a Michigan game on so Matt and Joel were torn but their developing maturing allowed them to focus on the cute kid for a while.  See, we all grow up.

We went with a Paw Patrol theme as we have seen every episode at least 100 times.  I may be exaggerating but it doesn’t feel like it to me.

There was a knock at the door and Rider appeared and needed some help to solve some problems.  Thankfully, Tate/Chase was there, ready to help.  First, Alice needed help on her school scavenger hunt.  Her partner wasn’t there.  Who could help?  Chase helped her find and photograph all the things she needed.

Next, a truck had tipped it’s load of popcorn and they only had tongs to pick it up.  Chase was willing to help with this but definitely needed some support from other “pups”.

Then, the zoo animals got trapped on their island and Rider needed help building a bridge to get the animals across.  Chase helped but was slightly overshadowed by his eager older brother.

Finally, Grandpa wanted to take a picture for his grandkids but it was all in pieces.  Could Chase help put it back together?  He was all over this one.

After each challenge, Tate got to open a present.  He was one lucky pup.  Then there was food, doggie themed of course.  And his favourite part – the singing of the birthday song and cake.  Though, he’ll never admit it, he does like a bit of attention!  It was a very successful day celebrating our favourite four year old.

This boy loves a job.  He is the best at helping put away groceries, packing for a trip, finding someone’s lost item, making cookies and other things you may not have asked to have help with.  He loves his brothers and is a fierce protector.  He talks sweetly to Clark when he first wakes up, makes sure we shut off the bath water before it gets too high for Clark and watches carefully as they cross the street.  He is strong and physical.  He loves to jump on Joel’s back and pound on him with full force.  Full body contact wrestling is the highlight of his day.  He’s crazy.  He jumps from couch to coffee table, bed to chair with little fear and demonstrates incredible body awareness.

Tate is highly sensitive and notices every little change and reacts with his whole being.  This can be frustrating (tags, stitching on clothes, the way his ears feel in his hat, the chair not being put back in the right place, someone touching his toy…) and it can be fabulous.  This adjustment to Canada has not been an easy one for a child who doesn’t like change.  He expressed that with outburst and frustration during the summer and early fall months. But I’ve noticed lately a settledness, a peace and a confidence.  There are less outbursts, more laughing, less crying, more helping.

I am learning as his mom that he trusts me with his worst.  And I am learning to look at it as a blessing.  Take our recent trip to the dentist as an example.  I told him about an hour before we were going.  He flopped on the floor, crying, thrashing, throwing things.  Refused to get dressed, had to be wrestled into his snowsuit, crying all the way down the street.  It is exhausting to keep going.  But the moment we got to the doors of the office, he stopped.  Looked up at me with his adorable little face, smiled and said, “I love going to the dentist!”.  From that moment on, he was gold.  He listened to the hygienist explain everything, hopped up into the chair and bravely opened his mouth for a cleaning.  She couldn’t stop complimenting his behaviour and how great he was being.  I told them, if only they’d been at our house an hour ago!  Again and again I am seeing this is his way of processing and dealing with his anxiety.  He feels safe enough with me/us to spill it all and then takes what we’ve been telling him for hours and pulls it together.  Everyone else sees this sweet boy who’s quietly trying to do what he’s supposed to.  I get to see the transformation and it’s fantastic.  I couldn’t be more proud of him.  And the look on his face when he’s conquered it, makes me laugh and cry every time.  He’s so proud of himself too.

Tate will always be the one to keep us honest and humble and ever vigilant.  And for that, I couldn’t love him more. Happy birthday, big boy!

 

Family Christmas

I can’t let this month get away from me without writing about our first Christmas back in Canada.  It was a family extravaganza.  We traversed southwestern Ontario and were so thankful to be able to spend time with all our family.  The boys especially were so pumped to be with their cousins.

Our first stop was in St. Catharines at Joel’s dad and step mom’s place.  With 6 kids under 7, we kept them busy with games and sledding outside, snowman building, snowball fights and walks just to exhaust them.  But back inside, they did so well playing together, laughing, wrestling, playing hockey and other things I didn’t bother trying to figure out.  It was a very special holiday as Joel’s sister and brother in law were here from Australia.  That won’t happen again for a while so we were all thankful to be together.

 

Grandma Unruh’s delicious breakfast

We came back to our house just before Christmas Day.  It was so fun to have our tree and stockings all set up and see the boys anticipation for Christmas morning.  Of course, no one slept in and Tate was the first one bursting from his bed.  “Santa brought it!”  He had been asking for this dragon toy for weeks and told anyone who’d ask and told Santa very clearly on his two encounters with the jolly man.  Thankfully, Santa was able to find it and the joy on his little face was the highlight of the day.  We could’ve stopped there, they all played with their gift from Santa for 45 minutes before anyone asked about the rest.  We opened our stuffed stockings and then took a break for breakfast and a little birthday party for Jesus.  We really wanted them to know that the real reason for the season was the gift that Jesus came to earth.  Joel read the story and they all chimed in with the details.  We decorated/jammed with candies, a birthday cake and sang the song.  A small break in the midst of all the stuff to remember what matters.

The next day we headed up to Bracebridge to be with Joel’s mom and step dad.  We stopped in town first to meet his siblings for some sledding.  Everyone loved flying down the quickly icing hill.  They made a human train and rode down together. It was great.  Clark was not so into it, so he and I hung out in the van.  A few more years and we will all get to participate together.  Back at Larry and Louise’s they opened their presents, chased each other around the house, learned to play crokinole, tromped through even more snow and watched crazy videos with Grandpa.  And of course, the food…so good and so much!  We all hiked down the road and enjoyed the beauty around their property.  If you want to experience a white Christmas, this is definitely the place.

 

Our last stop was to see my family in Chatham.  After ripping open all the gifts from Grandma and Grandpa, we headed over to Matt and Jill’s for a delicious dinner.  I learned all kinds of tips for my new instant pot, included fall off the bone ribs.  Even Clark was impressed.  Matt’s girls are so much older but they are kind and patient with our boys.  They played games, listened to their bizarre stories and taught them Dance, Dance Revolution and WiiSports.  Very sweet to watch.  They also graciously agreed to come back the next day to celebrate Tate’s birthday, but that’s another post.

We are thankful for so much family this Christmas.  Quite a change from the last 5 years.  Great memories made.

 

Christmas is Coming

As we prepare for Christmas it has been fun to have more time and easier access to do things we remember from our childhood.

Each morning one of the boys first words are, “Can we open our chocolates”.  Those advent calendars are fun – and expensive!  I got Clark a cheap one figuring he wouldn’t care one way or the other.  All of the chocolates slip out and each morning we had to match them back into their places.  Apparently, price does matter.

We were thankful to have saved our Christmas tree which is a substantial upgrade from our Moroccan Charlie Brown tree.  The boys were very excited to help decorate the tree with new and old ornaments.  I bought most of those decorations when I was single and remember making the marble painted balls almost 15 years ago.  Now they are being hung by three little boys who call me Mom.  Who would’ve thought.  (Now just to make sure they don’t break them all!)

Cookie decorating was attempted.  They loved rolling the dough and cutting out the different shapes.  Clark was a bit aggressive in his cutting and may have made some amputees but it’s all about the process.  Icing was equally messy and fun.  Clearly the name of the game is get as many candies on each one as possible.

We’d been saving our gingerbread village to construct til after Clark’s birthday.  The next day with Daddy’s super intense assistance, we put them together.  Who doesn’t love a house covered in candy.  You can’t go wrong – except that you force them to wait to eat it til much later.

We are living in a winter wonderland.  The snow came just after Halloween and hasn’t left. Jack is a trooper, trudging through the snow to school.  It has been a parenting trial for me to acclimatize Clark to cold weather living.  He hated his hats and mitts. As soon as I put them on, he’d rip them off.  His hands were turning purple as we walked to and from Jack’s school.  It was horrible.  I finally chose to let Jack go on his own and only force Clark to dress up once or twice a week.  It’s taken til the middle of December but he seems to have realized winter means cold and that hat actually makes your life better.  We found a hat he couldn’t rip off and now he puts his boots on all on his own, even when we aren’t going outside.  A win for sure!

The boys (including Joel) have loved building snowmen, shovelling snow, tobogganing down our front steps “hill” and throwing snowballs.  Definitely things they’ve never done before.  Tate is the biggest lover of the snow and will stay outside long after the rest of us are inside, making up stories, attacking the piles of snow with his karate kicks.

We visited the light festival in Orangeville and even got to sit with Santa on his sleigh.  The boys are very adamant about their gift requests for Santa, we hope he can find the right thing!  Joel’s school gave each staff a gift certificate.  We chose Boston Pizza and treated ourselves to their Christmas pizza – turkey, stuffing, gravy and cranberry sauce. Who thinks of these things??  Deliciousness on a plate, I do have to say.  The boys were just exciting about getting their own drinks.


But most of all, we’ve enjoyed celebrating the advent of Jesus birth.  Our church’s theme has been “Indescribable”.  We are so thankful for God’s indescribable gift of Jesus.  Our prayer is that our boys grab hold of that gift with eagerness and pursue Him for all their days.  May you all experience the amazing gift of the baby Jesus this season.