Sunday, October 30, 2011

Dress up and pumpkins

Well, the past two days have been exciting for the kiddos.  Saturday during the daytime, their grandmother came to visit (and wear them out).  They played hard and had a lot of fun.  After grandma went home, we pulled out the costumes for the kids to dress up.  

Three princesses and a duck.  Sounds like a good joke.
We headed over to Church at the Crossing for their fall fest.  This event has a wagon ride, food, games, blow up bounce houses, crafts and everyone's favorite.....Trunk or Treat!  Instead of heading from house to house, kids get to walk down rows of vehicles with their trunk opened up that are each decorated with a theme and trick or treat this way.  Lots of fun, and the candy to walking time ratio can't be beat.  I think the only time I have witnessed a better ratio was when we did trick or treating in my college dorm.

We headed down the row of vehicles first, since it was still light outside and the temperature was only dropping.  After working their cute charms to get as much loot as possible (somehow Lydia and Ian got the most) we headed inside for the activities there.

There were some games and musicians, but the memorable part was the kids maze.  It is constructed of many cardboard boxes about the size that pumpkins come in at the grocery store.  My three oldest ones entered at the same time, but only Caroline came out.  After waiting about 10 more minutes and seeing 20 kids exit that had entered after mine, we sent Caroline back in after the other two.  Right as she headed in, Lydia pops out.  I asked her where Ian was, and she gave me a blank stare.  So we waited another five minutes and right as I was getting ready to head in myself, out comes Caroline and Ian.  We asked him if he was just sitting in there, and he was like,"Yeah" (insert cute and sheepish grin).  I guess that he was having trouble crawling around and keeping his duck feet on.  We called it a night after this.

Caroline elbow deep while Ian picks up seeds he dropped.
Sunday brought about the annual carving of the pumpkin.  The kids have been begging me to do this for several days now, so I grabbed my knives and set up for the pumpkin carving.  I asked the kids how we should do it this year.  I feel that they have been thinking this through, because they immediately returned with,"Triangle eyes and a square nose".  Easy enough.  What about the mouth?  "Umm, it should have a scared mouth", Lydia responded with.  "Do you mean a scary mouth", I asked.  "Umm, yeah, a scared mouth".  Fangs it is.  The kids really like getting their hands inside of the thing and pulling out the seeds and goop.  Once the seeds are out, they just play with the goop until it is more like mush.  

They also wanted a bat on the side, which I didn't think I would want to carve a hole that big.  So I traced an outline and wanted to do more of a silhouette.  Well, as we all know, that kind of detail work is a little hard to do with a knife.  What should I use?

Carving with power tools.  That's how we Simpsons do it.
Dremel it is.  Nothing like the smell of burning pumpkin flesh and the spray of it's insides to get in the spirit.  Sounds kind of gory, but I think that is was fun.  The kids thought it was cool with me going at it with the rotary disc.  It didn't quite work how I wanted it to, but that was mostly because the pumpkin had some thick walls.  All in all a fun time.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

No, it’s not Christmas yet, and I (Stephanie) loathe beginning Christmas celebrations before Thanksgiving has come and gone. I don't intend to offend those of you who already have the mistletoe hung, the icicle lights lit outside your home, the Christmas music playing in your home and the antlers on your car. However, my brain can really only fully take in one holiday at a time. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and unfortunately it is too often glossed over. We don't spend nearly enough time in our lives being grateful. For everything and for nothing in particular.
With all that being said, in recent years I have preferred to complete as much of my Christmas gift shopping and gift making before mid-November. It started a few years ago when our third child was due in mid-November, and my anxiety about tackling Castleton traffic and the malls with 3 kids under 3, including a newborn, alone. The next year I did the same, after seeing how much more I enjoyed the Christmas season with removing December shopping from the equation. Last year I took it a step further, with our fourth baby due around Halloween, so I did most of the shopping before November and saved only my handmade gifts to complete after Eliza’s arrival.
This year, I’m not quite as ahead of the game, but am still planning to complete my shopping by mid-November and finish up the handmade gifts by early December again. If you’ve never experienced a December without a mile-long shopping list, I cannot describe for you what a freeing feeling it is. I’ve enjoyed Christmas so much more with this approach—and we have always kept it pretty simple in the gift-giving department to begin with. But I’ll save that for another post.
With my shopping list eliminated and, in turn, my to-do list shrunk, I have found so much more time to do the most fun things of all. Such as: our daily Christmas Countdown and Advent activities, enjoying many of the special holiday happenings around Indianapolis, and being completely present at holiday gatherings. Best of all, it allows more time to reflect upon why Christmas is important to me, as an individual. Personally, it symbolizes the coming of a baby who grew up to be my Christ, and something that requires more than a token glance to fully absorb. When I take the time to remember, I am completely overwhelmed, and that’s only made possible by creating the space for experiencing the season.
Perhaps Christmas bears a different reason for importance to you. Or you celebrate a different December holiday. Wherever you are coming from, I think that we can agree that in the busyness that December can become, the most important can be shoved far to the back-burner and become an afterthought. November has not yet arrived. It’s not too late to decide that you want to do December differently this year. It may be your best December yet!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Pumpkin picking

When we left church today, it was overcast and not looking so good, but after lunch the sun came out and the temperature climbed.  So, what better to do than visit the pumpkin patch?

We headed up to Spencer Farms to find our conquest.  We visited there last year and really enjoyed their setup.  You can walk to the pumpkin patch fairly easily, but we like to wait for the hayride to take us out there.  It gives a chance to see all that the farm is producing and where they have planted things this year (crop rotation anyone?).  The driver will fill people in on what has been happening this year, what they have planted and the wildlife activity.

Look at the smiling faces!
So after a fun and bouncy ride around the property, we arrived at the first pumpkin field.  They had three planted; two that had carving pumpkins growing and one that had pie pumpkins.  We traipsed around looking for our carving pumpkin while trying not to trip over the network of vines strung everywhere.  Lydia was the winner this year for finding our choice pumpkin.  After that we headed over to the pie pumpkin patch where we let each of the kids pick one out.  These are obviously easier for them to carry, and now that we have 4 kids we can get more pumpkins to cook with.  

The girls looking around.

Lydia cleaning the dirt off.
Ian found a keeper.

Caroline showing off her pumpkin.

...and Eliza gets them all to herself.

It was a fun afternoon where we were able to go at a slow pace.  The kids had fun (as always) and I was able to get my photography on.  Next up:  Carving and then roasting the seeds.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Heartland Film Festival

Garbage in, garbage out.  I also think that the opposite is true.

I am amazed at:
A. The content that is consistently in films (language, violence, etc)
B. How popular these films are
C. The younger the viewership has become

What has also surprised me is how popular an institution that goes against this model has become.  At this time each year, a film festival occurs in Indianapolis that honors films with pro-social content.  Heartland Film Festival has occurred for the past 20 years (I believe), honoring those whose films present the better part of life.  These are the films that touch us, that inspire us, films that truly move us.  

I first got involved with Heartland Film Festival when I was in college at Anderson University.  Not only did it make sense for the production majors to attend the workshops and conferences that surrounded the festival, but we were hired to record and edit them.  Yay press pass!  Of course, this also included some tickets to go to the screenings.  What I love about this aspect is that the films show in the mainstream theaters right next to everything else that is showing.  This film festival is not set apart, reserving a whole theater just for its uses, but places itself right in the midst of the rest of the (good) junk that is out there.  

What stands out, is this business sets the example of how I should live my life.  Don't isolate yourself from everything else to try to preserve your standards.  Set your standards and then jump into the midst of everything else.  They have proven that they can survive without having to compromise.  Heartland Film Festival put themselves out there, and I am just amazed at how it has grown over the years.  The Indianapolis Star had a great article about HFF recently, and the title says it all: Playing nice pays off for Heartland Film Festival.

As I mentioned, in college I was able to work with Heartland Film Festival in a production role.  One of my classmates had the privilege to work with HFF for several years.  She now lives in Ireland with her husband (whom she met at HFF several years ago), but occasionally will recount her days at HFF.  You can catch up with her at View From an Irish Back Yard (link is to a specific post, but please read more).

So, if you are in Indy, go see some good films this weekend as the festival wraps up.  For all of us, it is ok to stand out for being quality material.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

When "good enough" is good enough

Yesterday evening we were all getting ready to sit down for dinner. Jason was bringing the meat off the grill, I (Stephanie) was plating the food in the kitchen while the kids were cleaning up toys and books from the afternoon. We set the table and 5 of us sat down to eat--everyone except for Lydia.

Waiting for Lydia is not an uncommon occurrence in our family. Lydia is pretty much my blonde mini-twin. One of the traits that she gets from the Highley side of the family is that she moves at her own speed--most often that speed is "mosey". That was not the case last night.

Lydia was bustling around, with purpose in her steps as she was picking up and neatly putting away every last toy and book where it belonged. All of the things that her siblings left where they lay to come to the table for dinner. Lydia saw what needed done and worked diligently until it was finished.

Have I mentioned that Lydia is also our resident "messy"? This ties into her deeply creative and artistic nature. She is not one to naturally see order, and organization is not one of her strong suits. Caroline and Ian keep me on my toes and probably know better than I do how to put away our toys and books in their proper place with their Type-A, left-brained leanings.

So, the fact that it was Lydia who was cleaning after everyone else abandoned the task was noteworthy, and I took a moment to thank her for her help and for following through until the job was done. I told her that she was going above and beyond what we expected and we appreciate her effort. She sheepishly grinned and whispered "Thank you."

Not to be outdone, Caroline immediately piped up, "What about me? I did a good job too, right?"


It's always present in our lives, isn't it? We do what is expected, we try to do "good", but we look around and compare ourselves to those around us and suddenly we wonder if we're "good enough". We want the praise that someone else receives, and we compare their extraordinary moments with our moments of adequacy.

Adequacy. We're hitting the mark. Meeting expectations. We are "good enough". If everything that we did was extraordinary, it would no longer be extraordinary.

I took a pause to think for a moment how to respond to Caroline, knowing that my response in this moment was worth more than a flippant remark. "Yes, Caroline, you did do a very good job and did exactly what we asked you to do. Lydia went above and beyond and even though we didn't expect her to get everything cleaned up, she took the initiative to finish the job."

Somehow it still didn't seem like "enough" of an answer to her question, but I hope that love and grace will somehow cover over an answer that was adequate, but certainly not extraordinary. I wish that I had the eloquence to speak words of wisdom in everything that I say to my kids, but I just don't. And I try not to compare my moments of adequacy, such as this, with other moments of extraordinary wisdom that I have heard from Jason as I listen to him speak with one of the kids from time to time, or from other parents who seem to always have just the right words to say--at least when I'm around. Because I know that we're all just doing the best that we can. And that's "good enough".

So, what would you have told Caroline?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Newsboys and Ducks: A Post From the Mrs.

So, Jason showed me a few of the ins and outs of the blog, and I picked up on the most important part: how to write on it. Hopefully he does not regret this decision. I remind him frequently that my middle name is Brooke, as in the babbling kind, but I'll try not to be too wordy when I step up to the plate here. :)

An overarching theme in my life lately and the circles that I find myself in has been about motivation. Specifically the motives behind our actions.

The old Newsboys song, "Shine", has a line in it that says:
...The truth is in
the proof is when
your heart starts asking
"What's my motivation?"

If you were a teenager in a Christian church in the 1990's you are probably singing along in your head now too. For that I'm so sorry. But Truth is found in a variety of places, not just the highest quality of music...but that's for another time. If you have not heard the song up to now, you can check it out here on Youtube.

What is your motivation for your actions? Are you motivated by fear? Most of us are.

Now, I'm not talking about choosing not to go visit a Haunted House this season because of fear, as one of my friends responded when posed the question. I'd say that fear is probably not a bad motivation for deciding against that choice, in my opinion. Fear and not wanting to change my pants.

However, if you are allowing fear to dictate the answers to the important questions in your life, I'd go so far as to say that fear is a poor motivation for decision-making. When fear controls your decisions, you are giving over control of your life to this fear.

This can be every decision from personal questions such as: "Should I go talk to that gentleman standing on the street with a sign asking for a dollar?"
It can be vocational questions such as: "Should I take this job/leave this job/start my own business/expand my business?"
It can even be spiritual questions such as: "Is my motivation for choosing my faith or religion because I truly want to know and follow God or because I'm afraid of going to Hell?"

Our oldest daughter is in Kindergarten and she provides an excellent example of how our motives are more important that the choices that we make. Her class is like most other elementary classes, including my own when I taught at her current elementary school several years ago. Her teacher has a classroom management plan that includes rewards for good behavior.

Caroline tells me every day that she got a Smiley Stamp on her chart and will ask me if I'm proud of her that she got a stamp (for good behavior) on her chart. Each time I tell her that I am proud that she's doing the right thing, not that she got a stamp. The stamp is just a symbol of the desired behavior. I want her motivation to be that she has the internal desire to do the right thing, because it's the right thing to do, not the desire for approval of others.

Do the right thing, because it's the right thing to do.

It's so simple, and one of the mantras around the Simpson Six homestead. However, we often get caught up in fear and worry about the approval of others. I don't care if you are six or sixty--we all care on one level or another about the approval of someone, somewhere in our lives--often much more than we should. The Minimalist Mom (another blogger that I LOVE to read--if you are interested in or intrigued by minimalist living, check her out here) wrote a great article about not caring what other people think. We like ducks a lot around here, and they've got it right. Just let everything roll off your back. Easier said than done, right?

We only have one life, and we are the authors of it. Take back the pen from fear and from trying to please everyone around you and write your own story. I'm certain that it will be much more thrilling, exciting and fulfilling than what others and fear could ever write for you.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Harvest time

5 years ago I planted a small garden.  I never would have guessed that it would turn into my summertime hobby.  It has grown over the years (ha ha) from a meager 10 square foot plot into a 12' x 23' rectangle of bounty.  This kids have gotten into it as well over the years, so they get just as excited as I do about the preparation, planting, cultivating and harvesting.  This time of year wraps up the months of work.  It is the time to enjoy the fruits (or veggies) of our labor, which we eagerly do around here.  The planting list for this year included 4 varieties of tomatoes, 2 varieties of beans, sugar peas, sweet corn, jalapeno peppers, cucumbers, broccoli, carrots, strawberries and green onions along with basil, dill, cilantro and chives.

We have been eating well.

To tie in with a previous post, what makes the food all the better is only having to travel to the outside of my house to get it and that it was produced as naturally as possible.  No herbicides, no pesticides, just all natural compost and water.  The kids eat the food like it was candy.  They like to sneak over to the garden and reach their grubby paws through the fence to grab another pea pod or green bean pod and wolf it down before I notice.  Another benefit is the cost savings.  I really only pay for seeds and water.  The rest is up to God to take care of.

We also like to visit some local growers to stock up on some food items that we cannot grow ourselves.  We will go to Stuckey Farms, Spencer Farms and Tuttle Orchards for blueberries and strawberries to freeze for later, pumpkin to roast and put up for bread and muffins, apples for apple sauce and apple butter, and peaches for canning.

And for those who are thinking about it, it is not too late to go out and get some good, fresh food.

Our recent harvest of carrots.  5-7 pounds!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Taking ownership

It is fun to watch the kids grow and develop. I'm sure any parent would agree with that, and the humorous stories that come out of that process. Currently we are watching Ian develop his sense of possessives.

Case in point, this past weekend I decided it was time to repair some of the soffit on the house by the front door due to some water damage. So in my usual fashion and manner, I got up semi early (the sun was shining, so not early for me), put on my work clothes and headed outside. Not knowing what I was totally getting into or would find out once I started, I did the demo work before heading to the hardware store, trying to prevent the usual 2+ trips. Once I had the old soffit torn out and was satisfied on what my shopping list entailed, I was preparing to leave when Ian looked out the front door. He quickly exclaimed, "Oh No, Daddy broke MY house!" Not THE house, or OUR house, but my house.

I wanted to ask if he was ready to take over payments and transfer ownership.

Needless to say, my efforts were in vain. After my initial trip to the store and purchasing what I thought would be all of the material I needed, I prepared to paint the new soffiting with the can that I had dug out of the garage. After prying it open for 10 minutes (my first clue), I discovered it was mostly water and sludge. So off I went to get a quart of paint. God bless the sophisticated paint matching capabilities (the label had worn off).

Soon enough I was back in business and putting all of the pieces back together. It was not long until Ian wandered by again and, seeing my progress, stated, "Daddy fixed my house." At least he recognizes who does the work, although I do love when he tries to give me a hand and help out. Then he says that he did the work. I'll take it.

By the way, did I mention the active wasp nest I found...

Sunday, October 9, 2011

What should we eat?

We like to consider ourselves eaters of good food. By that, I do not mean that as a family we stroll around looking for the next great steak or ice cream Sundae.  What I mean is that we try to stay conscious and aware of where our food comes from.  We strive to acquire naturally produced food; organic, sustainable, hormone and pesticide free.  By no means are we vegan or strict about our exact diet.  We do have the occasional splurge into the realm of fast food (and then quickly I remember why I stay away from those places).  If you know me, you most likely have heard about my fondness for my garden or how I love finding a local farmer with pasture fed animals (see Ahh, Meat for what I do with them).  It truly is a great feeling knowing exactly where your food came from, not just a guess at a state or country.  To be eating something that just a few short hours ago was still attached to it's root system.  Yes, at this time of year we are reminded of how yummilicious fresh can be.  I am not just speaking to that.  Some context...

Being a video production guy, I do enjoy a good documentary.  My wife can get into them as well, especially when they deal with topics that top her list of lifestyle choices.  Since signing up for Netflix a while back, we have discovered many documentaries dealing with food and the health of our nation.  They are sickening and eye opening at the same time.  What amazes me is that as a culture we blindly accept what is put in front of us, never questioning what has been done to produce the consumables on the plate in front of us.  So much of our 'food' has been beefed up with hormones, pesticides or genetically modified that I question if it really counts as food.  I see it more as a calorie rich, tickle my pleasure center, feed me more item.  

So this is the part where I insert stats about obesity, heart disease, diabetes, etc. (blah blah blah, you can find your own stats).

We recently watched Forks Over Knives.  The big push from this one was to go with a plant based diet and for the most part eliminate meat.  I'm good with the plant part, but I do not see the point in completely eliminating meat from my diet.  I'm an omnivore.  I eat both.  The point that the film did not address was how has the meat been treated/produced.  In the sense of the mass produced, assembly line meat farm, yes I would give up meat.  But the real stuff, the pasture raised, let it grow on it's own GOD given time meat, that's what I do not want to give up.  

I do not know if I have expressed myself clearly enough.  The point that I want to get across is to be aware of what you are putting into your body.  The adage is true, garbage in, garbage out.  The problem is that the 'out' part may be one of your internal organs that is failing.  I am making an effort to teach my kids not only proper eating habits, but also proper eating choices.  Unfortunately, this is something that needs to be taught across this country, but the big corporations seem to have this one tied up.  The whole food pyramid thing is messed up, the school lunch program is a joke, and even the 'healthy' options at restaurants really are not.  Food, Inc. touches on some of these topics. 

So, that is my sort of rant.  I guess that when you feel passionately about something, even mildly passionate, you will go on about it.  You may debate in the comments section.

Now go eat your apple.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Home schooling

Stephanie and I have talked at length about our children's education, what our thoughts are, plans and what we would do given different scenarios.  Thankfully, up to this point preschool has been wonderful, and due to my working at Heritage, we have not had to think twice about what school to send our kids to.  Given a different situation, we felt strongly that we would start them out with a bit of homeschooling.  I have not thought much about this until I read a friend's blog about how they home school their kids.  So, in the spirit of disseminating information, here is a recent post about their home school curriculum.  I hope that it is helpful should you be looking for some info or thinking about this option for your children.

The Maxwell 6: Loving Kindergarten and Second Grade!

In the spirit of the many ways that I lovingly call my wife a nerd in regards to her odd ball interests, I hereby dub Emily a home school nerd.  She admits it, one way or another.


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Clean the closet

So I got up the gumption to clean out my closet over the weekend, mostly at the prodding of my ever-so-loving wife.  It looks like a small area, but (after seeing and believing) I guess that I am really good at cramming a lot of stuff in a small space (let's just say you could not see my bed or the floor in my bedroom after pulling everything out).  

As a side note:  We have been very intentional in our purging in an effort to steer ourselves toward more simple living (and deny our inner pack rat).

So, things get really interesting when you play the 10 second game with that much stuff.  Crap to my wife.  Stuff.  It's my closet.  It's my stuff.  For those that may not be in the know, you have 10 seconds to decide what to do with the object that you have picked up.  Keep, toss, donate, etc.  Some items are easy; old papers to recycle (who needs that travel book from 2003 any ways).  Some items not; the poncho from Mexico that you never wear except for halloween every other year.  What really caught my attention was having to get rid of some clothes.  I really have only had to get rid of clothes because of being worn out or having holes.  This was one of the first times that I have had to get rid of clothes that do not fit anymore since, O, ....high school.  Yep, I still have, and wear, clothes from before I could legally operate a vehicle.  I have considered it pretty nice to only need to update because of style changes.  Don't get me wrong, this is not an 'I'm so fat' rant.  Really, I have just filled out some to what my wife would say is a 'Healthy Jason'.  Still, between the size changes, the 10 second rule (in regards to clothes, have I worn it in the past 3 months) and having "simplify, simplify" running through my head, I got rid of a bunch of clothes.  More than I have ever had to, more than I expected.  It's a weird feeling. 

Good news, I found the Magic 8 Ball.  I was not sure if I should keep it or not, so I asked if I should keep it.  'Yes' was the reply.  Talk about self preservation.

Yes, I do feel like this sometimes.

Monday, October 3, 2011

A reminder to have fun

Recently we had Dad's lunches at the Elementary School.  This is an opportunity for the dads to come eat lunch with their child(ren) and spend a little time with them at school.  I like it, because it kind of forces the dad out of the workplace and to come check out school during the day, not just during a practice or performance.  Of course I do have a different perspective since I work there, and am used to experiencing the daily tasks and routines.

I still went and had lunch with Caroline, and we had fun.

I was able to eat with her in the cafeteria on a day that she ordered her lunch (such a big girl), so she was able to show me the routine of getting in line to get the food, eating quietly and then socializing, cleaning up the mess and lining up.  Something that I did not know was the kitchen staff will prepare samples of fruits or vegetables that the children may not normally have to expose them to new things.  This is so COOL!  I was able to try spaghetti squash (so yummy).  All of the dads had to try some to be an example to the kids.  I embraced the opportunity, while some of the dads did not look so sure about themselves.

OK, I am hanging up on the boring stuff.

So after lunch we went back to the classroom for a few minutes to start a craft and (I am guessing here) to let the food settle before recess.  Did you catch that?  RECESS!  I was invited to go play with the class!  Not one to turn down a good romp around the playground, I followed that pretty, smiling face outside.  The second we were out of the doors, everyone took off running.  I had to sprint to keep up.  Soon I found myself clambering around the monkey bars, pushing kids on swings, lifting them up to the high bar and running races around the playground.  I was so lost in running with the herd (which kept me in the middle, not sure why :p), that when I finally did look up and catch a glimpse of the other dads that stayed for recess, I realized that either I was a hyper kinetic wound up individual, or these guys have forgotten how to have fun.  There they stood, gingerly pushing their kid on the swing or waiting by the slide for them to come down, all the while keeping an eye on their phone for the latest message or sport stat or something.  

But they were just standing there.  Idle.  Looking bored, not interested.

There I am with beads of sweat forming on my brow and am trying to catch my breath, 15 kindergartners surrounding me, laughing, squealing, calling for 'Caroline's dad' to run with them, lift them up, run with me.  Their joy, laughter, energy was contagious.  It fueled me, beckoning me to run faster, jump higher, smile wider.

And that's where the kids have it right.  Adults need to enjoy the moment, forget what else there is around you.


Have fun.