Joy to the world!

Yep, I’m gonna keep the joy alive and kicking around here, from chugging good coffee to loving on my beautiful family to celebrating the birth of Jesus at Christmastime.

The wonderment of the season

Last night, the 3 Amigos watched in awe as Santa delivered each one of them a personalized video message. Thanks for turning us onto the Portable North Pole, Granny!

After doing a pretty good job @ being mannerly during “The Nutcracker,” the boys (L to R: Zeke, Houston, Landon, Gabriel & Logan) let loose & release a little post-ballet energy in front of the Gen. Greene monument.

Stephen created the videos, which explain that they’re on Santa’s nice list, yet each should still try a bit harder. Santa said:

    • Houston is “generous,” but needs to “be nicer to his brothers;”
    • Gabriel is “full of energy,” but needs to “work on his table manners;”
    • and Zeke is “quite a character,” but needs to “work on not having temper tantrums.”

Amazing how St. Nick knows such particulars about each boy’s personality and areas of behavior improvement. If you have a child who still believes in Mr. Claus, you should definitely check it out.

It is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas when its mighty Founder was a child Himself. — Charles Dickens

Houston, who despite his best friend Asher’s adamant disbelief in the jolly old elf, still regards Santa’s existence as not only possible, but very true indeed. The funny thing is that he has questioned some of the logistical aspects of the mythical Father Christmas.

For example, “Mommy, do reindeer really know how to fly?” asked Houston. “Sure. If Santa can make it around the world in one night, he has to have a fast sled,” I answered with confidence.

The dudes also sent their letters to Santa a few weeks back, when naughtiness was reigning supreme at the time. (Admittedly, I chose this time to have each boy fess up to some of his misdeeds and to hopefully work through some of the issues.) Here’s what they wrote:

Dear Santa, I would probably not earn that many presents, but maybe one or two. I’ll try to be better till Christmas and after. — Houston

Dear Santa, I’ve been very naughty and I will try to be good and try to be nicer to the cats and Mommy “because she gives us everything we need” (Houston helped him out with that part). I hope Zeke doesn’t throw Woody anymore. — Gabriel

Dear Santa, I’ve been naughty “because I’m always thirsty” (we opted to edit out this excuse), but I will try to use my brain more and just do what Mommy says. I deserve a little bit. — Zeke

More Christmas cheer

Since I was quite restrained in our spending on gifts this year and did 99% of the shopping early and online, we had the opportunity to slow down a bit and soak in the season and all the fun that it offers.

Oh, for the good old days when people would stop Christmas shopping when they ran out of money. — Author Unknown

On 12/1, we kicked things off by attending the annual Holiday Parade downtown with Christie, Logan and crew. It was our first year to claim sidewalk near the start, instead of at the tail end of the route, and the kids scored tons of candy from the spunky and spirited paraders.

On 12/6, the boys and I went to see “The Nutcracker” with our CC pals “Miss Kristy with a K” and her sons, Logan (not to be confused with the other Miss Christie’s husband) and Landon.

Gabriel, Houston & Zeke stand @ the elevators inside the Jefferson Standard Building, the historic downtown structure in which Daddy now works.

Because it was a shortened student version, the local ballet company offered the kids some narrative explanation and let them see the crew do set change during intermission. The 3 Amigos were already familiar with the Tchaikovsky music, the story and its characters, and seemed to appreciate their first ballet, especially Houston.

On 12/15, the boys and I attended Miss Christie’s “Polar Express” Party. All the kids were admitted entrance into the gathering if they met the pajamas requirement and could also present their boarding passes (the invitation).

When we recall Christmas past, we usually find that the simplest things — not the great occasions — give off the greatest glow of happiness.
— Bob Hope

An admitted Pinterest fanatic, Christie went all out, with cookie decorating crafts, edible chocolate and peppermint trains, festive games and one-of-a-kind handprint ornaments homemade for each child in attendance. Of course, watching the namesake movie while feasting on popcorn was a big hit, too.

On 12/17, the dudes and I we went caroling (in the rain) with Christie and and the kids. Because we went during the day, we hit the homes of two seniors in her hood, and the weather couldn’t dampen our spirits nor could it diminish our singing and energetic instrumentation.

“Big Hashy” (a.k.a. Houston & Asher) get festive & freaky @ the 36th Annual Greensboro Holiday Parade.

Then we came back to our stomping grounds and sung for Miss Shawn and the boys’ newest neighborhood pal, Cameron. Our setlist was You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing and Jingle Bells.

While drying off and warming up at our casa, the kids devoured the gingerbread house the 3 Amigos had made with Miss Jessie a couple days prior, and (sort of) watched A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Perhaps the best Yuletide decoration is being wreathed in smiles.
— Author Unknown

On 12/19, Miss Shawn invited us over for cookies and playtime with Dixie. It was nice to get together with our awesome neighbors, who we don’t see near often enough these days.

That afternoon, we headed downtown to attend Daddy’s work party. The boys loved the the parking deck, elevated crosswalks, elevator rides, visit to Daddy’s cubicle and his tour of the historic building in which he now works almost as much as they enjoyed the endless supplies chicken strips and strawberries.

Gabriel & Mommy keep the seasonal spirit alive well into @ the lengthy holiday parade, while Zeke crashes quite comfortably as the festivities rage on.

Another hit was the kid-friendly room, featuring choice live performances of The Nutcracker, holiday movies, made-on-the-spot theater-quality popcorn and tons of fellow youthful travelers on this stimulating ride we call Christmas.

Not a basketball star yet

On 12/1, Gabriel had his first basketball game, which fizzled before the scheduled end time. Gabe kept running off the court to see the photos I was snapping, one kid was crying ’cause he didn’t want the ball, while another was sobbing crying ’cause he didn’t want to share the ball … it was too comical.

Gabriel did much better at his second game on 12/8. Only he and one other Wildcat played the entire game. I was so proud. And Daddy and bros reported that he also gave a worthy effort the following weekend at his third game. Way to man up, Gabe!

I took Gabriel to buy a youth basketball (with his own piggybank money) after the 12/8 game. And since then, Stephen I have since souped up the boys’ old toddler hoop, attaching it onto the back deck at the six-feet regulation level used in his league.

Gabriel concentrates (as best as a 4-year-old is able) on making a free-throw shot during one of his recent basketball games. Go Wildcats!

While I spent some one-on-one time with Gabe on the 8th, Daddy took Houston and Zeke downtown to the city historical museum. Then we all met up post-basketball for a massive Mexican feast, which included guacamole galore for the 3 Amigos. Happy campers, for sure!

Other merry outings

On 12/9, the boys and I went rollerskating with a huge group of our CC friends. I knew it would be difficult for the kids, being their first time skating and all, but it was way more demanding on both them and me than I had imagined.

I had rented skates, too, so every time they pulled on me, I nearly toppled over. Just standing up was almost as an impossibility for the dudes in the beginning. But through diligence, each one made it around the rink twice, before giving up on skating and opting for video gaming with friends instead.

Zeke, Gabriel & other merry passengers on the Polar Express proudly admit to devouring Miss Christie’s chocolate, licorice & peppermint train cake. All aboard!

Of course, we’ve gotten together with Christie and the kids a few times beyond the already-mentined outings. One was a record-setting six-hour playdate that included good times at her house, my lunchtime lesson/discussion on “The Pilgrim’s failed socialist experiment” and then more romping at the park.

On 12/14, we attended our final Moms Club playgroup. The kids and I hadn’t been to one since the summer, so we decided to go and bid the group farewell and a Merry Christmas.

Moms Club was a life-saver for me two years ago, when the 3 Amigos were very young and I sometimes felt trapped around the homestead. We made some good friends over the course of our membership and surely plan on keeping in touch with those fine folks. Thanks, Moms Club!

Stephen and I had a nice date night that evening. It was a dinner-and-a-movie affair, featuring Thai food and then the spectacular flick Life of Pi, which was the first regular-release film (i.e. not a kids dollar movie) I’ve attended since seeing Apocalypto while pregnant with Houston.

Here’s handsome-boy Houston in one of the phenomenal photos Miss Christie took of the family back in November.

Then the dudes spent this past weekend up in the mountains with Granny and Grumps. The creek house had no power for two out of the three days, but Granny survived (barely) and the kids had a great time roughin’ it, playing in the snow and listening to the wind howl “like a ghost.”

Sickness & health

In the midst of all this merriment, we have battled and conquered a couple illnesses.

First, the dreaded stomach bug, which raged through the entire family, starting with Zeke puking all over my side of the bed during the first Saturday night of the month. (I blame it on the kids literally hanging out on the dirty downtown streets for 2 1/2 hours during the parade earlier that day.)

Whatever the cause, that violent virus eventually made its way to every member of the family, but took each of us only a couple days to get over, thankfully. Pray you don’t this brutal illness anytime soon. Yikes.

Cutie-pies Zeke & Gabriel also “work it” during Miss Christie’s fall photo shoot.

About mid-month, Houston and Zeke developed a nasty cold/cough. Zeke got over his fairly quickly, but Houston actually lost his voice the night of Christie’s party and still has a lingering intermittent cough, but I’m confident he’s at the tail-end of it. Nothing major.


Not much to report on the homeschooling front, since we’ve been on official CC break since Thanksgiving. We’ve been doing what I like to call semi-schooling, which has been a relaxed break from the grind, but is still productive.

So, I will leave you with two humorous videos: 7 Lies About Homeschooling and Miss Jessie’s popcorn experiment video, which she had to do for one of her education classes. Enjoy.

Till next time, Clan Dillingham wishes you and yours a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Bring on the Canon

My Kodak EasyShare finally died, so Stephen said I could buy a new camera as my early birthday present. Thanks, baby! I am waiting with bated breath the arrival of my Canon Powershot from Amazon. In the meantime, hope you enjoy these late-spring pics.

A post-rain photo of the dairy farm behind our house from atop “the mountain.” Can’t wait to get my new camera & take more nature shots!

The 3 Amigos have been loving their homemade critter necklaces. Jessie poked holes in empty toy capsules from a gum-ball machine for threading string and letting air get to the found critters.

Then, each boy added colorful beads to the strings before placing a black ant inside of the capsule. However, we’ve totally slacked on tending to the needs of our new pets.

The other night before bed, Gabriel lovingly said, “Aw, look at my ant, Mommy. He’s sleeping.” I compassionately replied, “He sure is, buddy.” And so Gabe slept contentedly while wearing his now dead-critter necklace.

Zeke & Houston feast on Ceebu Jen during Cousin Meredith’s Senegal-themed lesson in May. (Click to see all the pics.)

Other weird bedtime stuff: Zeke can be found sometimes laughing in his sleep. When you hear him, you’re sure he’s wide awake, reading a book or playing with a toy or whispering a joke to his bros.

But sure enough, Zeke’s in a sound slumber, apparently having a humorous dream. And then last week, I witnessed Gabriel doing the same, chuckling hardily while he snoozed. Too funny.

Houston also provides his share of nighttime comic relief, opting on occasion to sleep in the raw. It’s not like he has satin sheets or anything, but I suppose he just enjoys being unencumbered by clothes. I support Houston’s penchant for freedom of movement, but I do insist he at least wear undies to bed.

Piper, Zeke & Gabriel chill poolside during a MOPS playgroup. (Click to see all the photos from May.)

After the bedtime prayer on Sunday night, the dudes and I had a deep conversation about heaven. I explained that my belief was that our eternal home will be free of death, disease, sadness, fear, hate, handicaps, jealousy, etc.

“For instance, Mommy won’t have a bad hip in heaven,” I said. “Zeke won’t be missing a lobe because his yucky had to be surgically removed, so he’ll have perfectly healthy lungs in heaven. And Houston won’t have his special eye.”

“But I like my special eye!” retorted Houston. Of course, I immediately clarified, explaining how blessed he is that his Horner’s eye doesn’t cause him any vision trouble, but that some kids aren’t so lucky, and that God makes no mistakes. Unfortunately, Mommies sometimes do. You and your bros are perfect to me, Houston!

Zeke is intent on mastering BB gun skills during his first lesson w/ Daddy.

Houston and I made a birthday resolution to give up nail biting. He has only been doing it for a couple months — mimicking me, I’m sure — whereas I’ve had the wont for about 35 years. Hopefully, I can right this mothering mistake by kicking the habit with Houston. Keep your fingers (with unbitten nails) crossed.

Last week, I passed along our much-used changing table and crib to Greg and Meredith for Rorie. I needed to clear space in my slow, but steady efforts for reorganizing the kids’ room and the office, but now I’m changing dirty pull-ups on the dust-bunny-covered floor.

It was a couple days after Greg’s visit that I turned over a new leaf with the potty training. Sadly, I had gotten pretty obsessed. Each and every accident had the potential to tear me down and spoil my good mood — not a good place for a mom to be.

Houston poses w/ his awesome teachers on the last day of MOPS.

I decided I wasn’t going to let a little doo-doo and pee ruin my life anymore. Who cares if Gabe and Zeke are “3 and three-quarters years old,” as they like to tell people, and haven’t mastered the life skill? They will indeed be potty trained eventually. So, I’m giving this one over to God.

Till then, they’ll be no more fretting. I’m just going to accept what I obviously have no control over, and instead be the twins unfailing cheerleader. The ever-the-optimist approach has certainly lightened things up, making the entire home a much happier and healthier (albeit stinkier) environment.

Stephen made good on a one-on-one time Houston earned months ago. It was worth the wait, though, ’cause Daddy took him to see The Avengers movie last Saturday.

Houston donned his alphabet-beaded necklace that read WASP, although that Marvel super-heroine isn’t even in the new flick. And Stephen proudly wore the very non-masculine THOR necklace that Houston had carefully beaded for him. You’re a trooper, Daddy!

Houston’s “special eye”

Houston’s left eye is so normal that I often forget he even has Horner’s Syndrome. Monday, he had his annual checkup with our pediatric ophthalmologist, Dr. Young, who said that both of Houston’s eyes are doing great. Thank you, Lord!

The 3 Amigos brandish their homemade swords. (Click to see April – Part 3 pics.)

There are complications that can arise from the syndrome-caused ptosis — such as a damaged cornea, astigmatism, poor vision due to overcompensation by the right eye — but the good doc told us that as of now, none of that is happening. Unless any problems arise, Houston only has to get checked out on a biennial basis.

Houston underwent a battery of tests, some old hat, but some new-fangled. I sat back and let him handle the questions, hoping he would do fine, if I didn’t step on his toes. Well, I was right and big bro impressed us all with his maturity and courage — hence, the treat at Krispy Kreme post-appointment. Good job, Houston!

“Bearing fruit in wisdom, growing in understanding, soaking in knowledge”

I attended a three-day Classical Conversations practicum in Winston-Salem from 6/11-6/13. It was exciting to delve into the curriculum I will be using to “officially” homeschool Houston in just a couple months, and eventually the twins.

Mommy forces the obligatory cute photo @ RoboFest. (Click to see Part 2 pics.)

The gathering served as a primer for:

  • understanding more about CC’s God-centered (not student-centered) method;
  • its differences from modern public education, as well as other types of Christian education;
  • its core of teaching the Trivium = Grammar (knowledge), Dialectic (understanding) and Rhetoric (wisdom);
  • explaining each of those stages of teaching and learning;
  • and our responsibility as homeschool educators.

We also did some introductory Latin. The ancient language is part of the curriculum, since it’s structured, logical, deeply connected to Western culture, and the basis for many other languages.

On day one, learning about declensions and revisiting sentence diagramming (for the first time in a couple decades) almost made my head explode. But by the third day, the translations weren’t near as intimidating and I began to see a pattern, proving that my mind isn’t totally atrophied.

The thinking is that since the brain is an organ that was created for a purpose (learning), we must stretch it beyond our comfort zone. So not only will I be teaching my children, I will also be relearning or learning for the first time amazing things (namely for me: the “why” of math), thus, redeeming my own education in the process of teaching my boys.

I’m really lucky I’m starting off with kindergarten, so Houston and I can both begin at square one. We will be laying a good foundation and then building upon that year after year, bringing Gabe and Zeke along for the ride down the road.

Hangin’ with the homeschoolers 

Speaking of the twins, we actually met two other brothers named Gabriel and Zeke. Can you believe it? I suppose if there’s any place you’re likely to run into two siblings with such Biblical names, it’d surely be at a Christian-homeschooling event.

Ready to rumble, Gabriel does his best Chuck Norris.

While I did my thing, the 3 Amigos attended an on-site CC camp. They absolutely adored their teacher (an older homeschool mom), her “staff” (CC teenagers), the activities (oceans theme) and hanging with tons of other well-socialized CC kids.

Although Asher was in another camp, we did get to see him, Jacks and Piper during the hour lunch break. And since Miss Christie and Mr. Logan attended the event, I hung with them during the morning seminar and afternoon workshop.

Naps no more

Being that the practicum wasn’t local and the schedule ran from 8:30 to 4, it’s a good thing that Stephen and I had nixed the boys’ naps just prior to the event. Here’s what prompted the major change.

First, the kids’ ultra-naughtiness, as mentioned in the last blog, persisted for a few more painful days after that. With exceptions of their generally good behavior on play dates and most outings, it was as if they had never been disciplined before. Quite shocking, to say the least, and because it was all three of ’em at once, it was quite overwhelming, as well.

By 6/9, we had taken away video games for all, Transformers TV show for Houston, trains for Gabriel and chocolate for Zeke. But we knew something else drastic had to occur. My theory was that the boys had gotten way off their sleep schedule and were simply exhausted, which (strangely enough) keeps kids awake.

Houston proudly performs the butt-in-the-sprinkler move, while Zeke’s not too sure about it.

Two common reasons were that we often found ourselves skipping a nap ’cause the dudes fell asleep for five minutes in the car, yet awoke totally rejuvenated, or someone special would be visiting, so we forwent forcing a nap. But both instances had the caveat that the boys would just go to bed early — or at the very least on time — that particular night. But this rarely happened.

Another reason was that when I was able to get them to nap, I was often left tired and frustrated, needing a nap myself and not able to accomplish anything during this cherished down time. And when I would awaken them, so they wouldn’t sleep too late, whining and bad attitudes abounded.

Plus, on those “lucky” napping days, the boys would still be up way past any decent bedtime at night. So, even with a nap, they weren’t getting the necessary rest. (My research shows they should get anywhere from 10 to 13 hours of sleep a day.) Their fatigue was increasing, as was my patience, so we had to formulate a plan.

New & improved bedtime routine 

So, in addition to no naps, I now shuttle them into the bedroom very early at night, which also means starting the dinner and bath regimen well in advance. I get them into chill mode with even more reading and book discussions than had been the ritual.

Then the biggest change is that once it’s “lights out, heads on pillows and no more talking,” I don’t detach anymore. Instead of exiting their room, leaving them to their wild devices, attempting to (in vain) get some housework done, and getting increasingly angrier every time I have to march down the hall to quell an insurrection, I sit quietly and read one of my books.

Stephen helps the boys build a structure of toothpicks & cotton balls. (Click to see RoboFest – Part 1.)

Sure, I still have to keep the peace somewhat, but because I’m right there, I nip it in the bud. So far, the system is working because the drama has been diminished, the boys are getting the sleep they need, and I’m actually getting to read more than I have been able to in years. Plus, our daytime schedules are a lot more flexible as a result of going napless. It’s a liberating thing!

Comedian Jim Gaffigan, who is a father of four young kids, described bedtime this way: “It’s chaos. It’s like living with a bunch of drunk of people. Everyone’s wetting the bed, screaming, it’s like Jersey Shore really.” So true. And here’s his take on having so many kids so close in age: “Imagine you’re drowning … then someone hands you a baby.” Ah, the ingenious insight.

Firsts & (hopefully) never agains

I’m happy to report, that the boys’ behavior is back on track overall, so they’ve earned back their privileges, minus video games. (We think a hiatus from that totally engrossing, sometimes personality-altering activity will do them good, especially Houston.)

In mid-May, Gabriel swung by himself for the first time and has been diligently working it since. He is normally the first twin to branch out on big-boy physical activities. For instance, he had mastered opening doors well before Zeke even wanted to try.

Same goes with putting on socks and shoes: Gabe usually insists on doing that by himself and doesn’t get flustered when he does it wrong. Zeke, on the other hand, must be prodded into attempting such feats, often gets frustrated, and must be coached through the process. Just goes to show how different identical twins can be.

The kids do some post-sprinkler chilling in the back yard.

Sometimes Zeke likes attempting the unusual over the day-to-day. Like a couple weeks ago, he pushed a spherical-shaped bead up his nose — this despite the fact that Houston had put a flat, round bead in Zeke’s nostril the previous week — but immediately confessed.

I was barely able to get it out with tweezers (instead of the needle-nose pliers I had used with the first bead). So, hopefully, Zeke will stick more to the basics from now on.

Big hearts can come in small packages 

During a bedtime prayer last week, Houston said he wanted to pray for “that man.” Might it be the professor from current nighttime reading, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe? “No, the guy you gave the coupon to,” he replied. “I want to make sure he gets a job.”

See, the day before, I had given some McDonald’s coupons to a man at an intersection with a sign pleading for money and help. So, considering that our conversation about the needy man was still fresh in his memory proves that teachable moments can come at any time. Wow, what a great heart Houston has!

On Father’s Day, the boys gave Stephen a Daddy’s Notebook, which was adorn with found objects and bling, as well as a hand-crafted measuring tape. Once you pull the tape out the decorated box, it reads “You can’t measure love.” Jessie came up with and implemented both of these clever ideas. Thanks, Miss J!

Good times about & around

Last Friday, Christie and Logan had us over for a cookout at their house. We had a wonderful time having some good adult conversation, in between keeping things as safe and contained as possible amongst our six vivacious kids.

The 3 Amigos are such a great match for Asher and company. Their playing styles are similar, and Christie and I are very much on the same page with walking that middle ground between helicopter mom (too stifling) and raising a completely free-range kid (too scary). We are lucky to have made such great friends with such a compatible child-rearing style.

Zeke finally earns his fancy-dinner celebration. (Click to see April – Part 2.)

We also saw Miss Christie and her posse when I hosted a MOPS play group earlier this month. Although only one other mom and kid showed up, we had a blast playing in the pool and sprinkler, hiking the trails and just soaking in the glorious late-spring weather.

Last weekend was Daddy-centric. On Saturday, he and the dudes went to Chik-fil-A before hitting Reptacular at the Natural Science Center. And then on Sunday, we went out for a Father’s Day lunch after church. The cuisine was Korean and the boys absolutely loved it. “This tastes better than candy!” exclaimed Houston.

I went to visit baby Rorie in the NICU on 6/9. She’s beautiful and doing well, and Greg and Meredith are so steadfast in their faith — what an inspiration! Keep on growing, sweet little girl, and we’ll keep praying for you.

Stuff their into

The 3 Amigos are flag freaks, so Flag Day was the perfect occasion for Daddy to lend his two small Scottish and one Texas flag to them for play. It’s amazing all the different types of fun kids can have with a piece of fabric attached to a pole.

The boys are also really into my old School House Rock! Rocks CD. In fact, the whole family has been jammin’ it out for a couple weeks now, and consequently, we find ourselves singing the catchy ditties throughout the day. I’m so glad my kids can appreciate both Veggie Tales music and ’90s college rock. Cool.