I adore everything about October: the gorgeous hues of the changing foliage; the smells of burning leaves and nature’s exhilarating transition; the sounds of football games and spooky seasonal songs filling the air; and, of course, the perfectly temperate climate and cozy dress (that is, until Hurricane Sandy started mucking things up).

October has its share of occasions, one being Gabriel and Zeke’s birthday on 10/16. We didn’t do a party this year. Instead, we opted to do a few special activities and get them a couple quality gifts.

The crew (from L to R: Asher, Houston, Zeke, Piper, Gabriel & Jackson) take a break outside the African Pavilion during our trip to the NC Zoo.

First, Stephen and I took the boys to the NC Zoo on 10/19, along with Christie, Logan, Asher, Jackson and Piper. It was a perfect day: the kids exhibited particularly good behavior and were troopers trekking around the giant park.

This beautiful autumn day offered up the rare treat of having both Stephen and Logan in tow. Yay for daddies! And we owe much of the trip’s success to our friends ’cause I don’t think it would have been near as much fun without our animal-adventure cohorts. Thanks!

Miss Jessie made a pumpkin bunt cake for each birthday boy (chocolate for Zeke and vanilla for Gabe, of course) and the 3 Amigos decorated it on 10/15. They put the two sides together to create a round shape, decorated it with orange icing and … voila! … you have an awesome pumpkin cake. Too cute!

We had CC community on Gabriel and Zeke’s actual birthday. During the morning social, they were summoned to the front of the room and sung the “Happy Birthday” by all the families. Gabe and Zeke seemed to think being the center of attention amongst the throng of kids was pretty cool.

Zeke & Gabriel celebrate the completion of their half vanilla/half chocolate bunt cake, which Miss Jessie considerately homemade for their 4th birthday.

Afterward, our crew went out to eat with Christie and Asher to any restaurant of the twins’ choosing. The winner? A “McDonald’s with a Play Land!” exclaimed the birthday boys. Then we wrapped up the festivities back at the house with more singing, blowing out candles and feasting on cake on this gorgeous fall afternoon.

We recently got Gabe and Zeke Spider-Man bikes, although these were their “big” reward for being potty trained. So, Stephen and I decided that in addition to our zoo outing, signing the twins up for winter basketball would be one more nice and useful birthday gift.

However, Zeke wasn’t at all interested in playing. “Dribbling a ball will be too hard,” he explained, adding that he likes soccer better because “kicking a ball is easy.” This is a strange comment coming from a child who cried during most of his soccer games this past summer.

Nonetheless, Zeke was adamant that basketball wasn’t at all appealing to him, whereas Gabriel’s enthusiasm for playing the sport never wavered. Thus, we signed up Gabe and not Zeke.

I’m sure we’ll find something more in line with Zeke’s tastes. My guess is that it’ll be karate, which he has mentioned before, or some kind of music lessons.

Houston, seen here running toward home plate, is ready to transition from t-ball to pitch ball, which is music to his baseball-loving Daddy’s ears!

But in the meantime, I think it will be a good opportunity for Gabriel to do a sport totally solo. Houston often gets to do activities by himself, but it’s a pretty rare occasion when one of the twins gets to do something or go somewhere completely independent of a brother.

For example, Gabe and Zeke spent the first weekend of October up at Granny’s. This was a treat, for sure, but it was still a double-trouble adventure; whereas, Houston got an entire weekend by himself (since he couldn’t leave town due to t-ball).

With his final game on 10/25, Houston’s t-ball season has come to an end. He learned a great deal about the game and his skills have also vastly improved. So should he want to, we think he’s ready for pitch ball next time around.

Another interest of Houston’s is archery. And since he wants to be the super-hero Hawkeye for Halloween, we went ahead and bought him a real bow and arrow set as his early Christmas present from Mommy and Daddy. That way, Houston can use it for his Avengers-inspired costume and then to start learning some archery skills.

Buccaneers to the core, Gabriel & Zeke do their best marauding with their awesome handcrafted pirate swords.

I decided to give Zeke and Gabe their Christmas gifts from us early, as well. (That way, only Santa presents will be arriving on Christmas morning.) The twins have been asking for Toy Story dolls for about a year now, with Zeke requesting Woody and Gabriel asking for Jessie.

These 13-inch talking dolls are decent quality, so there has been a learning curve since their arrival (i.e., no throwing or dropping, no smashing, etc.) But the twins are doing fairly well in taking care of their new toys … although Jessie’s hat is already lost somewhere in the living room. Sigh.

Houston’s ant farm was not the success we hoped it would be. After their demise, we took it slow on new “pets” for a while, but we’ve since gone critter crazy again.

It started with a woolly worm Zeke found outside Granny’s mountain house in mid-September. Our beloved “Woolly” is still alive and kicking, residing quite contentedly in our old plastic fish bowl.

Houston, who is definitely the most responsible when it comes to tending to critters, has taken over the proper care and feeding of Woolly. He even gave his weekly CC presentation on Woolly back in early October. We love that cute little worm (well, he’s technically a caterpillar) … definitely one of my all-time favorite pets!

Houston’s ant farm was really cool … till we ended up inadvertently killing all those dwelling within the replicated Formicidae colony.

The boys are also on a Granddaddy Long Leg kick. We have tons in the back yard and they just collect ’em up while playing outside. Unfortunately for the critters, their habitat isn’t quite as nice as Woolly’s (read: it’s a Glad container).

There have been some casualties; either the weak ones die due to cramped quarters or those seemingly harmless arachnids are cannibals. Not sure, but either way the kids have a blast with them and are doing me a favor cleaning out my dirty windowsills when collecting their food (decomposing bugs).

Of course, Houston is still caring for his earth worms, who have been a part of the family for months now. Who knows if they’re still alive down in that deep, dark, moist pit of dirt at the bottom of a coffee container, but the worms seem to make Houston happy!

We’ve also had our share of critter fun at CC. On 10/16, Houston and his classmates dissected a crayfish. Houston liked it so much that he begged me to bring his chopped-up crustacean home so that he could show brothers and Daddy.

Then on 10/23, the class dissected owl pellets. And wouldn’t you know … those found rodent bones are now adorning the bulletin board in the boys’ room. Nice.

“Big Hashy” (and classmate, Isaiah, on left) take quite easily to dissecting a crayfish during the science portion of their day @ CC community.

Houston began his tin-whistle music studies in CC. The kids are learning basic musical terms and theory, so I’m hoping it will help motivate Stephen and me to expand upon what we know.

We’re not experts by any means, but we do have more than a median knowledge of music. I bought the twins tin whistles, as well, so perhaps this part of the curriculum will push us to get our piano tuned and also start teaching the boys some basic guitar and ukulele skills.

Last week, I dusted off and tuned Stephen’s Martin guitar, and the kids and I made up some rather creative songs, ranging in topics from bloody elbows to Stanley being a fat cat to boogers. I’m sure if we keep it fun, we might have one (or two or three) budding musicians in a few years.

October is nothing without some Halloween-ish adventures. On 10/18, the boys and I went on a CC field trip to J. Razz & Tazz Farm. It’s an agri-tourism farm with an 11-acre corn maze, hayride, tons of tractors, silos filled with loose corn, and lots of hay creations, like a giant pyramid.

Stephen & Rebecca try to mimic the expressionless faces of photos of a bygone era during their “date night” to Woods of Terror.

Stephen has been reading the 3 Amigos a book of folklore called Scary Stories To Tell In the Dark, which was passed down from Cousin Rick via Auntie Lisa. It’s so cool to hear the dudes squealing with laughter (and sometimes fright) as Daddy offers up dramatic interpretations of the short stories.

Stephen — who is quite the scary movie fan — is looking forward to the day when he and the kids can watch the frightening flicks together. So, I think these spooky stories are quenching his desire to introduce the boys to the film genre he loves so much.

To help satiate Stephen’s appreciation of horror (and because I owed him for going to see Jason Lewis with me), the two of us went to Woods of Terror last Friday night. Selected as “One of America’s Best Haunts,” I was dreading it, as I have gotten way too apprehensive about anything too scary or gory over the years.

But the hour-plus long haunted adventure actually turned out to be quite entertaining and thrilling, and well worth the money. Thanks for taking me, Stephen, and for being way cool about me clutching your arm the whole time!

Blessings abound

Yesterday, Stephen and I celebrated our 12-year wedding anniversary. Our day consisted of going to church and Costco with the kids … ooh, how romantic. Seriously, it’s not that we ever questioned making it this long, but it’s stunning how God has been with us from the beginning.

“We love because He first loved us.” — 1 John 4:19

It’s so evident to us now how He has protected our marriage throughout, both during our wandering atheist years and since. It’s not that I think God preordained our relationship or anything like that. Our strength simply stems from His great love.

Worn out from months of battling TTTS, but still hanging in there, Stephen and I bond with our newborn NICU babies in October 2008. (Seen here is Zeke at one week old.)

We’re not “soul mates,” which is Plato’s version of couples who are supposedly destined to meet and become one. Rather, I like the following expression:

“A ‘sole mate’ is someone who walks with us as together we apply biblical love.” — Gary Thomas, author

And God’s abundant love, of course, spills over into all aspects our lives, most notably, having kids. He not only blessed us with three remarkable boys, but He also lights our way on this rocky road called parenthood, and offers up grace and helps us get back on track when we trip up.

“The days are long, but the years are short.” — Gretchen Rubin, author

Two of those blessings — Gabriel and Zeke — turn 4 tomorrow. Can you believe it? I remember the struggles and worries Stephen and I had during our battle with TTTS. Yet, it was only our faith in God and the shared love He has fostered in us that got us through that turbulent time.

Another flashback: I can’t believe those two little alien-looking creatures are so big and healthy now, and turning 4 on October 16!

Same can be said for Zeke’s CCAM removal, as well as getting Houston’s Horner’s Syndrome diagnosed and all figured out: God is able to place strength inside of us when we think it impossible, dare I say, inhuman.

And it’s not just the awesome outcomes of answered prayers or the commitment of a husband and wife, God has a way of also giving us a confidence that would surely be lacking without Him. I find this especially true these days with homeschooling.

Speaking of homeschooling, we’ve gotten into a pretty good routine and have become more efficient to boot. Christie says she heard that it takes about six weeks to really get into the swing of things, and I think the boys and I are proof of that.

Kindred spirits: “Big Hashy” get wet & wild @ the Keeley Park sprayground in late August.

Christie and I have created a casual homeschool co-op in which one of us does CC memory work with Asher and Houston, while the other one tends to the younger siblings. We’ve done it a couple times at a nearby park, but I’m unsure as to how effective it really is.

However, it does provide a change of pace, a good reason to get out of the house and enjoy the nice weather, and a good opportunity for our two crews to get together.

Saturday night, our CC director, Jen (a salt-of-the-earth native Wisconsinite), hosted a family potluck. It was amazing to watch all the kids — no matter their ages — play together and sincerely enjoy each other’s company.

“Hey, I’m Zeke,” announced my brazen boy as he waltzed into a room of tweens and teens. He plopped down and the typically angst-ridden age group welcomed Zeke into their conversation.

Big-hearted Gabriel loves on sweet Piper, who is ever the trooper for taking it in stride when hanging out with her two bros & the 3 Amigos.

Likewise, some older kids were wrestling on the trampoline when Gabriel, Zeke and Houston got on. So, the big boys tempered their rough moves, making it more user-friendly for the littler ones. The tweens even encouraged the dudes to stay on and participate in their ultimate-fighting showdown, coaching them throughout the fun.

And the 3 Amigos also played sand volleyball ball with kids and parents of all ages. (Bare in mind that Stephen and I didn’t encourage the boys to do any of this; they just ventured off on their own and were received with open arms by these wonderful CC families.)

On 10/1, Stephen and I attended Right Night, a local radio event which was hosted by my favorite syndicated talk-radio personality, Jason Lewis. Honestly, he’s the only talking head I listen to anymore, which is why Stephen says I’m a JL groupie.

Stephen and I pose w/ Jason Lewis — the best talk-show host in the biz! — @ Rush Radio’s Right Night on October 1.

The station was giving away his latest book, Power Divided Is Power Checked: The Argument For States’ Right, and Stephen won the last copy. I, of course, dutifully had my book in tow, and we were able to get both signed by America’s Mr. Right himself.

We also met our Winston-Salem counterparts that night. Jimmy, like Stephen, works in software and has made great strides with self-sufficiency, although his loftier prepper dreams still remain unfulfilled. Both men say they aren’t giving up yet.

His wife Rebecca, like me, has the same name (duh!) and is a homeschooling mom. They, like us, are Christians, (little L) libertarians, and huge fans of Jason Lewis. Who da thunk there were any kindred spirits out there for two radicals like us?!

Houston & Jackson watch as Zeke bursts forth from the fountain bubble @ the sprayground.

Then again, our newest pals Christie and Logan are on our wave length. Meeting them seemed kind of like a fluke, but perhaps there are more live-and-let-live types out there, just waiting to be befriended.

You know you’re “soul sisters” with a woman when she finds humor and comfort in Parenting: Illustrated With Crappy Pictures. It’s the best mommy-centric site ever … thanks for the reading suggestion, Christie!

On a sad final note, baby Morgan, who I wrote about in the last blog, passed away on 9/30. Thank you so much for your prayers and please have continued prayer for her loved-ones. Rest in peace in heaven, sweet girl.