January 28, 2012

Awards, Walks, and Books

Our week as a list:

1. Thursday morning Collier and I went to Claire's school for her awards ceremony for the second nine weeks. Yes, "second" means there was a first, and there will be two more awards ceremonies this school year. The teachers and administrators give out SO many awards, which makes the certificate or button and recognition seem insignificant.

Claire received awards for A/B honor roll, perfect attendance, and highest average in keyboarding. And lots of kids received this many awards. By the time they started handing out perfect attendance awards (for one nine-week period mind you), I was wishing some of the classes weren't sitting right next to me because I would totally have been reading or playing or texting on my phone. Instead, I decided to set a good example for those sixth-graders by trying to pay attention or look like it at least.

I was looking forward to talking to Claire for a few minutes following the ceremony, but the principal dismissed the parents first to avoid confusion and traffic jams. So all we could say was hello and congrats on our way past her. Here's the only shot I took (with my iPhone) at the event when Claire was being recognized for A/B honor roll; she's standing on the far left beside the lectern.
2. Because of the fabulous weather we've had, the boys and I have taken a few walks on days we're able to eat lunch early. Usually I push Collier in the stroller and Hamilton walks on the sidewalk beside me as we go around our neighborhood loop. He stops every few houses to play on the utility boxes or look at some yard art. It's a leisurely stroll for me. Since we don't have a playground within walking distance, he improvises with crawling on and jumping off every utility box in our neighborhood. I also took these shots with my iPhone, and some are improved using Instagram.
Collier waits patiently in his stroller for Hamilton to finish climbing. Hamilton also likes to pick up litter along the way, so the big gulp in our stroller bag is destined for our trash can.
Since I was putting on my sunglasses before we started our walk, finding these sunglasses Hamilton holds was imperative for him. He surprised me and wore them for some of the walk.
On our first walk this week, Hamilton insisted on pushing the baby.
3. Mr. Morgan has given me several early birthday presents. One was the Kindle version of Catching Fire, the second book in The Hunger Games series. I just finished it last night after several late nights of reading this week. Just as good as the first, though now I'm itching to read the third. I'm also excited about the movie based on the first book that's coming out in March. Claire's read the first book too, so she wants to see the movie. However, since it's rated PG-13, I think I'll probably see the movie first to decide if it's appropriate for our 12-year-old.

January 23, 2012

Claire's Sleepover Birthday Party

Claire wanted two friends from school to sleep over for her 12th birthday. So Friday afternoon I picked up the three girls from school--including all their bookbags, instruments (including a cello), presents, and overnight bags. I had the forethought to rid my vehicle of the boys' carseats, so we had enough room for everyone and everything.
On the way home I surprised the girls by taking them by Cupcake to pick out their own flavors. Claire especially loved this surprise, and I enjoyed not having to bake a cake that I wouldn't eat.
Claire's choice was chocolate peanut butter.
I bought Hamilton one too because who can resist this boy's pronunciation of "cake cup." He thoroughly enjoyed having two extra girls at the house to play with him. Since their names were so similar (Cady and Caylee), he just called them both Cady. He asked, "Where Cady go?" many times, and then he'd say, "Where uhver Cady go?"
These polite, sweet friends made hosting a sleepover fun and enjoyable for us, too.

January 22, 2012

Paleo Fruit Pizza

I had a "lightbulb" moment Friday in the early morning hours while I was half-conscious in the bed before waking. Since six kids aged four and under were coming to play that morning, I wanted to make a delicious, healthy snack that the kids could help put together. Already for small group this week I'd made these n'oatmeal cookies from my new Make it Paleo cookbook that I'm loving! And I had pizza on the brain from Claire's request for her birthday party dinner.

So I made a "crust" using the n'oatmeal cookie recipe, except I substituted chocolate chips for the raisins. Hamilton helped me "make cook" Friday morning as we prepared the cookie dough and baked as directed.
After the cookie dough cooled, I slathered on coconut milk from a can for the "sauce." Then I let the kids sprinkle on the sliced fruit. Strawberries and blueberries from Florida were on sale this week, and they're so delicious.
I've tasted dessert fruit pizza like this one (before my Paleo days), and it's so indulgent and pretty! With kids decorating this pizza, there was no order to the "toppings." By the end the "pizza" was piled high with fruit, so we sliced it with a pizza slicer and served the kids.

January 21, 2012

Wonder Boy

I've been sadly negligent in posting about Collier's monthly progress. I haven't updated since he was six months old, and that's such a long time in baby months! He's now one week shy of nine months. Yesterday he pulled himself up in his crib all by himself! I went in to get him from his nap, and this smiling face greeted me.
He's been crawling quickly and everywhere for a few months, and he's even gotten better and more accustomed to sitting. He also can stand for several minutes at a time by himself, and it seems like he's itching to start cruising around the furniture.

Collier conquer skills so quickly: Just a few days ago he pulled up to his knees, then two days later he's onto his feet. He's even started climbing the stairs. In my memory Hamilton didn't progress this quickly, though Hamilton also didn't have a big brother to keep up with. I think Collier will be the kid that will force us to install a gate at the top of our stairs. He would have gone down head first yesterday if I hadn't been there to pull him back from the brink.
Collier's the happiest little thing, but he's still spitting up some (much to Mr. Morgan's chagrin). He's got two teeth coming in nicely on the bottom, which you can see in this picture. We still call him "Baby" many times, though he's quickly moving from baby to toddler.

January 18, 2012

Kitchen Makeover Pictures

Since gutting our kitchen for new custom cabinets was not in our budget, I settled for painting our existing cabinets. Our old cabinets had a country look with the grainy wood showing through the varnish. They're cheap with only the fronts and doors being actual wood, but standard issue for homes like ours. There's nothing completely objectionable about these cabinets, but their appearance definitely didn't do anything for my downstairs. Here are some "before" shots that I snapped just before we started dismantling.
One of the biggest kitchen improvements we did was replacing our sink and faucet with a deeper sink and taller, sleeker faucet. Mr. Morgan and Dad replaced the sink over the Christmas holiday. My "before" shots were after the sink replacement, but imagine a shallow, ugly, barely-functional-for-washing-dishes sink.
After four days of labor-intensive work, the newly painted cabinet doors were back in place. I spent several more days rearranging the stuff in the cabinets and paring down to what I decided I couldn't live without.
I worked hard to eliminate all unnecessary items from my countertops, since counter space is so limited.
Our black appliances seem to pair much better with the new colors of the cabinets.
I opted for a minimal amount of stuff on the fridge. Sometimes it's easy to get carried away with pictures, the kids' masterpieces, and reminders.
I feel like I'm cooking in a whole new kitchen.
I reorganized my spices, oils, and vinegars, moving them away from the heat of my stove. I love the way the new labels turned out, and I decided to keep only my most-used spices on this rack. The other seldom-used spices are in the cabinet in a basket. Yes, they're in alphabetical order. Is there a better order?
The drawer pulls and door handles are the same ones; we installed them soon after we moved in. However, with the painted surfaces the modern pulls and handles show up so much better.
I'm so thankful for my revamped kitchen--and especially for my parents who watched the boys for five days and for Mr. Morgan who helped on his day off, lived in a mess for close to a week, and endured fried eggs for several dinners in a row.

Grandma's 90th Birthday

Grandma turned 90 years old on Sunday, and we celebrated in style this past weekend with a large party on Saturday afternoon. My fantastic-looking grandmother was the "belle of the ball" talking and laughing with all the guests. So many of her extended family came--nephews, nieces, and cousins from both her family and Papa's. And they came from such great distances traveling six or seven hours to see Grandma at her party. The turnout was truly a testament to this great lady. The rest of the crowd was local friends and family making the party's attendance almost 100.
A Mountville friend made the themed cake, perfectly capturing the spirit of the festive event.
Just as the party was starting Grandma had all her immediate family gather for a picture, including her three children, five grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. We were only missing two: My cousin Caitlin (Grandma's oldest grandchild) who lives in San Fransisco couldn't make it, and Claire (Grandma's oldest great-grandchild) wasn't with us this weekend. (I'm not sure how Uncle Billy missed the picture, but he was there for the party.)
Aunt Judy made a great display of pictures from Grandma's life.
Mom interviewed Grandma, so I could write a brief life-story that folks could read at the party. Travis did all the graphic design and printing of the invitations, the biography, and the nametags. We had everyone write his name and his relation to Grandma on his nametag which helped when we were mingling. I've included the text of the biography at the end of this post.
Here's Grandma with her living siblings, younger sister Flora and younger brother Thomas.
Sweet Uncle Billy spent much of the party entertaining Collier who seemed quite content sitting on Uncle Billy's lap.
Here's Grandma with her new best bud Eunice. She's just moved to town to be nearer to her family, and she and Grandma have hit it off in the last few months.
Many folks said Collier looks like Travis. I think I see the resemblance sometimes.
My photojournalist cousin Amanda was able to fly in from Florida to attend the party. She also took some great shots that she posted on her blog.
Hamilton was great during the party! Once he found Grandma's birthday balloon (and after eating many cookies and slices of pie), he played so contentedly for the several hours we were there.
After the party, many of the out-of-town relatives came to the farm for chili and cornbread. Grandma loved having more time to visit with her family. My cousin Karsten spent lots of his time on the floor playing trucks with Hamilton.
Here's the biography of Grandma:
Ava Gray Turnage Taylor
born January 15, 1922
Ava Gray Turnage started life on a 25-acre tobacco farm in Greene County, N.C., and for the last 30 years has resided on a tree farm in Mountville, S.C. Though Ava was the fourth daughter to Reetho and Viola Turnage, she and her sisters, Helen, Velma, and Ida, worked hard on the farm. Ava filled the woodbox, cared for the chickens, emptied the slop jars, and carried the milk bucket to her father—a favorite chore because she enjoyed precious alone time with him. The Turnages worked the land to grow tobacco, corn, and cotton using only a mule and a two-mule cultivator; Reetho didn’t purchase a tractor until after Ava had left home.

Named for her grandmother Mary Ava Gray, Ava and her three older sisters shared a room in their four-room farmhouse. Though eventually two rooms were added as three more children joined the family, Arlendo, Thomas, and Flora, her childhood home offered no electricity and no inside bathroom. Ava learned to cook on a wood stove, and by age 10 she was trying out the cooking skills her mother had carefully taught her, relieving her mother of many kitchen duties.

Viola also instilled in her children a love for God and His Word. She had regular devotions with the children as the spiritual leader in their family. They attended Hull Road Free Will Baptist Church where their family’s emphasis on living a Christian life would carry through to Ava’s adult years.

Growing up

Growing up in the community of Arba, Ava traveled unpaved roads on the school bus to Snow Hill High School where she began her education. One certain trip on those bumpy roads resulted in Ava’s needing stitches from having bounced along so fiercely that she hit her head on the top of the bus.  A special memory of hers was attending her oldest sister Helen’s high school graduation where the senior girls in their organdy dresses did a Maypole dance. “It was the prettiest thing I’d ever seen up to that point,” Ava said.

Being a teacher, educated at East Carolina Teachers’ College, Viola valued education and made sacrifices for her children’s learning. Viola borrowed $200 so Ava could attend her high school choir’s singing tour. Viola and Ava’s sister Ida handmade her choir robe—a true labor of love for Ava who remembers owning only two dresses throughout her preteen and teenage years. The choir sang in Richmond, Va., Baltimore, and Washington, D.C., at the White House where Eleanor Roosevelt hosted a tea for ambassadors and their wives. Ava was quite impressed with the First Lady. Their final stop was New York City during the World’s Fair. Though the choir tour was Ava’s first time out of North Carolina, her love for travel had just begun.

Following graduation, Ava completed a course in business offered at the local high school, and her first job resulted from a federal program begun during the Great Depression. Earning $20 for each two-week period, Ava worked for a tax collector for two weeks, alternating with another employee who worked the next two weeks.

On her own…but not for long

Ava left her home, traveling by bus to Newport News, Va., where she stayed with her sister Ida and her husband until she found employment as a key-punch operator with the Newport News Ship Building and Dry Dock Company. She rented a room from a couple who lived beside Milton and Jesse Smith—Dalton Taylor’s aunt and uncle. In December 1942 the Smiths happily introduced their young, attractive neighbor to their nephew stationed at Langley Field. Ava and Dalton wed on September 17, 1943 just three months prior to his leaving for North Africa during World War II.

Family life

While Dalton spent nearly two years serving during the war, Ava worked at the Port of Embarkation, and Uncle Milton taught her to drive. Dalton returned in September of 1945 resuming his job with the C&P Telephone Company in Newport News. They eventually settled in Colonial Heights, Va., where family life kept Ava busy with the births of Judy Dalton (1950), Dale Travis (1951), and Linda Elaine (1955).

Once the children started school, Ava worked some to help with expenses. When it was Linda’s turn for kindergarten, Ava drove the family station wagon that Dalton retrofitted with extra seating to accommodate neighborhood children also. Her carpool earnings paid for Linda’s tuition and gave Ava enough extra to buy herself a “white spring coat.” Other jobs tapped her cooking skills including an elementary-school-cafeteria cook and food-service coordinator for a large church daycare center.
The Taylors attended Colonial Heights Baptist Church where Ava helped begin the church’s library, and she served as librarian until they moved. Ava volunteered her time teaching English to Asian women married to U.S. servicemen at Fort Lee, Va. She developed lasting friendships during those five years.

Dalton shared Ava’s desire to travel, and the family visited all but three states while the kids were living at home—though their shoestring budget usually meant camping along the way. The couple also enjoyed traveling in style once the kids left, visiting the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, Vermont’s Von Trapp Family Lodge, Mackinac Island, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island to list a few.

Back to farm life

Dalton retired in 1981 and the empty-nesters moved to Mountville, S.C., in 1983 to help Dale with his newly created Christmas tree farm. Ava was able to dote on her grandchildren, Gray and Travis who now lived close, as well as Judy’s children Caitlin, Tristan, and Karsten, and Linda’s daughter Amanda. Ava and Dalton quickly immersed themselves in church life at First Baptist of Clinton, S.C.  Ava continues to be active in her church singing in the choir and enjoying the senior group’s activities. She’s also active with the senior groups at both Mountville Baptist and Cross Hill Baptist, and she’s part of the Mountville Grange and the Red Hat Society.

Ava continues to give special time and attention to her family and friends. After 70 years she still corresponds with her old roommate Alice from Newport News and her dear friend Myrtle in Colonial Heights. Ava regularly visits friends and church members in nursing-care facilities and retirement homes who are unable to attend services. She gives feet to her faith as an encourager, not wanting anyone to feel forgotten—and no one does:  Embracing new technology and “free minutes,” Ava spends many nights on her cell phone checking in with friends and family scattered around the nation.

January 12, 2012

Some Recent Changes

We've changed Hamilton's crib into a toddler bed to get him used to a big-boy bed before we put the twin in his room. Actually I still have to paint the bed's headboard and footboard, and Deb still has to make the bedding; so this change is only a small move toward replacing his crib.
Yes, Hamilton still is wearing Christmas pajamas, but they are his favorite. He always asks to wear them--his "Sanny Claw jahmass."
And I just got my hair cut and colored today. I feel like a new woman.
Collier now sits up well on his own, though he still prefers crawling around on his belly.

January 5, 2012

December Roundup

Because of my participation in the December Photo Project, I neglected to post several pictures. So here's a roundup of December photos starting with the Morgan children posing for a picture that turned into a wrestle-fest.
Hamilton enjoyed this nativity felt-board book even more than he did last year.
Our dear friend Nancy captivates children when she plays with them in the nursery. Hamilton and West sat still for more than ten minutes with her as she read to them.
Hamilton loved playing with these figurines from Claire's nativity set.
Heavy equipment still enthralls Hamilton.
Grandma Judy couldn't get enough hugs from her boys when she first arrived.
Hamilton loved the gingerbread-building display at the Holiday Festival of Lights.
Claire roasted enormous marshmallows over the fire pit and shared them with everyone.
Hamilton was amazed by the giant firetruck made of lights.
At the festival we, of course, rode the train through the light displays.
Claire worked diligently to complete her Puzzleball of the world.
One of Hamilton's favorite gifts was the working drill that allowed him to "take a-park" the racecar and helicopter.
Collier seemed to enjoy all the presents especially the noisy packaging.
An outtake from our Christmas Eve photo shoot, here's a shot of Hamilton trying to escape.
On Christmas morning the kids opened their stockings, and we opened the last few gifts before heading to church for the Christmas Day service.
Next Christmas I'm resolving to start earlier with decorations and festivities. I want to celebrate with an advent calendar of some kind, so I'll have to begin planning and thinking about Christmas way before the first week of December.