"Oh my GOD! Look at all of them!"

Plymouth, Massachusetts.  October 2012.

The six Sheppards enter KT's Burger Bar looking for something to eat before our walking tour at the Jenney Museum.  Place is packed.  Like Sardines.  There's a table for us in the back right corner. 

As we make our way in, one of the patrons near the door looks at us with saucer eyes, counting the family members, elbowing the dude next to her violently, and not-at-all-quietly says, "Oh my God. Look at all of them!"

Maybe she had spotted something outside or behind us, like a quickly-vanishing flock of flying monkeys or a little trail of mice scootching along the floor.  But since I didn't see either of those things, I'm led to believe she was referring to us.  All of those Sheppards.

I don't know why this surprised me.  I don't know why it surprises me every single time I hear it.  There are a lot of us.  It was probably the contempt in this particular lady's voice that upset me so much.  There was an obvious disdain for children, especially "so many" of them.  I guess that's her prerogative.  Luckily for everyone involved, I wasn't asking her to take care of them for me.

My kids aren't perfect, but for nearing the end of a two week vacation in a packed-house, excessively-loud-already burger bar, way past lunch time, I would say they had exemplary behavior.  Too bad elbow lady wasn't close enough to witness it.  Not that it probably would have made a difference. 

Whenever I get this reaction to our family size, that Mama Bear thing kicks in.  Please don't talk disparagingly about my babies, especially in front of my babies.  There are all sorts of clever comments from strangers: 

Don't you know how this happens?  (Nope.  Will you please explain it to me?)
Boy are your hands full!  (Yup, full of good stuff.)
You must have the patience of Job.  (Good one!  Ask my kids about this.)
So, are you going to be the next Duggar family?  (Probably not, but we do do our laundry Duggar-style.  That's a whole 'nother blog post altogether.)
You trying for a basketball team?  (Well, as a matter of fact...)

That would be Week 13's Egg Photo...with evidence of a fertilized egg in there.

Shep#5 will be debuting in late November (and, if history is any indication, not a day sooner, I'm sure). 

We are thrilled to have been blessed with the gift of life.  And we will accept God's blessing and do our best in our call as parents in raising him/her.

We've got three super-excited big siblings (Leah is probably not going to be too happy about this, but time will tell and I'm sure prayer will help).  And we are just tickled pink (or blue).  Man, I love these kids.

And Shep#5, we love you too.
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father.  ~James 1:17

Field Trippin' or just Straight Trippin' (one or the other)

When I first started out on this grand adventure of homeschooling, I had a well-intentioned plan to type up weekly recaps so I could somehow keep track of what we covered each week, what we learned, what we made, places we went, books we read.

That didn't happen, so much.  At all.

Turns out, there's not so much time for blogging anymore.  Well, there might be if I were diligent about getting up earlier in the morning.  For some things, coffee just isn't enough.  I feel like I've earned that extra hour of sleep whether it's true or not.

So I don't have a neat blog of projects and curriculum details and field trips and book lists.  We've done all of these things, sure.  I've taken pictures and posted about some of them, but I've come to find out that the time we spend doing actual school work pales in comparison to the untold, other sides of homeschooling.  The Adventures.

Some days we take adventures because we're burned out.  Or tired.  Or cranky.  Or all of the above.  Some days we take them because we're ahead of the game and feel like we've earned a break from the rigors of the "classroom."  Some days we go because we can.  And we love that.  Like today, when it was 70 degrees, breezy, and there was no imminent rain in the near forecast.

We load up the aptly named "Odyssey" with bikes and snacks and we head out.  Sometimes it's just to the grocery store for a gallon of milk.  Often it's to the library (when it's raining).  More often than not we end up at a playground, park, or trail of some sort.  Sometimes we do super official "field trips," which we still call adventures because that just sounds way cooler.

It is amazing what a little adventure can do for tween angst, or kindergarten frustration, or three-year-old funks, or toddler dissatisfaction.  Just the mention of an adventure brings with it the excitement of a change of scenery.

Today's adventure was a trip to church.  It's a bit of a park, playground, and bike trail all together, so we regularly end up there.  The new part was discovering the awesome hiking/walking trail on the grounds that we didn't even know existed.  It was perfect.

(Can I just say right here that I adore my kids?)

We ditched the bikes, and after this picture, ditched the stroller and walked our flip-flopped feet 0.65 miles up and down the trails.  It was legit!  Bridges and trail markers and everything.  I was too busy huffing and puffing from toting the 22-lb babe on my hip (clearly, we were not prepared for this particular adventure), so there were no additional photos from the hike.

But I was way pumped about this little treasure!

After the "hike," we made our way to the playground where I was finally able to capture Super Sarah and her death-defying see-saw act on film!  That girl gets BIG AIR.

And she is happy about it.
While my parents were here we trekked to the Ocmulgee National Monument.  It was super cool checking out the ancient Indian mounds.  I'm still trying to forgive the dude who worked there for referring to my kids, right in front of all of them, as "burdens."  But whatever.  Some people wouldn't recognize a blessing if it kicked them in the face.  I know that they know they are my blessings. 

I think the "burden" comment was actually a concern about the amount of walking they might have to do.  Judging by how they left me in their dust, I don't think he needed to be worried.

We like to try out just about every playground not affiliated with a school that we can find during the day.  Our favorite is the North Peach Park in Byron because they have a wonderful bike trail and an even cooler playground.

"What's going on out there, guys?  I can't see."

"Mommy, this is not dangerous."  Okay, Sarah.  (I think "Danger" might actually be her middle name.)

We had to keep Super Sarah under control so that Leah didn't go catapulting across the park.

In retrospect, this was a terrible idea.  Who gave Leah to Sarah?

Even if we don't get to go somewhere, they "adventure" their little tushes right out the back door to our own playground daily.

Burden my foot.

I remember before I started homeschooling that one of my biggest reasons for not wanting to do it was the loss of flexibility and freedom I was going to face.  I realize, now, that was a self-centered concern.  My vision has changed, and I'm less concerned with "me time" and I'm more concerned about quality "we time."  Our book knowledge is getting along just fine.  The kids are learning and thriving, I have no doubts.  But the biggest benefit has been, without question, the bonds that are developing between the siblings and between them and me.  The relationships are stronger.  The love is multiplying.  And I am just excited about what God is doing in this family!  Not only that, it seems like our flexibility factor has multiplied too.  We aren't less flexible because we homeschool.  We are so much more.

I can't say that I love every minute of this.  We have really hard days.  But on the other side of the hard days, I even appreciate those times.  The hardest moments have nothing to do with "education" and everything to do with heart.  They are the moments richest with teaching opportunities.  It's when our hearts are exposed.  Good and bad.  In the heart regard, I have learned more about myself in the past 8 months than in the previous 28 years combined.  If you want transparency, I dare you to homeschool.

At the end of every day, I am exhausted.  My ears literally hurt from being the recipient of four little peoples' endless chitter chatter.  The house is in shambles.  Papers are strewn everywhere.  Bikes are still in the back of the van.  My hair is all in disarray (wait, it's like that all the time...nevermind).  I hit the bed ready to surrender.  Then this really cool thing happens.  I wake up the next morning.  Refreshed and renewed by the power of the Holy Spirit.  And we do this thing.  This is the first "job" that has allowed me to wake up free from dread and drudgery. 

It's awesome.

This is it.  This is where I'm supposed to be.  It's joy, my friends.
Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.  ~Robert Brault

Leah, Leah! (To the tune of Louie, Louie)

525,600 minutes.

How do you measure a year in the life of a precious new baby?

In snapshots, most likely. In bald heads that begin to show signs of some fuzzy hair, toothless grins, one silly dimple instead of the normal two.  In tiny missing shoes, Ritz crackers, and the countless times such a tiny person has literally pulled the pants right off my body.

This is my Leah.

While March 6, 2013 has come and gone, I would forever regret not typing up a letter to my fourth-born on her first birthday.  Here it goes -

My dearest Lee-Lee,

We didn't find out your gender before you were born.  When we went into the hospital to meet you on March 6, 2012 (3-6-12 is the coolest birthday, don't you think?), we didn't know who you would be, but we knew we would love you.  We also didn't know that your birth would mirror, almost exactly, that of your big sister Abby.  You were determined to greet the world face-up, ready to show us those big eyes and that bald head and those perfect pink lips.  It made your labor more difficult (or maybe that was your Mommy's bright idea to do it without an epidural), but it didn't make it any less worth it to get to hold you in our arms.  Your little forehead was battered and bruised, but your precious little spirit was fully in tact. 

Daddy and I weren't the only ones instantly in love with you. 

Even though Ben had another sister, he was enamored from the first time he laid eyes on you.

We battled a little bit of jaundice, but you nursed like a champ and by your 3 day check-up, you were perfectly pasty-white like the rest of us.  By the time you were 10 days old, you went on your first trip out of state to a homeschooling convention in Spartaburg, South Carolina.  You slept almost the entire time, excepting when we were actually in sessions trying to glean wisdom and encouragement from the seasoned speakers.  Apparently, you weren't too interested in what they had to say.

We celebrated your one month birthday in Maryland where we happily introduced you to our extended family, some whom we hadn't seen in years.  It was lovely.  Babies have a wonderful way of making every situation a little less serious and a little more precious.

On your two month birthday, Mommy got a kidney stone.  You spent the night apart from me out of necessity, and, somehow, we both lived to tell about it.  When I woke up the next morning, you and Daddy were there to pick me up and take me home.  I might as well have just given birth.  It was that wonderful seeing your sweet face.  This is about the time we realized you weren't completely hairless, after all, as we started to see little eyelashes growing.  At the time of this writing, they are long and gorgeous (oh Mommy of little faith).

By five months of age, you'd been to two different beaches.  By seven months of age, you'd been to seventeen different states.  We took you on a tour of New England when you were a well-practiced crawler, just learning to pull up and cruise, spending night after night in a new place, and you went with the flow.  Maybe you were such a willing sidekick because you weren't given the option not to be or maybe that's just your personality.  We'll never know. 

One thing I do know.  You are Mommy's girl.  You are the first baby that I've had the privilege of staying home with.  That means you are 100% spoiled rotten and it's all my fault   my little velcro baby and I couldn't un-stick you if I tried  my constant companion, and it's obvious that you love me almost as much as I love you. 

You are the happiest, most contented baby I've ever met.  Unless you're not.  We hear about it.  It seems the shrillness of your distress cry could shatter glass, but we have in-tact windows on all of our vehicles to disprove that theory.  You happily roam about the house, just doing your thing, while the rest of the gang runs amuck or does their schoolwork.  Unfortunately for the person responsible for keeping the house in a habitable state (ahem, that would be me), your recreational activities are somewhat mischievous.  You have a regular circuit you run through that includes hijinks ranging from throwing books and DVDs off the shelves, ripping the magnets off the fridge, emptying the towels out of our cabinets, searching for snacks in the pantry (onions included), removing the wheels from the dishwasher and depositing them in other parts of the house, and, your personal favorite, unfolding clean, folded clothes and emptying Mommy's dresser drawers.  The important part is, you do it all with a smile.

You are so sensitive.  Being told "no" just breaks your heart.  And you aren't too fond of loud noises either, which doesn't bode well for you in a house with three older siblings and a mommy who sneezes and laughs [obnoxiously] louder than most. 

To keep you  happy and entertained, we provide continuous snacks (mostly string cheese and crackers, your favorites) and let you turn the pages of age-appropriate board books (instead of Mommy's reading material that you can too easily shred into a thousand pieces). 

You are simply precious, Leah.  We love your smile and your snuggles (however briefly you lay your head on our shoulder before you pop up and need to move on to other things).  We love your happy little walk as you explore your surroundings.  We love the things we see in you that we haven't necessarily seen in your other siblings that remind us you are all so unique and that makes you that much more lovely.  

You are beautiful.  And happy.  And sweet.  With a little side of spicy. 

And we are so glad God chose us to be your family.

Happy First Birthday, Leah!  (Don't let the name fool you.  You are anything but weary.)

Love & Snuggles,


Oh Brother!

This is going to be quick because it's the night before my parents get here for a ten day visit, and I have yet to clear the last two weeks, alright, fine, months worth of laundry from my laundry room.  I have yet to make any attempt to clean the kitchen, mop the floors, scrub the bathrooms, and yet time continues to tick away.

So, I decided it seems like the perfect time to sit down and type up a blog post.

Once a procrastinator, always a procrastinator, I guess.

We had a great week, full of laughs.  During math and grammar lessons, even.  For some reason, Ben and I got the giggles over the prospect of how long it would take to say our phone numbers written out in long hand.  Like - "Call me!  Our phone number # is four billion, seven hundred eighty-five million, five hundred fifty-two thousand, three hundred fifty-six."  Not funny?  It's okay.  We're nerds.  Maybe you are not.

Later that day, I was reading Ben's grammar lesson to him and came across this quote:
"These verbs can do three of four parts of your verb definition!" 
So, of course, I read it with exaggerated excitement as indicated by the punctuation. He looked at me, smiled, and said as dead-pan as is humanly possible, "That's the best news I've heard all day."  Sarcastic little lump.  

I have been praying and soliciting prayer for myself and my Ben.  We are two of a kind, and you know how that often goes.  I think both of us had a lot to learn about ourselves and each other coming into this homeschooling thing, and I think that we have.  

This was a good week.  

Last night was the icing on the cake.  Earlier in the day, Ben said to me, "I have an idea for how we can get Abby to start reading harder words.  We can leave a note on her door at night for her to read."  I agreed that was a good idea, but thought to myself, "There's no way I'll ever remember to do that."  The day progressed, night came, and I had already forgotten about the note idea.  When I saw Ben writing something late at night, I said, "Whatcha doing, Ben?"  And he told me he was writing Abby a note, like he'd mentioned.  I peeked over his shoulder and saw "Dear Abby."  

My mind immediately went to the last dozen or so notes that began that way from Ben to her.  They usually said something like, "You STINK! Hahahahaha."

You see, Ben and Abby are usually like oil and water, fire and ice, raspberry and coffee (sorry, I conducted a latte experiment this morning and it did not go well).  The two are so very different from each other.  One likes pushing people's buttons and the other's buttons are easily pushed.  One likes reading, building, and making lists and the other likes painting, decorating, and dancing.  One likes fruits and veggies and the other likes burgers and pizza.  Even their appearances are opposite.  Boy and girl.  Dark and light.  Solid and stringbean.  

One of my sincerest hearts desires for homeschooling was that it would help to facilitate a relationship between the kids that goes deep, that they would genuinely love and care for each other.

Slowly but surely, I am beginning to see evidence that this relationship is developing.  This past week Ben, Abby, and Sarah have been having nightly slumber parties in the girls' room, which is to say Ben lays in bed reading his book and the girls jump all over him.  In exactly the way that they should, Sarah and Abby look up to Ben in such a big way.  They just adore him.  And he is so good to them.

So imagine my delight when the words "You STINK!" did not follow "Dear Abby"...  

Just see for yourself.
It was everything I could do to not cry.  I'm sure you can just imagine the beaming smile Abby had on her face when she read it.

Man, I love that kid.  I love all of those kids.  

And they do love each other.

Have a blessed weekend, y'all.
Love on your family.  Love on your friends.  Just love on someone.
 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:8
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