Magic House

We met up with friends at the Magic House today and had such a nice time.

A couple years ago, we had a membership to the Magic House and after our year was done, we were so over it. In fact, I thought that they’d pretty well grown out of it. Much to our surprise though, there are some new areas that really appealled to the boys and I’m seriously considering getting a membership this year.

The Maker Space alone is worth it. It’s full of all those cool, super expensive things that most of us don’t spring for. Like Magnatiles. Or these cool cube robots.

So, yeah, we had a great time and we pretty much had the place to ourselves, which was wonderful!

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Winter Hike

It’s been cold this winter so I was pretty excited when we had a warm day last week! It ended up being overcast and windy, so it was still cool, but temps officially reached 57 degrees!

In celebration, I grabbed a couple of other kids and we took a short hike. I’ve learned that the boys don’t complain about hiking too much if they have some friends along. Plus, I can take pictures and not feel like I’m boring or ignoring them.

Forest Floor


Mushrooms on a tree

We didn’t stay out long for fear of rain, but it felt good to get outside and not freeze to death! I’m hoping for a day like this here and there to help us keep our sanity.

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Gingerbread Tree Smash

Since the boys can’t eat the gingerbread creations we build, we let them smash them after Christmas. Sometimes they are a lot hardier than you’d think, but this one smashed pretty well!

Ready to Go

Bombs Away!

Going, going…


That’s it until next year!


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Back to School

After a nice long break, it was finally time to dust off the school books and get back at it. The boys would never admit it, but I don’t think they were too upset to dig in again.

In my effort to take more day-to-day, around-the-house pictures, here’s how my day can be summed up.

The mid-year mess of the homeschool cart. Yikes!

Luke’s attempt to keep me from unplugging the pencil sharpener at the end of every week. Hahahaha.

We added sign language to our studies. I’ve attempted Spanish with the boys several times and they adamantly refuse. I told them they have to learn a language and asked if ASL would be something they’d like to try and they were both enthusiastic about it and it counts as a “foreign” language for high school, so we’re off to a good start there.

I decided to skip this semester of co-op because I felt like our Fall went by in a blur and we hardly had a chance to do anything (part of that is also due to our trip and then the holidays). I want to make sure we have the chance to get to some of the museums that have been on my list. Maybe we’ll have time to do a big project or two, too.

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2017 Year in Review

1. What did you do in 2017 that you’d never done before?  We took another family vacation. This time down South and then South-East. We visited New Orleans for the first time, among other places.

I also started to learn Spanish through Duoling and I’m almost through the program! In the Fall, I facilitated a small group at my church for the book Making Peace with Your Past. Teaching an Art History class at my co-op was probably the most fun thing I did.

2. Did you keep your New Years resolutions, and will you make more for next year? I always resolve to try and eat healthier and exercise more. And I do a little bit better every year. (Same old, same old)

3. Did anyone close to you give birth? My sister gave birth to my angelic niece, Isla, and my friend, Gen, gave birth to her precious boy, Sebastian.

4. Did anyone close to you die? Gen’s son was born still. Since we’re several states away, I’ve been grieving, watching and praying from afar.

5. What countries did you visit? Just more of the U.S.

6. What would you like to have in 2018 that you lacked in 2017? Better health and more confidence!

7. What from 2017 will remain etched upon your memory, and why? Receiving Gen’s text that her sweet baby no longer had a heartbeat was awful. It just seemed unreal and my mind had a hard time understanding what those words meant.

My good memories of 2017 include several vacation moments; the unexpected beauty of driftwood beach on Jekyll Island, the wonder of Hogwarts at Universal Studios, the enchantment of T.R. Pugh’s Memorial.

Of course, meeting my sweet little niece for the first time, and celebrating my nephew’s first birthday rank pretty far up there, too.

Luke turned 13 and we surprised him with a base guitar which he absolutely loved!

8. What was your biggest contribution of the year? My biggest contribution was in reaching out to others. I taught an Art History class at our co-op and facilitated a class called Making Peace with your Past at church.

9. What was your biggest failure? I wish I’d done more for my health. We’ve continued to eat well, but all year long I vowed to do another round of the GAPS diet, and it just never happened. My allergies worsened this year and Gabe is still struggling with occasional asthma so I know it needs to happen, but I just haven’t done it and I really have no excuse.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury? Nothing major, thank goodness, but I was sicker this year than I every have been. Not daily, but I caught several bad bugs that knocked me out for a week at a time.

11. What was the best thing you bought? This is a hard one, but I guess I’d have to say my instant pot. I’ve certainly gotten a lot of use out of it and it’s made an unpleasant chore much more bearable.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration? I’ve been so blessed by how Gen handled her son’s passing. It’s really been inspirational.

Chelsea is an awesome mom and I love seeing her come into her own in that regard.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed? I have a family member who really disappointed me. I’ll have to leave it at that.

14. Where did most of your money go? We’ve been throwing a good chunk of money at paying of the loan for our addition. Travel expenses were probably the next big-ticket item.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about? Vacation. Always vacation. Especially our Fall vacation where we surprised the boys with a few days at Disney and then we got to meet the new baby.

16. What song will always remind you of 2017? NeedtoBreathe put out a new album and we’ve really enjoyed it. I also love the song Do It Again by Elevation Worship. Such a good reminder when things are rough.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
i. happier or sadder? Happier. I feel like 2018 is full of possibility and I’m thrilled that I was able to actually accomplish several things in 2017
ii. thinner or fatter? Same
iii. richer or poorer? Richer.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of? Photoshop and photography. Blogging.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of? Worrying.

20. How will you be spending the Winter? Learning Spanish, finishing my Udemy course, and learning/using photoshop.

22. Did you fall in love in 2017? If my niece counts, then yes. She is such a pudgy delight. Love that girl!

23. What was your favorite month of 2017? It’s a toss-up between April, when we went on our big vacation, and November, when we went on our vacation down South.

24. What was your favorite TV program? We started watching Friends again. Seriously just cannot get into any of the shows that are out there. There are a couple that look promising, but I’m waiting until they’re a couple seasons in before I give them a go. My time is too precious to waste on crappy programming.

25. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year? Nope. Not a hater, such a waste of time.

26. What was the best book you read? Hillbilly Elegy. It’s an awesome book and I connected with it in SO many ways.

27. What was your greatest musical discovery? I’m still a big Luke Nolen fan!

28. What did you want and get? An instant pot and a new food processor. Yup, livin’ the life.

29. What was your favorite film of this year? I know a lot of people hated it, but I really loved the latest Star Wars film. It’s my favorite SW movie ever!

30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you? I turned 37.  I cannot for the life of me remember what we did on my birthday. I think we forced the boys to go somewhere I enjoy but they don’t….like the Botanical Garden. I’m sure I had a good time and I have no doubt Ben gave me a good gift.

31. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying? More time in nature. It’s really been on my heart – it’s a yearning really. We did spend more time out hiking and exploring the Botanical Gardens, but still not as much as I would have liked.

32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2017? Still lame. Just barely getting by. I just keep waiting to “lose the last 10lbs.”

33. What kept you sane? Prayer, journaling, making new friends.

34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most? None.

35. What political issue stirred you the most? Vaccines. The pressure is intensifying to mandate vaccines across the board.

36. Who did you miss? Chelsea. Still. Especially now that the baby is here. I so wish I could just see them whenever, but it’s hard when they live 10 hours away.

37. Who was the best new person you met? Too many to list. This has been an awesome year for new friends. I feel beyond blessed. I’ve met so many awesome ladies at my church. Trish, Ginel, Amy, Heather, and Sherri, specifically. There are several more who I really like and I’m hoping to get to know better this year.

38. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2017: Confrontation. Last year I was enlightened to the depth of my people-pleasing and I was really working to move past that. Boy howdy did this year give me plenty of opportunities to do just that.

I had several big issues come up. One was with someone I’d just met and another was with a family member. I am really proud of the way I handled both situations. I could see that I’d actually made some real progress toward shedding my people-pleasing compulsion.

In a similar fashion, I had to learn to silence my harshest critic – myself. The outcome is that, in just one year, I did or learned so many things that I’d just never been able to really commit to in the past.

39. Best quote of the year? “Maybe willingness trumps ability, and the mutuality of vulnerability and humanness heals most of all.” Doug Shirley

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Before Christmas Ends

I feel like I missed out on Christmas just a tad so I took some photos before taking everything down.

Trader Joe’s Christmas bulb

Christmas cards are one of my favorite things about the holidays!

Our decorated Christmas Tree

I’ve had the same Christmas wreath for years and years and it looked so shabby that I had to take action. I made this one up and really ended up liking it. It fits my white and teal and sparkly winter theme much better than the more traditional wreath I used to have.

My new Winter wreath

Mini trees

I wasn’t sure if the boys would want the Little People nativity put out and they were both astounded when I asked them. They maybe be 13 and 10, but they LOVE the nativity. Despite the fact that it takes up a ton of room, I wasn’t about to talk them out of displaying the set. I’m just so glad they still find joy in having it out.

The Little People Nativity

Once again, I collected Christmas ornaments from the various places we visited on our travels and it was so enjoyable to look at everything as I decorated the tree.

Georgia Aquarium Ornament

I really wanted to get some pictures of the boys with their favorite gifts, but I just never got around to it. Oh well. There’s always next year!

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Christmas Tidings 2017

I’m so grateful that the joy, peace, truth, and beauty of Christmas isn’t really limited to one day a year!

This year I started feeling a bit “off” on Christmas Eve-eve and by the day after Christmas I was full-on sick. That lasted a whole week which meant missing out on every get together aside from the Nolen Christmas Eve.

But there are no bah-humbugs here because there were still plenty of blessings!

On Dec 8th we took the boys to see Ambassadors of Harmony, a local acappella group. This year was quiiiiite as good as last year, but it was still wonderful. Lots of laughs and lots of amazing vocal work.

On the 17th, we took the boys to the Missouri Botanical Gardens to see the Garden Glow. We have a membership this year so we got a discount on tickets. Also, we really lucked out with nice weather so we were comfortable all evening long.


The boys opted out of the usual gingerbread house and chose a tree, instead.

My sister and precious niece came up early and stayed a week with us. I didn’t get much in the way of pictures, but I got lots of snuggles and even got (?) to change a diaper! The cats were probably just as excited as we were because they were convinced that all those cool devices that were their size were actually for them

Boy cat in the bouncy seat

On the 23rd, we woke up to snow. Beautiful, pure, gorgeous snow.

For the past several years, MO has enjoyed very mild winters but that seems to officially be over now. We not only got snow on the 23rd, but that snow is still sticking around a bit because the temp has never crept above freezing since then.

We spent Christmas Eve at church, attending service and then manning the cafe for the other services. Then we ate dinner and opened gifts with Karen and Tim.

Karen’s Tree

On Christmas morning I was feeling run down, but I managed to make a gf cinnamon….roll…thing. It was interesting. Tasty, but a total failure in the looks department!

We didn’t have any place to go so we stayed in comfy clothes all day and admired our gifts and stayed cozy.

My big gift from Ben was a total surprise.

Our friend’s husband makes really neat things out of metal. He does a lot out of rebar, which is pretty darn cool, but he happened to mention to Ben that he had this large piece of stainless steel and maybe something cool could be made from it. It’s such a good fit. Sleek and shiny. I love it! We’re going to nail it to our huge oak tree in front of the house so that it can be seen from the road. Just as soon as it warms up. 🙂

The boys enjoyed all of their gifts and I think Ben was happy with everything he got, as well. I focused on latte art gifts which is something he’s been wanting to learn.

Another Christmas is in the books. It was unconventional, but still full of blessing!


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Christmas Season in Full Swing

I love this time of year so much!

Two days after Thanksgiving, I had all of the Fall decor put away and all of the Christmas decorations in their places.

But it’s not realllllly Christmas until you have a tree.

This year we went to a tree farm in Washington. It was unseasonably warm so they were busy, but we still managed to get some family pictures.

In the past, we’ve picked up our tree in the early evening, so we had to work around the sun here, but we nabbed some good shots.

I can’t believe how much the boys are growing. Luke is officially as tall as me now and maybe even a smidge taller (I’m wearing healed boots in this pic). Here’s the side-by-side from last year.

So, they’ve grown, for sure!

Ben whipped up a couple of simple trees to decorate the front of the yard. Our idea is to add a couple each Christmas.

We put together our annual “To-Do” list with activities, movies, and service projects we want to complete.

I’ve been working hard on buying presents and as soon as the tree is up I’ll get them wrapped and put out.

So, busy, busy, busy, but in a good way! There are so many things to look forward to during the Christmas season. I love all of it..the music, the movies, the special church services…

Of course, now that I’ve said that, I have to immediately back-track and specify that I don’t, actually, love “all” of the holiday season. I guess I’ve just learned to cut out what I don’t like so that I can fully focus on what I do love.

I hate crowds, for instance, so I make sure to get my gift and grocery shopping done early and if I need anything last minute, I give Ben the puppy eyes and he helps a girl out.

I also hate being overly busy, so that’s why we make a list every year. Some families go-go-go every night, but we aren’t built that way. Instead, we carefully select the activities we want to participate in and then we make time for those things and let the rest go.

In talking to a lot of my friends, I’ve noticed an overall theme of cutting back on activities and parties. People are opting for less travel time and more downtime and that is a trend I can truly get behind.

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Happy Thanksgiving 2017

Tired from our trip, and wanting a full meal we could eat and enjoy, we decided to stay home on Thanksgiving. I made a spread of traditional T-Day foods and Karen and Tim joined us. Since it was a small group, I was able to spend some time putting together a pretty table.

The day after, we hosted my mom and siblings. Everyone brought something to share. We had enough kids to set up a kid table, which was kind of fun.

We played board games after dinner and had a blast.

Pit is a good game for a group. Simple and easy to learn.

Telestrations is another family favorite:


There was a lot of laughing going on. Before we knew it, the night was over and everyone was heading home.

The holiday season is now in full swing and I know the year will be over before we know it. I cannot believe how quickly time flies!26

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Disney Trip 2017: Days 4, 5, and 6

Day 4: Epcot

Epcot always has been and always will be my favorite park. I feel like I need an entire day just to enjoy the World Showcase!

This time around we got a late start because we knew we’d want to stay late to see the evening show and that just ends up being a long day.

Before we set out, we used some coupons for free mini-golf! We went to WinterSummerland and played 18 holes. It was really cute and well-done and the boys did well with sticking with it even though we never played and they were discouraged at first.

We arrived at Epcot in time to see a bit of the World Showcase before making our reservation at Teppon Edu, a hibachi grill.

Again, the boys were good eaters!

Salad with chopsticks?

We skimmed through the world and then headed over to Spaceship Earth. We also did Test Track and the Three Caballeros.

After the evening show we ate dinner at The Electric Umbrella and then rode Soarin’. It was a late night, but we avoided the mass exodus and got to ride Soarin’ without hardly any wait.

Day 5: Magic Kingdom

This was my favorite day of our Disney vacation! I’d been dying to eat at Belle’s restaurant, Be Our Guest, but it’s extremely difficult to get into. A friend encouraged us to chat up a concierge because people cancel reservations all the time. We decided it was worth a shot.

While we were standing in line to speak to the concierge, Ben decided to check the dining reservation app again and lo and behold, a spot came available! I was thrilled!

We decided to get another late start and really make the most of the extended hours. To fill our day we rode the monorail over to the Contemporary Resort. The lobby was decorated and the large gingerbread house was already in place.

Magic Kingdom was decorated, as well, and everything was beautiful.

The restaurant was so much fun. They did such a good job on it!

Gargoyle out front

Stained glass

The food was fantastic. I had the lamb and really enjoyed it. Of course, I had the grey stuff for dessert. I have no idea what was in it, but it was worth it!

The highlight was meeting Beast in his study:


Luke took that picture and did a good job in such low lighting! It was all rushed though because Gabe came in crying. He’d gone to the bathroom before we left the table and he and Ben missed each other so Gabe had returned from the bathroom to an empty table and was pretty upset about it.

Because we were able to stay late we rode:

Space Mountain

Monsters Laugh Floor

Tomorrowland Speedway


Tea Cups

Mine Train

Small World

Mickey’s PhilharMagic

Pirates of the Carribean

Jungle Cruise

Big Thunder Mt. Railroad

Magic Carpets of Aladdin

Haunted Mansion


A lot of families with little ones end up having to leave at a good time so lines are drastically shorter in the late hours. We took full advantage of that and had a fantastic time.


Day 6: Georgia

We packed up and made our way to see little Miss Isla.

The drive was uneventful with few stops and only some traffic at the end.

We ate a late dinner with Nate and Chelsea and got to meet sweet baby Isla.

Gabe held her right away, but Luke declined. I snuggled her every chance I got!

She’s darling and perfect in every way. Even though she’s already close to a month old, she still has that newborn look to her and that precious new baby hair.

We hung out for a few hours and then headed to our Air B ‘n B. It was a two-bedroom place on the lake, about 15 minutes away. It was cute and cozy! We unloaded and then crashed – grateful that we had a few days of semi-downtime in our future!



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