while Deric was away

Two weeks ago, Deric traveled to Ethiopia for almost a week. He went to scout out our friends' mission work as part of the process for our church to start supporting them. Usually when Deric's gone for longer than a weekend, Jake and I leave town too. But Jake's not such an enjoyable passenger in the car anymore, plus all of our family members were pretty busy. So I braced myself for a long week flying solo and prayed for extra energy. And we had a great week together! It went faster and was much more fun than some weekends Jake and I have spent on our own. For starters, Jake slept until at least 8:00 every morning...quite the answer to prayer for extra energy! Totally ok with that, especially since I stayed up late every night enjoying the time to myself. I also froze a lot of leftovers before Deric left so that cooking (and therefore cleaning) was minimal, which made a big difference.

Deric flew out on Thursday night and we spent Friday morning watching a friend of Jake's for a few hours. It worked out great because Jake loves to have people nearby, so the two of them kept each other entertained and I got a few things cleaned up and done around the house. At one point, both boys helped our neighbor pick up sticks in his yard and he just sent them back home when they were finished. (I plan for this to happen quite a lot in the coming years! Its good work for Jake, plus those little bodies are much closer to the ground for picking up thousands of sticks!)

On Friday night, I thought it'd be fun to make thumbprint cookies with Jake since he's recently learned how to make his handprint in sand/dirt/etc. He always enjoys baking with me and he really loved trying to roll the dough into balls, just like Playdoh. While the cookies baked we "made" pizzas, aka simply topped the premade pizza crusts and called it a day. Another winner for ease, entertainment and lack of dishes to clean later!

Saturday was "National Talk Like a Pirate Day" and Krispy Kreme was handing out free donuts if you talked like a pirate, so we stopped in after breakfast for a donut. I had prepped Jake for it and he had "Ahoy, matey!" ready to go, but the employees were so busy handing out dozens of donuts to each family dressed up like pirates that they just handed us our two little donuts and sent us on our way. (I was definitely tempted to dress Jake like a pirate for a dozen free ones, but then I thought: no ones around to eat those donuts with me, so I'll just end up eating like eleven donuts. No thanks.)

After donuts, Jake and I went to the toy store to spend some leftover birthday gift cards that he had. We (I) picked out a cash register for him that will go well with the play kitchen we're building. Jake's got so, so many trucks and trains that I would like for him to have a better variety of imaginative toys. I'm hoping to scale down the amount of vehicles we've got and introduce things like a doctor kit, the cash register, costumes, etc. that will encourage him to pretend more.

Apparently I used up all my fun ideas towards the beginning of our time, because the next couple days definitely weren't full of donut runs and toy store visits. We did have lunch with friends, visit the park and play games at home and somehow the time passed easily and quickly. I think one reason our time was so enjoyable is that we didn't have anything going on while Deric was gone. So I wasn't split between Jake and getting dinner or errands done; we were able to go with the flow and eat cereal for dinner if we wanted (which we did). ;) We're always glad when Deric comes home, but I'll remember this solo week pretty fondly.


28 months

I can barely keep up with all the funny things Jake says on a daily basis but usually I remember to jot it down on my phone because if not, I don't remember it by the time Deric gets home.

Most nights he asks us to sing "Grace", meaning Amazing Grace. He's slowly chiming in with us as he learns more of the words and it is so sweet to hear his little voice sing with us. And every night without fail, we'll ask him if he wants to pray and he'll immediately respond with "I can say whatever I want! I do it by myself." He definitely caught on when I told him he could tell God whatever he wanted to. Go figure his prayers start with "Thank you for my trains."

Lately he's been singing songs a lot; mostly the ABCs, the "bitsy bitsy spider", Jesus loves me ( or "likes me" as he sang once) and 10 little monkeys jumping on the bed.

He heard me say "No way, Jose" and he repeated it saying "No way ho-sies!" (horses; we've yet to make him bilingual).

While trimming his toenails one morning I told him he has his daddy's toes (and everything else, he's a perfect miniature). Jake replied with his standard "Uh huh" but then stopped and said, "These are my toes, actually."

One evening after dinner we decided to run some errands so Deric said to Jake, "We're going into town." Jake looked at me, so excited, and said "I'm going to the town!"

I was reading a blog on the computer one afternoon and Jake came over, looked at the pictures (of an entirely different family), and said "Where's me?" He acts like he doesn't enjoy the limelight, but...

We were looking out of the window and watching for Deric to walk home one evening. When Jake saw Deric he exclaimed, "Wook, Daddy is coming back to me! I better open the door." (Most evenings I'm in the kitchen making dinner when Deric walks home so I give Jake the heads up. He runs to the mudroom, opens the door to the entryway and waits for Deric. Soon as he sees him he usually shouts, "Wook!" and shows him whatever train he's holding. Its too sweet.)

Deric figured out that we're more likely to get a good picture of Jake if we turn the camera around so he sees himself. It works maybe 50% of the time and its so funny to see Jake smile at himself. We're probably creating a monster, but at least we'll have cute pictures of said monster. ;)

On the mornings that I get up with Jake first (which isn't often, thank you Deric!), I usually read the chapter of Psalm and Proverbs that correlate with the day's date: chapter 1 on the first, etc. Maybe last month we read Psalm 27, which ends with a simple verse. I read it to Jake and made up motions on the spot to see if he'd remember it and after a few tries, he pretty much had it down. Now he says it without doing the motions *and* without much prompting since Deric made a big deal of asking him if he could say it by himself. Since then he's also gotten down Psalm 18:1--I love you, O Lord, my strength--and Psalm 86:11--Teach me your ways, O Lord, so I can walk in your truth. I basically just skim through the Psalms every so often to find simple verses that might make sense to him. Its good for me too, because I haven't disciplined myself to memorize verses in quite a few years. So we're both learning!

Psalm 27:14 from Ashley Skinner on Vimeo.


the first fall weekend

We played hard this weekend thanks to the first breaths of fall in the air. Its been cool enough to have the windows open all day and cloudy enough to keep the sun from heating things up but without a single drop of rain: a pretty perfect early fall weekend. Yesterday we hiked new-to-us trails in a nearby town (much closer than heading to the Smokies and dealing with tourist traffic, thankfully) and accomplished around three miles. Jake hiked on his own for about a mile until we stopped on the top of a hill for lunch, and then he napped in the backpack for the remaining two miles. I was so proud of his perseverance. We sandwiched him in between Deric and myself and I loved watching him follow Deric up the trails. He constantly stopped for sticks and rocks, but that was no surprise. There was one really steep hill that was a challenge for Jake and despite tripping and falling twice, he powered through and made it up the hill.

We also saw a deer run across the trail right behind us, and the deer and his two falls are the highlights of the trip in Jake's mind. I know Deric and I won't forget the sheer amount of spiderwebs we had to bat out of our way the entire time. We both had to carry sticks and constantly wave them around (a la Harry Potter;)) and yet we still both got numerous spiderwebs to the face. And they weren't teensy spiders either. Gross, but memorable.

 This morning we started the day out with waffles and then visited a nearby park with a newly built playground. Jake usually finds a 'circuit' of sorts that he can run on a playground--in this case, up the rock wall across to the slide, down and back to the rock wall--and runs that circle until he's worn out. After the playground we went on a walk through the park and stopped for a while at the biggest puddle Jake's probably ever seen. Every leaf and stick in the vicinity got thrown into the puddle, followed shortly by Jake himself. I was pretty surprised when Jake jumped right in and never even commented on the feeling of wet shoes and pants. I asked him how his feet felt and he smiled and said "Good!" I loved watching his little smile as he splashed through the puddle. (All of this made easier on me by the $1 "play shoes" I found yesterday at a consignment sale, just in time for hiking and puddles!)

We spent the afternoon working in the garage on his play kitchen and then enjoyed homemade crab cakes for dinner at some friends' gorgeous log cabin wayyy out in the woods. It was the kind of weekend I could go for every weekend!


Labor Day weekend + a repurposed garden bed

Our Labor Day weekend was unexpectedly busy, but in a good way. Friends of ours were in town for Knoxville's last Boomsday festival and while they stayed at a hotel downtown, we saw them every day and got to spend a lot of time with them and their daughter. Their daughter is just over a year old, not quite walking, and man did she love tearing apart Jake's train tracks on his table. Surprisingly Jake didn't bat an eyelash over it and had fun crawling around the house with her. When they left, he walked around the house saying, "Where's her?" It took me a second to understand who he was talking about. Too sweet.

This morning we planned to go hiking but didn't make it. Deric had a late night event for the students last night and he was up past midnight, plus he spent most of the weekend running from one thing to the next. So while we tried to go hiking, about halfway there he finally admitted that he thought he might be getting sick. We got home and he slept most of the afternoon, then laid on the couch for the rest of the evening. Hopefully a day of pure rest will help him dodge whatever sickness he might be on the brink of. Fingers crossed!

While Deric was sleeping, Jake and I played outside in the backyard because it was thankfully not too hot out. I recently read yet another article online about how kids are so disconnected from nature now and the impact that's taking on them. My thesis for grad school was along these lines so I've always been aware of the importance of being in nature, but I hadn't made much effort outside of regularly taking him to parks and occasionally going for walks through our backyard and our neighbors' lot next door. And even then, most parks have manmade play structures so that's really not getting Jake involved with nature. The article I read recently outlined some pretty simple ways to help kids interact with nature, rather than just being in nature. Things like having an area of the yard solely devoted to the kids, where they are free to explore and move things around and do what they please, and incorporating movable elements like logs, sticks, and rocks for them to manipulate.

So I ripped out our remaining green bean plans that have been struggling for a month or so in one of our raised garden beds and created a little natural play space for Jake. I dumped in a little more dirt and mixed things up so the dirt was loose and easy to dig through, added sticks from the yard, brought in a log headed for the fire pit, and grabbed his beach bucket and shovels. (No rocks around our house, unfortunately.)

After his nap, I showed him his little space and he played for about an hour (!!), totally content and fairly independently. Usually he always wants me to do things with him so I've been trying to help him learn to play on his own. He mostly scooped the dirt into the bucket or into his lap, but he also piled up the sticks to make a castle (he can make a castle out of anything!). He tried to lift the log but got frustrated when he wasn't strong enough, but I watched him pull a stick out from underneath it and accidentally lift up the log. I was happy to see him quickly make the connection and use the stick as leverage to lift the log. When Jake first started to play he had to get used to the dirt but by the end of the hour, he had dirt from his forehead to his toes and was happy as as could be about it!

I'm just now realizing that this little space may be even more perfect for Jake because he's quite a bit like me and gets easily frustrated if things aren't working correctly. Things like puzzles and even train tracks, where there is a right and wrong way to put it together, can make him upset. But in the dirt, there's no wrong way to play. So while today may have been the honeymoon phase for his little nature box, I'm excited to watch what Jake discovers as he plays in it more. I plan to have Deric cut some logs into slices for Jake to use, and we'll see where he goes from there!


August recap

It was a doozy of a month. Our life is typically very calm and predictable, which I enjoy. I don't like to be busy for busy's sake (with the exception of fun trips every so often!) and I try hard to protect our schedule so we have time to relax and be together in between Deric's work obligations, time with friends and family, and ministry events. As I watch our culture promote busyness and even families with the best of intentions end up running from one thing to the next, I feel like I'm trying my best even now, with just one small child, to prevent that busyness by getting into the habit of "being still". But of course, we'll see what happens as our family grows and school and everything else comes our way.

That said, August was quite the month for us. We started off with our trip to Port Hope, a great way to begin the month. About a week and a half after that, doctors confirmed that I had a "low-functioning" gallbladder so I had surgery to have it removed. Thankfully God worked the timing out perfectly for Mom to come down and stay with us for almost a week, as the recovery was much more difficult than I expected.

Grandmas are good at teaching important things like how to color your feet with chalk!

Barely a week after surgery, we took a trip to Kentucky to meet up with friends doing ministry there. I was nervous about traveling so soon after surgery but the trip went fine and I'm definitely on the road to recovery. Deric's parents met us there to pick up Jake for the weekend so Deric and I got to have some time with just the two of us, which we always enjoy. And you know Jake just loved his weekend with his grandparents. He came back with all kinds of stories about riding the tractor and the golf cart, picking up sticks in the woods and getting pizza at a restaurant that delivers your drinks via a little train.

With all this going on, I'm so looking forward to this weekend at home with no real plans--the first we've had in almost a month! I love slow weekends spent at home, taking one day at a time and being as relaxed or as productive as we choose.