Tuesday, November 5, 2013

James Maxwell

Meanwhile, Steve was still in grad school finishing his last class-computational linear algebra.  And in fact, he was working on his thesis project which was a graduation requirement.  He didn't know it at the time but, his project proved to be very strategic in this whole journey.  He chose the topic because he loved the material.  Michael Faraday and James Maxwell had always been scientific heroes of his and so he decided to study about Maxwell's Equations of Electromagnetism which are the bedrock foundation of electromagnetism and electrical engineering.

As an aside, this project was truly a beauty from ashes thing for him.  When Steve started at Cal Poly, he was talented and expected to do well; he entered as an electrical engineering student.  He spent nearly three years in the major but he was young and lacked discipline.  All of the sudden he had to study.  And he didn't have the skills or the confidence to fight through the difficulties.  The more difficulties he faced the more he retreated.  As a result, he didn't do well.  

He switched out of electrical engineering and when we got married, finished in math.  But his difficulties as an undergrad always haunted him.  He felt deep regret for how he had handled his studies and also felt that his potential had been wasted.  That is why, after five years, he went back to school for his Masters in Math and he rocked it, showing his abilities.  With maturity and much more on the line, he really soared.  

So it was fitting that his final project for his Masters in Math was an electrical engineering project (that was very math heavy).  When he told his graduate committee chair what he wanted to do, his chair was a bit reticent saying he thought the content might be too difficult.  But Steve was determined.  So his chair relented and told him to make sure and update him regularly on his progress so that he could be sure he was headed in the right direction.  So Steve researched and slowly worked his way through Maxwell's Equations, teaching himself the ins and outs of the problems.  He also read Maxwell's biography and that really touched him bringing out the humanity in Maxwell and not just the genius in the math. 

In fact, awhile back, I posted about a poem Steve read to me one particular Saturday toward the end of Texas A & M.  That Saturday he had been out all day working on Maxwell and had come across the poem in Maxwell's biography.  The poem has had a huge presence in our lives since.  We recite it to each other often.  It's posted on our bedroom wall.  

"Trust me Spring is very near, All the buds are swelling, All the glory of the year, In those buds is dwelling.  What the open buds reveal, Tell us life is flowing, What the buds still shut, conceal, we shall end in knowing....".  

It became a continual reminder of what we were working toward.  And that God would reveal to us where we were headed in His time.  Spring was coming.

Steve presented his thesis project to his committee, passed his final oral exit exam, finished his last class and graduated with honors in May.  We thought we'd know where we were going by then.  But we didn't.  It was a bit disappointing but we tried really hard to just keep going forward, keep working as hard as we could to open up connections for him, and let God do the rest.  And did God have a HUGE blessing in the works.  

We had no idea what was coming right around the corner...but God was about ready to move on our behalf in a big way.

It looked like nothing was in sight and then God just moved.

"For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground."  Isaiah 44:3

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Three Paths and Valentine's Day 2013

One of the biggest hurdles in this whole process was Steve getting a vision of what he was looking for in a career.  We knew he liked math.  We knew he could solve big problems.  We just didn't know how that translated to the industry.  So we started researching again.  I looked at all sorts of options and narrowed down three paths he could take-engineering, computer science and finance.  Now these areas were pretty broad but at least we could start to think about each one and then pick a direction.  

We knew that Steve had the ability to program.  His masters is in Computational Mathematics.  However, programming is not his favorite and he doesn't care to do it all the time.  He will program enough to solve big systems of equations as they relate to math problems, but not just to program itself.  It's not interesting to him.  So computer science was out.

Finance held a lot of promise.  Many mathematicians run statistics for insurance companies (they are called actuaries) and others work on the stock market.  Yet when we thought about this option, we knew it wasn't Steve.  He's not a flashy businessman-type.  He's more quiet and simple.  

What it came down to was this-Steve wanted to creatively solve big math problems.  The best bet for this type of work would lie in the engineering world working on real-world applications.  And since he had passed the EIT, he was considered an engineer in training so that lent him some credibility in the engineering industry.  But doing what in engineering?  There are millions of types of engineers.  That's when we started networking.

During this process, God led us to many people to talk to.  Steve has many relatives that are pretty academic and "mathy" so we started with them.  He talked with cousins, his uncle who is a math guy and various others about what he likes to do with math and how his skills would translate to the industry.  These conversations sparked a lot of thought and helped us narrow down even more what we were looking for.  Isaac's teacher at school got us in touch with her Dad who has been an engineer at Boeing for years.  Her Dad talked at length with Steve about his skills, gave him advice and was a great first encounter with the industry.  These conversations were not easy for Steve.  He had to really gear himself up to talk to all of these people, many of whom he did not know, and put himself out there.  It was really, really hard for him.  But he did it.  The Navy had given him a taste.  He wanted to know more.  

Meanwhile, I was always researching for him.  I discovered that Raytheon was a pretty big engineering firm and that they did presentations at various colleges throughout the year.  They happened to be coming to Stanford in February...on Valentine's Day to be exact.  So we made plans to go up there and see their presentation for Valentine's Day!  We didn't have much information about the presentation since Steve isn't a student there so we weren't even sure where the presentation was!  We literally looked all over campus for an hour.  It was like trying to find a needle in a haystack.  We had the GPS on our iPhone and the address and that was it.  I kept praying the whole time, as we circled, that we'd find it.  We had driven an hour and a half to find out more about Raytheon, but every minute that passed brought more and more frustration to Steve.  

I knew any minute he was going to give up.  I kept my mouth shut, only opening it to say positive things, and let him fight it out inside.  I knew everything inside of him just wanted to bail and go home.  I knew it.  But that was old Steve.  That was Steve at Cal Poly when things got difficult.  That wasn't Steve now, on the brink of graduating with honors with his Masters.  Steve now was responsible, mature and accomplished. He had to keep going.  I let him battle with himself and just held his hand in silence.   

Going to this presentation was a huge step for him and I knew it.  We had to find it!  Just when I could tell he nearly reached the end of himself, we found it.  Phew!  We had to bring Nathan with us so I sat out in the foyer and played with him while Steve watched the presentation praying the whole time that God would meet him there and give him some direction.  I had no idea what to expect when he walked out.  Would he be happy?  Feel like it was a waste of our effort?  Be intrigued?

I was pleasantly surprised.  He was totally blown away and encouraged.  He left saying, "Why have I never known there are jobs out there like that?  They are looking for people like me.  I can do that.  And I am so interested in that work.  How can I get there?  What do I have to do to get there?" He was pumped.  He had a vision now.  He wanted to work for a company like that doing creative math and engineering.  He talked to a recruiter afterward, getting over more fears, and got even more information on how his skills would fit in at Raytheon.  She also affirmed my belief that he should try and get an internship to get some hands-on experience for his resume.  All in all, it was very encouraging.    

Afterward, we were starving so we headed to In N Out at 9 pm to finally have dinner.  Both of us were beaming.  Nathan sat on the table in between us, we held hands, and declared it would be a Valentine's Day to remember.  We had received some direction.  We still weren't sure our future but Steve had a little piece of the vision now.  He had seen what was potentially out there for him and he was pumped.  Valentine's Day 2013 will always be a special, momentous day for us.  

In the midst of winter and uncertainty, it was a bright day of hope and optimism.  God would direct us.  We just had to keep putting one foot in front of the other and trust Him as He wrote our story.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Next Steps-The EIT and The Navy

Since we didn't know where to go next, we prayed.  We also researched various opportunities and discovered the Department of Defense hires many mathematicians.  All this research was a lengthy and daunting process.  Much of the feedback we received was good.  However, Steve hadn't narrowed down exactly what he wanted to do with his math abilities.  And without a clear vision, it's hard to move forward.

Last fall we made a couple of moves in a different direction to test the waters.  One of those moves was him taking an engineering exam called the Engineer in Training Exam (EIT).  We decided he'd take the exam about six weeks prior to the exam date in October.  Nathan, our fifth, had just been born in August.  Steve was in his second to last grad school class and was also teaching a new class for his day job along with his three other preps (subjects).  As a result, the fact that it was a last minute decision and that Steve was so overextended in all sorts of other areas meant he didn't have much time to study for the exam except for the week prior to taking it. But we knew it was a step in the right direction.  If he could pass this exam, on a whim, it would give him some confidence that his skills were valuable and transferable.  It would also lend him some credibility.  He had to try.  So we took the leap.  He passed.

During this time, we also started applying for jobs.  By "we" I mean, I applied for them, for Steve.  It takes so much effort to apply for jobs!  And since he was so tied up in working, finishing up well at A & M, etc...it made sense for me to research and apply for him.  Most of the jobs were mathematician jobs for the government because the government will employ math guys at the master's level.  Many other companies require a PhD.  So we started sending out a ton of applications.  Many of them came back with "Eligible but not passed on to the hiring manager."  It's tough to get rejection.  And we pretty much knew why.  He had excellent grades but no practical experience.  He needed some.  We just weren't sure how to get him there. However, we knew that in time, if we kept pressing forward, something would work out.

We had our first big break in December when one of the applications came back with an offer for an interview with the Navy.  I'll never forget Steve's smile when he came home that day.  He had forwarded me the email so I knew about it but I had no idea what he thought about it.  He was beaming.  The Navy wanted him out there as soon as possible.  So less than a week later, Steve was on a plane out to Virginia, with all of his expenses covered.  It was a whirlwind experience for him.  And we were ecstatic that this opportunity had presented itself to us.  Virginia is beautiful, affordable, and working for the Navy was not only financially expedient but a worthy cause.
Steve heading out to Virginia for his interview with the Navy
However, right after interviewing, Steve knew that both jobs (he had been up for two different positions) didn't quite fit.  He was looking to creatively solve big math problems.  One of the mathematician jobs had much more to do with finance.  The other one was helping to build guns on navy ships, which seemed interesting but the work environment that he witnessed was not attractive to him.  At least that was his impression and he was reticent about that side of things.

Everything else was amazing.  We would've done it.  We would've done it anyway despite the jobs not being a good fit because it was an amazing deal.  And at the time we didn't know if another opportunity would present itself.  Plus, although Steve is a very talented mathematician, he lacked practical experience in the work force so we felt that we had to take what we could get.  But God had His way.  Steve interviewed just prior to The Sequester.  I am unsure if you are familiar with that but there were some pretty big spending cuts that took place to the Department of Defense in January and these cuts were called The Sequester.  Steve interviewed right before Christmas.  So although the Navy liked him, they got put under a hiring freeze and could not hire him.

Needless to say, we were devastated.  Not only had Virginia been taken off the table, but it seemed that the entire job market that we had targeted, the Department of Defense, had been obliterated.  Where were we to go next?  It was a hard pill to swallow.  But after a bit, we gathered our wits about us, and hit the ground running again, this time focusing on more of the private sector.  We also really tried narrowing down the direction we were going.  Was it engineering, physics, math....?  We also started thinking about internships.

It's all about the networking.  Networking, networking, networking.  My husband hates talking on the phone and dislikes even more putting himself out there.  However, after having flown across the country on his first big job interview with the US Navy, he had a taste of what might be out there.  And that pushed him out of his box.

Networking and talking on the phone with all sorts of different people in the industry...what was God going to do with all of that?  Only time would tell.   

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A Little History

When I first met Steve at Cal Poly he was switching out of electrical engineering into liberal studies to be a math teacher.  When I asked him why, I remember him saying that he liked working with kids.  I always wondered why he had started in electrical engineering though.  I didn't have any idea about his background at that point.  In fact, to be honest, I always knew he was a smart guy but it wasn't until he started his Masters at Texas A & M, where he competed against other math students like himself, that I really began to understand his exceptional abilities in math (that was about 7 years into our marriage!).

Now, when we talk about his undergrad years, he wishes he could go back and tell himself all that he could do with an engineering degree.  He truly didn't know.  He had not caught the vision of what his future would look like working on projects that utilized his skills and catered to the way his mind is built.  He just really had no idea.  He stayed in liberal studies for the year and a half that we were dating.  He hated it.  It was not the right fit for him.  So the first quarter we were married, he switched into math and that was the degree he earned upon his graduation.

As I am sure you can imagine, this kind of path lends itself to a lot of baggage.  Steve was young and didn't quite understand how his choices would affect his future.  However, as time went on, it became clear that he hadn't made the best choices with regards to his education.  And he regretted it-big time.  He knew he had wasted a lot of his potential.  He carried that regret around inside of him all the time.  Often he would talk to me about it.  I didn't know how to help him with it.  I just prayed for him.

We started having children, he began his career in teaching and we still talked about those years.  He ached inside to learn more math, to solve big problems but felt his opportunity to do so had flown past him.  He would tell me how it felt like he was already forgetting what he learned in some of his classes at Cal Poly.  He liked doing math and physics everyday for his job.  But he wanted to be challenged.  That's when he started talking to me about his masters. He had found Texas A & M's Masters in Mathematics program online.   

We had two kids at the time.  I thought it was impossible.  But he kept at it-which was very surprising to me.  I knew how school had gone for him the first time around.  I was afraid of what it might look like with him working full-time and with us having children.  As a result, in mind, it was risky and it was expensive.  At the time, it was the only Masters in Mathematics program online.  We put it off because I didn't think we could pay for it.  

By the time Joshua was a baby though, Steve couldn't get it out of his mind.  He had to go for it.  He asked to just take their entrance exam to see if he could pass it.  He had to get at least an 80% to put in his application.  Of course I was in agreement.  He got 100%.  Then he said he wanted to take the GRE.  I stepped out another step...he got a perfect score in the math!  Thank the Lord for his test scores, for at the time, those test scores are what got him into Texas A & M.  Without them, he probably would not have been accepted.     

He did not start the masters with an intention to switch jobs.  He liked teaching.  He just wanted to do more math.  And he really wanted to be challenged.  Nevertheless, about two years before Steve graduated from Texas A & M, he started to change his mind.  One of his friends from Cal Poly, an electrical engineer, told him, "You know, once you're done, you can do anything you want.  Many companies out there want guys like you."  He was right in the middle of the Numerical Analysis series at the time, which is pretty serious stuff.  I remember him telling me, "This series will determine how I do in the program.  If I can do well, then I know I'm going to make it just fine."  They were only the 2nd and 3rd classes he took.  And after tons of hard work, he got A's.  

Steve didn't ever think a career change was possible.  He thought his time had passed.  Yet, the longer Steve was in school and the more success he had in his coursework, the more we both knew that he had to make a job change.  He liked to teach.  But he liked solving really big math problems much, much more.  However, these types of changes don't happen over night...especially with lots of little people to feed.  We had to be certain.  And to be honest, we just didn't know the direction we were headed.

So...we were moving toward some sort of change.  Where, when and doing what?  We had no idea.

But we knew this-Great is God's faithfulness.  He would be with us, every single step of the way.  Plus, Steve had a great job.  So we weren't in a hurry.  We could take our time, let him finish up the program and in the meantime figure out the direction we were going.

In time we'd know.  

Monday, October 14, 2013

Time to Fess Up

So for the past year, there's been a lot of silence on my blog.  It's not because I don't like blogging anymore at all.  In fact, there have been a lot of reasons for my prolonged absences.  One of the main reasons is lack of time.  I only have one consistent napper now.  My house is rarely quiet in the afternoon.  My older kids, who are not at school, do have a rest time but I am often still managing them at times and find their playtime to be some of the only "off" time my brain gets.  And then the biggest boys come home and want to tell me about their day.  So, my main writing time has shrunk.  Five kids has caught up to me!

But there have been other reasons.  One of them, pretty much the most important one, is that our family's future has been uncertain.  A lot of the goings-on, coupled with the many lessons I've been learning have been tied to these issues.  And I haven't had the freedom to write about them....yet.  I don't know, something about the whole world having access to our very personal matters just didn't seem wise so, I kept a lid on it.  

On purpose. 

But it's time to fess up.  

I won't be able to address the whole journey in one blog post because it's simply too large to document at once.  However, I hope to at least get the ball rolling.
Steve reading his acceptance letter to the kids.
The big news is this-we are moving.  We're not exactly sure when but it will be within the year.  Steve has been accepted to Colorado State's PhD in Mathematics program in Fort Collins, Colorado.  He has received funding and has also landed an internship with a national lab.  There are many unknowns still at this time but, we know that we are going.  

Now how we got to this point is QUITE a story.  And when I say, "quite" I really mean it.  It's been the perfect display of God's tender hand leading us.  There have been many disappointments along the way and lots of triumphs!  We are thankful for this opportunity and know that the adventure will far outweigh the difficulties (which will be many I am sure). 

The kids "celebrating.  Moving to the snow was big news to them.
Stay tuned.  I'll be posting the story in installments over the next few weeks.  It's been an amazing journey to get to this point.  I couldn't be more proud of my husband who has worked so hard for this.  However, we both know that none of this was our doing.  It is so much more than we deserve!  We give all glory to God!  He is the One who writes our story and we are so grateful for His many blessings.  We are humbled by this whole situation and are continually on our knees asking God to continue to provide in the little details, for there are many.  

Two verses that have been a constant assurance and encouragement to me for months are these:  

Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old.  Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?  I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
Isaiah 43:19

Fear not, O Jacob my servant, Jeshurun whom I have chosen.  For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground.  I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.  Isaiah 44:3

We covet your prayers for our family during this time of unknowns and transition.  Yet something I know in depths of my heart is that God will be with us as we venture out and He will be there every step of the way.
An attempt to get a pic with all of them and the letter...fail.  But still hilarious.  We're taking our five kids and going to get a PhD.    Are we insane?  Who would've thought?? 
I am totally ecstatic and broken-hearted to leave, all at the same time.  Such a woman.  But more than that, I am caught up in my husband's God-given mission, and am so willing and ready to launch into another season of grad school as his wife, best friend, and help-meet.  I'm sure there will be many stories to tell along the way.  I hope you'll be ready to hear them.

To God be the glory!  Amen and amen.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Remembering September 27th

Last Friday marked five years since Joshua was born.  I can't believe my third child is five!  Time flies faster now...it's an ephemeral reminder that I am not in fact immortal and that my days are numbered.  Whenever his birthday rolls around I am brought back to that night in early autumn when he and I were both very much on the brink of death.

A few days later, on Monday I had my yearly trip to my OB's office and I wouldn't say that we're best friends but, we've been through a lot together.  And we like each other.  He's a gentle, quiet, gruff old man, full of experience and not a lot of words.  Me, well I have been in his office many times over the last several years trusting my health and the health of my children to him.  So as I sat in his office, updating him on all the children and hearing about his family (children/grandchildren) as well, I was again struck by that night when God had used him to step in and save both of us.

I told him with tears in my eyes that Joshua had just turned five a few days earlier
He looked at me mystified and said quietly, "Has it really been that long?"

I remarked, "Yes."  Then ventured to say one more thing in the hopes that it wouldn't be too much conversation about a sensitive topic.

"Yes.  It's been five years since that very scary night when you saved him...since you saved me."

He knew what I meant.  I had already told him before that we knew God had used him to save Joshua and myself.  He shifted his eyes downward and said, "I'm just glad all turned out well.  And look you've even had more children since."

I don't know what possessed me to bring up that night.  We hadn't talked about it much except in reference to me never laboring again with my subsequent two children.  Maybe since it's been five years it was just fresh on my mind.  Or maybe I just wanted to make sure he knew that I knew and that I was grateful.

I don't know.

But for whatever reason, I had to say those words.  I had to remember it.  And I wanted him to know that I knew.  That Steve and I knew.

After my VBAC (Vaginal Birth After C-section) attempt failed with Joshua (my VBAC with Caleb prior to Josh had been successful), I was so angry about it.  I could not think about the whole thing without hot, angry tears rolling down my cheeks.  Outwardly I was somewhat collected but inwardly a war was waging.  How could this happen?  I had worked so hard doing everything I was supposed to!  I was young.  I already had a successful VBAC.  I hate, HATE c-sections!  I was so embarrassed and felt like an utter failure.

Steve knew I was waging war and that if I didn't come to peace with it, it wouldn't be good.  So because he loves me, he began battling for me.  He listened to me, and ever so gently kept pointing out that even though my body had failed me, God hadn't.  He let me cry but did not let me wallow in my anger.  He gently told me to stop it and to remember what God had done.

God had reached out in the middle of a disaster and He had chosen, in His mercy, to save us both.

To rescue us.

From death's door.

I was hemorrhaging badly from my uterine rupture, every minute losing more and more blood-at the time, no one knew why, and Joshua was retreating further into my uterus trying to survive the barrage of blood invading the birth canal.

And God reached out...

No longer do I remember just the disaster.

Five years later, I remember that God had grace.  And that He gave me Joshua and He gave me life.  He also allowed me two more children.

Remembering September 27th as a Rescue.

Thanking God for His unending grace.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Reflections on my Childbearing Years

A sweet friend of mine just had her first baby.  Watching her walk through these first weeks has thrown me back into another time when Isaac was an infant and I was a new mother.  I remember all of the uncertainty, the exhaustion, the joy and the frustration.  It's fresh in my mind.  It seems like a lifetime ago, yet just like yesterday.  But now, the babe that I hold in my arms is my fifth and probably my last.

I say probably because Steve and I have not felt at a place to make things permanent.  It just seems, well, permanent.  There is something in both of our hearts that just really has a hard time with that.  However, we do feel like our arms are full of blessings and neither of us desires any more children.  At least, not at this time.

My last little baby, Mr. Nate, is walking now.  And he no longer wants to just snuggle me.  He's on the move.  He nurses for just short periods of time.  He wants to explore the house (i.e. my trash can and the toilets).  He wants to eat all sorts of different types of food.  He is growing and maturing.  And even though he's my last, to him, everything is a first.  The world is a vast open space and he wants in!

So the dichotomy to me has been huge.  A dear friend on the cusp of motherhood and me, at the end of my childbearing.  Once Nathan is weaned, I will truly be at the end.  It's gotten me thinking a lot.

When Isaac was small, I was definitely overwhelmed with taking care of him.  I was figuring things out, learning how I wanted to care for an infant, and learning to be a wife and mom at the same time.  In that process, it was hard for me to see the beauty that comes in motherhood-how God uses love, sacrifice and long suffering to produce such great things in a mother's heart.  Those seeds germinate in early motherhood as the sharpening starts.  The sculpting is painful and often involves large areas being lopped off.  But as time goes on, the etching gets less drastic and more refined, making the finished piece, more and more beautiful.

I certainly did not see all that God was doing in my life as I walked a baby, seemingly for miles, in the middle of the night.  Or when I would answer those cries just one more time.  I always thought that I was caring for my child.  But what I didn't see was that my child was caring for me.  In fact, every child of mine, through just being who they are, helped shape the soul that is deep inside of me.  It's not perfect by any means.  But I can tell you, being a mom has made that soul much more dependent on Christ rather than itself, than it ever was before.  That has been through force and happenstance.  And that in itself, is beautiful.

Another thing I have concluded is that the more children I've had, the happier I've become in raising them.  I'm not trying to argue that those with smaller families are any less or that people who have their own convictions or reasons for having the amount of children that they do are wrong.  I just know this- the more kids I've had, the happier I've become with the journey.  We knew we wanted a larger family when we started.  We just didn't know how large.  And we didn't feel we were more holy because we wanted a large family.  It was just a desire God gave us.  And I couldn't be more blessed.

With the addition of each child, I have fallen more and more in love with the whole process.  From the first days of Isaac to these busy days with Nathan and all the in between, I have loved this time.  Some days I may have been frustrated or at the end of pregnancies, more tired than I ever thought possible, but as the years have worn on, I have grown to love and cherish what I do.  I always thought it was meaningful.  Now I know it is.  Not just for my children, but mostly for me.  I am the one who has changed the most during these years as I have carried my children, borne them and then nurtured them into person hood.  I am better for it-for all of it.  And these eight years of having my five children will forever be precious to me in my memories.

Are you in the thick of it?  I know it's hard.  But hard isn't always bad.  It can be challenging yet life changing.  Every day I fall into bed spent.  But you know, we aren't around for long.  I want to be spent.  I want to be tired.  That means that what I am doing counts for something...for my soul and the souls of my family.

I wait now with great expectations.  I'm not very old but older.  My young, robust childbearing years are slipping away.  I am happy with them.  I don't have regrets.  But I am also hopeful for the future.  If God has changed me this much just by having these precious little people, how much more will he change me as I raise them to adulthood?!  I can only imagine.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

On Oven Fires and Such

It was such an innocent little activity.  The kids had been playing play dough all morning.  I'm not a huge fan of play dough but, we had gone all summer without pulling out the play dough and so it was time.  I said "Yes!" but inside I silently protested, knowing the mess all four big kids would make as they patted their patty-cakes and cranked out "snakes".  Oh well, this too shall pass.  I could absorb.

Nathan's birthday is tomorrow.  I can't believe my baby will be 1!  This past year has flown in so many ways.  Being that his birthday starts a run of birthdays (Isaac and Steve are both three days later) and since he is so small and doesn't know the difference, I decided to make him a giant cupcake as a cake and call it "Done!".

I had finally gotten 98% of the play dough picked up.  The kids did a pretty good job putting things away and then I had gone around trying to get the sticky crumbs off of the floor.  Never mind the play dough stuck on the bottom of my sandals or the renegade purple somehow smeared on one of the chairs.  I was feeling smug and accomplished.  I had made it through play dough without losing my mind.  And a bonus-the baby was still sleeping.  He had somehow slept through the chaos right outside his door and I had a few minutes to myself to start his cake.

The kids begged to help me.  I often let them but, this time, I had just absorbed enough play dough to make my mama patience reach its limits so, I declined their willing hands and sent them to jump on the trampoline. Every five minutes one of them came to the door asking to "help."  Every time I said, "No!" I felt more guilty. However, I stuck to my guns.  Better to feel guilty than to snap at someone due to low patience.  I needed to do this one solo.

I got everything dialed.  It's a fairly easy cake to do and it turns out so delicious.  Since I was making him a giant cupcake I had to use a special pan.  I had actually inherited this pan.  A few years back I had borrowed it from a friend for one of my kids' birthdays and when I went to check to see if the cake was done, the skewer I used went right through the bottom of the silicone.  Long story short, I bought her a new one.  And whenever I used the now broken one, mine, I put foil on the bottom to keep it sealed.  Easy enough.

Knowing that the top pan can be a bit tippy (the cupcake pan is actually two pieces-the bottom of the cupcake and the top), I made sure it was centered and upright, then shut the door to turn the rest of the batter out into some cupcake tins.  When I went to put the cupcakes in, I was horrified to discover that the top had still somehow managed to tip and had spilled its very fluid contents all over the bottom of my oven.

I was talking to my mom.  I quickly hung up.  And then I tried to troubleshoot the problem.  I knew that quite quickly that nice, chocolately batter was going to be a smoldering mess.  How did I clean that mess up when the oven was still so hot.  And what was I supposed to do with the cake?  How could I get it baked?

At this point, the kids had gathered inside and were staring blankly at the open oven covered in ooey-gooey, soon to be charred, chocolate goodness.  Everyone offered to help.  How sweet.  I declined but allowed them to stand back and watch.  Everyone was shouting out ideas.  I blocked them out, nodding my head at each of them and smiling broadly, but inside I was formulating a plan.  A plan that I hoped would work.

I got out a set of BBQ tongs, a wet rag and got to work mopping up the oven bottom.  Maybe I could still somehow manage to get this cupcake baked.  I started feeling better.  I even mentally patted myself on the back saying, "Wow!  You're handling this with such poise.  And look at those engineering skills.  Steve will be so proud."

As soon as those thoughts went through my head, I started to see the flames.  Oh, no worry.  That's just a bit of the batter burning.  It'll burn off quickly...kinda like when something drops on the oven floor and burns up.  It smokes for a bit then goes out.  Oh yeah.  No worries.

Then a few more flames started leaping.  And I realized that the fire was actually coming from the burner underneath the oven floor.  Some of the batter had somehow leaked down there.  My carefree attitude started to deteriorate a little.  This could be a bigger problem.

I let the flames leap for awhile (okay a minute) as I was trying to figure out what to do.  The fire was contained in the oven.  I wanted to see if it would burn out but I didn't want to wait too long.  Meanwhile, the children were all calling out helpful comments like, "Mommy!!!  The fire is climbing the sides of the oven!  The flames are getting bigger.  Mommy, do something!  DO SOMETHING!  Throw water on it."  You know, stuff like that.  As the fire gained steam, smoke billowed through the house.

I had to do something.  I turned the oven off.  And reached for the baking soda.  A few handfuls snuffed that nasty fire out.  We all took a deep breath...or at least tried to.  As soon as we did, we were gagging from the smoke.  But soon enough, with all the windows open, the smoke began to clear.

I immediately called Steve.  As soon as he answered he knew something was wrong.  I never call him in the middle of a workday unless it's important.  I explained what happened.  I had already dealt with it.  The fire was out.  I just needed to hear his voice.  I needed him to tell me it was all okay-to feel grounded again.  He quickly assuaged my nerves and gently told me he was proud of me for handling it well.  Not sure "well" is what I'd call it but, anyhow.  When I got off the phone with him, I felt much better.  He had confirmed my plan to clean it up and had advised me what to do when I tried to turn it back on once all the batter was mopped up.

Of course, after dealing with the fire, I thought of a brilliant plan.  Hindsight 20/20 I tell you.  I should've just let that batter bake all over the bottom of the oven.  Then I could've come back 5-10 minutes later and just scraped it all up with a metal spatula.  I mean, that would've been way smarter!!  Oh well, next time.  Wait...let's hope there isn't a next time.

Once the oven was cooled down, I cleaned it.  And I had the spectators go in the other room.  Being the Curious George's they are, they didn't like it one bit and kept clambering into the doorway.  I shooed them multiple times and kept on at my mission.  Too bad for them.  I wasn't going to have any more catastrophes.  Play dough and a fire were enough for me.

My next door neighbor graciously let me bake the cupcake in her oven.  I promised not to spill it and even put it on a cookie sheet as insurance. Phew.  I was glad I was able to save it.  I didn't have the gumption to make another cake.  No, not today.

All is quiet now.  The oven is clean.  I think the disaster is over.  But I'm not sure.  I haven't tried to turn the oven back on yet.

We'll see how it goes.

Never a dull moment.

Just another day in paradise.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


Life keeps on rolling along here.  Just like yours I'm sure.  Having all five kids home during the day this summer has been fine.  In fact, I've quite enjoyed it.  It's been fun to sit around and read all together, go on walks every night, swim most afternoons and water the garden.  We've been keeping up with school work too and I don't have a difficult time keeping the laundry going since I'm home a lot.  During the school year, it's hard to get everything done in between school runs.

So it's been great.

But I am also starting to itch for that fall routine to start.  I have been sending the kids outside numerous times a day to try and help them burn their energy off.  It works...for a time.  But really, they need to get out and conquer the world.  They're ready to get back to school.

We haven't done all that much this summer.  We didn't have any crazy vacation.  And really, we've hardly left our house here because Steve has been taking our reliable car into work every day (he's been working at an internship for the summer-more on that another time).  For a few weeks we borrowed his mom's car while his parents were on vacation but, for over half the time, I've been car-less.

Truly, it's been okay.  It's been simple.

We've had friends come to visit.  Their presence revived us big time.  To be known and loved deeply for so many years by encouraging friends is such a blessing.  Our cup overflows.  We've gone out on numerous date nights (four in a row...I think we set a record).  We've had great talk time, just Steve and me.  In a lot of ways, though it hasn't been glamorous, it's been glorious and exactly what we needed post grad school. Although I hardly have a spare moment to write, since all of my little people are always around and life is full, but it's still good.

It's also been empty at times.  Another set of very special friends moved across the country at the beginning of the summer.  Our hearts were broken again.  But even though we've longed to see them and be near all of the close, special friends, God has blessed our lives with, we also know, heaven is coming.  No more good-byes.  We will see them again.  Lord willing in this lifetime.

We are truly thankful for the eight years we had together, living down the street, raising our kids together, having pizza together and a movie most Friday nights, talking on the phone daily, snagging the drive-by carpool pick-up/drop-off conversation and just being with people who knew everything about us but loved us anyway...yeah.  I don't think I've allowed myself to truly mourn their departure.  I keep thinking they will walk through the door. There's a pretty big whole in our lives with them gone but, God is faithful.  Life goes on but it's not the same. We are happy for them and are rooting for them in their new adventure.  Just sad for ourselves.

On a happier note, this last weekend we did go camping with Steve's side of the family.  It was a lot of fun.  Of course, since Nathan was in tow, neither Steve nor I got much sleep (mostly due to the baby being cold at night).  However, the big kids did great, slept like champs, played all day with their cousins and I can see how camping will be a really relaxing vacation in the years to come.  In fact, it was pretty relaxing this time, just a little lacking on the sleep.  Good thing Steve and I are so "seasoned" in the area of not sleeping now.  Many hours into the second night, we both looked at each other, laughed and prayed for daylight.  I'm so glad he's mine...he's my best friend.

On our way home Caleb asked me, "Mommy, how long does it take for a forest to grow?  Could we plant one in our backyard?"  After explaining how long it takes for trees to grow, he said, "Mommy, can I go live in the forest then?"  A boy after my own heart.  As we were hiking on Saturday, I grabbed Steve's hand and said, "This is the life for me.  Someday, let's live in the mountains."  So refreshing to go spend time there.  I absolutely love it.

In other news, the kids and I have been memorizing a passage of scripture together this summer.  We haven't been faithful to learn a verse everyday but, we have made some headway in Ephesians 4.  This morning, I was reminding all of the kids why we put God's word in our hearts-how through hiding God's word in our hearts, we are able to avoid sin and know right from wrong.  "I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you."  Psalm 119:11

Isaac went off on some cute little tangent about hiding it deep in our hearts so that we could find it later. Caleb piped up and said, "But not too deep because if it's too deep, then Jesus won't be able to find it."  Oh how I love these kids!  They are all so precious to me.  From little Nathan who just took his first steps a few weeks ago to Elliana who just this morning requested her Cinderella dress and a dance with her biggest brother, to Joshua who walks around quoting the Hobbit movie, to Caleb who is always thinking deep thoughts about something, to my oldest who has such an intuitive, mature thought process about life...I am truly blessed.

Even though our summer has been simple and spent mostly at home, it's been full of life, love, definitely bickering at times, some loss, and joy.

Just another perfect summer that God has Given. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Tolkien, Our Anniversary and Safeway

We've had an eventful day.  Heck everyday is eventful.  It started so mellow and sweet.  This morning one of the girls from Cross Country visited.  Can I just say it now, I love this girl.  Such a great kid.  Everytime I get to hang out with her, I love every minute of it.  I'm blessed to know her.

By the way, Saturday was our 11th Anniversary so we went out to dinner at the Red House in Pacific Grove.  Best place ever.  Amazing.  Can't believe we've completed the first year of our second decade married.

Back to today...while she was here and afterward, there was a lot of playing.  You know, like this with big blankets stuffed into shirts.  

Here is Joshua dressed up as Bombur from the Hobbit.  Isaac read the book earlier in the summer and the boys have seen the movie.  All summer they've slowly been working on a Hobbit play.  Now when I say, "working on" I mean that Isaac has been walking around with a clipboard organizing, Caleb has been quizzically devising sets and props (machines) to be used throughout the show, and Joshua has been having a blast dressing up in the costumes.

Totally typical of all their personalities.

They've also been having quite a bit of fun (mostly fun, sometimes tears) practicing sword fighting.  Their sword fighting is quite comical.  Swoosh, whoosh, and a few high-ya's have snuck in there while they serenely prance around the house with their swords in hand.

As an aside, my husband swears that boys are better than girls at sound effects.  I know there can be the occasional exception to the rule, but I have to agree with him.  Okay...don't get all huffy...get your big girl panties and big boy panties on here.  Think about it.  He's not trying to be a sexist, just a realist.  In fact, every year, while studying some aspect of Physics-I think the Doppler Effect, he always asks his classes who they think can make better sound effects, boys or girls.  And then they compete.  He says, that it's hilarious because that is one area the girls just can't one-up the guys in.  They are toe to toe, even better than the guys in other areas but, sound effects, boys just own them.

Having four boys and one girl has only proven this whole aspect over and over to me.  My boys are good at these things.  Sometimes I am amazed at the grunts, tricks and sounds that come out of their mouths. However, Elliana is amazing at talking.  The way she explains herself at three, blows me away.  She knows her feelings and everything.  They're not always good feelings but, they're feelings nonetheless.

I love it.  We're all truly different from the get-go.  You'd think Elle would be really good at sound effects, considering the exposure she has to practicing them but, her little vrooms don't hold a candle.  Ha ha ha.

Okay, aside aside,back to this hilariousness.  The Hobbit Play is just one of many schemes the oldest child has come up with in the last year.  He loves to organize (I mean boss in a nice way) events.  Pretty much none of it has amounted to anything but he doesn't care.  It's the process, it's the organization itself that is fascinating to him.  Usually it involves a clipboard, a pencil and a relentless spirit trying to bamboozle any poor soul that comes into his path to be a part of his new idea.  This current project has his whole school (many of them don't know it yet) a part of his play at the Monte Vista small gym on August 10th.  In all reality, if the play gets performed, it will be for us, in our backyard with all of the brothers and maybe Elle if she's interested at the time.

One of my favorite parts of this scheme has been the random costumes.  They had to try on three different shirts to finally get one that would allow that big of a blanket to be stuffed into it.  They asked for one of Steve's but I steered them to some different choices at that point.  This is what they came up with.  This picture reminds me of some sort of twisted rendition of Charlie's Angels.  Not sure what's going on here.

People it is never dull here.  For instance, today we went to the store.  This sort of outing is very normal for me and not stressful.  But for some reason, the boys were bouncing off the walls.  They weren't disobedient, just loud.  "Mommy!  Look, watermelons!  Look!!  Look!!  Apples!!"  You would think I didn't feed them.  It was as if they were seeing fruit for the first time.  I finally got them to mellow once I reminded them of the consequences of their boisterous (and overly loud/rude) overtures in the middle of the produce section.

Then we got to the check-out where Elle proudly announced she had to pee.  Normally she can hold it for a few minutes upon her proclamation.  However, I had a flashback to our stop at the gas station just prior to the store where she had gulped down half the contents of my huge Nalgene water bottle and I quickly realized if I didn't get her to the bathroom quick, she was going to anoint the runway there with pee.  Right as I put all this together, the checker walked away from the checkstand to check on something I was purchasing.

I looked pleadingly at the bag boy, entered my bank card, told Elle 10 times to hold it and frantically looked around  for the checker.  Meanwhile, the boys had found a movie on Red Box and were all grabbing onto my arms wanting me to "see" it (i.e. get it for them).  I ignored them for the good of Elle, coaching her to keep her legs crossed and then realized, I had no other option...I had to get her to the bathroom.

The bag boy urged  me saying, "I'll tell her you'll be right back and I'll stay with the cart."  I glanced back at the ten people behind me in line and realized right then that I was a spectacle.  Oh well, we're always a spectacle walking around with five kids.  Might as well live up to the hype this time.  I sprinted to the bathroom with Elle in my arms.  Once there, I discovered that all three stalls were full and there was a line.  And from the smell of it, the inhabitants had been doing their business for a bit and weren't coming out anytime soon.

I didn't know what to do.  I had left everything, all the boys including the baby who was strapped into the cart, in the care of the poor bag boy.  Luckily I had put my card in and already paid.  Once the checker came back, she could finish the transaction and just put our stuff aside.  Finally after what seemed like an eternity, one person came out of the stall and the person waiting in front of me nicely let us go.

I was terrified at what I'd find when I got back yet knew I had to face the music.  I had left all of them without a word to hopefully keep Elle from peeing her pants.  However, I was pleasantly surprised.  All of the boys were standing right next to the cart entertaining Nathan, the checker had JUST returned (what took her so long I don't know) and I only got stared down by a few older males.  The lady right behind us was the sweetest older woman who just beamed at me and said, "I had five too.  Such precious kids."  Thank God.

I took the stare downs, smiled, grabbed my kids and exited as fast as possible...after getting a refill of Coke Zero of course.

So yeah...The Hobbit, a visit from a sweet friend this morning and then the crazy check-out at Safeway.

Just another day.        

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Our World

We are in our own little world right now.  The husband has been working out of town and taking the car with him every day so, we've been hanging out at home.  And truth be told, I am loving it.  I know I'm not going anywhere so, we just float through the day.  No crazy commitments.  No places to be at certain times.  Total and complete simplicity.  It's great.
The kids are doing great with it too.  We've done a lot of playing outside, going to the pool, chores, baseball at the nearby field, and school work at the table.  No hurrying up to get out the door.  For a time, it's a nice pace.  We have plenty of time for all of that once school starts again.
I'm enjoying all of these precious kids a lot.  Elliana recently started drawing family pictures.  They totally crack me up.  On the first one she had missed someone so, this second one is a complete composite of all of us.  I didn't show her how to do it.  She just did those little figures with the faces all by herself.  Hilarious.  Daddy is smack dab in the middle.  Makes sense right?
 I am loving every minute with this cutie.  I can't believe we've had him for almost a whole year.  Everyday when I wake him up and he greets me with his whole body wriggling to get in my arms, I just melt.
He is so loved.  I smother him with kisses everyday.  All the rest of the kids do too.  Who says kids get lost in big families?  This kid has it good!!
 I mean, look at that cheeky little smile...cracks me up every single time.
My oldest is going to kill me later on in life for posting this picture.  But I had to.  It was just too funny.  Steve has been teaching Isaac a bit of guitar and so, he's been practicing-everywhere.  Poor kid though; we need to get some new strings for the guitars.  They're both missing strings.  Kinda hard to learn much when you don't have all the strings.

Speaking of killing me later, this hilarious kid is always dirty.  It's usually the result of making some sort of machine.  This time was no different.  He was experimenting with blowing dirt and what resulted was a Hitler-like mustache.  When I saw this, I had to grab my camera.  He had no idea how funny he looked.  I know it's bad form to joke about something like that but, sometimes I must laugh at my kids.  They're so funny without even trying.
As for funny, this kid is keeping us in stitches.  The other night at dinner he was being really funny but also totally disobedient.  My poor husband, instead of helping him out as he's trying to correct him, I just burst out laughing and couldn't stop.  I USUALLY don't do that, but it was too much.  Just too much.  Love that cutie.
So that's what is going on in our world.  Not that much.  But really a lot.  Hope you're enjoying your summer.  Ours is going along quite swimmingly.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

All is Grace

Kim...this is for you.

A sweet friend came to visit today.  It had been some time.  She lives a few hours away and we've both been busy having kids or something.  Ha!  But anyway, I love catching up with old friends and today was no exception.  Of course, most of the time, the kids were running around and it was a bit difficult to keep the conversation fluid in between slips and falls, sibling fighting and little people wanting to tell their own stories, but somewhere in there, we got to catch up.  I loved seeing her beautiful face and hearing how she's doing.  She will always have a special place in my heart, that girl.

This friend of mine has two little ones.  Oh my, I remember those times.  People look at me with five children and think it must be so difficult.  I'm not going to lie, it is hard.  It's also easy too.  In fact, I think every part of parenting is hard, joyous and crazy all rolled into one.  But I remember two littles.  It's not easy.  In some respects is a free time with very little outside activities or school to attend.  But you have to do everything for them.  There aren't older ones there who can do most things for themselves and help with the others, mostly in the entertainment area.  My kids all play together.

And then that got me thinking about how when I started this whole parenting thing nearly eight years ago, I stepped out in faith.  Total and utter faith.  I had no idea how it would all turn out.  I didn't know (and still don't) if God will call me to bury one my own children, if they will grow up to be faithful, if they will love each other, or if they will succeed in the paths God will put them on.  It's all so risky.  And even more, it's really hard.

Just like love.

So often in our culture, if something is difficult, it must not be right.  We don't want pain.  We don't want difficulty.  We feel it's our right to be happy.

But that's not what God says.  He tells us, "Take up your cross!!"

"And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me."  Luke 9:23

I'm sorry but, dragging a huge cross in pursuit of the Savior doesn't sound that easy to me.  It sounds heavy.  Yet in a strange "oxymoronic" way, this is the path to life.  For without us taking up our cross, we cannot love.  We cannot give.  We cannot have faith.  We cannot see how God works through our circumstances.  But we must be willing to bear the weight and pull.  And if we love Him, we will do it, and in the doing, it will be joy.  Not happiness, but joy.

That's how the last eight years have been for me.  This isn't about me.  I think it is sometimes.  But then I'm reminded.  Pull, Nikki.  Work, Nikki.  Put your head down and trust.  Loving those I've been given can be treacherous, dangerous, tiresome and even really monotonous.  Okay.  Yet over time, the joy that is produced far outweighs any fast and furious high I could find out there in the world that just ends in emptiness.

Loving others is hard.  Loving others is not loving yourself.  That's only leads to destruction.  Giving yourself away is what it's about.  That's when God comes in with His supernatural power and shows that it's All Grace anyway.

I want to be the best mom and do it all right.  But I'm not going to.  More than wanting to do it all right, I just need to be faithful.  Faithful to Christ, to my marriage, to my kids and those around me.  In that faithfulness, I have to embrace the hard work knowing that it's producing fruit in the short term and the long term.  And then, as I go, I have to remember...all is grace.  The fact that I even have my life, is grace.

All is grace.  All is grace.

Thursday, June 20, 2013


Well, we've fallen into the summer routine and it feels good.  Most mornings are a bit lazy.  We get up, do our chores, have breakfast and then the kids play a bit.  After that, we settle into some school time while Nathan naps.  The older two can track their work on their own now so there isn't as much management there.  I answer questions now and then and check work at the end.  But they are low maintenance.  Joshua needs the most attention as we prep for Kindergarten.  He is getting so much better at his printing and is starting to blend sounds together to form words.
Looking for the baby horses at Cal Poly
I am not a homeschooler and truly love having my kids attend an awesome classical christian school near us.  However, I have LOVED teaching my kids at home in addition to their school education and so far, I have wanted to be the one to initially teach them to read.  It's selfish really.  Their school does an amazing job backing me up.  But there is just something about seeing my child's eyes light up when they make the correlation between the sounds on the page and the word that they form.  So incredible.  A whole new world opens up to them!  Literacy is truly a blessing from God!  Seeing their little minds work is a gift.  Joshua has been no exception.  I am really enjoying him and school this summer, and am super pleased with his progress.

Once everyone has completed their bit of lessons for the day, they either jump on the trampoline or watch a short little movie while I get dressed and finish up any other things around the house like starting bread to rise or getting laundry loaded/switched.  Nathan usually is up before long (with a full house of kids it's hard for him to get a super long nap) and then we are off on some sort of outing or errand.

I love this pace.  It's so wonderful.  It's free.  It's "scheduled" yet, feels unscheduled.  It's not hurried.  And it's refreshing.

However, too much of this life won't work for me either.  There is something to summer being a season.  It's restful.  But when August rolls around, I am usually ready to start the year again.  Ready to put away the long, lazy days outside and exchange them for chillier weather, the holidays and the pressure of school (good kind of pressure that is).
They're all staring into the sun so no smiles...ha!
I've always loved school.  There is something magical about it to me.  So the fall is a good time.  A celebratory time.  A time to get back to learning and our routine-for all of us.

So I have been thinking about the seasons.  How will my kids remember summer?  Full of activity?  Excess extras?  Or just fun stuff like camping, playing outside all day, the pool and sometimes the beach (truth be told, I am horrible at getting my poor children to the beach and we only live 20 minutes away...I know it's pathetic...it's cleaning everyone up afterward by myself that is daunting; being there is great...when I don't have a baby someday, it'll be better).  I think that's how I want them to remember it...a muddled mess of math/cursive workbooks, mud, watering the garden, reading good books out loud, running to the store and getting a cookie from the bakery, and just all being together.  I love having them all home!

It's full.  It's active.  It's bursting!

It's life.

Summer is the perfect amount of rest needed to get through the rigors of life coming later in the year.

Summertime and the living is easy....sing it Ella!!


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Celebration

Aaaahhhh...some quiet.  Some respite.  Some time to WRITE!  I feel like I've been lacking in any time to write a coherent thought these days.  And every time I think about sitting down, the guilt of not writing sets in and tells me to put it off another day.

But alas, today I am determined.  The big boys are at the baseball field playing, the little people are sleeping, the husband is in a meeting and my house is perfectly still.  This may only last for five more minutes but, I am going to take advantage of the quiet as long as I can!
Us with the diploma.  Since it was such an odd and huge size, we had to get it custom framed.  Worth it.  Turned out beautiful.
This last month has been a whirlwind.  A whirlwind of Steve graduating from Texas A & M, the boys finishing out the school year, Steve graduating another class of seniors, parent/child illnesses, having fun outside, getting used to the summer routine, saying good-bye to some best friends who have moved across the country and best of all...putting on the biggest, best graduation party we could to honor Steve finishing up his masters.
Just as the party is getting started and sun is beginning to wane...a little glimpse.
Truth be told, that is what took most of time.  Yup, the graduation celebration.  It was seriously the perfect night.  Whenever I think about it, I smile from ear to ear.  There are a few days that stand out to us over the last eleven years as special days.  Of course, the births of our children are up there.  But this night ranks right up there with the best of them.

Let me tell you a little bit about it.
My sister-in-law captured this and called it the "Pic of the Night."  I quite agree!  Steve told me that there haven't been many nights when he's been happier.  
I started planning this party months in advance.  Seriously.  Months.  It was one of the things that kept me going during that last semester of thesis and the final push/last class.  I kept thinking, "Ooooh, I will incorporate that into the party."  Or, "We need to have that at the party."  It was like planning Christmas in July.  I kept a running list of all of my ideas.  It was so much fun and kept my eyes on the prize.
My Daddy and me.  His beautiful backyard was the setting of the party.
As graduation got closer, there were moments when we seriously considered flying out to Texas and having Steve walk.  Especially when we found out he was graduating with honors and was inducted into Phi Kappa Phi etc.  It was so hard to keep getting emails regarding all the graduation honors dinners, ceremonies and not be going!  But the price tag was too high for all of us to attend.  So we kept telling ourselves, "We're going to throw a huge party instead and it will be the perfect celebration!"

And it was truly perfect.  Okay, I didn't have time to do my hair beforehand but other than that, it all went so incredibly well!  God blessed us.  We couldn't have asked for a better night.

One of the things that made the night perfect was the people who attended.  Of course I would've loved to invite the world!  But we had limited space and even more limited parking so, we had to work with it.  The guests were amazing though.  We had friends who drove hours to be there.  Some were very pregnant, some literally in the middle of a huge cross-country move, others in the throes of med school.  Some like my little brother, came from the other end of the state.  A lot of Steve's family drove from the Bay Area or took precious time off work.  And many of our local friends, who have lots of little kids, had to get babysitters which is expensive and can be difficult!  So our guests blessed us tremendously by just being there.  And we were so grateful!  It was a great group!
Everyone mingling
Best buddy Andy, as the party is just getting started.
Here are some of the decorations.  One of the things that was really important to me was incorporating Steve's work into the party.  I didn't think everyone would want a replay of his thesis presentation but, I did think they might wonder what a Masters in Mathematics really might look like.  So I got out his old notebooks full of problems he had worked out over the years and I used those pages to decorate.  I made bulletin boards out of them, I made table runners, and his textbooks became the centerpieces.
Bulletin board of scratch work with family pictures
Family pics in the trees
So.much.fun.  These little elements gave a personal touch to all of the decorations. I also incorporated as many family pictures as I could.  I just stole the framed pictures from my own walls, tied them up with some ribbon and then hung them in the trees.  The pictures and the pom poms made the whole night really festive and perfect.  I am not crafty.  Truly, I am NOT.  And I am cheap.  Most of the decorations I either had lying around my house (the mason jars, math stuff, etc...) or I got them at the Dollar Store.  So I was pretty proud and relieved with how it all turned out.  
Table runners, luminaries and cloth napkins tied with one of Maxwell's Equations
Steve's spot with good ole Maxwell at this side!
I also had a ton of help prior to the party, the day of setting up and during the party as well.  Both my mom and Steve's mom watched the children for me so that I could get errands done the week before.  Both of my brothers helped BBQ the sausages.  My sister-in-law and a friend took pictures.  Steve's sister helped me set-up beforehand and finish with all of the final push stuff like getting the kids dressed.  Unbelievable!  My parents cleaned and prepared their house for tons of guests.  Friends and family prepared appetizers and donated tables and chairs.  One friend spent an afternoon helping me make pom poms.  Another got me all of the linens for free from a contact she had.  Other friends drove from really far away.  The list goes on and on.  And I'm still forgetting someone, I know it!  All of the help we had was amazing.  And we were so grateful!
Pete going strong on the BBQ
The lights that made the party look amazing!  Those lights were a labor of love.  My Dad, Steve and my brother Pete spent two hours that day hanging them up.
Guests listening to me give a history of the masters.  How we got started and some of the highlights from the last three and a half years.
Our oldest, taking in the diploma.
Guests enjoying dinner and each other.  I was really intent on assigned seating.  I felt it would really add to the night so that people would know where to go and who to sit with.  Most people commented what a fun time they had at their table.
Probably one of the most special parts of the night though, came in the speeches.  After I gave my little History of the Masters, I let the guests eat a bit and then I gave some stats from the Masters.  A little history in numbers you might say.  That was something I had worked on for months.  I approximated how many cups of coffee he probably bought at Starbucks (about 688) or how many hours he spent studying (about 2128 hours), etc...It was really fun to bring our guests into our world over the last three and a half years through those stats.  That was one of my favorite parts.  Steve had no idea I was doing it either which made it even more fun.      
Nathan and me giving the stats.
But even more special were the speeches.  One of Steve's best friends and fellow MV colleague, gave him a beautiful speech honoring him for his hard work.  Seriously made me cry.  So beautiful.
Devin giving his speech.
 Then one of Steve's best friends from Cal Poly got up and read a poem he had written to Steve.  Amazing.  I pretty much lost it at that point.  So, so special.
Andy's poem
And then, the most special of all, is that Steve got up and gave me a thank you speech for all of the hard work, for the encouragement, and for believing in him.  I'll never forget him saying, "While I was out solving these massive, difficult, extremely intricate math problems, Nikki was solving every other problem around me so that I was free to do what God has built me to do."  I'll never forget those words to me-ever.
Steve thanking me for being his biggest fan and support during it all.  To me, it was a pleasure to see him fly.
 After all of the speeches, guests were dismissed to watch a slide show put together by one of our buddies here at Monte Vista, while the cake was being cut.  I'll try and get that slide show up on the blog soon.  It was so perfect and really captured the journey we had been on and all that God had helped us accomplish.

Our favorite cake in the world with Maxwell on it.  A perfect ending to a perfect night.
It was a beautiful, incredible, God honoring, Steve-celebrating kind of night.  I wouldn't have changed one thing.  From the babysitters who helped watch our children, to the shuttle drivers helping people get parked, every detail seemed to go off without a hitch.  And most of all, my husband felt totally and completely blessed beyond measure.

Thankful for these past three and a half years.  Thankful for the Masters.  Thankful  to God for blessing us through the difficulties and the seemingly endless journey with love, perseverance, a sense of humor and grace that could only come from Him.

Congrats Steve!  We love you.  You ran the race well...looking forward to all God is going to bring through your hard work.