Riggins Life (at home)

My girls and I took a nice leisurely walk–at the pace of Becca’s short legs–down our road to the stop sign and back home again.  We nearly made it to our driveway when both girls wandered into the barrow pit at commenced digging and sifting through the dirt.  My attempts to entice them back to the road and back home were largely ignored.  I found myself a nice broken piece of concrete, downloaded the latest episode of the Read Aloud Revival Podcast, and plopped down to observe the playing and catch up on some listening.

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Amid Sarah Mackenzie’s voice, I could hear snippets of my girls’ conversation.

“Becca, isn’t this just like Riggins Life?”

“Yeah.”

“Riggins Life is the best life, huh?”

“Yeah.”

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Apparently playing in the dirt is something unique to Riggins Life.  I guess we need a sandbox.

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The Ending of Graduate School

Sometimes I really worry that my children are not learning enough or receiving enough attention from me.  This past year of graduate school has been especially demanding, and increases in outside-of-the-home-obligations like storytime, Joy School, Sunday School teaching, Relief Society, and the ever growing ranch have really drained and depleted me as a wife and mother.  We have spent much more time watching TV this year, and far less time reading together, playing together, assembling puzzles, or doing something science-related.  I have changed from the kind of mom who limited screen time to one hour per day maximum and read one hour per day minimum to my children, to the kind of mom who allows a lot more than one hour per day of screens and sometimes misses a day of reading to my kids.  That’s hard for me to type!  I really have skipped days of reading anything with my children, and skipped even more days of reading anything that was not scripture with my kids.

Now, believe me, I am aware that my children are very, very young, and that there are many more days, weeks, months, and years for them to learn and become well-educated human beings.  But the reality is that my identity as a mother is one of reading aloud every day, playing with play dough (or something similar) every day, and being totally present and engaged for some period of time Every. Single. Day.  So to admit that I have not been that kind of mother for many, many days over the past year is the admittance of my own failure to live true to who I am and who I want to be.

Alas, graduate school is nearly complete.  I am eight solid pages into writing my forty page thesis and enjoying every moment of the writing/researching process.  I much prefer writing-heavy coursework than reading-heavy coursework.  Not that I don’t love reading, but I really, really love to write.  But I digress.

My point is that graduate school is almost over, and with it, the stress of splitting my attention 5 million different directions is almost over as well!  Sort of.  You see, I am no stranger to the phenomenon which occurs right when you complete a big project which has consumed hours and hours of time.  Upon completion of said project, you should now have hours and hours of free time, right?  Nope.  Not even close.  Something, somehow always sweeps in and fills that time, in a matter of moments one big project is traded in for another.  So while I am not counting on magically transforming back into Super-mom, reading hours a day from classics, baking cookies weekly, and teaching my children Latin, Spanish, and French before age five, I am thrilled to have my attention  and my precious early-morning and nap-time to use for pursuits/rejuvenation other than graduate work.

And do you want to know something utterly mind-boggling???  Not all the changes and shifts from my self-imposed Super-Mom requirements have been negative.

What?  My control-freak, self-exhausting tendencies don’t make the world go round? Ha.

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For example, my busyness has led to more independence from my girls.  Becca has learned to be quite content thumbing through picture books all by her little self.  Henley has learned to “read” books to herself and to Becca, to peel carrots, to make chocolate milk, to set the table, to tend Becca while they are playing outside, and to do about a thousand other chores around the house.  And, probably my most favorite, Ty has stepped up his game as Daddy and secondary educator in our family.  Here he is teaching Henley how to make a collage and keeping Becca entertained with some light paperwork.

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I cannot express how happy these photos make me.  I am so happy that even though Becca is not receiving the same focused attention, reading, teaching, and guiding that Henley received at that young age, she is still ridiculously advanced, precocious, and in-love with books and learning.  I am amazed at Henley’s growth since she became a big sister.  She is a very capable little girl with a wonderful imagination, deep mind, and overwhelming intensity for her passions.  IMG_6290

Most wonderful of all, Ty and I are more united in what we want from our family.  He has been incredibly supportive all throughout school, and he was the one who encouraged me to keep going when I really wanted to quit.  He has learned to read stories to the girls with all the right voices and inflections to suit their particular literary taste.  He has listened to endless soliloquies about child development, and even longer rants about stress and exhaustion.

So many things about the past two years have been very hard and very discouraging.  I have learned things about myself that I would honestly rather not know.  And I’ve learned some things which amaze and inspire me.  However, the principle lesson I have learned is that my family is full of remarkable people.

Also, I’m no Super-Mom and life is better that way.

New Traditions: Family Home Evening

Our primary takeaway, as a family, from General Conference is that we need to hold Family Home Evening once a week.  This is not a new admonition, or better phrased invitation from the Prophet, but it is something we have struggled with and largely ignored in our home.  Still, in an effort to show our children that we follow the Prophet’s counsel (really the Lord’s counsel) both Mr. Rancher and I have tried to incorporate one evening a week of learning the Gospel of Jesus Christ and fun as a family.

Here is our first attempt at such a night.

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In preparation for FHE, I printed copies of our family mission statement, purchased red marking pencils and small spiral notebooks, and assembled the aforementioned with scriptures, regular pencils, and the framed copy of our mission statement and motto onto our kitchen table.  Ty conducted and assigned Henley to say our prayer and selected a song for us to sing.  I then jumped in with our lesson on what it means to be part of the Ty, Rachel, Henley and Becca Hawkins family and we read through and discussed our mission statement and motto.  We read a scripture in Mosiah (Book of Mormon) about families and ended with our motto (Hawkins Have Fun!), prayer, and playing outside and a movie.IMG_6244

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We’ve met for one more FHE since our first and it was a smashing success as well!  A few things I attribute our success to:

  1. Ty (the father) is totally on-board and co-operative.
  2. I (the mother) take primary responsibility for planning and teaching the lesson, with the support of Ty.
  3. Everyone has their own materials.  Becca spends FHE chewing on her pencil or ripping pages from her notebook, which I’m fine with.  So long as she sits at the table for the fifteen minutes and is quiet, I don’t care what she’s doing!
  4. We eat something very simple for dinner.  To date: ramen noodles and frozen pizza.  Both are kid-friendly, easy-peasy to make, and quick to clean up.  Mama has to have energy and pep to make FHE successful and nothing drains those faster than cooking and cleaning.
  5. We only meet for 15 minutes of formal learning.
  6. We spent a month developing our mission statement.  It is a process and doesn’t happen overnight.
  7. We admit that we are trying to form a new habit and commit to listening to the Prophet’s counsel.
  8. Everyone can contribute and all ideas are treated as valid.  Henley taught FHE this week, on the 10 commandments, and had some interesting commentary on why we shouldn’t steal…but it was her lesson and nothing she said was false doctrine so we went with what she had to say.
  9. It’s fall-time and Ty is able to be home in the evening.  No joke, FHE will be much harder in the summer.
  10. Heavenly Father is blessing us for making this offering of our time and energy to follow Him.  We don’t have it perfect yet and are still very new to this whole thing, but I know He has blessed us for our efforts thus far.

General Conference October 2018

Thanks to a challenge from Carleen Tanner, we put much greater effort into our preparation for General Conference this year.  For those of you who are not members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, General Conference happens twice a year, in April and October, and is the primary forum where the prophet, apostles, and other district leaders speak to the entire congregation of the church (really to the whole world, the broadcasts are public) regarding what the Lord wants us to be doing.  Sounds great, right?  The downside is that these proceedings last for 8-10 hours…

Small children, fairly mono-tone speeches on doctrinal topics, speckled with singing of hymns accompanied by pipe-organ music, for 8-10 hours…

Not so great.  This is a photo of our efforts last April, as you can see there are toys strewn everywhere and varying levels of concentration from all members of the family.

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This time around we put considerable more effort into preparing for Conference.  I went grocery shopping, all alone, to stock up on candy and junk food to use as brain-power and bribery and successfully secreted away my stash until the big reveal on Saturday morning.  We also clipped photos of the General Authorities from the Ensign and framed or posted them in high-traffic areas of our home.

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Okay, so Miss Becca looks absolutely miserable, but it wasn’t from the Conference preparation!  She was in the midst of cutting four teeth, a high fever, and nasty cold at the time of this photo.  She really did enjoy looking at the pictures.

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Once we had the pictures up, we went through each Prophet/Apostle individually and learned about their lives, families, work interests, and church service.  We selected one phrase to describe each one and wrote it on the whiteboard.IMG_6141

Then as each one stepped up to the pulpit, we were able to say “Oh! That’s Elder Gong, he and his wife like to paint murals with children wherever they visit!”  This tiny tidbit of information really helped us relate to the speakers and pay more attention to their words.  Henley was especially excited to see the speakers she recognized–we only studied the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, perhaps next time we’ll add in the auxiliary leaders and seventies as well.  IMG_6163

As you can also see, we had considerably fewer toys out, cluttering our floor.  I printed pages for the girls to color or take notes and cleared the white board for coloring.  Other than that and food, we kept the living room fairly free of distractions.IMG_6164IMG_6194 (1)

I am truly amazed at how restful, uplifting, and inspiring General Conference was for me and for my family.  Our preparation was truly minimal, and required only small changes to our day-to-day schedule, but it yielded wondrous results.  I am grateful for the challenge from Sister Tanner to increase my preparation to receive the words of the Lord through his Prophet.  I will continue to improve my efforts to learn and grow and create meaningful, fun, uplifting, and bonding family experiences through church programs.  Sometimes I get caught in the rut of feeling burdened by Church and the responsibilities it places on me and my family; however, if I can change my mindset and view the responsibilities as opportunities to create new traditions and have fun, then everyone enjoys the experience and learns more from it.

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Pringles are not my favorite chip, but even I can’t deny they are very fun to eat!

Becca’s Birthday

Ohhhhhh Miss Becca.  What a year it has been (technically 13.5 months) since you’ve joined our little family.  You’ve challenged me in entirely different and strikingly similar ways as your older sister.  You’ve added such an element of structure, joy, and unity to our family.  It’s been rough, at times, but also so wonderfully sweet at others.

It is fun to have at least one member of my little nuclear family that has a birthday in the summer.  Even though Miss Becca only turned one, and that is not really the funnest birthday for cousins, friends, whoever is not intimately involved with the child, we decided to invite a bunch of cousins for a fun pool/outdoor party.  Becca was overwhelmed with the sheer number of people packed into our tiny house but she enjoyed cruising around outside and watching the chaos of ten kids in a water trough pool.

She would not taste her cake, not at all.  But she did help me make the frosting and had a few licks off the spatula.  The candle was mesmerizing and she needed some help to get it blown out.  After her party, the presents were super fun, but during the fact there were too many helping hands (cousins, BIG SISTER) to really enjoy the novelty of the books and toys.

We’re pretty lucky to have such a fiesty one-year-old in our house.  She’s going to be a very strong and independent woman one day.  For now, she’s trying to be the tyrant of our family, and we’re working hard on teaching and guiding her to accommodate the other three people that live here.

We love you Becca Boo!

Cooling Off

Summers around here are HOT.  Triple digit weather for days and days and nights that don’t drop below 85* make for a hot couple of weeks/months.  We have spent so much time in the water this summer trying to beat the heat.  Water slides, pools made from straw bales and plastic, or a simple tote filled with water straight from the hose, we’re not picky about the water!

Chasing Turkeys

A few months ago, we went on a family outing to check our freshly sprouted corn fields and ended up chasing wild turkeys instead.  There are an abundance of wild turkeys around here every spring and Mr. Rancher has a knack for gobbling just perfectly so the toms will gobble back to him.  We all got a kick out of the gobbling match our guy got into with the toms.

And if this isn’t the best family picture we’ve ever taken, I don’t know what is.  Everyone is looking, three out of four smiling real, happy smiles, and the fourth isn’t crying.

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There’s the big tom, all fanned out.

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Reading Aloud

Update: My mom called to correct my memory.  Apparently I was 4 or 5 when I got my first library card.  Once we learned to tie our shoes, my mom took me and my siblings in to get our own library cards.  This very grown-up card was our reward for learning a life skill.  This is a perfect example of using books/reading/positive characteristics as a reward for good behavior.  Sometimes the reward of behaving well is the good behavior itself, but sometimes we as parents have to come up with more material sorts of rewards.  Books, library visits, personal library cards for little people can all be great ways to reinforce both good behavior and the importance of reading with our children.  Thanks, Mom, for your awesome example!

 

In case you didn’t know, though I am nearly 100% positive that most of you do know, I am one of those crazy people who homeschools their children.

 

 

Have I lost you yet?  Probably not since most of you are family and stuck with me anyways!  So to re-cap, I am homeschooling my kiddos and since they are not school-age yet most of the schooling around here centers on reading aloud.  Two of my very favorite things lately include the Read Aloud Revival podcast/all things Sarah Makenzie and this book by Jim Trelease.

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I grew up in a family of readers and my parents read aloud to me and my siblings regularly when we were little.  I had a library card from the time I was 7 or 8 years old and my siblings and I always participated in the summer reading program. I read voraciously through elementary school (I had the most AR points by a long ways, I don’t remember exactly how much but I’m guessing about 200 or so ahead of the next high reader) and middle school but slowed down in high school due to extracurriculars and high school classes plus college classes and the textbooks that come with them.  My undergraduate degree in Family Life and Human Development taught me the importance of reading to children and the statistics reflecting the higher academic achievement of children who are read to from birth to age 5.  When Henley was born I started reading simple board books to her and we began attending storytime when she was 13 months old.  My own life experiences with reading and books and the evidence of advancement (large vocabulary, understanding complex ideas, speaking in complete sentences, creative storytelling) I have seen in my own child already set me up to value reading aloud to children.

Then I stumbled upon the Read Aloud Revival Podcast.  The host, Sarah Makenzie, interviews writers, illustrators, educators, and social scientists weekly about strategies and benefits of reading aloud to children.  She has a free booklist with suggestions of books that are especially lovely to read out loud (over and over again since young children like repetition).  Sarah also has a book called The Read Aloud Family: Making Meaningful and Lasting Connections with Your Kids through Books which compiles the information from the podcast and blog into one easy to read and reference format.  I love Sarah’s take on homeschooling, parenting, and life.  And I love that she introduced me to Jim Trelease’s Read Aloud Handbook.

Jim Trelease compiles and explains the research and benefits behind reading out loud to children, long after then can read themselves, and makes the case for reading aloud as the single-most important thing our nation, our communities, our families can do to raise test scores and, more importantly, raise education and character in our youth.  If I wasn’t already a believer in reading, and reading out loud specifically, the work of Sarah and Jim most certainly would have converted me.

Scenes like this make my heart so happy.

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Babies, very young babies, can learn to love and enjoy books and being read to, if only we will take the time and patience to do so.  Don’t worry about ripped pages, squirmy little humans, or constant interruptions.  All of these things are good and demonstrate a connection the child is making with the book.

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Another author I admire greatly Susan Wise Bauer stated “a few ripped pages are a small price for literacy,” in her book The Well-Trained Mind.

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I can’t agree more with this statement.  Reading aloud is a central part of the education going on in my home, actually its a central part of the home itself.  In our family, we read books together, in our home we read books together.  It’s part of who we are.

A like-minded friend, Dani, and I have started a storytime for children 0-3 years old at our local library.  We have tried to provide a fun, entertaining, and delightful experience to the families who have attended, and we’ve tried to educate parents on the importance of sharing stories with their kids and a few tips and tricks for doing so with young children.  It’s been such a fun and challenging experience to plan these storytimes and I have loved the creative outlet which allows me to share knowledge on a subject I am passionate about.

I highly recommend the work of Sarah Makenzie and Jim Trelease, local librarians and storytime programs, and reading aloud to your kids (even if they can read to themselves).

 

And thanks for letting me get down in writing that I am, in fact, a homeschooling mama.  They say the first step to overcoming addiction (or stress, I’m going to take the liberty of adding) is admitting you have a problem.  I have the problem of chronic over-scheduling and over-reaching and here I am admitting that I plan to take the entirety of my children’s education upon my own two shoulders.  With a lot of grace (and some very wonderful books, mentors, and extracurriculars) I think we’ll make it through all right.

Checking Calves and Fields

One Sunday this Winter/Spring, we spent the morning feeding cows and checking for new baby calves with Mr. Rancher.  That is one of the only scheduling perks I have found for church starting at 1 PM.  After feeding, we took the four-wheeler up on the hill to look for new babies.  This little cutie was settled in a sagebrush nest just across the ditch.

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What a unique and darling face this little calf has.  Henley was in love the moment she saw the calf, her love grew even more when the calf was content to lay their and be petted by the three-year-old cowgirl.

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I’m in love with the markings on this baby!IMG_5421

This calf was oddly friendly for a newborn range calf, he walked right up to Mr. Rancher to meet Becca.IMG_5425

Moments like these make me fall in love with Mr. Rancher all over again.  Not only is he the calf whisperer, but he’s including our little munchkins in the excitement and teaching them how to handle animals.  He’s also genuinely enjoyed meeting the newest baby and scratching its chin.  The passion Ty feels for caring for this bovine creatures is written all over his face.IMG_5429

After caring for the livestock we took a drive out Crane Creek to check on our fields of triticale.  Miss Becca took a nice long nap.IMG_5435

Henley chatted with us, ate graham crackers, and kept everyone smiling.  Bo let his hair blow in the breeze and kept a close eye on Mr. Rancher.IMG_5438

If you look closely you can see the slight green hue the field was turning.  IMG_5444

I’m always impressed when Ty feels the dirt, hay, oats, etc. and makes judgment calls about harvest readiness, irrigation needs, or predicts growth rates.  Farming is much more than simply plant, water, harvest, sell.  It’s an art as much as a science and all the farmers I know (trust me I know quite a few) take pride in their work as an art form not just as a business venture.  Farming is a way to make money, but its actually a way to lose incredible amounts of money very easily.  Farming isn’t about the money, though that certainly is important, it’s about the lifestyle, about the artistry of working with the earth and weather to harvest bounty against all odds, to tame and nourish ground that used to be barren, devoid of sustenance, and cultivate it into productive land.

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I also always notice Ty’s inability to take his eyes off the crops/fields/cows until absolutely necessary.  He’s always on the watch while walking or driving by fields.

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And he doesn’t look away until he absolutely has to.IMG_5450

Driving with him, may or may not, be a tad terrifying at times.

The Man of the House

These girls sure are lucky to have such a great daddy.

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He lets them crawl all over him and tickle, hit, roll, ride, jump, body-slam into him all while laughing, crying, growling, or whatever expression of noise is most appropriate.  The best time of day is when daddy comes home.  Hands down.  He’s always happy to see his girls after long, long days of work and always has just enough energy to play with them.IMG_5358

Can we just take a moment to talk about that “red” hat?  Mr. Rancher has had that hat since before we were married.  It is faded far from its original bright, cardinal, red color, is stained with oil, sweat, and dirt, and has been lost and found many times.  Whenever I think that hat has finally been lost for good, it always turns up again.  Mr. Rancher caught me trying to sneak it into the trash one day, do you want to know what he said?  (Okay, so that was a rhetorical question since I’m obviously going to tell you anyway, but I thought I’d try to be polite).  “That hat’s been in my life longer than you have, and it’s not about to leave.”

Well excuuuuuuuuuse me for caring about the way he dresses and the reflection is gives to my laundering and housekeeping skills.

Good thing he’s such a good daddy.  A good hubby too, if I’m being totally honest.  Just watch out if you try to clean out his closet or hat rack.  Holey, stained, too small, too big, ripped, or shredded items that most normal people would chuck at first glance are full of far too much sentimental value and “wearability” to be tossed in the trash or donation pile.

Wearability and fashion do not complement one another in this instance.

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So long as he keeps plunking himself on our living room floor to build cranes, trains, or airplanes with wooden toys and coming home with a smile on his face I can live with the sentimental attachment to old, wornout clothes.IMG_5946

Those clothes full of rips, tears, and stains sure are a testament to the incredible work ethic Mr. Rancher has.  Not only does he work LONG hours, but he nearly always has a smile on his face, time to help a neighbor, and an endlessly positive outlook on our future.

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He works hard with his hands, arms, back, with his entire body.  He places himself between the elements of nature, market swings, machinery breakdowns, irrigation mishaps, cattle obstinacy, financial stress, illness, and fatigue and takes the brunt of the storm upon his own shoulders so that I, my girls, and our livestock and farm can have peaceful and cared after lives.

At the end of the day he’s still able to come home, play, read silly stories, tuck the girls into bed, and snuggle with me for a few hours before arising in the pre-dawn darkness to do it all over again.  He doesn’t waver.  He doesn’t complain about the challenges.  He keeps smiling and reminding me to be patient and to enjoy all the wonders our life has given us alongside the struggles.

I’ve got one of the good ones, folks.