Tuesday, December 27

Christmas Letter 2016

Another wonderfully full year for our family, fortunately now in a home that fits! We moved to another rental in the same village early this Summer. Here’s a rundown of the Carter clan and many of our fun adventures.

Easton, 12, 7th grade – Froze at Scout Klondike Derby and Summer Camp in Kandersteg, Switzerland. Swim and guitar lessons, Model United Nations club, volunteered at Stuttgart breakfast kitchen for his school Action & Service project, baking treats, student council rep presentation on empathy and bullying. Enjoys trying dance moves and special handshakes, Studio C skits, video games, dabbling on the piano and dog sitting. Learning to navigate city bus system.

McKay, 10, 5th grade – Strategic athlete at recess and track and soccer seasons. Coming into his own academically, enjoys playing the piano, baking treats, tried wrestling camp, MathQuest club, elected Student Council representative 4th year in a row, school play club, and Cub Scouts. Travel adventure with dad to Lake Bled, Slovenia. Learning his leadership potential with great mentors at Int’l School of Stuttgart!

Morgan, 8, 2nd grade – Braved first grade in German school. Loves to do art, face painting, cooking club, animal family playing with friends, read with Mom or Dad. Chose to be baptized and joined Activity Day Girls. Starting piano lessons, loved ballet class this summer. Thriving back at int’l school.

Jake, 5, German kindergarten – Peanut butter or Nutella-eating early riser, loves his American best friends at Kindi [Sigh]. Loves to sing Pirates of Penzance and Hamilton. Enjoyed first soccer season! Everyone he meets, young or old, is potentially his new best friend!

Aliza, 2 – Vocal early riser, mommy and me Musikgarten class, loves Nursery and especially her leader Josie. Jake’s best playmate and stuffed animal hoarder.

Tracie, almost 40! – January through the end of July were a blur facilitating Morgan’s integration into German first grade and staying afloat with the rest of our life. Great experience that stretched this mom of five too thin! Love hosting German class twice a week. Teach Relief Society 1-2x/month (women’s Sunday school class). Coached Jake and McKay’s soccer teams with Ryan. First Disney park experience. Loved visits from Nick & Christine Bare, Gina Waddoups, and Eric & Tamsyn Carter’s family!!!

Ryan – Planned and led our family on great travel adventures to southern Spain, regions around Paris, a two-week RV trip through England and now Christmas markets. Also led Tracie’s brother Nick and wife Christine on a whirlwind trip around Italy and a buddy on a hike through Interlaken Switzerland. Heading into third year of a five-year contract as site lead with CSRA. Enjoying the satisfaction of building a solid, functioning team atmosphere at work. Serving as Sunday School president and enjoys facilitating the new Teacher Council discussions each month.

Cancer took Ryan’s younger brother, Greg, early this past year after a valiant two-year battle. We can not comprehend the depth of loss felt by his parents and dear husband, Nathan. Mourning Greg, it has been heartening to reflect on this year’s highlights and be deeply appreciative of our many blessings.

We wish you health and happiness this season. May the peace, joy and love found in following our Savior’s light bless your home and heart.

Christmas Letter 2015

Before I post our 2016 letter, I figured I'd post our 2015 letter to catch this record up a bit.

Star Valley, WY

Merry Christmas! Another year has flown by with many significant experiences for our family. We have now loved living in Germany for 7 years! This summer we sold our town home in Virginia and that felt rather momentous! That home was too small for our family to ever return to. One of the biggest reasons we stay here is the family-friendly pace of life we experience here. It comes with other costs – being far from loved ones, hard-to-predict job security that determines our kids’ schooling options and other important benefits, a very expensive housing market, and a very spread out church community. But we absolutely love the exposure to many cultures and the ease of travel here in Europe and take advantage of these as often as we can. Here's what else we've been up to in 2015:

Ryan (41) received a big promotion at the end of 2014 and is managing a growing team of information technology project leaders and developers as a contractor with the US Dept of Defense here in Europe. Being management definitely has its ups and downs but keeping his clients happy has been fulfilling. In November, he was selected to represent his company on a team bidding for a new large contract here in Germany. While in the US for the presentation, he relished time with his East Coast family. Ryan takes advantage of each year’s three day weekends and holidays to satisfy his wanderlust. This year he took us exploring more of Venice; Provence, France for Spring Break; Mayrhofen, Austria for the autumn Alpine cow festival; and parts of Switzerland. In May he and Easton hiked the scenic Italian coast of Cinque Terre, Italy. In August he joined Tracie’s family reunion in Swan Valley, Idaho, where he squeezed in Yellowstone for us at the end. At church he leads Easton's scout group and teaches Morgan's Primary class. Family comes first for him and we are so lucky to have him!!!

Tracie's (39) life is a blur with five young kids! Aliza's hospitalization in January took months to recover from with everything on her plate at home and at church. Much of her time and energy this past year has been spent searching for a home to better fit our family’s size and evaluating the kids’ schooling options within new constraints of Ryan’s contract. Last spring she was released as Primary president and now teaches in Relief Society. YAY! Homeschooling Easton last year thankfully wasn't a disaster, and this year Morgan is being homeschooled. Tracie loved summer in Kennewick, her family reunion, and attending part of her 20th high school reunion. She earned chops for traveling alone with five kids – 24 hours by plane each way and a couple really long car rides! This fall, she organized a private beginner German course to fit her schedule. It's her third beginner course and she likes to say she's a remedial student. J

Easton (11) is thriving in 6th grade back at the international school after being homeschooled last year at his request. This fall he was elected as a student council rep, enjoys the quiet of homework club after school to get his work done, and is a kind, responsible student and family member. He is taking guitar lessons and dabbles on the piano. At church he is enjoying Scouting and is becoming a confident leader, eager to invite friends. He's also excited to advance to Young Mens in December! He loves to read, learn computer coding, play video games like Disney Infinity, watch Studio C and CNN Student News.

McKay (9) is an earnest 4th grader at the int’l school where there are 10 native tongues in his class of 15 students. He was elected student council rep for the third year in a row and is often selected by teachers and peers to help and lead. He is taking piano lessons and joined the Green Team and MathQuest after school clubs. He loves math! He played baseball last spring, is an impressive runner, and loves playing any group sport.  He is eager to earn money and keep his chart up to date. He has a generous heart, loves to build things with Legos or Keva blocks, enjoys competitive board games, and can drive a hard bargain!

Morgan (7) is growing fast, losing many teeth this year and enjoying visits from the Tooth Fairy.  She has boundless energy, is a fish in the water, has a quick running stride, and loves parks! Ryan helped her learn to ride a bike this year! Her favorites of the US trip were playing with cousins, adopting Papa's dog Maggie as her own, riding horses at the reunion, and having swim lessons with Aunt Lorry. She enjoyed soccer this fall and wants mom to coach. She hoards stuffed dogs and cats to keep her dream alive of owning a real one some day. She loves crafting and is being homeschooled for 1st grade this year. It's great fun seeing her gain confidence as a reader!

Jake (4) loves hero costumes, building with Legos, playing with Disney Infinity characters and having playmates. He loves saying family prayers and has infectious joy! He started German kindergarten and is convinced he speaks German and those other kids speak English. He is a picky eater, stealthy early riser/Nutella jar raider, vocal back seat driver, and requires chores to be turned into a game. Thankfully, he loves to snuggle Mom and "be destroyed" by Dad in wrestle fests. He plays so hard he often puts himself to bed!

Aliza (1) started our year with a bang by being hospitalized with a HiB infection in her blood and elbow joint fluid for three weeks. At four months old, she was two days shy of getting her second of three immunizations against it! We were so blessed by many helping hands who saw our family through the difficult time apart! Now, fully recovered, Aliza holds her own as the object of everyone's affection and teasing. Easton secretly trained her to walk early at 10 1/2 months. She is reserved and determined like him, loves to be silly and follows everyone around unless she's wreaking havoc on her circuit of destruction in our apartment. She's a great napper, loves books and music (especially Easton's guitar practicing), and resisted being weaned at 12-15 months.

We hope this finds you and your loved ones enjoying this Christmas season. We are grateful for the gospel of Jesus Christ and a loving God who has blessed and helped us through this year. You are in our thoughts and we wish you a very Happy New Year!

Tuesday, October 27

Finding my rhythm

We've been working our way through a stomach bug with at least two people down with it since Thursday. Symptoms seem to last about five days or so but no fever. Jake and Aliza currently have it. McKay stayed home yesterday saying he had a belly ache but it turned out that was more because he'd procrastinated some big homework assignments. Of course, he really felt bad when it dawned on him during FHE that they still needed to be done. Ugh. It was 10pm before we got to bed but Ryan helped him most until stuck on the German. Then we switched and he did dinner dishes while I helped with homework. We'd just fallen asleep around 11 when Aliza woke up soaked in puke and screaming. Fun times. She screamed through being cleaned up and for another half hour. I swapped Morgan beds thinking it'd be a long night. Aliza finally zonked out at 1. Morning came too early today again.

Homeschooling Morgan is going really well for her and I'm enjoying it. I can literally pull out our materials and start our school time, it's so nicely scripted. I've cut out co-ops from our schedule to give us more down time at home because it's already hard enough to get to chores and do my German class. It has been fun to focus on Morgan and see her improvement over the first month of doing this. She craves play time when the older boys get home and that's not first on their list so there's some common struggles there. Two or three times a week I have deliberate play times set up for her. A gal in the ward has a two hour structured get together from 12-2 where we all bring our own lunch and eat together, kids play, we do a game and craft and then it's time to go home. Wednesdays we go to a park or to the gym and check out balls to play with during and after Easton's guitar lesson. Thursdays there's an afternoon homeschooler playgroup we hit now and then. Some kids in the neighborhood have started gathering in a culdesac and so I'll send McKay and Morgan down to join them once a week. I feel like she's getting healthy socialization but once a week she'll say she does miss friends. For her birthday we had her friend spend the night while the boys were at a Scout campout. That little girl was not used to having a teething baby around making noise! It was interesting to see Morgan react to her and be confident in who she was. As we got ready for Morgan's soccer game, this little girl wouldn't dare wear a kitty ear head band Morgan offered as they were getting ready. It's Morgan's favorite right now. The friend said people would laugh at her so she would not wear it. Morgan said, "I like it and I wear it a lot. Lots of people like it." I was so proud of her :) Comfort and personal likes still rule her style for now. It'll change soon enough I'm sure but it's kinda nice to know we can preserve it a bit longer this year at least.

Jake's really enjoying German kindergarten, but him being sick right now is nice to have a break from getting us all out the door in the morning. I love his kindergarten and have heard it is the best one in our town and believe it! I hope I can get better at sitting down with him a few times a week to practice preschool things. He's rather reluctant unless we're being silly together doing it. He gets easily frustrated when his hand doesn't produce what his mind wants too on paper. His adorable enthusiasm and joy over simple things keep Ryan and I laughing and loving him at this age.

McKay is going to be tested for delays in his reading and language use. He's getting behind again and starting to feel overwhelmed with the struggle to do his work. Kids his age are experimenting with crude language and humor and so we're having conversations about that lately. He's really enjoying his after school programs -- Green Team (projects taking care of the school's rabbit right now), piano lessons, and MathQuest.

Easton seems to be doing well in his schooling and with friends. He likes doing the after school homework club to get homework done and a couple of his classmates are in there with him so sometimes they collaborate. I recently sat through a lecture on how the Int'l Baccalaureate program does their grades and it was so thorough and impressive but I felt bad for the teachers. It requires a lot of feedback from them and everything is done online which is great for parents to be able to check. He invited a buddy to Scouts last week for first aid certification. This week he's hoping another buddy will go Trick or Treating with us. 

Two months into the new school year and I'm finding my rhythm lately which is nice. I had to spend a month trying out different options for me and Morgan and it was exhausting! 

So here's the current rhythm we're in. Once Ryan and the boys head out in the morning, I get the rest of us ready for the day and work with Morgan and Jake to get their morning chores done. This zaps me. Every day. Then I take an hour to straighten the house a bit and recover from the emotional toll of doing chores with M&J. Around 10am, Aliza goes down for her nap and I start school with Morgan. We do school until 12, have lunch and finish whatever is left of school work but sometimes we're done in just an hour and a half. Typically takes 1.5-3 hours each day for her school work and I never know which because it often depends on how well she grasps the day's concepts. I'm using Calvert Education and it seems to be just what I needed for this adventure with Morgan. I spend the afternoon doing more chores, prepare dinner, feed Aliza, referee fights, kiss ouchies ... and we pick up the boys or they come home on the city bus. Homework, music practice time, chores, dinner, dinner cleanup and it seems like it's time for bed. Once or twice a week Ryan and I aren't worn out enough that we actually sit and watch a show or documentary together. 

Work has been tough lately for Ryan with some difficult personnel issues. This role is challenging him in many great ways but sometimes the personnel stuff is so off-putting that he wants to find something new. It astounds him how some people are satisfied with underperforming and exhibit a complete lack of professionalism. It was bad last week! 

The house hunt is yielding nothing after the perfect place turned us down for having five young children. Perhaps we're not supposed to stay here and that's why housing isn't working out? Who knows. But we toyed with that idea last week a bit. I really only get to search listings once or twice a week, there's just not much down time to sit and be on the computer during the day or in the evenings. I haven't read or listened to a book cover to cover since before Aliza was born and I miss it! Homeschooling Easton last year with a new baby and Primary presidency calling didn't provide me enough bandwidth to entertain reading/listening to books. I've compensated during this season with interesting podcasts and now Relief Society lesson preparation.

Aliza's keeping me busy with her daily circuit of destruction. I'd like to describe it here to have it documented since it's also what most of the other kids have done at this age of curious mobility. She typically begins in the kitchen. Water tower spigot test run, tupperware and towels cabinet undone, fiddle with knobs and buttons on oven/stove and dishwasher (!!!), check the trash for anything interesting, use stepping stool as a seat for her sippy cup break, rearrange or disassemble paper recycling bin, climb up on the stool(s) and get stuck so she must holler until found out. Remove all the magnets from the board with a flourish. Then, it's on to the bedrooms to inspect and dump various bins and spread contents at random through the apartment. Check out light switch in her room that she can push her porta-crib aside to get to. Give herself kisses and giggle in the new full length mirror I attached to my closet door. Try on shoes or try to put shoes on Mom while she's schooling Morgan. Kick and throw bouncy ball until an older sibling takes it away and start a screaming fit. Repeat process with any musical toy. In the laundry room, she likes to check the washing machine buttons to make sure I have to wash loads at least twice. Unroll the toilet paper rolls and unload the lowest drawer filled with headbands, selecting one to wear for a bit as a necklace. And by the time the circuit is completed a few times, it's time for a nap. At least once a day I try to put things in order before the next circuit begins but I'm always way behind her! She is so cute and cuddly, does more jabbering lately too with a couple discernible words - Mom, Dad, dog ... I'm sure her sibling names are jabbered too, I just haven't paid close enough attention.

Alright, I gotta get to my chores but it feels so good to document what my current season looks like. I am worn out but finding many moments throughout the day to be grateful that I have all these kids and get to be home to care for them. I only throw tantrums or melt down a few times a week, so we're keeping it real.

Wednesday, April 22

Jake's independence

He often wants to be a big kid but doesn't quite like the effort required. Examples- potty training and opening the door to go outside. Today he suited up for an outdoor adventure and I had him bring over his stool from the bathroom for a door opening tutorial. Not the first one, probably not the last. That's parenting! And look at his happy face! 

I love his imaginative playing!!! He's seriously easy because he's so content playing on his own in his own world! 

We were stuck at vehicle registration yesterday for over 2 hours with no toys and no snacks. He was perfectly content almost the entire time as he'd play with Aliza and then practice sliding on the filthy, but smooth floor. One man couldn't contain himself and said a few times, not to anyone in particular, "The floor is dirty!" I just looked him in the eye and said, "But he's happy." Just matter of fact, no anger.

There weren't enough chairs for those waiting and I had plenty of wipes, sanitizer and a bathroom nearby which made for good hand washing breaks when we needed a distraction. I don't have it in me to force my 3 yr old to act older than he is and endure making us all miserable when I could give him freedom and joy to be himself which lent itself to some very sweet, entertaining antics. Further, we were only going to be outside for the rest of the day so him getting dirty was only a matter of time and location. All his clothes are play clothes except for church ones. There are definite times when I would have had to enforce proper behavior but this wasn't one of them.

And there was another thing on my mind. There was a young pregnant woman sitting near us. This would be her first child. She was enjoying watching Jake and especially how he played with Aliza. She has a stepson Jake's age and she's anxious how he'll get along with the baby. You bet she paid attention to how I responded to the disgruntled man. I hope she'll remember that she can have confidence in her parenting - to do what's best for her child even when others are vocally disagreeing. I hope I can remember to keep this confidence too!