It is easy to love the people far away. It is not always easy to love those close to us. It is easier to give a cup of rice to relieve hunger than to relieve the loneliness and pain of someone unloved in our own home. Bring love into your home for this is where our love for each other must start. -Mother Teresa

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Letter 2016 - Laura

Our year started out the Magic Kingdom. We rode this ride...A LOT because it was JoJo's favorite. She just LOVED the "People Remover". For those of you who are not familiar with The People Mover, it is the most boring ride in Disney World. Its a Small World is about 1000x more exciting. I just want to put this out here so that one day we can tease Jo about this.  PS: My husband won't wear a matching shirt as me BUT he will wear Mickey shirts at Disney. We literally have a tote we keep in our attic marked "Disney" so that we have all of our ears, shirts, dress-up clothes, and organizers we use only at Disney. So not matchy-matchy for the parents but coordinating-coordinating is close enough for me! 

I had an allergic reaction towards the end of our cruise. One of the things that happened was that my pupils almost completed dilated so I could not see anything and the light hurt. After a few days, I was able to wear these large sunglasses with the darkening sides to travel home in the car but still couldn't see well enough to drive. As I looked through pictures after the trip and to get them ready for these Christmas letter, I was surprised at how beautiful some of the beaches were...even though I was there, I didn't see them. :(   Even with all that it was still one of the best vacations ever. That is how amazing it was! (And how is it being For Real to post a picture like this of myself???) 

Our Jessica and I took a group of the girls from church ice skating. Yeah, we are fun wherever I go. Be jealous.

On Tuesdays, I pick up Michael and we have a lunch date. Occasionally we have to schedule for another day but we make it a point to meet at least once a week like this. Rockhome Gardens is one of our favorite spots. First of all, FREE doughnuts on Tuesdays until noon. Second their chili (pictured here) tastes just like my Mom's sloppy joes which are my favorite food. Third, fried zucchini sticks. Oh, I mean the first of all the company. That's what I meant to say and the food is okay too.  
I was blessed to be able to attend a special Mother-Daughter Banquet with all my girls! Jessica once again planned an amazing formal banquet to cap off the Bible Study and Etiquette lessons she and Joyce did weekly during the summer for the girls. Jessica MADE Nancy take off her shoes so she wouldn't tower over her. (I'm sure glad this is my Christmas letter and I can add details like that! Ha!) It is totally okay if you want to tell me how completely blessed I am to have this many gorgeous girls, I mean I know it but how can you not notice it too?!? 

I love my cat. My cat loves me. If I sit down my in my room, the cat must hold me. MUST HOLD ME. She does not do this any place else and for anyone else. The problem is that keeps turning the pages on my Kindle App, yet I can't get her to go away...okay fine, I don't want her to go away. Because Michael always points out that I could really could make her move. (Why!?!) I only read about a 1/3 of my books on the iPad. It is not my favorite way to read, I much prefer an actual paper and ink book. This is nice when I need a specific book at a specific time like for Book Club, when I don't have a light, or when I travel because I don't have to pack a bunch of books. But really, I love books. I love my library. I love my librarians. I love going to visit my librarians at my library to check out books. This year I set a goal to read 60 books including the 12 (one a month) for my Book Club. I almost doubled that goal and will share about that in another post. 

We continued our tradition of setting Family Fun Goals and attempting to do them all. Bowling was one. This year bowling was extra special because we went with our friends, the Henry's. We had bowled with them when Stacey was visiting us for the first time and their son was visiting through the same hosting program. It was so cool to realize that we were standing in the same place several years later all together plus Nadia!!!! You guys, hosting is so cool!

Meme and I watching JoJo's T-ball game. She likes to be cheered for and has specific things she wants us to say or not say. We do our best to accommodate her. Though sometimes I may just possibly "forget" to do it "right". 

While the boys were away, the girls played! We had a Girls Night In with facials, manicures, tye-dying shirts, snacks, and dancing! I think this needs to be an annual event! 

I told you I love my cat and that the feeling is mutual. Yes, this is a picture of me on the toilet because the cat has started spending more time in there. She used to just come to the bathroom with me. Often to sit in on the ledge of the tub and attack me through the shower curtain while I sat on the toilet. (Again, Michael says this is weird and I could stop the behavior.) But sometimes she needs to be closer to me, so she sits on the back of the tank. It makes me feel loved. In other news, while the girls and I were away for a few weeks this fall, the cat started pooping the in the toilet. Seriously. She now poops in the toilet instead of the litter box. This completely confused and shocked Michael. Please ask him to tell you about it. The story is hilarious when he tells it. I told you Sparkle Marbles was awesome! (You thought the blind picture of me earlier was For Real, a picture of me on the toilet is so way more For Real)

Much of our year revolved around Shriner's Hospital in St. Louis. We are so thankful for the amazing care we receive here. For about a week in May, the three of us lived here while Stacey had her surgery and recovered enough to be make the drive home. This surgery and on-going recover was/is such a difficult time for our family. So much sacrifice and service and stretching for each of us. I could and probably should write more about this in its own blog post with Stacey's assistance. This was one of those life-altering, milestone events...but really it is an ongoing thing. So hard to explain...

For our 16th Anniversary, Michael and I were able to sneak away for a long weekend. We rented to sweetest cabin on the edge of the Shawnee National Forest beside a winery. It was absolutely as lovely as it sounds!

In July we headed to Louisiana...I just wait for a second while you try to think of a reason to visit Louisiana in July...Yeah, it was for an important reason, certainly not the time of year for a pleasure trip! We were attending the wedding of a college friend, so on the way I made the girls stop at OBU to stretch their legs in front of the place our friendships began: FCE third floor! My girls were not impressed but their "aunties" oooh and aaaahed over the picture. (So pretty much this picture was not about my kids at all but instead one of the few things I make them do for me. Yes, they complained. See Jo's face.) 

Auntie Elise and Auntie Alison were so happy to finally meet all my girls. It was possibly one of the most beautiful weddings that I have ever (and will ever) attend. I couldn't have asked for a better love story for my girls to witness. In other news, it may not have been the best example of a wedding for my newest American daughter's first American wedding. The bride is from Louisiana and the groom from was a multi-cultural wedding! Best wedding food ever. EVER. (Candied bacon.)

July and August we played host to a few international guests. Just the way it worked out, they overlapped for one of the weeks. So Osin from Ireland, Adam from England, and Inga from Latvia hung out with us and we showed them typical life in rural central Illinois. This of course meant getting Chicago-style pizza at Papa Del's and Custard at the Custard Cup. It also meant exploring a US campus and trying to explain the educational systems of each of our countries. Not to mention it was the week of the Conventions so trying to explain how the American government and electoral process works...umm, yeah. The week they were all here, I hosted a traditional Thanksgiving dinner to introduce them to our American holiday.  Inga and I had a little more time so we did some hiking and caving in southern Indiana too. We meet "The Guys" through soccer and we met Inga through NHFC, the hosting organization we met our girls through. We have hosted soccer coaches for over 10 years and always have a great experience though I would have to say, this may have been my favorite time! Spending time with Inga was amazing...she is such a dedicated lady. I admire so much about her! Both of these opportunities are short term and are "free". I encourage each of you to consider making this part of your life. You will so enriched!!!! 
Garage Sales, I always say, "no more!" and "never again" but then I realize how much junk we have so I plan another, and then another. They must not be as much work as I always feel like they are because I just keep doing it! Since I had like 4 this year, I should probably mention it my Christmas letter. Apparently it is some horrible hobby I now have. 

A few weeks later, the girls and I headed to southern Indiana for a Girls' Trip. We played tourist in a cutesy, historic town, took middle of the night food run (a first for the girls) to White Castle, soaked in the hot tub, went caving (part of which we had to do by boat!), and I taught them to gamble (with pennies) play one of the games my family played growing up. After spending so much time immobile because of surgery, it was fun to just hang out and do stuff away from the house!!!

We took a visit to Louisville to meet Peter!!! This boy spent a few weeks in the NICU and gave us all quite a scare. We loved passing him around and hanging out with his big sisters! Praise the Lord, Peter is now healthy! 
For about a year, my BFF and I planned a dream vacation for our families to take together. In the freezing cold winter, we sat as couples around the computer looking at beach houses and dreaming. It turns out that Bethany is the ultimate planner so it was a flawless trip. One very special morning, Nancy asked me to get her up early to walk on the beach and watch the sunrise. I think that is going to be one of my most important treasure moments. It isn't often anymore that she asks to do anything WITH me. :) 

In general I spent much of my summer like this: watching my kids swim while I sat in a chair at the edge of our tiny beach with a book. Yeah, it was as amazing as it sounds. 

As soon as Stacey was cleared to use stairs again, we kicked her out of the downstairs bedroom and literally tore the thing down! Our summer and fall included a large home remodeling project of our first floor. We worked with some amazingly talented guys who helped us. One of the mail goals was to enlarge our eating area so we could keep our table large enough to always accomodate 8 people. Since my folks moved across the street, we needed more space. Wait! Didn't I tell you that in August my folks sold their home in Casey and my Dad retired so they moved to a smaller home nearer to exactly across the street?!? Yeah, that happened this year! 

September 19th is our Family Day. A holiday we invented for ourselves to celebrate the anniversary of the day the 6 of us were together for the first time as a family. We all came up with ideas on how to spend our evening. We wrote them down on strips of paper and put them in a basket. We randomly picked one and agreed to do whatever was on it. The winner: Red Box and a DG Snack Run. This meant we let the kids pick out whatever they wanted to eat from our local Dollar General (the Red Box is there). They had so much fun filling the cart with all sorts of junk food and hearing us say, "Yes". We locked ourselves in the den and hung out the rest of the night just us. It was fun! Just so much fun!  

#RobeyGirlsRoadTrip2016 was 3 weeks and about 6000 miles. One of the spots was my sister's home. They live on a Naval Air Station in the middle of the desert. I don't get to see them that often and soaked up every moment. One of my favorite memories of the trip was sitting next to my sister on the couch binge watching one of her favorite shows, playing on pinterest, and snacking beside my sister as she recovered from a minor procedure. It was fun and comfortable to just be together! 
This is a chimp at the Albuquerque Zoo. Please ask my girls what is in his mouth. This is probably the most memorable moment of our trip. You're welcome
I live with three teenagers and a kindergartner. Essentially that means that I do nothing right and there is always someone with too much attitude that is unhappy with me. At the moment  of this picture, I am sitting at the edge of a sand dune in the Mojave Desert. Half of my children want to go further and explore the dunes. The other half are mad that I made them get out of the van...and that I made them their "good shoes". Seriously, I'm the mom, shouldn't I be the one who gets to decide what are your good shoes and if you can or cannot wear them places? (yes, say yes.) So I asked the-one-with-the-most-pout to take my picture. I posed like JoJo had been posing so far on the trip (yes, like this. Yes, I let her. Yes, it made her sisters crazy.) I also posed in about a dozen other ridiculous ways which made the-pouty-one forget that I was torturing her with nature and life experiences. She cracked a smile. She laughed. She forgot to complain until we were back in the van dumping sand out of "good shoes". Sigh.  The good news is that they will never all be teenagers at the same time. This is the most teenagers that I will ever have at once. There is some comfort in that because...well, hormones, attitudes, siblings, feelings, emotional, knowing-everything, pride, self-consciousness, over-thinking, not thinking, eye-rolling, boundary-testing, sleeping-in but staying up too know being a teenage girl. 

My sister lives about an hour away from this: The General Sherman Tree which is the largest tree in the whole world (by volume). It is located in Sequoia National Park a place which will forever have memories for my daughters because of this trip. Was it because of seeing this amazing tree? Was it because of the breathtaking views? Was it the tight hair-pin turns as we climbed to over 7000 feet elevation? Was it the carsickness? The hiking along the clearest most beautiful river? NOPE. It was because this was the point in the trip which mom totally lost it and went freaking crazy. Getting out the car to scream about one of her children. Yes, For Real, we will forever remember this National Park as the place mom lost it. 

I drove and the girls "helped" on our road trip. 
Finally got "The Girls" together! The Burritt/Robey clan is always a good time! The beauty on the far-left in Nan's lap is Gwyneth, the World's Best Goddaughter. Being a Goddmother is like being an Aunt: they are the very best roles a lady an ever have. Seriously, all the love and pride without all the responsibility!  

This month I was so blessed to not only attend but unexpectedly co-host a Christmas Cookie Exchange for our homeschool group. The flu-bug caused a change in venue and opened up a spot so I was in! When I asked Michael exactly what I should say I did all year other than parent my children and teach my children and read books to unwind from parenting and teaching (which in general makes for boring writing material), he said to mention how much I entertain. I don't necessarily think we entertain A LOT but we do so on a pretty regular basis. I love opening my home and hanging out with the people I love and enjoy spending time with. I like the special foods and drinks we get to have when there are guests. I like the pretty dishes, candles, creating games,  and all the other little stuff that goes along with it. So I guess he is correct, after reading entertaining is my other hobby. (Is eating a hobby? How about drinking tea? If yes, those are my main hobbies. Reading and Entertaining come is way lower.) 

My life is so full of wonderful friends and family. This past year, we have been able to spend time with so many of you as we have invited you in our home or traveled to see you on our "Welcoming Tour" for Stacey and Nadia. So many times, I hear people complain about social media and stuff like that, but really, it has been such a blessing to us. It has allowed us to keep in touch with those we cannot be with on a regular basis. I am a proud mama and so blessed to be raising my FOUR daughters! Honestly, I am not just being cliche or corny, we couldn't have done it without you. So many of you supported our adoption in in so many different ways. We praise God for each of you! I have tried (and often failed)  to keep you updated on our lives. I will try to be better in this coming year and hope that you will reciprocate!

Well, this was the last one. Although some of my children strongly feel as though I should, I will not be doing a post on our pets: Felicity Noelle, Rory Gilmore, and Sparkle Marbles. You will just have to assume they are healthy, well-behaved, and don't make my house smell bad. Speaking of pets we have several unnamed guppies who procreate at an amazing pace. If you ever want a Robey for your very own, let us know and we will pass you along a jar of fish!

Merry Christmas!

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