2 Bigs + 4 Littles under 1 Midsize Roof = Life As We Know It
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Happy New Year!

OK, this is more than a little embarrassing. Almost a whole year has passed since I’ve found the time to post here! I won’t bore you with all of the reasons. Let’s just say, “We’ve been REALLY busy!” So busy, in fact, that this is our Christmas card — a week late and only produced in digital form. But — whew! — at least it’s here! The pics of the Littles were captured on Christmas Eve, just after we finished making our traditional holiday treat: gluten-free sugar-cookie stars stacked into Christmas trees and topped with icing and sprinkles. Now it’s New Year’s Eve, and we’re rested (a bit), refreshed (sorta) and ready (almost) to make a fresh start in 2013. Here are a few of our highlights from the old year and hopes for the new year:

Kellen, age 12
Highlights:
• baptized on Palm Sunday at Grace Community Church, Tempe
• achieved Classical Conversations Memory Master distinction (memorized and recited a humongous number of history, science, geography, math, Latin and English grammar facts, learned in 24 weeks)
• performed as The Turkey in a homeschool theater production of Honk! Jr., The Musical (signature line: “I survived Thanksgiving!”)
• swam with the Tempe Tigersharks (his fourth year on the swim team)
• attended Boy Scout camp with Dad at Fiesta Island in San Diego (earning merit badges for kayaking, motor-boating, oceanography and basketry)
• resumed piano lessons after a yearlong hiatus
• adopted his cousin’s turtle, Squirt
Hopes:
• to watch The Hobbit movie with friends this week (Mom made him read the book first!)
• to survive the spring semester of his Classical Conversations Challenge A class (Mom is a tough tutor!)

Kerrick, age 10
Highlights:
• baptized on Palm Sunday at Grace Community Church, Tempe
• learned to skateboard at a friend’s birthday party, and then bought his own board (but, unfortunately, not his own medical insurance)
• attended Cub Scout summer day camp with Mom in the sweltering desert heat (earning badges for archery, BB-gun shooting, engineering, swimming and meteorology) and Camp Geronimo in the cool mountain pines
• swam with the Tempe Tigersharks (his fourth year on the swim team)
• went to war with his brother and their guests at a summer Nerf birthday battle
• performed as Mr. Post in a homeschool production of Wild West Tales — which included Cindy Ellen, a western version of the Cinderella story (signature line: “Howdy, Miss Cindy!”)
Hopes:
• to achieve Classical Conversations Memory Master distinction (yep, now he’s memorizing a humongous new set of history, science, geography, math, Latin and English grammar facts, which he’ll have to recite after 24 weeks)
• to cross over from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts in the spring

Kennah, age 7
Highlights:
• read her first book (title: Eat!)
• lost her first two teeth (on the bottom, in front)
• spent a week by herself with Grandma and Grandpa (brother-less bliss!)
• joined an American Heritage Girls troop (ahhh! girls galore!)
• watched Soul Surfer and decided that Bethany Hamilton is her hero
• learned to ride her bike without training wheels
• completed numerous art projects (drawings, paintings, collages, etc.) and craft projects, too (sewed pillowcases and dresses, wove friendship bracelets and learned to finger knit)
Hopes:
• to lose at least two more teeth (especially the loose ones on the top, in front)
• to take a trip someday with Mom to the American Girl store to choose a special doll

Keillor, age 5
Highlights:
• spent a few days by himself with Grandma and Grandpa (and got a little homesick)
• participated in a weekly Classical Conversations class (without Mom, but with big sister)
• rode a camel on his own and fed the giraffes with his siblings at the Phoenix Zoo
• learned to ride his bicycle without training wheels (and how to hop off before crashing!)
Hopes:
• to visit Cars Land at Disneyland someday
• to become a Cub Scout in the fall

Shawn, age undisclosed
Highlights:

• enjoyed working at a new job close to home (within walking/biking distance!)
• took time off to attend Boy Scout camp at Fiesta Island with Kellen and Camp Geronimo with Kerrick
• hiked and canoed with Kellen’s Boy Scout troop
• helped design Kerrick’s last Cub Scout Pinewood Derby car, Raingutter Regatta boat and Space Derby rocket (fortunately, he’ll get to do it all again with Keillor next year!)
• stayed busy with several side jobs (handyman extraordinaire!)
Hopes:
• to have a less-hectic home life (including maybe a laundry-free sofa to sit on in case there’s ever a minute to relax) :-)

Sonya, ageless (ha!)
Highlights:
• tutored a Classical Conversations Challenge A class (third time’s a charm, with Kellen as a student!)
• led a small squad of six sweet girls in Kennah’s American Heritage Girls troop
• continued to fit in some freelance writing/editing for The Nature Conservancy, as well as for GNOWFGLINS.com (even got to meet mentor and friend Wardeh Harmon when she visited Arizona in June!)
• enjoyed a much-needed getaway to California’s central coast
• sewed costumes for a homeschool theater group, sewed matching dresses with a friend for our daughters, and sewed numerous badges onto Cub Scout and American Heritage Girls vests, plus a Boy Scout sash
• read a few good books (including The Help, One Thousand Gifts, and Cleaning House: A Mom’s Twelve-Month Experiment to Rid Her Home of Youth Entitlement)
Hopes:
• to slow down the pace of life a little bit (if at all possible)
• to continue to learn all that I can and help my children do the same (with plenty of God’s grace)
• to someday spend a year living with my family on Ireland’s Bere Island — and write a book about it (just need to convince Shawn to go for it!) :-)

Above all, our family hopes that your family is looking forward to an amazing and blessing-filled New Year!

December 31, 2012   No Comments

A Half-Dozen …

… things we’re celebrating this season:

1. Our faith in a loving God who meets our every need when times are tough. We are not always grateful for the lessons we’ve had to learn, but we know where our trust belongs: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord. “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” —Jeremiah 29:11

2. A family life that not only keeps us busy but also allows us all to be together as much as possible. We’re also thankful for grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins who help us juggle a tight schedule and meet responsibilities both at home and on the job.

3. Friends! We’ve kept our current ones (whew!) and made several new ones (yay!) — and reconnected with a few old ones, too (thank you, Facebook). :-) All have inspired us in some way. We’re making it our goal to return the favor.

4. There’s no shortage of work to be done around here — and that’s a good thing! Shawn just took a new job as a project manager for a Tempe company, and he continues to do small handyman jobs on his own. Sonya is still a homeschooling mom and free-lance writer/editor, as well as a tutor and writing teacher.

5. And then there’s school. Kellen (11), Kerrick (9), Kennah (6) and Keillor (4) still do most of their learning at home, but the three oldest also attend two enrichment programs each week for extras like art, history, Latin, music, P.E. and science. It definitely keeps us all hopping — and our brains popping!

6. We actually hope to play more in the near future. Sure, Shawn and the boys have hiked and camped with the Scouts, and Sonya and Kennah have tried to squeeze some girl time in here and there. But we’ve resolved to soon do more of those things that refresh our spirits and keep us going. We hope that’s your plan, too!

Merry Christmas from the Hemmings Half-Dozen!

December 23, 2011   2 Comments

A Half-Dozen. . .

. . .fun facts about Kellen:

1. His first name is Irish and means “mighty warrior.” His middle name, Joseph, is after his great-grandfather and means “God will increase.”

2. He loves pirate stories and pirate movies, and he collects Playmobil and LEGO pirates.

3. Despite having multiple food allergies, he loves to eat! Favorite foods include banana-chocolate-chip muffins, spaghetti and meatballs, tacos, turkey sandwiches, strawberries, and coconut-milk ice cream.

4. This year, he earned the highest Cub Scout/Webelos honor, the Arrow of Light, before crossing over into Boy Scouts.

5. Kellen has played the piano for two years. To hear his performances at one recital, click on the audio players under his photo at right under “Songs of the Day.”

6. He turns 11 today! Happy birthday, not-s0-little Little!

July 9, 2011   No Comments

Season of Survival: How We Lived Through a Layoff (a Series)

It was a year ago today when we got the not-exactly-unexpected-but-still-sudden news that my husband Shawn had lost his job. He’d come home early from work that day (which should have been my first clue) and seemed to be in a cheery mood (which didn’t strike me as out of character until later), so I was completely caught off guard when he told me he was home for good—at least for the time being.

I remember feeling slightly panicked. After all, Shawn was (and still is) our family’s biggest breadwinner—not quite the sole provider, but just about. We’d already made a lot of financial sacrifices so that I could be at home with (and homeschool) our four children. And we were right in the middle of a big plan to pay off debt and put away whatever extra savings we could manage (a key to our survival strategy—but more on that later). All around us, people (including friends and family members) had been losing jobs and homes, so we weren’t oblivious to or unfazed by the effects of the economic downturn of the previous year. I think it was just human nature to hope it wouldn’t happen to us. But when it did, we quickly begin to gain a whole new perspective.

We faced a lot of unknowns—from little things like how we were going to pay the utility bill to big things such as how long it might be until Shawn found another full-time job (which, as it turns out, was exactly nine months to the day!). We also learned a lot about ourselves and our priorities—important things to know in both good times and bad. My goal is to share in this series of posts over the next few weeks how we managed to make it through a pretty rough year—and how we continue to recover from it. As is customary on this blog, I’ll share a half-dozen things that helped us not only to survive, but in some cases to thrive, during the most difficult days. (First up: How We Got By With a Little Help From Our Friends.)

If you happen upon these posts, I hope you’ll find inspiration for surviving your own tough times—whatever they might involve and whenever they might arise.

January 26, 2011   1 Comment

A Half-Dozen …

… fun facts about Kennah:

1. Her first name is the Irish feminine form of “Kenneth,” which means “handsome.” Her middle name is Maire—a playful spelling variation (also Irish) on the name Mary, which features prominently in her ancestry.

2. She loves Cinderella (the movie—and the many books we’ve found based on the traditional tale).

3. The above image—which I call “Sleeping Beauty” (I know, wrong princess)—is one of my favorite photos I have ever taken of her. Here, she is 3 1/2 years old and totally sacked out (in all of her finery, mind you) just before her cousin’s San Diego wedding.

4. Her personality can best be summed up by the slogan on a Tinkerbell T-shirt given to her by another cousin: “Sassy but Sweet.” (Which, by the way, is essential to her survival in a house full of brothers.)

5. Her favorite color is pink—or, more precisely, Pinkalicious, as in the book by Victoria and Elizabeth Kann. To hear her “read” (a k a “recite from memory”) the book, click the audio button below:

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6. She is 5 years old today! Happy birthday, Pretty Princess!

November 12, 2010   4 Comments

A Half-Dozen …

… fun facts about Keillor:

1. His first name was borrowed from the last name of author and radio host Garrison Keillor, of Lake Wobegon Days and A Prairie Home Companion fame. (It’s pronounced KEE-ler.) His middle name, Steven, is of Greek origin and means “crown.”

2. He loves Cars (the movie) and cars (toys with wheels).

3. In the above image (taken earlier this year), he’s wearing a much-loved and much photographed outfit first captured on film when his dad wore it in 1969, and then worn for special photos by his brothers Kellen (in 2001) and Kerrick (in 2004). This photo is also a reminiscence about something more than the outfit: his hair. Today, Keillor is bald, thanks to a head-lice scare at our house last week that made Shawn panic, whip out the clippers and shave all the boys’ heads—including his own. (Kennah and I escaped the same fate by opting to endure vinegar and tea-tree oil treatments.) In addition to being bald, Keillor is a little banged up, having fallen in the backyard and bumped his head right after his haircut. He acquired a sizable goose egg, which, combined with his lack of hair, has rendered him cute in a way that only a mother could love.

4. He memorized his first poem this year (“Love That Dog,” by Walter Dean Myers—click the first audio button below to hear him recite it) and can belt out the ABCs with the best of the preschool set (click the second audio button below to hear his latest rendition):

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5. His favorite color is yellow, which matches his sunny disposition. Oh, he can frown, but it’s easily turned upside down. :-)

6. He’s 3 years old today! Happy birthday, littlest Little!

November 9, 2010   4 Comments

Meet Sweetie

Kellen&SweetieKerrick&SweetieKennah&SweetieKeillor&Sweetie3

The newest addition to our family is Sweetheart (Sweetie, for short), a 4-month-old blue heeler puppy who unexpectedly wiggled her way into our home—and our hearts—two weeks ago. Kellen and Kerrick had been begging for a puppy for quite awhile, and Shawn and I kept putting them off, saying, “It’s not the right time.” We did have some valid concerns: We wanted Keillor to be well out of babyhood and firmly established as a toddler, and we hoped that Kennah would first overcome her skittishness around dogs. Plus, we wanted our backyard (still a bit torn up after a remodeling project last year) to be a more welcoming environment for a canine companion. But when Sweetie suddenly became available through a friend of my sister’s, we decided to hedge our bets against not-so-perfect timing. (And so far, so good: Keillor and Kennah have taken Sweetie well in stride, and Sweetie has been quite content in our crazy backyard.)

We’ve suffered a few casualties as Sweetie continues to work through the teething stage (shirts, socks, underwear, an Easter egg and part of the piano bench!), but she is otherwise so well-behaved and, well, sweet, that we’ve decided we can live with that one temporary vice. I guess you could say that the entire Hemmings Half Dozen has definitely come down with a classic case of puppy love. :-)

May 9, 2010   1 Comment

Words Worth Repeating: The Mission of Motherhood

Here’s another installment of Words Worth Repeating, a series of posts that allow me to share some meaningful thoughts, ideas and quotations from whatever I happen to be reading at the time. The words repeated here speak into my life, and I hope to convey their personal significance in such a way that they’ll be every bit as poignant to those who see them here.

Last year, my friend Kelly was kind enough to lend me her copies of two books by Sally Clarkson: The Mission of Motherhood and The Ministry of Motherhood. I found much encouragement and inspiration in the pages of these books, authored by a fellow homeschooling mom of four who so eloquently captures the struggles and challenges of the life I am striving to live—and who also offers incredible encouragement and inspiration for rising to the occasion. In honor of Mother’s Day, I thought I would share one of my favorite quotations from The Mission of Motherhood:

“Children do not accidentally become mature adults of strong character, great faith, gracious relational skills, effective leadership qualities, and sharp intellects. God’s design includes the presence of a hands-on gardener, a mother, to tend and cultivate their hearts, souls, minds, and relationships. As a garden cannot flourish without a gardener, neither can a child reach his or her potential without someone committed to careful cultivation. Just as a garden without a gardener will eventually go to seed and be covered over with weeds and debris, a child whose growth is unsupervised or left to chance will likely grow wild and undisciplined or stunted and unfruitful. Seeing myself as a gardener is helpful to me as I think of my mission as a mother. After all, I want more for my children than just getting them to adulthood. I want them to thrive. I want them to grow up confident and civilized. I want them prepared to live as abundantly as possible.”

Some days—especially those that are overflowing with the details and duties that seem to consume so much of our time as mothers—this bigger picture is hard to see. (As I write this, I am simultaneously chasing down a toddler with a fever and a runny nose, preparing to cuddle him on my lap for some stories.) But for me, this bigger picture is exactly what makes the endless list of little things worth tackling. Happy Mother’s Day—and happy “gardening.”

Please note: It is my goal to provide a top-quality, content-driven, ad-free blog. That said, I do occasionally include affiliate links in some of my posts. For example, if you click on the book cover above, you will link to Amazon.com, where you will have an opportunity to purchase it—and if you do buy it after clicking through from my site, I will receive a small commission to support my work here, as well as my own book-buying habit. :-) Seriously, though, I’d be just as happy if my recommendations inspired you to check out the title from your local library or borrow it (as I did) from a friend.

May 9, 2010   No Comments

Timeline: Happy Easter!

Goodwin children (from left: Brenda, Nora, Sonya and Kenneth); Safford, Arizona; 1974.

Goodwin children (from left: Brenda, Nora, Sonya and Kenneth); Safford, Arizona; 1974.

Hemmings children (from left: Keillor, Kerrick, Kennah and Kellen); Tempe, Arizona; 2010.

Hemmings children (from left: Keillor, Kerrick, Kennah and Kellen); Tempe, Arizona; 2010.

I thought it would be fun to show my sisters and I wearing the coordinating Easter dresses my mom made for us when we were young, and then show Kennah wearing the dress I made for her this year. (My brother and my sons had to settle for store-bought attire in these photos, but I’ve promised my boys that I’ll try to at least give their Easter shirts some mom-made attention next year.) :-) Here are a few more fun shots of Kennah (and her baby doll, Mary) wearing their matching dresses. (I don’t know how my mom made three whole dresses for her daughters several years in a row! It was all I could manage to put together one dress—plus a quarter-size replica—in the weeks leading up to today!) :-)

Kennah in her "sparkly pink butterfly" confection—because it reminds me of cotton candy—of an Easter dress.

Kennah in her "sparkly pink butterfly" confection—because it reminds me of cotton candy—of an Easter dress.

Perfect match: Kennah and Mary.

Perfect match: Kennah and Mary.

April 4, 2010   7 Comments

Timeline: Keillor’s First Haircut

Keillor; Jan 16, 2010; 4:01 p.m.

Keillor; Jan 16, 2010; 4:01 p.m.

Keillor; Jan. 16, 2010; 5:16 p.m.

Keillor; Jan. 16, 2010; 5:16 p.m.

January 16, 2010   7 Comments