Sunday, December 21, 2014

Stephens' Family Christmas Letter 2014


Sabbatical [suh-bat-i-kuh l]:   adj. of or pertaining or appropriate to the Sabbath.
2. of or relating to a sabbatical year.
3.  bringing a period of rest.
4.  n. any extended period of leave from one's customary work, especially for rest, to acquire new skills or training, etc.

I thought about taking a complete sabbatical from the Christmas Letter this year, but then remembered that I wouldn't have any recorded memories and would quickly forget that this year even existed if I didn't.  So I figured I would use the word 'Sabbatical' as inspiration for our theme this year. Forgive me if when you read this you really do find my mind on leave...I'm just hoping to put together some sentences that are cohesive :)

We'll start this year off with our newest addition, Bobbie Joy (6 months). Bobbie was born on May 25th of this year. She must have been on vacation because she was born 4 days late and my 6 hour labor began after I sneezed and my water broke.

Bobbie is currently taking a furlough from sleep, although she is never one to not give you a smile while awake.  When she does sleep, it's like a vacation for her in that she loves to sleep in the swing and be rocked all the day long. Even still, she brings joy to our lives more than we ever thought possible.

 Her sisters and brother love to hold her and when mommy needs a break, they are always there to step in and make her laugh... although, when it comes time to change Bobbie's diaper, the kids seem to take a leave of absence.

The next child up is Zeke (3 years).  If I didn't know any better, I would have thought Zeke was the one granting furloughs, sabbaticals and vacation time since he seems to like the authoritative role in the family.

We have a lot of conversations about who really is 'The Boss' in the house.. Often times, he likes to take the liberty of claiming himself as Boss.
In other news, Zeke has decided to take a long furlough from going on the potty like a big boy.

It's almost as if the bathroom is his office and he needs a hard earned vacation. Every time I try to get him to go in there and sit at his 'desk', he adamantly grasps onto the door jams with both arms and legs. I'm' trying to get him to cash in his vacation days just to get him in the door. Zeke does, however, truly enjoy riding his two wheeler bike, playing his acoustic guitar and making up songs, and riding his scooter at the skate park every Saturday with the family.

Claire (6 years) seems to be living in  a state of constant recess. She is so light-hearted and free spirited that I don't think she'll ever feel like she's working a day in her life...

Being a middle child and not as strong minded as some others in the family, Claire has learned how to quietly disappear from any room where math, handwriting or reading is being worked on and instead find small areas where she can do her creative art. This art usually involves cutting different colored pieces of paper into hundreds of small strips, gluing them on another piece of paper, and then leaving the rest on and under the homeschool table and floor.

 I love Claire's creativity and free spirit. Claire also loves to write in 0's for every math problem and tell me she is finished with her work so she can go put on a tutu and twirl around. This 'creative' math has definitely landed her in some trouble and her 'recess state of mind' often times has to be brought back into reality. Claire is still trying to figure out what a book is.

We're hoping Claire's 4 top front teeth finish their 'leave of absence' soon because eating out of the side of her mouth has become quite the chore.

Lily (8 years) likes to take a breather from her family by escaping into books. Her love of reading has become an integral part of her daily life and I love the fact that she can take this skill and be forever learning.

Hopefully one day she will take  a true sabbatical as a professor like her great aunt and uncle at Stanford.  Lily's newest passion is pogo-sticking. I'm anxiously awaiting the time when I can get a break from the up and down 'reh-ee' pogo sound that I hear a thousand times a day. I can't get too upset though as the pogo stick was indeed my favorite toy growing up.

Lily was also born to take the role of big sister.  She takes this job very seriously and is completely in love with her siblings and especially Bobbie.

As for me, Kristen, this year has definitely been an overwhelming one in many ways. The first was being very sick with my pregnancy while caring for 4 children and trying to homeschool. We ended up homeschooling the entire summer which has helped out with my stress to try to get it all done in the regular school year time span. I'm looking forward to a two week break from homeschooling over the holidays.

Another incredibly difficult time for me was saying goodbye to our foster son, David. As much as David caused me to want to check myself into a 'happy place' facility, he stole my heart from the very beginning. He was with us for a year and a half, and was placed back with his biological father and siblings in March of this year. While I am happy that David is back with his family, I can't help but notice that we all  feel a void in our home and hearts without him and not a day goes by that we don't mention him or laugh about something he did.  We are taking a sabbatical from full time foster care for now and are doing respite care for other foster parents who need a break or are themselves going on vacation and cannot bring the foster child. We have had 3 children in our home since David left and they have all been so sweet and special to us. We look forward to stepping back into this ministry in the future after this mama can achieve a little more rest that is missing due to being on full time baby night duty.  I'm also looking forward to a short furlough from my photography business which has been so exciting and overwhelmingly humbling to say the least. I am so thankful for all my clients who continue to come to me each year. September through December for  Family and Portrait Photographers is like tax season for Accountants and I truly do feel like I need some time off to recharge my batteries, refresh and get inspired for 2015.

Brian continues to work extremely hard to support our family, and for that I am forever grateful. This year, he reignited his passion for skateboarding and we now go to the skate park every Saturday morning and plan on doing so for a long time. The skate park has been a place where we have met and see great friends, get exercise, drink lots of coffee(okay, so that's just me), and get injured. Brian took a gnarly spill about two months ago and is just now feeling like he can skate aggressively again after his knee went on an extended vacation and didn't want to come back. I love Brian's persistence with things he is passionate about and skating is definitely high up on his list.

 He is still listening to pod-casts while he works and  the newest one Serial has become a bit of an obsession for both of us. If you are looking for new Podcasts to listen to, Brian would reccomend:  The Moth, Steve Brown, Freakonomics, This American Life,  Snap Judgement, & Tiny Desk Concerts.

We are hoping to take a real vacation this upcoming year to take the children to go see snow as it's just not gonna happen here in Sunny FL... for those of you needing a break from the cold, we'd love to see you!

Have a wonderful Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year!!!

 Love, Kristen, Brian, Lily, Claire, Zeke and Bobbie

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Stephens' Family Christmas Letter 2013

SLEEP (Or Lack Thereof

This year has been one of probably the least amount of sleep I have ever encountered for many reasons...some of which I will divulge in this letter. Our lives have been full of activities, events and family time, and most end in the desperate need for a good nights sleep. I thought it would be great to let you all know what events have caused us to sleep more...or less this past year. We'll start from the youngest to the oldest...
David, our foster child, (almost 2) has been with us for a little over a year. He has enough energy to almost put a parent into a coma at the end of the day. David sleeps like a log for most of the night and enjoys waking up with the rooster crow before the sun has even fully come up.  He loves to attempt to ride anything with wheels, skateboards, tricycles, bicycles, scooters and even barbie corvettes. From the very beginning of David coming into our home, it was evident that he had a tremendous ability to take apart anything that is technology or electronic. If there was a preschool that accepted child computer engineers, David would be Valedictorian. So if you leave your phone anywhere around this little guy, don't be surprised if you have five new alarms to wake you up in the middle of the night disrupting your sleep.
 David's case has been one that we have prayerfully and anxiously lived through for the year and the possibility of him heading back home is quickly becoming a reality. We are so happy we got to have him if for only a year of his life. We know God has big plans for this boy with the captivating smile. If you have a moment where you are awake at night, perhaps God wants you to pray for this little boy. 

Next up is Zeke (2.5 yrs) who has a small obsession with rubbing my arm when trying to go to sleep. Instead of saying, I just love you so much mommy, he says, 'I just love your arm so much mommy.' Zeke is of the mellow mentality, but learned to ride a 2 wheeler just a couple months ago.  He takes after his dad with skateboarding and mountain biking.  Zeke took a while to start talking, but now mentions things like ice cream and race cars in his sleep.  Zeke loves to sing at the top of his lungs in the car and right before bed. He is turning into a true little boy as he approaches 3 years old. Just hoping that by his 3rd birthday, he will be sleeping the entire night in his own bed. 
As for Claire, (5 yrs)  she has begun Kindergarten this year with me homeschooling her.  She is truly excelling at math and quite possibly falls asleep at the table when I mention handwriting or reading assignments. Claire lives and dreams about ballet and dance. If she could live in a leotard and tutus, she would. I love Claire's ability to live much of her life in her imagination.  Claire has a sensitive spirit about her and would do anything for her family when it comes down to it.  Her favorite subject is Latin and she loves to do crafts and art.  Claire is one of our best sleepers...most of the time.
 Lily (7 yrs) is my aspiring pre-teen and mother's helper. She has a heart of gold and is the best big sister any sibling could ask for. Lily enjoys starting her nights in her own bed, and then finishing them off on the living room couch so she is surrounded by family when she wakes up. I think she also likes sleeping on the couch because it has become a bit of her home gymnastics practice area. I spend more time looking at Lily upside down doing gymnastics poses than looking at her beautiful face upright.  She has started gymnastics this year and has really come alive in her abilities and self esteem. She was also asked to help out in Claire's dance class as a teacher's assistant to corral the youngest in the class. She does an amazing job at this.  Lily was born to teach and be a leader to others...just not in the sleep arena. We are hoping that by the time she heads to college she will be sleeping in one bed the whole night. 

As for me, (age undisclosed) big news is that we are expecting again! Yes, child number 4 is set to arrive May, 2014 and we are excited for his/her arrival. My sleepless nights have involved much of Zeke wanting to caress my arm, much nausea and vomiting and of course the hormonal insomnia. I have never been more prepared to have sleepless nights with an infant.  Zeke's prayer for me every night is 'Dear Jesus, help mama not throw up the baby' Amen. That about sums it up for my nights of sleep... just trying to not throw up the baby. I am currently 18 weeks and finally feel like I can make it through the day without having to lay stationary on the couch for a given amount of time to regain energy and the ability to eat. 
In other news, one of my dreams of photography is really coming true. My business has been steadily growing for the past year and I am coming up with ideas all the time for how to take it to the next level. Thank you for all of your support and encouragement in this endeavor.  
Brian and I  celebrated our 10 year anniversary this year and were able to see old friends at a destination wedding in Charleston, NC. It was our first vacation alone in 7 years... and much needed.   We hope to not go as long till our next vacation as I am already dreaming about more time alone with my hubby. 

 Brian (needs more beauty sleep before disclosing his age) is still hoping to fully experience what a full nights sleep is. Ever since Brian swaddled an invisible baby in midair when I asked him to swaddle Lily in the middle of the night when she was a newborn, I have known that Brian functions less than top notch when tired.
Brian spends his nights 'sleepless-walking' around the house, catering to whichever child has decided to grace us with their midnight presence. We are convinced that the children draw straws not just to see who will get up first, but exactly what order they will each enter into the living room or our bedroom. They all have their individual and highly specific needs that must be met or the entire house will be awoken within minutes. Brian caters to these needs while 'sleep-less walking' with wonderful accuracy. 
  Brian is still trying to figure out a way to partake in the activities he enjoys so much like skateboarding, watching football and basketball, and hanging with his buddies while awake in the middle of the night. But for now, he will just have to be happy with sitting on staring at the moon. 

So from this sleep deprived young family to your 'hopefully better rested than us family', Merry Christmas!!! (Yawn, now time to go to bed:)   

Matthew 2:10- 'When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.' 


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Stephens' Family Christmas Letter 2012

Cherries and Pits
    A little over a year ago, a dear friend of mine and her daughter came over for dinner. They introduced us to a fun little game they play over dinner. It's called Cherry and the Pit. The 'Cherry' is the good part of your day, and the 'Pit' is the part of your day that you would want to 'spit' out or get rid of. Every person gets a chance to say their cherry and pit, and then they call on someone else. We have been playing this game every night since.  I thought that doing a Cherry and Pit for the current 2012 year might be a good way to let you see into what we've been up to these past 12 months.  We'll go from oldest to youngest...

    Brian has been hard at work with his business, but does find that he needs to be intellectually challenged while on the job.  Therefore, his Cherry of the Year would be iTunes U... While Brian is laying tile, cutting wood and doing demolition, he is going to Oxford, Harvard and different seminaries through his earbuds. He listens to many lectures or sermons a day by professors and pastors. His pit goes hand in hand with his cherry in that when he comes home, he is ready to talk on a highly intellectual and philosophical level when meanwhile, his wife has been listening to the philosophies and thoughts of professors ages 6 and under. Somehow the gap has become too far to bridge.

    Kristen has had a busy year homeschooling Lily and driving children all over the town. As a way of documenting her family's life, she has taken up photography, and has that as her Cherry of the Year. She recently purchased her first professional grade camera and lens, and is looking forward to honing her skills as she is learning from one of the best
 She has been privileged to be a second shooter for a wedding, and is practicing doing family photos with friends. Her 'Pit of the Year' would be the constant juggle to find balance between getting it all done and stopping to take photos smell the roses:)

    Lily(6) is now of the elementary school age. She enjoys being homeschooled and all of the 'activities' that go along with it. She recently played the role of 'Cindy Rella' in the homeschool play for our county and continues to amaze us with her poise and maturity at such a young age. When I asked Lily what her 'Cherry of the Year' was, she replied that it was learning to roll her tongue.

 I have to admit I was looking for something a little more 'eventful', but I guess in the eyes of a 6 year old, that is a pretty big achievement. She also lost her first tooth this year, the day before her birthday and accomplished a successful Cowboy/Cowgirl party for her birthday. Lily never ceases to surprise me with her creativity and imaginative skills.  
   As for Lily's 'Pit', it would have to be that her best friend, Michael, moved around the block and they don't get to see each other every day anymore. She was excited that he included her on his guest list for his school Christmas play last night, and she came home with the biggest gleam in her eye. I am making it a priority as a mom to make sure I am more intentional about inviting Michael over. Not sure what the future holds with these two, but for now its precious.

 Claire(4) continues to be our spitfire and marches to her own drumbeat....which I believe is now techno. She goes a mile a minute and yet has a sincerity and empathy that is unparalleled in our family. She too can roll her tongue, but that was not her 'Cherry of the Year'. 

Every night while playing 'Cherry and the Pit', Claire would first tell us that she 'deferred to Lily' and would not share her cherry and pit until everyone else had gone. Then, when the time came for her to share, she would say without fail, 'My cherry is right now, and I had a pitless day.' Oh what I would give to have 365 pitless days. At least she is consistent. As far as her 'Cherry of the Year', I would have to say that it was tonight's dinner. And for her 'Pit', well...she's had a pitless year.

Zeke(19 months) has really come into his own this year. His 'Cherry of the Year' has been going outside with dad to feed the fish in the pond. Mom does not go out with them as she has too many anxiety attacks for fear that Zeke will fall in and become fish food.

 Zeke cherishes his time with his dad, mostly because he gets to do things mom would never allow like skateboarding down the driveway by himself without shoes or helmet on...the kid just learned how to walk 5 months ago! 

 But alas, that is what fathers are for- dare I say it? To push their children to their physical best, and do things that make them say ' Don't tell mom'. 

 Zeke's 'Pit of the Year' would be that no one speaks 'Zeke' language. He refuses to use any words except signing please and more for everything.  He points to outside and then over and over again signs 'please more please more please more' which in Zeke language means 'Please mom, will you come outside with me so I can feed the fish again?' We can't wait till he realizes that he has vocal chords and they are not just for screaming. 

And we couldn't finish this letter without sharing our
  Two weeks ago, we welcomed baby David into our home as a foster child. He is our angel baby and we couldn't be happier that he is with us. He is 11 months and smiles more than any baby I have ever met. 

Though we don't know the length or duration of his stay with us, we love David as if he is our own, and pray that perhaps one day he will be. God has a hand over this boy, and we can't wait to see what is in store for him.

So that about sums up our 'Cherries and Pits' for the year. I hope you enjoyed reading a small glimpse into our lives and pray you will continue down the road of life with us.

Plus, we love to hear about your lives, so keep those Christmas letters coming!! 

Be blessed this Christmas and upcoming Holiday and New Year season!! 

Much Love, 
Brian, Kristen, Lily, Claire, Zeke and Baby David.


Saturday, December 10, 2011

Stephens Family Christmas Letter 2011...


The Stephens' Year of Prime Numbers...

This past year has been pretty amazing. To start, 2011 is a Prime Number, which I didn't think about until after I already began writing this, but is nevertheless neat in and of itself.  I always try to think of a 'topic' or 'theme' to write about and make our Christmas Letter more cohesive and perhaps a little bit more interesting. So this year, I chose Prime Numbers...I know, I questioned myself when I thought of it too. But I think once you finish the letter, you'll see how Prime Numbers help our 2011 family story to 'add up'.

Note: All RED writing is about Prime Numbers... All GREEN writing are links to learn more!
I'll start with Lily, child #1... FYI, 1 is NOT a Prime Number but is often mistaken for one. Lily did however, turn 5 this year which is a Prime Number! For her birthday, Lily had a baking party which was a huge success...and an even bigger mess. 
Lily is an amazing child, and I thank God everyday that He chose her to be our oldest...I think perhaps, that if the order was changed around,  I'd be in trouble.  Lily started school this year and absolutely loves it. There are 13 children in her class, and has a natural love for learning.  She has even begun to read, and together, we read about 2 books every day.  Next year, Lily is going to be home schooled as she starts Kindergarten when she is 5. We are very excited to start this new endeavor together, and can't wait to start. 

   Next comes Claire, who is our 2nd child.  Sometimes I think Claire is a Prime Number as I feel that she is only divisible by herself...she's one tough cookie.  She loves to be around others, and is very passionate about justice and being heard. I think in a previous Christmas Letter, I wrote that Claire has upper management written all over her...I still agree with this statement. 
   Claire turned 3 this year, and for her birthday party, she had a 'Pink Panther' theme (see Claire's shirt).  Claire has seen all 124 episodes of the original Pink Panther,  and all 27 episodes of Pink Panther and Pals ( 124+ 27= 151) and can tell you what will happen within the first scene of each show. 'Pink Panther' also contains 11 letters.  Claire started Preschool this year as well. She is in the Pre-K3 class.  Her teacher's name is Mrs. Smiley in which it took about 2 months for me to get Claire to stop calling her 'Mrs Smiley-Face'. Claire has 5 children is her class with only 1 boy.  Claire's favorite thing to do is smother her brother with kisses... (see pictures below)

Our newest addition is Ezekiel Robert, who came into the world on Easter Sunday, April 24th...he is our 3rd child...and we are so happy to have him as a part of our family. 

Zeke was born on the same day and within hours of his cousin, Olivia...and their mothers were in labor at the same time. They are forever Twousins...Twin Cousins. Kristen was in Active Labor for about 7 hours. 
Zeke and Olivia- Twousins
We were able to take a trip to NY for a Bob Joyce's Birthday Party (aka Joyce Family Reunion), and the cousins got to meet!  Zeke is absolutely adored by his 2 sisters, and Lily is chomping at the bit to babysit him (we just have to get her to stop putting pink headbands on him when we're not looking.) 
Birthday Photo Joyce Family Photo- August 2011
Counting all the family members
 {including Jazzy and Cha Cha the dogs},
there were 29 'Joyce's' in attendance

Next up is Brian, who continues to amaze us as to how wonderful of a father and husband he can be. Brian loves to involve the girls and make things. He continues to knit...yes, knit...mostly on size 17 round needles, and has made a number of amazing gifts for the nieces and nephews.

Nephew Ezra wearing a 'Brian Original'

Nissi showing off Uncle Brian's knittin'
     Brian's most memorable part of the year was when he went to California to be present for the adoption of his sister Mikayla and brother in law Russell's son. Brian surprised everyone out there, and hanging out with family and friends felt like he never left. We continue to think about our friends and family out in Tahoe (and those who have moved) everyday. 
Mikayla and Brian in Tahoe- Sept 2011
     Brian has also become very excited about sermon podcasts. He has listened to at least 109 sermons specifically from a man named Tim Keller . If you happen to listen to any, Brian is ready and waiting to talk philosophically about it. Brian is certainly growing in his love for God, and we are all so happy for him.

   And finally, Kristen has been enjoying the craziness of adjusting to life with 3 children, a part time job as an editor with Craft Gossip, her MOPS group, and anything else that fits into those extra few minutes in the week. Kristen had many great experiences this year, but 2 really stand out; the birth of Zeke at home on Easter the same time as her sister, Meghan,  and covering 'Prime Time' The Martha Stewart Show for Craft Gossip

Zeke-May 2011

Kristen and Zeke right after he was born- April 24, 2011
 Martha, Kristen and some other bloggers... Oct 2011

We continue to work on growing together as a family, making lasting friendships here in Florida, and trying to stay in touch with our long-time friends. We love each and every one of you, and hope that your Christmas season is one of quality time with family, friends, laughter, spiritual growth and love. God Bless you all and we'll be back on this blog sometime next year!

Love, Brian, Kristen, Lily, Claire and Zeke

Matthew 2:10- 'When they saw the star,
they were overjoyed.'