I have no idea how many books we own, but I am pretty sure my oldest son has read every appropriate book in our house at least 3 times. Biographies. History books. Autobiographies. Fiction. College textbooks. Chronicles of Narnia. Hardy Boys. Lord of the Rings. All he ever asks for is books. Books. Books. And more books.

I love the example he sets for his younger siblings. They constantly see him with a book in his hands, flipping pages, laughing to himself. We’ve delayed getting him any type of E-Reader because I am probably more old fashioned than most. Technology can also be confusing to younger siblings…is he playing a game? Is he reading?

Well, we hit a wall with books. Despite weekly visits to our small library, we just can’t keep up with his reading. Many of the books he wants to read are always checked out and we’d have to get a second mortgage to buy all he reads! So, for his birthday we introduced him to a Kindle and free e-book downloads from the public library (with parental controls and restrictions, of course). We both agree the Kindle isn’t the same as holding a real book, but it sure has a lot of benefits we are learning to appreciate.

I usually take a few portraits of the kids on or around their birthdays. It was a cold day and I could tell he wasn’t really in the mood for fixing his hair and posing for my camera, all he wanted was to be lost in a book. I asked if he minded if I took a minute and just captured HIM on his birthday, no posing, just the things I saw and wanted to remember. I stood in one place and gave myself a minute to really see. (Sidenote: he is usually very willing to let me photograph him because I rarely ask him to look at the camera or pose. I also don’t interrupt him. If you have older kids, maybe that will help you too.)

His hands with his new Kindle – such a marker of this time in history and technology…

3.15kindle-01The space heater….we will laugh seeing that in pictures one day. Of course, we could wear socks and pants and use blankets. One space heater doesn’t heat a house, but it is like a reminder of summer – we all like the feeling of that warm ‘sun’ on our legs:)

And feet that touch the ground.

3.15kindle-003And feet that don’t touch the ground nearby…3.15kindle-04And hands the same size as mine….3.15kindle-053.15kindle-06My oldest on his 11th birthday. Most likely I will look back and be more grateful I took these photos than a series of posed portraits (though I am still taking portraits when it gets warm!). When he turned ten it was hard…something about double digits. Eleven, on the other hand, it is just looking fun!

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  • Southern Gal - Happy birthday to your eldest baby!

  • Annelies - Happy birthday, he must be so excited for his present !
    Not trying to be snarky but I don’t think you need the space heater if you guys would just wear warm pants and socks ! :)

  • M. Miller - My oldest son is also 11 and is an avid reader. He has a Kindle, but really prefers to hold a real book so we spend a fortune on books. Since he’s such a good reader, I always have to read what he’s reading first – sometimes he can read things, but with his reading level we have to be cautious of content. We just finished reading The Ranger’s Apprentice series by John Flannagan and we both loved it, so much so that we were having bookmark wars – with both of us both reading the book at the same time and me trying hard to stay ahead of him!

  • Amy @thelittlefarmdiary - Happy birthday sweet boy! And Ashley, I’m thinking that adding a little pot bellied stove to your precious home would be the answer to your chilly days, not to mention they’re cute as pie. Your winters will never be the same again. We have a cast iron stove and honestly it’s the love of my life until May. Enjoy this birthday- they go by at warp speed as they get older!

  • Beth - Hi Ashley!

    Happy Birthday to your oldest!
    I just wanted to give a shout out to the interlibrary loan system we have where I live. My girl is like your oldest. We have found that we can request just about any book and it will be at our library in a matter of days. Maybe check to see if you have something similar. It’s also great for finding homeschool books!

  • AshleyAnn - Beth – we do have that too, but it still can take weeks!

  • Danielle - I have run into the problem of how much cheaper the ebooks are. I delayed buying them their own kindle because I thought they would not take care of it at 7&8 but now I have so many of their books for school of my kindle I think it will be a long wait until Christmas! It is so much fun to watch your family change and grow :) especially with two boys of my own. Happy birthday, I hope you can travel to many distant places and go on many adventures in this new year!

  • Debbie - What a great way to capture his birthday. I used to feel the same way about holding a real book until I was given my Nook for Mother’s Day. It really changed my world. There are so many free books you can download from Barnes and Noble and other sites. He will be blowing through books now. :)

  • Michelle - Happy Birthday Oldest brother!!
    You are a great example to your siblings and children everywhere. Keep reading and enjoy the journey these books take you to!

  • Heather - I will always love holding an actual book in my hand, but definitely appreciate having a Kindle now. I love that I can take multiple books with me and can easily borrow books without leaving the house. Seeing pictures of your son reminds me of myself – I always had a book in my hands when I was younger. I hope my children will do the same – they’re toddlers, but have a great love of books already. I think a love of reading is one of the best gifts you can give your children.

  • Emily - Happy Birthday, Biggest Brother!

  • susie - Tell him happy birthday from wyoming! My boy turns 12 in May- he reminds me of your boy- they are great! One more year till you can go elk hunting!That’s what ethan is waiting for! Tell your dad to bring you back to the bighorns to get an elk- they sure are good! Good thing they can get an elk at 12- they sure can eat lots of food!

  • Lauren Parks - Cute post! Can you tell where I can find those dining chairs?

  • AshleyAnn - Lauren – they are from Joss & Main

  • Emily - If he has not read Andrew Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga, it is amazing…about an oldest brother coming into his own with lots of adventure thrown in. It is written for kids, but the story and writing are adult-worthy!

  • Tiffany - To “Oldest Son” – Happy 11th Birthday! May your day be filled with lots of good reading and no chores! :-) My oldest will be 11 in 2 days, and he is slowly discovering the joy of reading. Would you have any suggestions on great books for him to read? He enjoys adventure and mystery-type books. We would love to hear your opinion on some great books (maybe your mom can do a blog post about “Great Boy Books”. :-)

  • Deb - Looking back fondly when my boys were that age -they are 31 now. Some books we loved were anything by Robert Elmer. http://www.robertelmerbooks.com and the Trailblazer series. http://www.trailblazerbooks.com. I’ve saved all of them for my grandkids. Hopefully they’ll still enjoy reading from a book by the time they are old enough for them.

  • t - It would be awesome to see a big, long, wholesome book list for boys on your blog sometime! :)

  • Diana - I’ve been resisting a Kindle for a long time for the same reasons. I love holding actual books! But I’m at the same place…library can’t get my holds in fast enough!

  • Tiffany - My eldest turns 19 today. I will have to get a picture as well. btw. WHERE DID U GET THOSE CHAIRS, they are great.

  • Libbe - OK, I have to laugh at the photo of the kids’ feet not reaching the floor under the table. Your dog has this look of longing for food on the floor, but there isn’t any. LOL!

  • Jenny B. - So sweet! My ten-year-old saved his birthday money for a couple of years and bought himself a Kindle Paperwhite last summer. :) I recently signed him up for a Kindle FreeTime Unlimited subscription, and that has been great. I think it’s only $3/month, and he has access to a lot of books. Many are geared toward younger kids, but he’s never had trouble finding something he wanted to read, and has even read a few chapter books aloud to his younger brother (who can’t wait to save up his own money so he can buy one too). :)

  • RaD - Eleven was easier on me too, but I have no idea why. I now have a teenager (just a week in) and it seems to be okay saying that. That term is finding its place in my mind and in my heart.

  • Amy C - Great pics! My 11 yo son is also an avid reader. I was just bringing up the e-reader to my husband a few days ago. I’m not quite sure I’m ready. LOL! We do spend a fortune on books and we’re funning out of room. But I like that they’re surrounded by books and that his books get saved for his younger brother to read if he chooses to. He also reads ahead for his monthly book reports, so I keep thinking that having the physical book to flip through on those projects is nice to have. I’d be interested in an update in a few weeks on how it’s going. Thanks!

I’m trying my hardest to be positive and make it to spring, but goodness I am not cut out for the winter. I really have no idea how most of you do it…feet of snow and constant below freezing temperatures. You are made of tough stuff. Tough stuff.

The kids are stir crazy.

I carry a space heater from room to room with me.

Each year I think we should invest in better winter gear, but then the season ends.

Hoping spring arrives soon.

3.15snow-023.15snow-01I asked my dog how she feels about winter….3.15snow-063.15snow-073.15snow-08Jokes aside, that is how Arley acts when I try to take her picture. She will look at my camera and then turn around…she also wedges herself between me and the space heater. She has not learned how our home works…I get the space heater and we take pictures of faces not booties.

The kids have been playing outside some. Soccer in the snow, we are ready for spring. I am also ready for camping again. I sure miss being in that trailer!

70-200mm ISO 100, 1/2000, f/2.83.15snow-05On the bright side, for about 30 minutes one day she decided she liked the cold and the snow….

70-200mm ISO 100, 1/1250, f/2.83.15snow-0370-200mm ISO 100, 1/1250, f/2.83.15snow-04I’m thankful seasons change. Seasons in nature. Seasons in life. Change is good!

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  • B. - What lens did you use for the first 2 photos?

  • danielle - I think it helps a lot if you live in a place with winter activities. When my family goes to MN we always like to do some winter hiking, snowshoeing, and have even tried cross country skiing! We have a steep enough hill at our house that my boys have enjoyed sledding with the little bit of snow we have been getting. I could never understand you summer people :)

  • Michele - I can feel your pain. I keep saying to myself that March is in like a lion out like a lamb. Daylight savings time is this weekend and the first day of spring is on the 21st. Winter will be pushed out soon. Time to plan the garden because it will be here before you know it! Just a little longer, we made it this far!

  • AnnMarie - I live in Utah, and this winter is a bit surreal for us — yesterday marked our first good snowfall (aka enough snow fell to stay on the ground overnight) since Christmas (which was the first snowfall of the whole season)! Until this week, the weather has been downright springlike since the end of January, which is extremely discomfiting when you’re used to perpetual snow from October to March. It’s hard to believe that the eastern half of the nation is experiencing its coldest winter in years when we’re experiencing our warmest.

  • Debbie - Here in Houston we have had more cloudy days than sunny days in months along with really cold weather. This morning it is 72 degrees and balmy. It is supposed to get down to 36 degrees sometime tonight. I am so ready for sunny days….even if it’s hot. :)

  • Julie - I’m done with winter the first of January. I power through the months until March and then I’m completely over it. As much as I don’t like the cold and winter, spring is my least favorite season. I feel like it’s a complete tease – just when you think it’s going to warm up BAMB it snows again. Thank God (literally!) for Easter. Just when I’m about to lose all hope from the elements, and I’m personally at my ugliest point with the children from being cooped up, here comes the good news. In the meantime, back to fighting the weather (we’re in Nashville and just survived the ice-pocalypse.)

  • Krystina - I used to volunteer at an animal shelter taking photos of very “anti-camera” dogs. The best thing I learned was making high pitch squealing sounds. Basically any funny sound will tend to work. Suddenly they want to know what’s going on over in your direction. I’d say it works on most dogs…except for mine…who has learned my ways and just ignores my noises.

  • Elisabeth - I live in upstate New York. Although I generally love winter, this winter has been tough- we’re beyond ready for spring! Today is the first day in almost 2-3 months the temperatures have risen above freezing- 30 degrees now feels like summer weather to us (especially after the weeks and weeks of below zero temperatures). We’ll be praying for spring right along with you!

  • Seamingly Sarah - Skiing, winter sports, that’s how I get through the winter. I was born in Northern Vermont and live in Northern New York now. This has been a great snow year, so a great winter to ski. I love digging snow tunnels, building snowmen and sledding with the kids. Teaching them to ski has been another story. But each step is a step forward. But anyway, we are a winter loving family! The only thing I don’t like is rain in the winter. It’s just wrong.

  • Kelly - I had to laugh at your comment about cold weather gear :) We live in Minnesota and my husband goes all winter without even wearing a coat. Granted he isn’t working outside, but he is content with a sweater and his hands in his pants pockets.

  • Necole@seriouslysassymama - Oh my goodness if we do not have some sunshine soon, I will surely lose my stuff! I cannot wait for camping. We camp in a tent, not a trailer, but it is still perfect. The best part is we have camp grounds 5 minutes from our house! Hopefully this time change will bring color and warmth, so i can put away my parka. This is Texas for goodness sakes.

  • Jill O'Grady - Ashley Ann,
    I’m a long time reader, first time poster. I just wanted to take a minute to say that your blog sings to me. You are a beautiful mother, wife, friend and person who very clearly cherishes each and every moment of life. I’m a mother of 1 toddler and a full time worker who regularly finds herself going through ‘the routine’ each weekday. When I get the chance to sit and have a quiet moment for myself, I read your blog. Every time, it reminds me to never take a moment for granted and to get out there and enjoy life with my young family. Thank you for sharing elements of your world with us. I’m off to make the most of the weekend with my son and husband! Jill xx

There are moments in life that surprise me. Stop me in my tracks. Take my breath away.

I am a purger more than a hoarder. Constantly purging. I do have a handful of clothing items I’ve saved that the kids have out grown. My youngest daughter has a couple of 6-12 month shirts that I continually hide and she continually finds. Yesterday she came downstairs sporting one I had hidden on a high back shelf the day before. I still have no idea how she found it or reached it.

She’s overcome some extraordinary sensory issues related to her hands. In day to day, life I often don’t recognize just how far she has come. Yesterday I looked across the table at her with her hands covered in shaving cream and her 6-12 month shirt on…and I thought about when we were in China together. She sported the same shirt, but stared at her hands instead of touching things.

It took my breath away. The beauty of the everyday. The simple things…shaving cream and shirts that are too small. This is the good stuff in life.
3.15shavingcream-013.15shavingcream-103.15shavingcream-023.15shavingcream-033.15shavingcream-04My oldest has a birthday this week. Instead of playing with shaving cream, he was focused on finishing his school work. Focused and driven…and getting old on me.3.15shavingcream-053.15shavingcream-063.15shavingcream-073.15shavingcream-083.15shavingcream-09Some of you have asked about how speech is going. She’ll have a long road in regards to speech as a result of her cleft lip and palate. However, she has been making huge strides lately. Six months ago she was putting a few words together. Now she is having full conversations. Not all her words are clear, but when we don’t understand she just says them louder (like when people are speaking two different languages:))We’ve always known God gave her an extra dose of spunk, but now that her words have caught up with her thoughts -whoa baby are we seeing that spunk. Sassy in a good way. Spunk in a fun way. She keeps us on our toes, surprises us every day and brings us lots of laughter.

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  • Tracy R. - Amazing! This makes my heart SO happy! And this makes the start of my day a happy one! Thank you for sharing!

  • Amy @thelittlefarmdiary - Ashley, I’m always grateful when you remind me to have fun with my kids, the hardest for me, messy fun! Thanks for the reminder!

  • Tanya - This is a wonderful post! Thanks for sharing!

  • Mandy Jones - I cried as I read your words this morning. I have followed Little One’s journey and felt like a part of it through the beautiful gift of your thoughts as you have shared them with us, your readers. Her happiness shines bright through every pore of her skin, the twinkle in her eye, and every dimple in her cheeks. Every single milestone she has reached and then left in the dust of her trail of determination is a result of not just her own “spunk and sass” but the abundance of love and guidance that you and your family so selflessly give her. As the aunt of a (now 21 year old!) individual with a rare syndrome, I know first hand how easy it is to get lost in the day to day life and over look those milestone moments from time to time. But, God has a way of making us slow down and notice them just when it’s needed most, doesn’t he?

    Thank you for this blog, for your thoughts, for sharing your love of photography and your love for your family and God and crafting and all things silly and random like the Fresh Prince rap, with an entire legion of “followers” who are mostly “strangers” to you. You are a gift and inspiration in my life, as well as the lives of many others.

  • Christi Smith - Amazing!!

  • Amy D - What sweet sensory and speech victories! Huge!!! Our little one joined our family the day after your Little One did… And our little one still runs for sensory play like this. Any tips for how you helped her to feel more comfort with sensory activities?

  • Natalie - Such a great thing! Go girl go!!

  • Birdy - She shows us all the beauty in life… she had a hard start, but now she is the most happiest girl on earth! I guess, she will find a way to express herself – thanks to her family!

    Love from Germany and the fatcatconnection
    http://lasagnolove.blogspot.de

  • angie - goodness gracious is she cute.

  • Jenni - I have been reading your blog for years and I remember that day:). Sometimes I think about your case worker and I wonder if she comes and visits your blog on days that maybe aren’t that great as a reminder of placements that make her heart soar.:). Every time I read one of your posts I’m so grateful that you have let all of us come on this journey with you:).

  • Lindsey McClennahan - You’re such a good mamma Ashley, you can tell in the joy and silliness that radiates from her little face!
    Love it : )

  • Allie - Oh my goodness! Her expressions in those last two photos look so much like her big sister’s — there’s a strong family resemblance :)

  • amber - Oh goodness…those pictures of her from China. My heart. Thank you for sharing just a bit of your journey here. It’s so beautiful to see!! Way to go awesome little lady:)!

  • Iris - Those last 2 pictures say it all! :)
    You’re such an encouragement to me and I thank God for that!
    By the way, it’s a really cute shirt, I’d want to keep that as well! ;)

  • Shauna - Wow She is amazing!!!
    The work you have done with her inspired me to look into adopting.
    Unfortunately I live in Australia and if Hugh Jackman and Debora-Lee Furnas can’t adopt in their own country I definitely can’t.
    They won’t even consider a single parent.
    But there are so many children out their with no parents that I would love to help in some way.

  • Sarah - What joy! Thank you for sharing this. The picture of Little One staring at her hands made me think of Psalm 139:14 “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.”

  • Abby @ Happy Food Happy Home - Go, Girl, Go! The pictures are so great and so is her progress. One of my favorite tactile teaching activities is using shaving cream to write letters, spell words, etc!

  • Michele - I love Lil One’s sentence you shared, “I got you Avery, I got you.
    There may be few words but those few words are filled with such amazing love. Thank you for sharing your every day family life with us.

  • Natalie - This is so incredible. You are doing an amazing job with her! Thanks for sharing!

  • Debi - I so love reading your blog! I can relate to your journey in some unusual ways. My second son had a stroke in utero and had some serious sensory issues for years. We are always so excited when he is brave (at 6 now) and allows us to put a band-aid on his cuts without flipping out. Or the fact that he’ll play in the sand or actually touch play-doh. Also, I really enjoy reading your posts on your youngest cleft lip/palate journey because we had our fourth baby in September and he was born with a severe blilateral cleft lip and palate. We just made it through the lip repair last Monday and post op appointment is this Thursday. I finally feel like we can breathe. Anyway, when I feel like there are days that no one understands the struggles we face I remember families like yours do. Thank you for your posts. This momma’s heart needs the encouragement sometimes.

  • jenn - So awesome. I love when you post milestones for your tiny girl. How exciting to watch her learn and grow.

  • kimberly oyler - has she asked you to close your eyes so she can show you things?? :)

  • Southern Gal - She’s come such a long way under the love of her family.

  • Andrea - I know you are hesitant to share much about homeschooling. However, we are feeling the Lord nudge us toward making a school change, and I immediately thought of you. Your encouragement to us moms is a great gift. I adore your insight and would love to learn more from you. I am particularly interested in what curriculum you are using for your oldest. There is so much out there it is easy to be overwhelmed. I have been sure you are using something that includes hands on learning with lots of reading of “real” books rather than just textbooks. Your photo of him working on the computer very much intrigues me. Anything you could share would be very appreciated!!

  • brittney - What a beautiful child. She is so lucky to have you, as you clearly are to have her. :) Your blog is so breathtaking.

  • WanderingGarden - Thanks for the update. I followed your links and journey as we began our adoption process, and it is a joy to see her grow!

  • Rikki - Could not be happier to be not only follow along with her progress, but that she is with you and you are so attentive to these beautiful simple things that make up who she is, who she’s becoming, and what she is overcoming.

  • Ashleigh - You are such a good mama. I know you have your struggles like the rest of us but you are such a good mama. It’s a pleasure to watch your family grow.

  • Kristen - What are y’all doing with the shaving cream..? Just curious : )

  • TheDenverPack - I could not love this post anymore. Love the changes your pictures capture.

  • Kimberly Dial - It makes me so happy to see her thriving, not that I doubted she would … she’s lovely & obviously so very happy. Her sassy spunk is evident … thanks for sharing her & your whole family. You’re blessed!

  • Kate @ Songs Kate Sang - This makes my heart so happy.