Ever After
  • Lori
  • October10th

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    Who’s faster than a speeding bullet and able to leap tall piles of laundry in a single bound?

    Super Tad!

    Tad brings vivacity and volume to our lives. He can’t just walk down stairs. He has to jump down them several at a time. For that matter, he can’t even maintain a walking tempo. His only speeds are fast and faster, and as exhausting as he is, he is an absolute joy to have around.

    His favorite shows are “Greatest American Hero,” “Avengers,” and “The Incredible Hulk.” He and I sometimes sneak over to Chick-fil-a during the day when the girls are at school, grab some lunch and then come back to have a picnic in the playroom while we watch Bill Bixby morph into Lou Ferrigno, so it seemed fitting that his birthday theme this year be super hero-based.

    Tad has never had a birthday party before, so he was super excited for the big day to arrive.

    To introduce the theme, I designed a fun retro-comic book inspired invitation.

    I then got the crazy idea to sew personalized capes and masks for the six invitees. (Plus I did two more mini versions as baby gifts).

    Thankfully, my Super Friends came to the rescue and helped with cupcakes, goodie bags, and crowd control on the day of the party.

    I found it ironic that most of the children didn’t want to have anything to do with the capes and masks . . . until some of the moms put on the outfits.

    We did four games at the party:

    Firewalk: Walking across a 2×4 board that was surrounded by tissue paper “flames.”

    Bean bag Bad Guy Toss: Try to knock over the “bad guys” (empty Crystal Light containers w/ a picture of a cute “bad guy” taped around each) with bean bags. This was the favorite game; Vivi and Tad have spent HOURS playing it over the last few days.

    Diffuse the Grenades: Pop the grenade balloons. To my surprise, a couple of kids FREAKED out when they realized that popping balloons were involved.

    Walking on Air: Stomping on wide strips of bubblewrap that we taped to the ground. Reviews on this activity were mixed–the balloon-phobic children were also scared of this game. Everyone else had a BLAST!

    I also designed little individual photo booth style picture strips to slip into the thank you cards.

    (I’m not sure why the colors went a little funky when I uploaded the file. They match the colors on the invite and printed out fine. Weird.)

    One of my favorite memories of Tad’s 4th birthday will be when he woke up and realized that he was no longer three. Here’s how the conversation went:

    Tad: “So, I’m not three anymore?”

    Mom: “Nope. You’re four.”

    Tad: “So, I’m four years old?”

    Mom: “Yep. You’re four.”

    Tad: “So do I still wear the same clothes?”

    Mom: “Yep. You’re four and you still wear the same clothes.”

    Tad: “But I’m not three anymore?”

    Mom: “No, you’re four.”

    Tad: “But the three-year-old clothes in my drawer. Do I still wear those?”

    Mom: “Yes, Tad. You are really only a day older than yesterday, and so you still fit in your clothes.”

    Tad: “Oh. I’m four and I still wear the clothes in my drawer?”

    I think at this point, I sighed, smiled, and broke out in song: “This is the song that never ends, it just goes on and on my friend . . .”

    Tad joined me and thankfully forgot about his clothes. I think the reason this verbal exchange tickles me so much is that it reminds me of myself . . . always making sure that all the angles and contingencies are covered, even though it drives others around me nutso.

    Tad, my love for you is like our favorite song . . . it just goes on and on my friend . . .

    Please stay my super buddy forever.


  • September21st

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    I’m taking an awesome online photography class and am excited to learn about natural light techniques.

    Here are a few shots that I took of Vivi on Sunday morning before church. Everyone had a role: Ariana held the reflector and Tad’s job was to make Vivi laugh. Vivi loved being the center of attention, and when the photo shoot was all over, she wanted to know when we could do it again.

    I also learned a new trick for helping to prevent sharp pictures from appearing softer when posting them the web: save files at 72 dpi and at the size you want it to appear (max 590 pixels wide for my blog theme) so the blogging software doesn’t resize them. I also run a subtle “sharpen for web” action that seems to also help.

    Side-lit, no reflector

    Instructor feedback: Light pattern nearly perfect. Just turn her head and shoulders a tiny bit more toward the light source. We’re aiming for a triangle of light on the cheek away from the light.

    Front Lit, No reflector

    Instructor feedback: Crop just a tiny bit closer to the top of her head. Lighting looks good.

    Side-lit, reflector

    Instructor feedback:In side-lit, indirect light settings, reflector should be held parallel to the side of her face away from the light and not under her face causing the light to bounce up on her. The shadows under her eyes, nose and chin are caused by not positioning the reflector properly.

  • September21st


    I Can do it!

    Posted in: Lori

    Coach Dave was one of the most influential people in my life. He taught me how to swim when I was a nine-year-old so afraid of the water that I didn’t even want to put my face in, and he coached me in competitive swimming until my early high school years. Pacing the deck, workout after workout, year after year, he was always there to coach and encourage me. Even though I was not a gifted athlete, he never gave up on me. His mantra for each swimmer was a simple phrase, but to this day, it’s still my motto–“I can do it!”

    Beautiful strokes, no muscles. That was my curse. No matter how hard I worked, how many laps I swam, how many hours I spent in the pool, I could never advance to the highest levels of my sport. I was good but not great, and it drove me crazy. Despite this, the life lessons I learned through Coach Dave Maynard’s swim program have truly shaped who I am.

    Swimming is so ingrained in me that, more than half a lifetime later, I still have dreams about competing. Normally they are bad dreams–I’m wandering the pool deck of a meet without my swim suit, I can’t figure out when my next event is, I can’t remember how to swim. But some dreams are tender reminders of my dear swim coach, and I wake up teary because I miss him.

    Over the last twenty plus years, I’ve dabbled in other forms of exercise, and the only thing I’ve ever been consistent at has been walking on the treadmill, but I’ve gradually realized that walking is not going to pay the dividends that I am looking for. It’s a good form of exercise, but there are so many things that would give me a better pay back for the time and effort I’m investing. Sadly, I’m such a klutz that I can’t even get up the guts to try anything more advanced. I’m definitely not a runner, kick boxer, biker, or spinner. The obvious answer was to get back in the pool and start swimming again, but I knew that it would miserable. I remembered what it felt like to be in top shape. to be able to swim and never get tired. And I knew that getting back to that point would be tough.

    The first few days were TORTURE, and I was sure that I was going to drown, but each day got a little bit easier. I’m just finishing week three of swimming 5-6 days a week, and I am excited by the progress I’m making. The pool is starting to feel like home to me, and I’m up to 2,800 yards per workout. Sadly, the scale hasn’t budged, so that’s ultra frustrating and makes me want to quit. Patience is not one of my virtues. But whenever I feel like quitting, I hear Dave’s voice inside my head, the voice that I’ve heard so many times in my life when things get really tough: “You can do it.”

    Thanks, Dave. For everything.

  • August28th

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    When I realized a week ago that I only had a few days left with my kids before they headed back to school, I decided to host a “no regrets” week in my honor. I set aside the lengthy to-do list and, instead, the kids and I created a new list of things that we wanted to do during our last week of summer vacation. Although the list was not perfectly executed, we did a pretty dang good job of making the week count.

    On Monday, we went to the Dallas Zoo and enjoyed temperatures in the high 80’s, low 90’s. Ariana invited a friend to help make her trip a bit more enjoyable, and we all had a really good time.

    Tuesday, we went to a cute movie: The Odd Life of Timothy Green. It was a great family-friendly film, and I think we all enjoyed it. Afterwards we had a little Wii Party.

    Wednesday, we stayed close to home and had a Leave it to Beaver marathon. Netflix is our best friend!

    Thursday, at 5:15 we went to Ariana’s school and decorated her locker, although I think it took a little longer than expected, partly having to do with my want need for perfection. šŸ™‚

    Friday, Ariana dutifully watched the littles while Bryan and I went out for lunch toĀ celebrateĀ our first lunch together. Bryan even got off work early to go to the Frisco Athletic Center with us. We spent the remainder of the day there, came back home, fixed ourselves up again and left, yet again to go to Fisher to meet Vivian’s teacher, while Ariana stayed home and made us salad for dinner. (Tad reminded me that he helped her by tasting the toppings to make sure they were good.) We got home… again and finished up dinner, watched a movie, and went to bed.

    Saturday, we went to the North Texas State Fair in Denton. Despite the heat and lack of proper hydration, we had lots of fun.The kids and Ariana (She frequently reminds me that she is not a kid anymore, but she will always be my baby girl no matter how old she gets) did a tractor pull. Ariana tried and kept going onto the grass, making them have to restart it a couple of times and then stopped short because she thought she was done. Vivian, too, stopped just short of the finish line. Tad was the youngest competitor in the group, and his little legs didn’t even fully reach the pedals. He had the best showing from our family advancing to the semi-finals.

    (Thank you to Ariana for helping to write this post. I started it but then got distracted. She finished it for me.)

  • August27th

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    Posted in: Ariana, Lori, Tad, Vivi

    With a bounce in their hair from our traditional night-before-school-starts-sponge-roller treatment and a bounce in their step, Ari and Vivi headed back to school this morning.

    Vivi is a little nervous about her new teacher whose name I can’t ever seem to remember but thankfully Tad can–Ms. Delashaw. Ari is a little nervous about all of her new teachers (I can’t even attempt to remember all their names) and the THREE pre-ap classes that she’s taking this year. Despite her jitters, I know that Ariana is excited about opening her locker on the first try (thank heaven that the sixth grade learning curve is behind us) and to see the zebra-striped interior that she and I decorated late last week.

    Tad is kind of at a loss because he has no one to fight with, although a pack of Smarties and a bubble gum-flavored Dum Dum later, and he has figured out that it’s easier to sneak into the candy cupboard without his two Other Mothers watching over him. With sugar coursing through his veins, Tad is bouncing off the walls, and he wants to race through the Mommy-Buck-School workbooks in a single morning.

    And speaking of Tad, he just headed downstairs again for another sugar fix, no doubt. Maybe he can find something in the candy cupboard that will help me bounce back from my first-day doldrums.

  • August10th


    Downton Abbey is the sole reason why any laundry ever gets folded around here. Because the only time I allow myself the privilege of watching that splendid show is when I’m folding laundry, I think that, subconsciously, I allow loads and loads of clean clothes to accumulate in baskets just so I can stand for hours at a time folding and watching. I suppose that if I lived in that era, I’d be one of the servants (a laundress?), but I like to envision myself as Lady Grantham, wearing beautiful, tasteful gowns and attending to a variety of worthy causes.

    This graceful lifestyle is what I had in mind when the latest beautiful issue of Somerset Life caught my eye at Costco as I headed to the checkout stand. They really know my weakness and they purposely position the magazine rack in the impulse-buy section of the store. I bought the issue because, after all, a $10 magazine at Costco is a like aĀ brass farthingĀ compared to a costly basketful of toilet paper, pork loin and the sample-of-the-day that you don’t really need but that you get suckered into buying anyway. You know what I’m talking about . . . the humus dip that your kids insist they love in the store but turn their noses up as soon as you get the 3-pound-refrigerator-hogging container home. Anyway, I was immediately drawn in by an article about an artist named Heather Sleightholm, aka “Audrey Eclectic.” I fell in love with her work and, while sitting in the food court as Tad scarfed a hot dog, I pulled her information up on-line from my phone because I was so excited that I couldn’t even wait to get home to a real computer.Ā  When I discovered that she did affordable commission work, the wheels in my head started spinning. When I showed Bryan her work and he was equally impressed with it, we started the process to get our family portrait done. Goodbye humble laundress, hello Lady Tolbert.

    I am picky. I am opinionated. I am very detail oriented. Heather is PATIENT. Heather is TALENTED. Heather is AMAZING to work with. I really can’t say enough good about that woman. The process of information exchange went FLAWLESSLY, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the end result. Well, actually if Fedex hadn’t beat the packaging to HECK and broken the wood frame that the canvas is stretched to, I would have been a wee bit more pleased, but it’s nothing that can’t be fixed by a competent frame shop (and hopefully paid for by Fedex).

    We all LOVE our large 30 inch x 40 inch painting and I plan on having it hang above our fireplace until the day I die. And then I hope that my kids show a little more decorum than Lady Grantham’s spoiled children and amicably decide some time-share system to rotate the heirloom from home-to-home in a fair manner.

  • August10th



    Posted in: Lori, Projects, Vivi

    When Ariana was approaching the age of toothlessness, I made several little tooth fairy pillows that she gave as gifts to special friends. The pillows are quite time-consuming to make, each taking 5-6 hours from start to finish, and I ran out of umph before I got one completed for Ariana. Sadly, so many things in my life seem to be like that. I love doing projects or other acts of service for other people because it makes me feel good and, by and large, people appreciate the help. But I tend to run out of time to do things for my own family, and quite honestly, my family is sometimes much less appreciative of my efforts. But that’s no excuse for neglecting those that I love the most, and I’m really trying to better balance my priorities. And so when Vivi discovered that she was really, really close to losing her first tooth, I seized the opportunity to right past wrongs, and working at a feverish pace, I started making her a tooth fairy pillow. Well, to be completely honest, I first went into a funk for a few weeks because she’s passing into the next stage of life, and I just want her to keep her baby teeth for a few more years, and then I feverishly started in on the pillow.

    I worked on the pillow while the kids and I watched Anna and the King last night, and out of the corner of my eye, I could see Vivi wiggling the tooth, so I stitched faster. I finally forbade her from any more wiggling because, if I had come this close, I was NOT going to have another one of my kids lose a tooth and not have their own custom-made tooth fairy pillow to put it in. No mother should have to go through that once, let alone twice. šŸ˜‰

    It’s tough embroidering the small letters, and I know that I could have done a better job on that part, but I resisted the impulse to tear it all out and start afresh.Ā “Finished is better than perfect. Finished is better than perfect. Finished is better than perfect.” I had to chant this false mantra to myself over and over to cross the finish line, but cross I did, putting the stuffing in and stitching the opening closed this morning. I would have had it done last night, but the computer crashed (unmountable boot drive error, blue screen of death), and I had to turn my attention to that so that I could sleep.


    Aaagh, sweet redemption. I only hope that Ariana can forgive me for not making her a pillow back in the day. I’ll have to figure something out to make amends.

  • June13th

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    Spy Kids

    Posted in: Lori, Tad, Vivi

    The monarch butterfly’s migration to Mexico.
    The swallow’s journey to Capistrano.
    Lori Tolbert’s trek to the Denton County Appraisal District.

    Some events in life are predictable.

    This year marked my fifth time in the last six years to protest my property taxes. I was really hoping to avoid the process, but when our appraised value jumped $45K in a single year, I knew I was going to have to have a little heart-to-heart with the paper pushers down at DCAD. Even though the female staff appraiser wasn’t as accommodating as the fella I normally work with, I still got her to come down $30k.

    Vivi and Tad have entertained themselves with “spy” games over the last few days as I’ve tried to get everything ready for my hearing, so I turned our trip to Denton into a secret spy mission for them. We woke up extra early so that we could be the first in line . . . because that’s what spies do. And spies have to be extra quiet, observant, and not call attention to themselves. They carried out their mission so successfully that I kind of forgot that they were standing by my side as the staff appraiser and I negotiated back and forth. As a reward, we treated ourselves to a Denton Square (baked) Donut (yum!) and a trip to the Denton Thrift store where they each were given a $2 allowance to buy anything they wanted.

    Vivi remarked that she knew the spy mission was going to be fun but not THAT FUN.

  • January2nd


    To put it mildly, we are OBSESSED with Chopped, the Food Network show where contestants are given random (and often weird) baskets of ingredients and are expected to create culinary masterpieces in a ridiculously short amount of time. Each round, one contestant gets “chopped,” and in the final dessert round, the two remaining chefs compete head-to-head for a $10k prize.

    A few nights a week, you can find us all huddled around the television watching DVR’ed episodes. We each guess at who will be chopped and who will win. We gag at some of the ingredients–from testicles to brain, rattlesnake to rabbit–that the chefs not only have to cook with but that the judges also have to eat. We laugh at some of the crazy things they come up with. We even occasionally cry with the judges (yes, literally) when a favorite underdog defies all odds and beats his or her cocky counterparts.

    When we’re not watching the show, Vivi and Tad will sometimes play “Chopped” with our fake food assortment. Tad even presented us a crayon-sketched creation of “ganache” yesterday before church, and he often randomly mixes words like “creme fraiche” and “panzanella” into his sentences.

    But the biggest chopped fanatics are Ari and BT. During the Christmas break, they enjoyed staying up late and watching episodes together long after the rest of us had gone to bed. Ari loves the cooking, BT loves the competition and Ari’s companionship. He also loves giving her a mystery basket of ingredients, 20 minutes, and watching her whisk around the kitchen as she crafts her own concoctions.

    Yesterday for a pre-dinner appetizer, she successfully used the new panini press we got from Grandma and Grandpa Hess to create a crostini of toasted garlic bread topped with melted mozzarella cheese, pan roasted fresh tomato, Parmesan cheese and dried basil.

    The rest of us then act as the judges and give feedback. Tad especially got into it. He normally starts his prayer by saying, “Dear Heavenly Father, this is Buck.” Yesterday, he said, “Dear Heavenly Father, this is a judge.” Hilarious!

    As good as the food is, watching BT and Ari bond in this fun exercise of creativity is priceless.

    And just in case one of the execs from Food Network ever happens to read this–if the contestants on the show could just embrace the 3rd commandment–“Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain,” or, more likely, if the producers would at least bleep out this offensive language, the show would be perfect.

  • December26th

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    The weeks leading up to Christmas this year were full of fun visits from grandmas and the usual frenzy of holiday preparations.

    And as routine as some of the activities were, I really can’t remember a more magical holiday; Vivi and Tad are at the PERFECT age for all the wonderment of the season, and Ariana is at the PERFECT age to embrace the true meaning of the traditions.

    Each year during the week leading up to winter break, the kindergarteners at Vivi’s school are immersed in a gingerbread theme. The curriculum unit is made especially fun because the kids receive random, secret visits from a mischievous gingerbread man named “Max.” However, leaving a trail of candy and chos in his wake, Max ultimately runs away on the last day of school before vacation . . . “You can’t catch me, I’m the gingerbread man!” Vivi was OBSESSED with poor Max. She couldn’t understand why he would run away and not come back, and even after Max left a note at our house assuring Vivi that he was safe and sound at the North Pole and that he would deliver word to Santa that Vivi should definitely be on the “Nice List,” she worried about his well being.

    Christmas Eve, Max accompanied Santa back to our house and continued his impish ways–he hid our Christmas tree and stockings. We awoke on Christmas morning and headed downstairs to open presents. The kids were distraught to discover that everything was missing. But Max left a note on the hearth: “When Santa and I delivered your stockings, Santa let me hide them. Good luck finding them. Ha! Ha! Max”

    Thankfully, we didn’t have any major meltdowns before discovering the tree, stockings and presents up in the playroom. Oh, that crazy Max!

    As a kid, some of my favorite Christmases were the years that we made presents for each other. I’ve always wanted to continue this tradition with my own kids, and this year I actually mustered the umph to do it.

    With my help, Vivi made snap bags for everyone–one for Ariana to keep her glasses in, and matching wallets for Dad and Tad to put their credit cards and other treasures. She sat on my lap and raised and lowered the presser foot, pressed the backstitch button, and helped clip threads. Everything came from the stash, and the boys’ bags were actually made from Ari’s old jeans and BT’s old dress shirts.

    Tad (aka “Buck”) made his sisters some barrettes for their hair–he helped glue the flowers down on the felt backing.

    He also made BT a “Buck Book”–a coupon book of fun things that he promises to do with Dad. It reduced BT to tears because it documented the fun little things that Buck and BT do together at this stage in Tad’s life.

    Ariana went all out for her siblings and helped create fabulous stick horses. Vivi has been asking for one of these ever since she could say her first words, and Buck runs around the house with a shoestring between his legs pretending that he’s riding a horse, so Ari and I figured this would be the perfect gift for them this year. The horses took quite a bit of time, but the outbursts of joy from Vivi and Tad when they saw their gifts made everything worth it.

    Ariana also continued her tradition of documenting the special things she and her dad enjoyed during the year in a sketch book. She started it back in 2006 as a five year old when she celebrated her first Christmas with Bryan as her dad, and it’s priceless to see the drawings from each year.

    I was able to convince BT that the Tolberts needed to join the 21st century and get our first video game system. The Wii has been lots of fun thus far, and BT has even stayed up after the rest of us have gone to bed so that he can bowl, pitch and slam backhands without fear of interruption orĀ embarrassment. I’m surprised that he’d admit it, but he complained of being sore the next morning from all the sports he had played. I guess it is a little more strenuous than the late night family history work he’s accustomed to.

    Tad pronounced that chips were his favorite gift as he pounded down a one-and-a-half-inch stack of Pringles. I was touched that he at least put his can in a larger lid to try and catch the crumbs.

    But he’s also had a ton of fun with the tools that we got him. I’m determined to train that boy to take over all the household fix-it responsibilities so that I can eventually retire from this thankless, frustrating task.

    Vivi gently tends to the needs of her new cats–stuffed “Furreal” cats, but she doesn’t seem to mind that they don’t need a litter box.

    Ari needs to enter an addiction recovery program for a wii obsession, and she also loves her Alton Brown, The Early Years book.

    Despite its challenges, we were truly blessed in 2011, and we look forward to the adventures 2012 will bring.