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Life with 4 J's now resides at marlawestbrook.com. Please join us over there!

Xin Nian Kuai Le!

Happy Chinese New Year from our family to yours!

CNYbigcollage CNYsmallcollage


Monday the Doodle and I did some exploring in the woods near our house.  It was so much fun he barely noticed it was actually his birthday photo shoot.  He picked the outfit, top to bottom and I just followed along where ever he wanted to wander.  Of course, I was being bossed a bit along the way, "Don't take a picture here, Mom, there's too much sun."  Photographer's kid, much? I may or may not have taken a few too many pictures, so excuse the ridiculous number I'm posting here.


Last night, which was his actual birthday, he requested pizza for dinner and had a big sugar cookie with his candles on it. (we'll do cake this weekend at his party) As you can see, he wasn't the least bit excited that it was his birthday. ;) 

I'm not sure how the last 7 years have managed to pass so quickly, but it sure has been a fun ride with this big guy. He's definitely the best surprise I've ever received. Happy Birthday Doodle, we love you to the moon and back!

A letter to my mom on her birthday


Hi Mom,
Happy birthday in Heaven.  It's hard to believe that it's been 6 months already since you left.  I still think of you every single day and miss you more than I thought possible.  Everyone is doing well, you'd be so proud of the kids grades this year, they're all doing a great job in school.  Doodle has his first Upward basketball game today (he looks so cute in his uniform) and the girls start volleyball in just a few weeks.  I am moving Jacey's team up to the competitive league so she's really excited (and a little nervous) about that.  Jakob just keeps getting taller and taller, I have a feeling you two would be about eye to eye about now.  Hard to believe he only has a few months left in middle school.

Daddy is doing really well, you'd be proud of him too.  He learned how to take care of things really quickly, I've hardly helped at all.  He got the foundation of the house fixed (the garage door doesn't do that crazy shimmy thing that is used to do any more, lol) and he's working on fixing all kinds of other things.  Work keeps him busy and his boss has been so awesome, I know you're thankful for that and I am, too.

The holidays were hard, I tried to be upbeat and stay positive, but am not sure I always succeeded.  It just wasn't the same without you.  We didn't have gravy on Thanksgiving, lol, you know how much I suck at making it, so I didn't even attempt it.  Christmas was quiet, but fun.  The kids got a new XBox 360 and Derek set it up in the media room for them (which was a treat in itself given that they were previously forbidden from being in the man cave without supervision).  Jacey got a laptop too, you wouldn't believe how much school work she has to do on the computer.  Derek got me a pretty necklace with the kids' names on it and a new pink running jacket, which I'm probably going to need in a couple of hours, it looks like it's going to rain on my 5K today.

Later after my race and Jack's basketball game, Dad, Aunt Jean and all of us are going to go out to eat for your birthday.  Daddy and I decided you'd approve of Mexican Inn, actually, I suppose you'd have probably approved of ANY Mexican restaurant, so we couldn't really go wrong there.  It was strange not shopping for you a gift this year, I'm going to wear the butterfly necklace I got you last year today.

I sure do miss you, Mom, and just wanted you to know that I was thinking of you today.  I hope you hear the kids singing to you later, because I know they will.  Happy birthday and we love you tons.



Favorite Photo Friday - Holidays, IG Style

So I kind of skipped right over the holidays there, didn't I?  Oops.  Let me backtrack just a bit here.  We had a very nice laid back Christmas break.  We hung out, decorated cookies, visited with family that came in town, ate a lot of yummy food and just enjoyed being together.  It was the first Christmas without my mom, and I missed her like crazy.  We always spent a lot of time on our holiday menu and she loved seeing the kids with all their Christmas morning goodies, so it definitely wasn't the same without her.  I guess all these "firsts" are just going to take some getting used to.  Maybe next year, I'll actually be able to bring myself to listen to the book she recorded for the kids ('Twas the Night Before Christmas), I just couldn't do it this year.

I concentrated this year on really being in the moment with the kids and only snapped a few pics with my iPhone.  Christmas morning we woke up to thunderstorms and lots of dark clouds, so conditions weren't exactly ideal for the big camera anyway.  Christmas Eve, the kids decorated gingerbread men (we gave up on building houses, we can never get them to stay together!), but I think next year, we'll make our own homemade cookies.  The cookies that come in those kits are so hard they're inedible, and what fun is that?!?!


I think for the first time ever, Derek and I were actually up before the kids Christmas morning. It didn't take long to get them downstairs though, and everyone was very happy with what Santa left them. I have to say that as hesitant as Santa was about getting an XBox 360, we've already all enjoyed it and I think it's going to be a fun family activity. 


While Uncle Lynn was here visiting from Utah, we took the train to Dallas and went to the 6th Floor Museum (the site where President Kennedy was assassinated), as he'd never been there before. The J's enjoyed the train and the history lesson, too (of course, we had to teach them proper conspiracy theory, as we are not believers that there was only one shooter or a ridiculous "magic" bullet). :) 


We spent New Year's Eve at home with some of our neighbors and had a really nice night. I used to love to get dressed up and head out on the town, but now we prefer staying safe at home and ringing in the new year with the kids. A sign that we're getting old, perhaps?
the long road
Happy Friday everyone! Hope you all have a fabulous weekend!

9 Years with our Peanut

Yesterday we celebrated the 9th anniversary of the day we met Jaden in China, which you can read about here.  She was such a tiny little thing, easily fitting into 6 month size clothing at 10 months, but even on that day, we could see just how feisty our spicy little one would be.  Since day one with us, she's never hesitated to let us (and everyone else) know exactly how she feels and what she's thinking.  She's fun-loving, smart, energetic, cheerful and makes us laugh every day.  Jaden is one of those kids who just loves life.  She bounces out of bed every day at the crack of dawn with a big smile on her face and is always up for anything.  We are so blessed that God chose us to be her parents and look forward to seeing what adventures lie ahead for her. 
Before our traditional Family Day dinner at PF Chang's, we went out for quick shoot and I'm so glad we did. I just love the winter sun and am going to endeavor to get out with my camera more this year. I really miss shooting, especially my J's, and hope to have lots of new pics of them to post soon.

Happy Family Day to all of our Hunan 1 and 2 travelmates and Jaden's ZZ sisters!

I'm participating in Stef's Sunday Snapshot for the first time today, be sure and pop over to her blog to see this week's shots! 

Ni Hao Yall

Favorite Photo Friday - The Doodle


So up next in the J update is Jack. Clearly, I'm not going in any particular order here, I just happened to have this cute new pic from the day I shot the J's for our Christmas card, which will be hitting mailboxes early next week. :) 

 Oh the Doodle...this kid really keeps us on our toes. He relishes his role as the baby of the family and pretty much rules this place. He's got this wicked, dry sense of humor that really catches people off guard. He's always been very shy, but once you actually get him to open up, you pretty much can't turn him off. He's very detailed oriented and never misses a thing, and it can sometimes be difficult to answer the philosophical questions that he comes up with on a regular basis. 

 He's completely obsessed with Minecraft on his iPod right now and has asked for an X Box 360 for Christmas so he can play against his friends. We're so 2009 with the Wii being the only game system in this house. He's just started Upward Basketball and is super excited about it. It's clear he's going to be very tall, so his Daddy is hoping he'll take after him and pursue hoops as a serious hobby. He's played a couple of seasons of soccer, but that doesn't seem to be where his particular talent lies (read: he really wasn't very good, lol).

Though he can sometimes get on their last nerve, his siblings adore him and he and Jaden are especially close. I think it's because they both have similar personalities, but of course, that also leads to conflict because neither of them likes to compromise. Jack definitely challenges all of us at times, but he is still very much his momma's boy. He never misses an opportunity to tell me he loves me and that he thinks I'm the best mom is whole wide world. He is quite stingy with kisses, but gives hugs freely and still likes to snuggle up with me on the couch with a book or a friendly game of Angry Birds on our iToys. I sure hope that he doesn't outgrow that any time soon. I can't imagine our family without our 4th J and thank God every day that he decided that we needed just one more to complete us.
the long road

Happy Friday everyone and if you haven't already, please pop over to the Savvy Blog and vote for Lisa to win a seat to a fabulous workshop with her adorable entry!

Favorite Photo Friday - Jacey

It's been a while since I did an update on the kids individually so I thought that might be fun. I'm starting with Jacey because I've been wanting to brag on her for some time now. In October, we celebrated 7 years with our gorgeous girl and in just 2 short weeks, she'll be hitting a milestone birthday and joining Jakob in teenager-hood.

Jacey has truly transformed in these last few months and it's been amazing to witness. Not only is she growing physically (where did this long, lean girl with feet almost as big as mine come from?!?!), she has reached a whole new level of maturity that just blows my mind. I was concerned about her transition into middle school this year. It's a much larger school and a much more difficult schedule to manage, and honestly, I was worried that my least organized child would struggle to keep up with the demands of all of her classes. Well, my oh my, has she proved me wrong so far. Not only is she keeping up, she's excelling and earning higher grades than she ever has before. I used to practically have to sit on her to get her to do homework in elementary school and this year I haven't even so much as seen anything she's working on, she just comes in, heads upstairs and gets it done. I check in from time to time about assignments and tests (our teachers are good about emailing what the kids are working on and what tests are coming up) and she simply says "Yep, I'm ready" or "Yes, it's done" and goes right on about her business. I'm actually feeling a little left out, lol, but am SO proud that she has taken on the responsibility so beautifully.

She chose band for her elective, is really enjoying learning about music and practices her flute religiously. She LOVES volleyball (which of course, makes her momma very happy) and hopes to make the 7th grade team next year. I coach her rec league team and though I know she thinks sometimes I'm harder on her than anyone else (isn't that the job of the mom/coach?!?), we are having a blast on the court together.

Jacey has always been a very thoughtful, caring child, but we are just amazed at the mature, responsible and helpful young lady that she is becoming. We couldn't be more proud of our biggest girl and look forward to seeing what the coming months and years bring for her. I think the teenage chapter in her life is going to be an awesome one...and yes, I realize I may be back in a couple of years singing a different tune here, but I guess we'll just have to wait and see!
the long road 
Hope you all have a wonderful weekend, TGIF!

Favorite Photo Friday - Halloween 2012

Hi! Remember me? Marla, mom of 4 kids, all their names start with J...ring a bell? Yeah, we're still here, though you wouldn't know it based it on how loudly the crickets are chirping on this blog, huh? Well, it's high time I catch up, so I figured I'd start today by getting a few Halloween pics posted.

Halloween is a really big deal in our neighborhood, we all gather outside to see the kiddos in their costumes and hand out our candy. It's definitely one of the most fun nights of the year, and my kids love it.

This year, we had a viking, Cleopatra, Kit the Skeleton Kat and a ninja. Derek and I had to get in on the action, too. My dad and aunt came by to see the kids all dressed up too, so it was definitely a family affair. I sure was missing my mom that day, she always came over to help me hand out candy and loved seeing the kids in their costumes.


{Note Poppy the photo bomber in the background, smiling at the kids, heh!}


I hope all of our bloggy friends are doing well, I desperately need to make the rounds and catch up with all of you. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving with your families!
the long road

First Day of School


First day of 4th, 1st, 6th and 8th grades for the J's. I don't get to take a shot of them all together any more, Jacey and Jakob get to sleep later than the littles and have no interest in getting up early for pictures. Here's hoping for another awesome school year!
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