seeing the solar eclipse (2017)

The solar eclipse fell on the same week as Michael’s available vacation time off of work, and Myrtle Beach was only about an hour away from the totality zone, so of course, we had to go on a family vacation! I’d been throwing around the idea of a family beach trip all summer long, so I was excited that Michael was enthusiastic enough about the eclipse for us to make the drive down there. He ordered our eclipse glasses over a month in advance, and we were ready for the big day. Everyone was pretty pumped!

On the morning of the eclipse, we drove from our beach house to Georgetown, SC, which took about an hour and fifteen minutes due to heavy traffic. The weather was not looking good. There were clouds, intermittent thunderstorms, and pouring rain, but we headed down anyway, hoping it would clear up in time for us to see this natural phenomenon.

We actually went to an LDS church, since we figured the members there might have some kind of event going on and the building might be open. We were right, and it was nice to have access to air conditioning, bathrooms, and somewhere to nurse the baby while we waited for totality. We had packed our lunches, and had a little picnic in the Primary room.The clouds kept moving, and at times, the sun wasn’t visible at all. The rain had stopped, at least, but we were hoping it would be clear at the most important moment!

I have to be honest, I was a little nervous about the whole thing, because I had seen too many “warning posts” online that insinuated that eye injury was inevitable, and how people shouldn’t let their kids watch it at all. We were careful, and talked to the girls about how we never ever stare at the sun on any day. We explained that if they wanted to look at the eclipse, they had to wear their glasses. They actually did really well (and Nella had no idea what was going on, never looked up, and I kept her facing away from the sun, so she was fine).Just minutes before we reached totality, temperatures dropped noticeably. Can you see how odd the lighting is in this photo? It was the weirdest natural light I’ve ever seen, and as a photographer, I’m glad I don’t ever have to deal with these odd shadows when doing a session for someone! We watched through our glasses as the moon moved over the sun, and then, through the lenses, it was completely black. This was the only time it was okay to take them off, and when I did so, I was surprised not to see complete darkness where the sun once was, but a glowing, beautiful orb. It reminded me of a diamond, and there are no pictures online that even come close to portraying how amazing an eclipse actually is. I think I’ll never forget that moment of beauty. We had a full minute and 21 seconds of totality, and it went by so quickly that I’m glad I didn’t waste any of it by attempting to take pictures. I soaked it in with my family, which was what Michael and I both wanted.Michael used this app to time the entire thing, which ended up being great for counting down to it, and for knowing when to put our glasses back on as totality neared its end.

Kaelyn was completely obsessed with the entire experience. We actually rubberbanded her glasses together to keep them on her head, which turned out to be a great idea. She stared and stared in wonder, and I’m glad we were able to give all the girls the chance to see this. Kaya was nervous it was going to get very dark outside, so she was a little hesitant, but it was actually never as dark as we all expected it to be.

We ended the day with some Krispy Kreme “eclipse” donuts!Michael had the best time of all, and he’s so excited about eclipses now that he’s already looking forward to the one in 2024!

happy 5th birthday, kaya!

Dear Kaya,

I’m writing this on your birthday eve, and I’m feeling all sorts of emotions over the fact that in a few hours, you will be FIVE years old! I have no idea how that much time has already passed. Today, I told you a little bit about your birth story (now that you’re a little older and can understand), and how excited we were to have you come to our family. Of course, I also needed to write this letter to tell you a little bit about what you’re like at this age.You are so smart. Homeschool is your favorite thing ever, and according to you, it’s because, “I get to stay home with you! I would miss you if I went to real school”. You are already reading (and comprehending) sentences, and I’m so proud of you and all your hard work. We’re about three quarters of the way through Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons now, and you continue to surprise me with how fast you learn. We’re also halfway through your kindergarten math program, and you are loving that as well. I’m so grateful that you enjoy learning and working hard.

You are my big helper. You help me watch over your little sisters, and you’re always doing things to make daily life a little easier. You love to dress Nella, help water my flowers, and vacuum. You hang the cloth diapers up to dry when they’re done washing, and usually, you tell me you help out “because I love you!” I love that you already see a connection between serving others and loving them.

Because you’re the oldest, you are the ring leader. You come up with some elaborate pretend-play scenarios, and help Kaelyn form her character roles in them. You have the ability to get everyone completely hyped up and crazy, too.

Dancing and singing are two of your favorite things to do. Your current favorite “kid music” includes the Frozen soundtrack, the Laurie Berkner band (especially “The Goldfish”), and songs from Daniel Tiger. You also really like country music and are a big fan of Old Dominion right now.

I hardly let you watch any television, but your current favorite show is Blues Clues.

You and I are still very much alike, and I don’t think that will change anytime soon. We have a lot of the same little quirks, and in a way, it makes it so easy for me to understand how you’re feeling and know the thought processes you go through. Sometimes, I think having so much in common can make it so that you and I frustrate each other a little, but in the end, we both know we share some special qualities, and I think that as you get older, those things will help us to stay close to each other.

Kitties are still your very favorite thing in the whole world. That same old raggedy Kitty stuffed animal still goes everywhere with us, and he’s still a pretty integral part of many of your pretend-play scenarios. You especially need him when you’re feeling sad or tired, and when you hold him as you fall asleep, you stroke his tail with your finger to soothe yourself.

Other favorite kitties include Hello Kitty and any rainbow-colored cats.

You love creatures of all kinds, no matter how small, and are even enthralled by various insects (unless they’re flying near you, then, you scream). You have such a tender heart and truly care for anything living. We’ve planted seeds that grew into plants that ended up dying, and you cried. You very much love taking care of things.

You think you don’t need a nap anymore, but you still have some quiet time in your room each afternoon. You probably still end up falling asleep about twice a week on average.

I’m really proud of you for your desire to eat healthy so you can grow “big and strong”. Your typical lunch includes half of a PB&J, a Greek yogurt (Key Lime flavor is your favorite),  and a small salad. You also love broccoli, spaghetti with homemade sauce, and my whole-wheat chocolate chip muffins.

The beach is your favorite place to go, and you were so happy when we told you we were going this past summer. You loved every moment of it this year.

You are an artist. You love to draw, write, send “letters” to people (real and fictitious individuals), paint, cut, glue… all of it! I love your need to create.

The rainbow obsession is still going strong. Very strong.

You’re also obsessed with babies. You pretend to have at least one baby every day, so by now, you’d surely be a mother to hundreds of imaginary kids. You want to be a mommy when you grow up, and I certainly look forward to seeing you with your real children. Don’t ever doubt that you were made to be a mother, Kaya.

You also tell me that you want to be a runner when you grow up, just like Mommy. When we’re out on a walk and you start jogging, you always tell me, “I’m getting my exercise!” You also love to run pretend “races” around the house.

You pretend to take photos with your imaginary camera all the time. You put your hands over your eyes, in kind of a triangle shape, and then you move the top point of your fingers up and down as if you’re clicking the shutter. I love it.

You love singing church songs, and going to Primary on Sunday is one of your very favorite things. I love how much you already love the gospel.

Family is so important to you. You have such a deep, innate love for not only your immediate family, but also your grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Still, deep down, you are a daddy’s girl through and through. When he’s home, he’s who you want to hang out with and have help you with anything you need.

You love to have your picture taken, and I love having someone so willing to pose for pictures.We love you so much, Peeky. Thank you for making us parents.

Love, Mommy

five favorites (09/11)

I really meant to write this on Friday… but it just seems like it’s getting harder to find time to get on the computer these days. Better late than never, as I always say!

ONE. Baking with my little ladies on Sunday mornings is one of my favorite things… ever! Now that the weather has cooled off and it’s basically autumn, my penchant for whipping up homemade jam… bread… muffins… brownies… or really anything, is strong! Getting these two involved in making strawberry freezer jam was super simple, and they loved having the leftover strawberries as smoothies afterward.

TWO. We’re pretty excited, because we just replaced the roof on our house! Between that and the new shutters, it looks so drastically different. The girls loved going outside and watching “the roof guys” working and seeing all their progress. (Also, can I just point out here that Kaelyn is totally Michael’s mini-me? They are so much alike in so many ways!)

THREE. With all the noisy hammering going on, we had some fun getting out of the house. We visited with friends and spent some time at the library. These girls love books, so they always want to bring home more than we could possibly carry. It’s also been fun helping Kaya to try reading some actual stories, instead of just the super silly ones in her phonics book. We also really love the library’s Lego table.

FOUR. I’m so proud of Kaya, because only about a month and a half into our kindergarten year, she’s already finished with half of her math program. Book A is complete! She absolutely loves doing math- she’d probably do these workbook pages all morning if I let her, but I try to slow her down a little to be sure she really understands the concepts. We’re on to Book B, and she’s so excited!FIVE. The other awesome thing about homeschool- being able to take all three of my girls outdoors any time we want for some cool, fresh fall air. I love seeing these babies together (and hey, having the playground to ourselves isn’t bad either)!Happy Monday!

first day of school (and why we’re homeschooling)

To be completely honest, I somehow feel a little nervous about writing this post. I didn’t want it to seem like I am against public schools, or teachers, or anyone who sends their child to school. I admire teachers so much for everything that they do, and I know their jobs are definitely challenging. Deciding to keep Kaya at home for kindergarten was not a conclusion I reached easily, but I know in my heart it is the right thing for her right now.

When she was just over 2 years old, I came across some information on homeschooling, and after that, it constantly weighed on my mind. It was an intense (and at times, all-consuming) thought that would never would go away, no matter how hard I tried to let it go. So, I started to do my research and learn about all the different homeschooling philosophies, the various curriculum, and what would be required to keep her at home. I talked to and asked a million questions of any other homeschooling families I met. I pondered and prayed and waited and listened to feel confirmation that this would be the right choice. Many days and nights of fearing my own inadequacies and doubting my ability to teach her finally culminated in a true sense of peace, and knowing that I was made to teach my own children best.

There are so many reasons I have for homeschooling, but if I had to summarize the majority of them in one word, it would come down to this:


We get our kindergarten work done in about 1.5 to 2 hours each day, as opposed to the 8 hours she would spend away from home at public school. At this young age, I want her to still spend the majority of her day with her family. I want us to be her greatest influence. 

I want to teach her math while we’re baking, tell her about nature as we take walks, and answer all her hard questions. I want to have TIME to do all those things with her, and having her home will make those teaching opportunities more readily available.

I want her to learn life skills, not just school smarts. I want her to have more opportunities for service and helping others, and to see how important that is.

With her home, we can have lunch together everyday. We can have dance parties in the afternoon and go on more family trips. She can choose what she wants to learn about, and I can help fuel her interests. I want to be there to hear about her dreams and listen to her imagination. I want to have a strong bond with my daughters, and for them to form strong bonds with their sisters, too. I’m just not sure that could really be done in just the two or three rushed hours we’d have together after she’d get off the bus.

Even with all that conviction in my heart, I still felt emotional when I saw that big yellow bus roll through our neighborhood on the first day of school, knowing Kaya wasn’t getting on it. The day your first baby goes to kindergarten is a big milestone, and in a way, “skipping” that made my choice to homeschool feel a hundred times more real and monumental. I can only hope that when my daughters look back one day, they won’t feel as if I took something away from them by not putting them on that school bus, but that I gave them the gift of a different kind of learning, and a little more time to still be just kids.

One of the most common questions I’ve been asked is, “Are you going to do homeschool forever, or just for kindergarten?”, and the only answer I can give so far is that we’ll be taking it one year at a time to see how it goes.

Kaelyn will be doing preschool this year, just the way I did with Kaya for the past two years. She’s already interested in Kaya’s books, so she’s been quick to learn. I’m happy to have her home with us, too.Here’s to our first “official” year of learning!

“I promise you: the calling to be a parent includes the gift to teach in the ways that are right for you and for your children.” – Robert D. Hales, “Come, Follow Me” by Practicing Christian Love and Service

five on friday (09/01)

The big camera didn’t come out much this week, so all I have are a bunch of photos from my phone. Sometimes those quick phone shots are some of my favorites, though, because those are the fleeting, yet memorable, moments that are so worth capturing, but they’re usually over by the time I can reach for my DSLR.

ONE. We’re back from the beach! We spent all of last week on a family vacation, which was honestly our best trip yet since we’ve had the girls. We played in the sand, celebrated Daddy’s birthday, and even saw the total eclipse. It was a great time, but it’s also nice to be home and back into our regular routine. I can’t wait to share some pictures of our trip, hopefully next week!

A post shared by Tara (@tarairwin) on

TWO. Everyone sure missed our puppy while we were gone! We boarded her at the vet, and she was just fine, but we were so excited to pick her up on the way home. Every morning when Daddy goes to work, these three sit at the window and wave (or wag a tail) goodbye! This girl and her dog… all the heart eyes!

THREE. Nella didn’t act like herself for most of the week. Super tired and cranky, a fever, and decreased appetite made for some sad days, and then yesterday, she had a rash that instantly reminded me of when Kaelyn had roseola as a baby. At least now we know what was making her feel so under the weather. (Also, can we just talk about that crazy blonde bedhead and her gorgeous blue eyes? I’m swooning over here!)We really missed her sweet, smiley personality, and it was so good to see her feeling better and grinning again yesterday.FOUR. Cinnamon rolls. Need I say more? I owed these to some seminary students, and we enjoyed the extras. They’re so perfect on a chilly fall morning!FIVE. When I was a little girl, one of my favorite fall-time traditions was visiting Heaven Hill Farm, where we would choose a pumpkin and a Halloween costume for that year. There was always so much excitement upstairs in that warm little costume shop, walking from one end to the other, taking in all of our options before deciding on what we wanted to be.

All those good memories make it even more fun for me to take my girls costume shopping each year. Our local secondhand kids’ shop put Halloween costumes out last weekend, so we made our way over there today to pick out what we wanted, early and ahead of the seasonal rush. The girls were ecstatic, and I couldn’t wait to see what they’d choose. Kaelyn was obsessed with this tiger costume, and wouldn’t even try anything else on. (I told her to say, “ROAR!” for this picture!)Kaya was the cutest little ladybug you ever did see!

I won’t give away their final choices, but they just can’t wait for trick-or-treating time to come!

Happy Friday!

we went on a real date?! (obviously some grandparents came to visit)

Michael’s parents came up for a visit a few weeks ago! Of course, that meant we had to take advantage of the extra help and get something done around the house. My in-laws are some of the most service-oriented, helpful people I’ve ever met, so they requested that we come up with something to work on while they were here.

Obviously, there had to be some painting involved. Michael and Dad (and Kaya!) finished up the dining room, and it makes me happy to see it done every time I walk in there. This actually might become our homeschool room, although to be honest, I’m not completely certain at this point.

And yes, my entire house is basically some shade of blue now. #noshame
There was also a lot of puzzle-building that weekend…
And, I’m glad to say, they practically kicked us out of the house (in the most loving way possible) to go out on a date. We don’t ever leave our kids with babysitters, so this doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should. There also aren’t nearly as many pictures as there should be, because most of our date happened after it was already dark outside. So… Here’s Michael eating Coldstone. It felt good to be a little spontaneous!
We also had dinner at an authentic Turkish barbecue that one of his coworkers, Russ, was throwing. Mediterranean food is one of my major weaknesses, so of course it turned out to be a good time.

Our town had its annual summer street fair going on that same day (again, it was too dark to take pictures), so we window shopped at all the tents and ended up finding these handmade bottle-cap bows for the girls. Hello Kitty and Paw Patrol are their favorites, so we couldn’t pass them up!
On Sunday, Grandma Gina made us her delectable homemade chicken nuggets. Anytime she asks us what we’d like her to cook, those nuggets are my only answer. I guess they’re so good that they’re all I can think of! The girls had such a great time helping her mix up the flour and spices. Nella grabs her foot; Grandpa and Michael grab theirs. Monkeys see, monkeys do. I love having time with our family. These are the days!

five on friday (08/25)

Phew! We’re winding down from a busy week, but I just couldn’t let the night end without sharing five of my recent favorite things. These little moments truly mean the most.

ONE. We love Sunday walks! The weather has been gorgeous, and I love spending time outdoors as a family. We’re definitely not winning any awards for speed, but I actually like taking our time, smelling the flowers, and just enjoying being together.TWO. When you’re three and four years old, a box can be anything you imagine it is. The girls commandeered this box and turned it into a “boat”. I love their imaginations!THREE. Nella always seems to know when I need a big smile. She’s still the happiest baby I’ve ever known, and one little grin can turn a rough day around.

And even when her sisters pick out crazy outfits for her to wear, she just keeps on smiling.

FOUR. These girls are still obsessed with the song, “Dirt on My Boots”, and ask our little Echo Dot to play it any chance they get. Kaelyn always says she likes it because “it has cowboys”, so I was excited when Kaya dressed them both up with Western hats and boots and proceeded to gallop around the house.

Kaelyn has been asking to ride  a a real horse for a while now, so I think it’s only a matter of time…

FIVE. If you’re wondering why my blogging has been scarce, it’s because any free computer time I’ve had has gone toward getting all my pictures backed up. I’m finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak, and it feels so good. Plus, Google then makes all these funny little collages and animations with the photos I upload. If you think our family photo shoots are ever tame, think again (from last November):

Happy Friday!

cousins, horses, and puppies, oh my!

On our way home from our long weekend of celebrating my mom’s birthday and meeting our newest nephew, we made plans to stop and visit with Michael’s cousin, Nicole! She’s been inviting us to come up to their place ever since they moved back to Virginia, so I was glad to finally make it happen!

They live out in the country, and her husband Brian works with the horses there. We arrived in the early evening, just around golden hour.  Between the animals, the middle-of-nowhere feel, and the sunset, this was basically a little slice of heaven for me. (Can you find Scout?)They had several horses, and I was so excited to meet them. This one, named Dublin, was my favorite! Such a sweetie. Kaelyn was the most smitten with the horses. She could not stop stroking their noses and talking to them. I loved seeing her fascination and joy. There’s just something about a horse barn… ok, everything about a horse barn… that makes me feel so much peace, calm, and happiness: the smell of hay and sweaty horses, the soft sounds they make as they move in their stalls, and the sweetness of a horse pressing his giant head up against your side, waiting for you to rub his nose or scratch his ears. Horses have a profound effect on me that nothing else seems to, which is why I often miss my days of working at the barn and riding so very much.Nicole also has a few chickens (and the coolest chicken coop I’ve seen), so the girls loved watching them, too. Kaelyn even helped find an egg! I promise, she was much more excited than she looks here.They also had a litter of hunting dog puppies for us to visit with. The girls were so excited (and these babies looked so little compared to Scout)!Brian grilled up some chicken and corn on the cob, and we enjoyed dinner outside together. Nicole brought out ice cream for dessert (a Teerlink family tradition for Sunday nights!), and I believe this was Kaya’s first time ever having it in a cone. It was a hit! Kaelyn’s first cone! Michael, with his ice-cream-sandwich-shoved-into-a-cone-topped-with-an-extra-scoop dessert, covering up his eye to be funny, because for the first time since I met him almost nine years ago, he had an allergic reaction to something! His eye was completely swollen and red. He was fine, but it was a little concerning to me just because he’d never had anything like this before.Being silly (with that swollen eye)!It was sad to leave, but we still had a few hours of driving left to get home. There’s nothing like having fun with your cousins (and second cousins)!

meeting baby bryce

About a month ago, we visited Jeff and Lelia, which meant that we got to meet baby Bryce for the very first time! I’d been looking forward to it so much that I was counting down the weeks until this very day. My girls were equally excited to see their newest cousin! It brought me so much joy to see Lelia as a mommy. Bryce is one lucky little guy! I love that we could take a picture of us together, each with a baby in our arms. Kaelyn just couldn’t believe it when we asked her if she wanted to hold two babies! This right here was pretty much heaven for her. She seemed to be extra connected to Bryce, too. He just had a sense of calmness around her.

Two days later, we were able to attend his baby blessing!
So many family members were there, but I didn’t get a photo of the entire group. Here’s our four-generation shot, though!
We were so glad to see Grandpa Teerlink! Grandma loves Nella… …and Grandpa loves being completely silly! After the blessing and pictures, we enjoyed some refreshments (Lelia’s Andes mint cookies… mmmm)! I also got to hold Bryce one more time, and he took a little nap on me. I already miss when Nella would curl up on me like this. Why are these newborn days so fleeting? It’s safe to say, I’m smitten with my little nephew. I’m so glad we were able to be at his blessing and enjoy some time with family.

grandma debbie’s 60th birthday

My mom’s 60th birthday was in July, so we took a long weekend and headed to my parents’ home for some quality family fun. It’s been a long time since we’ve had then entire family (both of my aunts, Karl, and me) all together, so this was something really special.

Kaya kicked off the weekend by coloring with Grandma! That’s something I remember her doing with me when I was little, so it’s fun to see it continuing on with the next generation.Of course, there were Dunkin’ Donuts, courtesy of Karl! I think these will always be my favorites, despite the amazing local donut shop we have here in town.We also got to meet my parents’ new puppy (I know, he doesn’t look like much of a puppy, right?) for the first time! His name is Buddy, and he’s part pit bull, just like Scout! The only difference is that he is stronger than an ox (I’m not even exaggerating here)! Scout didn’t like being pummeled by his overzealous attempt to play with her, so they didn’t really get to be friends.
But yeah… I pretty much fell head over paws for this puppy. How could you resist those eyes? I think my Dad is pretty smitten with him, too.We had some naps on Daddy… (and a change of clothes for Kaelyn, after she tripped and landed in Buddy’s water bowl!)……and then the whole crew went to an early dinner at Cracker Barrel, which is one of my Mom and Dad’s favorite places.Clockwise: Auntie Joyce and her friend, Melissa; Karl and Kaitlyn; hopefully you know who those people are; and Auntie Carol and Alan!
Princess Nella sat in her throne with her foot upon the table for the entire meal. She also cast a spell on everyone with that sweet little smile of hers.We all headed back to the house for some cake and gifts! My dad had an Oreo cookies and creme cake for his birthday party, and everyone loved it, so of course, we had to repeat it!
It’s not a birthday party with my family unless there’s a big pile of gifts!I found this little decorative watering can at Goodwill and just knew my mom would love it!It turned out that my dad hadn’t finished his gift shopping for my mom, so the day before the party, he took me out with him to get some ideas. We went to five different places without having much luck.

However, we did find a very heavy lawn decoration in the shape of a chicken, and we kept joking around that the “concrete chicken” was our fallback gift. Seriously, I think that thing weighs more than Kaelyn.

My dad actually ended up going back and getting it, and as it turns out, my mom loves her Concrete Chicken. I think I like the joke about the gift even more than the gift itself.I also helped him choose a new bird feeder for her, shaped like a butterfly!
But Karl and Kaitlyn’s gift had to be the best of all…

An iPhone! My mom had been managing with a smartphone that had almost no space to install anything or even be used properly… so now she can actually talk to us and see all the pictures we send. She was so surprised! As you can see in the video, I persuaded Karl to wrap it in a box, and then put that box in another box, wrap it, and so on. It was so much fun.They even made a case for her that had all the kids’ pictures on the back!And, of course, there was a whole lot of baby cuddling on this trip. Auntie Joyce always loves my babies.Apparently, Nella loves pinching her Great-Auntie Joyce’s cheeks. Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around?I was so happy to see these two… it’s been way too long!Grandpa Peter was obviously smitten with “Pumpkin” (as he calls her)!
My mom said this truly was the best birthday ever. I’m so glad we got to celebrate it all together!