Thursday, June 27, 2013

The 18 month house hunt

It's funny how time and perspective can change everything. 18 months ago we were coming up on 6 years of home ownership. For the most part, I'd loved the two houses we'd owned and it had been fun making them our own. But it was kind of nice to go back to renting when we moved to Oklahoma City. No more costly repairs, no more stress over resale and market value, no constant renovations, and no feeling trapped if an opportunity were to fall in our laps. But there are downsides to renting, just as there are downsides to ownership. After just a few months of renting, we were already eying the market. I was getting antsy to paint, plant a garden, do some minor remodeling, not worry about every nick and ding, and above all, feel stable! For over a year we did not stop looking. We tried to buy a house last fall. Two houses actually. But neither one worked out and we ended up in another rental. And another city. And another ward. And another school.

Nine months later, we are finally feeling settled again. We know the area. We know our neighbors. We know our ward. And we are still in a rental.

But all that is about to change.

After months and months of house hunting, we finally found a house that fits our needs. And on top of that, it passed the inspection with flying colors and there were no financing glitches. Hooray! Unfortunately, it means uprooting our family one more time. New house, new ward, new school, new STATE. Yup, this house is not even in Oklahoma. We are making the jump to Arkansas. But despite all the changes that come with this move, I am optimistic that we will stay for awhile. No more moving every 9 months. :)

More details and pictures will come when we get moved in, but here is the view from the street of our new pad.

Just for the record, this is our 9th move (in 9 years of marriage). We've lived in 3 apartments, 1 townhouse, and 5 homes in 4 states (Arkansas will be our 5th state). I've moved 3 times while pregnant (once at 38 weeks, once at 39 weeks, and this time at 30 weeks). This is our 3rd move in 18 months. The longest we've ever lived in one house is 3.5 years. See why I'm ready to stay put?

P.S. When we started looking for houses, we decided we wanted to save up to have a certain down payment before we bought again. To help us stay motivated and to give the kids something visual to track our progress, I drew this house that we colored in as we saved for our home. At first I didn't want the kids to do any of the coloring because I knew I would be looking at this picture for awhile and wanted something a little less, uh, colorful. But when I gave in and let them take over, I think they did a better job than I did. Too bad this isn't really what our house looks like. I'm thinking rainbow siding is the next big thing.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Dad's day

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Happy Father's Day to some of the best dads in the world! We are so lucky to have such wonderful fathers. I have an amazing husband who has crazy dad skills hidden away that I never knew about until we had kids. He loves to play with them and encourage them and challenge them in ways that I never even think about. If they turn into responsible, caring, hard-working adults it will be entirely because of him.

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We are also fortunate to have two incredible dads of our own. The older I get, the more I realize how grateful I am for a father that takes risks, appreciates family, loves learning, and has endless patience. Why did I not realize all this when I was an ornery teenager?!

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Jeff's dad is a hero to us all. Watching him battle cancer last year with a smile on his face the whole time made me realize that this man is one special guy. He has boundless love and is always thinking of others.

I'm so glad that my children and I have such incredible examples of great men in our lives. Thanks Dads!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Chuckwagon festival

Over a year ago I made a bucket list of things to do in Oklahoma. A few weeks ago we checked off another item on the list--the Cowboy museum--which means we have now done everything except bowling. And since bowling isn't exactly exclusive to Oklahoma, I think we've done pretty well!

I have been waiting and watching for a free or discounted day to visit the Cowboy museum since I made that list, so when some friends mentioned they had some free tickets I jumped at the chance. To make it even sweeter, we went during the annual Chuckwagon Festival, so there were even more kid-friendly, hands-on activities than usual. The kids decorated bandanas, made butter from cream, made bear claw necklaces, and turned rope which they then used to lasso "sheep."

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We also explored the childrens' exhibit, with lots of hands on activities. Savannah found some boots that are pretty much the cutest thing I've ever seen. Maybe this girl needs some boots for her birthday in two weeks...

The museum itself was pretty amazing. I didn't really know what to expect, and I wasn't sure how an entire museum could be dedicated to cowboys, but I found it all fascinating. There was an exhibit on rodeos, one on Native Americans, one on cowboy celebrities, and others that I can't recall now. It was all set up in such a way that there was plenty to see, but you didn't feel overwhelmed by it. The rodeo exhibit made you feel like you were actually at a rodeo. Plus there was an entire western town that felt like we'd walked back in time. Not to mention the beautiful grounds that had me wondering how I could recreate it all at home.

I'm so glad the opportunity came up for us to finally check this off our list. Thank you Wallaces for thinking of us!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Zoo field trip

If you read my long and boring tornado post, you'll know that Savannah had a zoo field trip the morning of the Moore tornado. Despite the eventful afternoon, it was the perfect morning for the zoo! The weather was perfect and the animals were more active than I've ever seen. Maybe they could sense what was coming. Because of how young the kids are, almost every parent chaperoned, so it felt more like a huge playdate than a school trip.

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This cougar just kept prowling right next to the glass. I was nervous to be so close, but the kids got right up next to him.

This grizzly was taking a dip when we first spotted him. Seeing him in the water made me realize how enormous these guys are!

On the other side of the holding was another, less-active, grizzly. But he was cool, too, because he was lying right up next to the glass, so we could really get up close and personal.

The zoo is one of the few hilly places in Oklahoma City, so by the end of the day we were wiped. Two days later Savannah graduated from Pre-K. Next stop: Kindergarten!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Savannah's birthday assembly

During the last month of school, Savannah's school recognized all the summer birthdays during one of their weekly assemblies. She was so excited to get her birthday pencil. (It's amazing how little it takes to excite these kids.) When I got there, the room was packed so I stood against the wall and tried to find her. Her school only has pre-K, so it's not very big (about 200 students), but I could not for the life of me find Savannah. I was almost starting to panic a little bit that she hadn't actually made it to school that day, despite the fact that I loaded her into the carpool myself and could find the other carpoolers in the room. It wasn't until they called her name and she stood up that I saw her for the first time. It turns out that my Nana is kind of a runt. She is on the shorter side of the pre-K-ers so when she was sitting in the crowd, I couldn't find her behind the heads of the taller kids.

After being called up and given her pencil, Savannah was sung to by the rest of the school. Then she sat down. That was it. I'm grateful for a flexible schedule and that I am able to be present for school functions, but sometimes I ask myself if I really just drove 30 minutes to witness something so unimpressive. But then I see the smile on my kids' faces and realize how happy they are that I have come to be a part of their daily school routine and it makes it all worth it.

This picture is nothing special, other than it's the only picture I have of her teacher, Ms. Adler, her assistant teacher, Mrs. Gray, and her expressions teacher, Ms. Morgan. All of these women were amazing. Ms. Morgan is probably my favorite person at Piedmont Primary. She taught "Expressions" which includes music, art, P.E. and probably some other subjects I can't remember now. She also headed up the car pickup at the end of the day and I have never seen someone that is so pleasant all. the. time.

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It occurred to me during this assembly that if I wanted to send treats to school for Savannah's birthday, I was running out of days to do it in. I was going to bag it, but felt bad that I had spent time and effort on Logan's birthday treats and wasn't going to do anything for Savannah. So a few days later, I gave her a couple of options (from Pinterest, of course) and she chose these...

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The Pinterest idea used white chocolate and looked even cuter, but Savannah doesn't like white chocolate so we changed it up. I should have gotten a picture of the inside, because these are not typical cake pops. They are actually Rice Crispie treat pops. It took a little bit of trial and error, but in the end they weren't too difficult. I love it when things turn out like I plan!

Sunday, June 9, 2013


I don't know quite how to begin this post. These past few weeks have been exciting, terrifying, heartbreaking, and inspiring at various times, and sometimes all of the above at once. I want to document our experience and feelings, but can't seem to sort them out long enough to get anything down. I suppose I'll just start chronologically and go from there.

On the afternoon of May 19, we were starting our third hour of church. I was in Relief Society, and the opening prayer was being said. After the "amen," our Relief Society president interrupted and announced that a dangerous storm was headed our way, and everyone should head home immediately to prepare for it. I have never seen our church empty so fast. Within 5 minutes the parking lot and building were completely deserted. We were one of the last ones (with our cocky, indestructible attitudes) to pack up and drive home. As of this spring, we have lived in Oklahoma nearly 18 months and conquered 2 tornado seasons. On May 19, we had yet to see anything really bad hit close to home, and we were actually a little disappointed the weather hadn't proved more exciting.

At home we turned on our local news and watched as the storm rapidly moved our way. We were constantly in and out of the house, tracking the storm on the TV and then watching outside as the dark clouds moved our direction. It wasn't until I could actually see the clouds rotating that I began to get a little nervous. Although nothing was on the ground, the clouds felt really low, and the spiraling was almost directly overhead. Our neighbors started making way to another neighbor that had a storm shelter and invited us to join them when they saw us standing helplessly (and stupidly) in the street. I ran in the house, grabbed the kids, and we all packed ourselves down in an underground shelter with 10 or so neighbors that I hardly knew. Jeff and another dad stayed outside to watch as the storm passed, and after about 10 minutes they gave us the all clear to come on out. We were safe, our home was safe, and I was already thinking how silly I felt for making a big deal out of nothing.

This is a shot of our TV during this storm. The circles indicate rotation, aka potential tornadoes.

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(It's hard to see the rotation in this video, but you can see the hook dropping down out of the cloud. Our house is just off screen to the left.)

A half hour later that same storm produced a small tornado that touched down just 10 miles east of our house, less than a mile from our old church building while our old ward was still meeting there. I felt very fortunate that day that my family and friends were all safe and protected.

The next day was beautiful. It seemed like we had dodged a bullet and made it through the worst of a 3-day storm front that was coming through. I spent the morning with Savannah's class at the zoo, then brought the girls home after lunch for some much needed naps. I knew there was one more potentially tornado causing storm coming through so I turned on the news while I did the dishes. Before long I was glued to the couch, watching as footage of the biggest tornado I've even seen on live TV passed through some fields just 20 miles south of us. For the next hour I watched the numbing footage as the tornado got bigger, more intense, and more destructive as it hit the suburban area of Moore on the south end of Oklahoma City. I wondered if I should summon Jeff home (he was on the golf course with the missionaries) or pick up Logan from school, but by then the tornado was already east of us so I knew we weren't in any danger. In fact, the entire time the tornado was in the city we had blue skies at our house. It almost didn't feel real. I sat and watched as the tornado ripped through the city, then incredibly, dissipated in less than a minute once it reached the other side.

(This is very similar to the footage I was watching on TV. Better, clearer pictures have been released since then, but it was still pretty crazy to see this and know how close it was.)

Truthfully, the full impact of the storm didn't hit until later than night when the casualties and missing persons reports started rolling in. Two elementary school had been hit, and with that news my heart sank. Pictures of the destruction were flooding the news and internet, and I began to understand that this was a big deal. Newscasters were calling this 2 to 3 times as destructive (dollar-wise) as the sensational tornado that had hit almost the exact same area 14 years earlier. In fact, the Moore tornado is now being called the most destructive tornado ever. It was later categorized as an F5 tornado, the highest ranking a tornado can get.

Over the next week, we waited for word on how we could help. Most of the instruction we received was not to do anything. Please don't send clothes or food because there was nowhere to store them. Please don't come down to help because only first responders are allowed on the scene. Please don't come near the damage site because the roads are in bad shape and traffic is terrible. So we waited.

It was amazing to watch the way the Church stepped in and organized itself within hours of the storm. Representatives from Salt Lake flew out to coordinate the relief efforts of local branches as well as others who wanted to assist. By the end of the week, others were being allowed on the scene so our stake divided it's resources and went to work. Our church meetings were shortened to a 1-hour sacrament meeting after which those who were volunteering went straight to their assigned sites. It was pretty amazing to sit in a chapel full of jeans and t-shirts and sing "Because I Have Been Given Much." A set of missionaries in overalls stepped up to confirm a new member. It may not have been conventional or traditional, but the Spirit was present in full force.

Unfortunately, because of my 6-month-old fetus and other 3 children, I haven't been able to go down to any of the work sites. I've been trying to think of ways I can sneak in, but haven't succeeded yet. So in the meantime, I have to rely on Jeff to report on the conditions and work that he's been able to do. That first Sunday he was assigned to a family that live in Newcastle, just west of Moore, near the initial touchdown of the tornado. They had a lot of property (8+ acres) and it was a mess. Huge trees were uprooted, and the house itself had been leveled. Jeff's job, along with the other volunteers, of which there were many, was to sort the debri that could be burned from that which couldn't.

A week or two passed and things began to get more or less back to normal. It seemed like we were getting rain every other day, but aside from some pretty intense thunder storms, they weren't damaging (i.e. no hail, high winds, or tornadoes). Then, on May 31, it started all over again. The storm tracking, the anxious reporters, the sirens-- it felt all too familiar. This time, though, our pride had taken a hit and we were much more alert. I packed a bag with pajamas, blankets, and our important documents and put shoes and helmets on the kids.

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We turned on the news and watched as once again, a tornado touched down. This time it was in El Reno, about 20 miles southwest of us. Tornadoes almost always move northeast, so this was definitely something to keep an eye on. Aside from tornado warnings, we were also under flood watch, which that day turned out to be just as deadly. The storm ended up staying south of us (passing through a part of our ward, but everyone was kept safe) and we were once again spared. But 19 people died in this storm (compared to the 24 from the Moore tornado), and the El Reno tornado was also classified as an F5, making it the shortest time span between EF5 tornadoes in Oklahoma history. It is also the widest tornado on record at 2.6 miles.

And so we began the recovery process. Again. Not that Moore is anywhere close to being rebuilt--that will take over a year--but now we have another set of people that need assistance and support. Yesterday, Jeff went out with a few men from our ward to help a family in El Reno. They had survived the tornado in their bathtub, but the roof of their two story home had been ripped off and the entire house was so water logged that everything in it was condemned. So Jeff helped to remove as much as they could into a dumpster. One of the things they took out of the house was a large weight system from the second floor. They were trying to avoid taking it apart, so they hemmed and hawed until they came up with a pulley system using a rope and an upper deck to lower the entire thing over the side of the house! I wish I could have seen it. Interestingly, the family actually had a storm shelter in their backyard, but thankfully they weren't in it, because the entire thing was full of water. Had they taken shelter there they would have drowned.

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Today was another shortened sacrament meeting and work day. This time our ward was sent to some wheat fields in El Reno, where a member had survived in their house (which was still standing) but lost 3 barns to the tornado. The barns' contents had been spread across the wheat fields, making them unharvestable. So the teams were instructed to walk through the rows, picking up debri and clearing the fields so that the machines could come through later and harvest the tender wheat, although after seeing it, Jeff says there is no way that field is being harvested. Someone found a flattened mailbox in the field. You couldn't tell it was a mailbox other than the house numbers and the fact that if you bent it, it could take on the shape of a mailbox. They looked up the address and found it was from a house 3 miles away. The missionaries decided to return it to the owners, thinking it might make a cool keepsake, or at least a good story. :)

The forecast for the next week is 90+ degrees and sunshine with 0% chance of rain. I think it's safe to say tornado season is over, but who knows? I have learned a lot from these experiences, and I hope we are better prepared for future storms, but mostly I have learned that aside from my family, if I lost everything today, it would be devastating and tragic, but ok. There is great peace that comes from knowing our temporal belongings are just that--temporal. I will admit I have started an online backup of all my pictures, but even those are just things. If I were to die tomorrow I wouldn't take them with me. :) My children know now what to do when we are on tornado watch and understand that they need to listen to mom and dad and be extremely obedient when bad weather comes. I am grateful for the counsel of inspired leaders to both keep us safe before and after the storms. And I am thankful that after the destruction, we are blessed again with calm and beauty, reminding us that all storms, even metaphorical ones, eventually pass and the sun will shine again.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Logan's marathon

So, remember how I am set on having my kids enjoy running? Well, when we were in Bentonville for my race in April, I heard about a (free!) kids race in May. It was only a half-mile run and I thought this would be the perfect race to get Logan excited about running.

He took it very seriously. Before the race he would tell everyone about the marathon he was running. To him, I suppose it may as well have been. :)

Logan struggles to find a pace that he can maintain. He knows how to sprint or walk, but not much else in between.

We challenged him to run the entire thing, and he almost made it. Nevertheless, I was super proud to see him cross the finish line. This was such a fun race and I can't wait to do it again next year, especially since Savannah will be old enough to run, too.

After the race, we took advantage of the beautiful weather and gorgeous season to go on a short hike. We walked around the Van Winkle Mill site. The Van Winkle family built a mill here that survived the Civil War and then some. It was pretty cool to see the ruins and realize how big their home was and how wealthy they must have been. I also couldn't get enough of the gorgeous trees and creeks.

I love this picture. It epitomizes how the men feel about some of our kid-friendly outings.

A kid looks good on you, Nate.

Two kids looks even better. (Haha, this is my weak attempt at a joke. Nate and Laurel are the ones who couldn't run the Bentonville half marathon because they are having twins later this year.)

Here's the whole group (minus Alyssa who is behind the camera and Logan who is... somewhere?). If you look carefully, you can see Laurel and I comparing baby bumps.

After our "hike" we sent the boys to a shooting range (where Logan took his first shot) and the girls set off to tour a working mill. Again, I could drool all day over how beautiful and green everything was.

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Thank you, Arkansas family, for taking us in time and time again!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Savannah's new do

Savannah has been asking for over a year to cut her hair. I have resisted all that time, because I loved her long, wavy, blonde hair and loved finding new ways to style and braid it.

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But a few weeks ago I finally gave in...

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...and I'm not sure why I made her wait so long. Looking back at the pictures of her long hair still makes me a little sad, but in a bittersweet way because I love her short hair so much. It is so much quicker and easier to do, and will hopefully be cooler in the intense summer heat. (That is, it will when it grows just a bit so it can stay up in a ponytail all day.) And she looks so dang cute in it. And grown up. Almost too grown up. From the back, she looks just like a mini adult.

But then she turns around and does this. Oh Savannah, don't ever change. :)

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Logan's fun run

Towards the end of the year, Logan's school held a fun run fundraiser. Most fundraisers kind of annoy me, but I actually like this one. It probably helps that nothing would tickle me more than having my children enjoy running (hasn't happened so far). Before the race, the kids were supposed to go collect sponsors that would donate $x for each lap they ran. Since asking for money isn't my strong suit, I put myself down as Logan's sole sponsor and left it at that.

The day of the run, Izzy and I came to the school to cheer Logan on. While waiting for the race to start, Izzy entertained herself by dancing to the boombox. (It played the same song the WHOLE time the kids raced.)

Once the running started, we positioned ourselves in prime high-fiving position. Logan was very sweet to his sister and took the time to give her five and a hug after each lap. Well, either that or he was looking for an excuse to walk for awhile. This kid has the stamina of a pudgy house cat.

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In the end, Logan ran six laps (the top hole was for his lanyard). I am proud of him for trying hard and am not ready to give up on his running career yet!