Thursday, April 30, 2015

Backyard Camping

We had a broken tent pole that needed fixing, and last weekend I finally got around to fixing it. Then I decided that it might not be a bad idea to set up the entire tent now and make sure it was complete and functional, rather than discovering something else was broken the day of our next campout. Setting up the tent was a little tricky since Jeff was out of town, but the kids were good helpers and we got it up. I left it up all weekend and the kids thought it was fabulous! They played "campout" for hours without any complaints or fighting! I was impressed by their creativity with the campfire, table, and sleeping arrangements. I would have left it up longer, but the forecast said rain (liars) so I hurried and took it down on Monday. I guess we'll just have to pull it out again for a real campout soon!

Spring Soccer

The spring soccer season has been... short. We had so much rain in February and March that almost all our practices and half our games were rained out. We will be out of town for the remaining games, so this week was our last week of soccer. I have to admit I'm a little relieved. I think all parents, no matter how much they love the sport and watching their kids play, are excited to have their nights and weekends back when the season ends.

Because the season was so short, I only brought my camera once and it was a day that only Savannah played, so I don't have any pictorial proof of Logan or Isabelle's season! Logan's and Savannah's teams were virtually unchanged from the fall, and it was fun to get back together with the families we had grown to know earlier. Isabelle did another round of Little Kicksters and improved more with each day. She still whined when it was time to get ready for soccer, but once she got there, she complained far less during practice than last year. She has been expressing the same sentiments about dance (doesn't want to go, but has fun once she's there). I'm tempted to sit her out a year when it comes to extracurriculars.

Logan's team had another great season. I am constantly amazed at how good some of the kids in his age group are! They play on full size fields and really look like mature, disciplined soccer players. It has been a blast watching them play and getting invested in their games.

Savannah's team lost their best player from fall to spring, but it was good for the rest of them as it forced them to step up and fill her shoes. I saw each of the girls become more confident and aggressive, but they still really struggled to get the ball in the net. I thought for sure I was going to catch Savannah's first goal on camera here, but the defense got it away at the last minute. You can also tell that we are still playing bumblebee soccer at this age. Of all the kids, Savannah is the only one I see continuing to play next year. She really loved it and was willing to work hard and improve. Next year, however, I will NOT volunteer Jeff to coach. He travels too much and it's just too hard to commit to any sort of schedule. Bryson saved the year by being the "assistant" coach (but in reality, he was there more often than Jeff). I feel bad that I roped him into such a huge commitment, but he was an awesome coach and Savannah and her team were lucky to have him!

Clean and Clear

A few weeks ago we had our windows cleaned for the first time since we moved in almost 2 years ago. They were dirty enough that I wouldn't be surprised if it was the first time they'd been cleaned since the house was built! I know window cleaning is something I can do myself, but every time I mess with screens I end up breaking them. We had cobwebs and dusty streaks and bird droppings on nearly every window on our main level. I couldn't enjoy the views outside because I was so distracted by the grime and dirt that I couldn't see past it.

Thanks to a fantastic window washer, in just a few hours my windows went from crud to clear! I am still in awe every time I look out the window and realize there is nothing blocking my view. Even the light in our house feels brighter and cleaner now that it isn't being filtered through a layer of grime. This newfound cleanliness has inspired me to clean the figurative windows in our home as well. What grudges and regret am I holding onto that are preventing the light from coming in at it's fullest? What moments or life lessons am I missing because I can't see past the unimportant and irrelevant dust right in front of my nose? What reflections might I see if I could just wipe off the excess and focus on the person I want to see?

I'm reminded of the lyrics to an old EFY song that have always stuck with me.
I want to be a window to His love,so when you look at me you will see Him.I want to be so pure and clear that you won't even know I'm here,'cause His love will shine brightly through me.
A window to His loveA doorway to the truth.A bearer of the message He'd have me bring to you.And with each passing yearI want to disappear'Till He's become ev'rythingand I've become a window to His love.

Comedy of Errors

Some days are just too good not to document in their entirety. Sunday, April 19th (Logan's birthday) was one of them.

It actually started the night before. We had already stayed up way too late, but then I remembered that it was Logan's birthday and we needed to blow up money balloons for him. I had found these sweet balloons at the party store with his name on them and we went to work sticking dollars in, blowing them up, then very carefully taping them to his door so they wouldn't pop and wake all the kids up. It's been a birthday tradition for 4 years and we couldn't break it now.

The next morning dawned and we groggily (stayed up too late, remember?) pulled ourselves out of bed. Jeff jumped in the shower to get ready for an early church meeting, and I rushed downstairs to start Logan's birthday breakfast. I put breakfast on the table just in time for Jeff to rush out the door, missing the whole thing. Whoops.

After breakfast, I remembered I had signed up to bring treats to choir practice that day, so I quickly mixed up a batch of brownies and stuck them in the oven. While they were baking, I hurried and grabbed Sawyer to take a quick shower with me. Once we were clean, I put him in a diaper then finished getting myself ready while the girls got in the bath. I was feeling proud of how productive I'd been thus far, when I heard Jeff come home and voices coming from the kitchen. A few minutes later he walked in with Sawyer... completely covered in brownie batter! The little stinker had climbed on the counter and found the bowl of batter and totally helped himself! Luckily I hadn't dressed him yet, so off came the diaper and into the tub he went. I wish I had thought to take a picture of him all covered in chocolate!

Next up I frantically finished the sharing time I'd just remembered I was in charge of the night before. Logan worked on the other computer, writing his talk for Primary. I was rushing us both because our home teachers were scheduled to come in a few minutes and we would have to leave for church right after they left. The text came that they were 30 minutes behind, and I breathed a sigh of relief. When the next text came saying they would have to cancel altogether, I'm pretty sure I cheered out loud. It was only 10:30 am and I was already exhausted.

Finally, the brownies were baked, sharing time was ready, talk was printed, and we had all the kids in the car. I walked into the garage annnnnnd a BIRD flew into the house! I yelled at Jeff and he came running. We chased the bird around the house, trying to herd it towards an open door, but the dumb thing kept flying into windows. I was shuddering the whole time, worried it would fly into me, but after a 10 minute chase, it finally flew back out through the garage.

We made it to choir, and church went well, except for the part when I forgot the treats that were part of my lesson and had to make empty promises to the Primary kids that if they checked off an Article of Faith I promised I would bring treats next week. (Flash forward: I totally forgot the next week, too. The kids did not.) Multiple family emergencies left us with all sorts of holes in Primary, but we spread ourselves thin and filled them all. Logan got his birthday song and treat and loved that he was at church on his actual birthDAY.

Back at home, Jeff and I whipped up a killer batch of shepherd's pie (Logan's birthday dinner request) to go with his store bought cheesecake. We spent a lot of the evening on Skype with grandparents and aunts and uncles. Our extended family is awesome about birthdays. When we went to load the dishwasher after dinner, I found it completely full with dirty dishes and prepped with soap, but not run. Jeff smacked his head and said he had just been about to push start that morning when my hollers about the bird in the house had send him running. At that point we just had to laugh. What a day!

Sometimes everything in a day seems to go wrong. But when you look back on it and adjust your focus, you realize everything has gone exactly right. It was kind of perfect, it a catastrophic sort of way. Happy birthday, Logan. You birth made my life exciting and it hasn't stopped for one day since.

Happy 9th, Logan!

Logan's birthday weekend was jam packed with excitement. It all started with his pinewood derby on Friday. Remember how I cut his car backwards? Well, as of Friday morning we still didn't have a fix ready. Jeff had bought a new kit, but the block of wood was just that-- a block. In true heroic dad fashion, he raced around town borrowing saws, then borrowing other saws when the first two saws didn't work out, and sanding until the car was smooth and sleek. When Logan came home from school, we set him up with a plate of paints and a blow dryer (to speed dry between coats) and he went to town creating his flame mobile. Jeff was still adding weights and fixing the wheels at the last minute. It felt all too similar to last year's pinewood derby. Maybe next year we'll have his car ready to go with hours or even days to spare!

With such last minute preparations, we didn't expect to win many races, but Logan was nothing if not optimistic. He seemed sure his car would win, and after the first few races, it seemed he was right. He made it to the finals, and was pitted against two other boys' cars. He ended up with a second place trophy for the night. Not bad for a last minute car!

On Saturday we asked Logan where he would like to go to dinner for his birthday. He requested ribs, so we ended up at Dickies. I love that my kids are developing some more varied tastes and we can break away from McDonalds and Taco Bell for birthday dinners! I ducked into the party store next door after dinner to pick up balloons for our traditional birthday balloons, and found these awesome name balloons! This kid scored $9 this year through his balloons, which he still sees as a lot of money.

We also let him open his present a day early since so he could get some use of it. Jeff suggested a scavenger hunt to find his gift (it was too large to wrap), so we sent him on a chase all over the house-- the shower, the laundry room, up and down stairs, out to the mailbox, and finally, the shed in the backyard. The kids all got in on it and loved the hunt. Savannah is already requesting one for her birthday. His excitement was a bit muted when he found his new bike (I think he was still holding out for an iPad), but judging by the number of hours he's spent on it since then, I think he likes it.

His birthday morning was a series of chaotic events, which I'll cover in another post, but he got his requested birthday breakfast of german pancakes with strawberries and whip cream and hopefully had no idea that his parents were running around crazy. He loved being sung to in Primary and multiple times via Skype from grandparents and aunts and uncles.

Logan is a constant surprise. He is bright and inquisitive, but also goofy and spontaneous. He wants to know the "why" to everything, and even when I feel like I've given a thorough explanation, he often remains unsatisfied and demands more. Logan is ambitious and creative. I have a feeling he will do big things with his life. He recently got the idea to write a book with a monster plot and has spent weeks writing and planning how his book will translate into a movie, game, and trading cards. He loves math and frequently points out how math is used in our daily lives, whether it's fractions in our pizza, or arrays in Battleship. Logan is growing into his oldest child responsibilities a bit reluctantly, but growing nonetheless. He is a great big brother and leader in our family. Happy birthday, baby boy! These nine years have been the best ride of my life!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

First "Campout"

With the beautiful spring we've been experiencing this year, the Arkansas Shepherds and Pendletons decided we needed to plan a little mini campout to celebrate the return of leaves and beauty to the state. With soccer games and busy schedules, it was tricky to find a weekend that worked, but eventually we got lucky and one beautiful Saturday afternoon we headed down to Devil's Den State Park.

We had been to Devil's Den once before, but not in the spring when the leaves were bright green with new growth and pink blossoms dotted the mountainside. It was absolutely stunning.

The kids "fished" for tadpoles while we got the dutch ovens going. Logan set up some sort of trap that he was constantly running down the river to check. I love when nature is my children's playground. Who need swings and slides or TVs and iPads when you have streams and sticks?

While dinner cooked, we took the kids on the Devil's Den trail. Somehow, Logan sneaked a bag of trail mix on the hike. He carried that huge bag around until he somehow managed to coerce Alyssa to carry it for him.

Logan and Savannah were camera hungry that day and constantly found some place they wanted their picture taken. Logan is usually a total cheese ball in front of the camera, giving me forced smiles and refusing to look at the camera. I told him that if he wanted me to take his picture, he had to look at me and smile naturally. For the first time in ages, I actually got some decent pictures of him!

He was especially excited when he found another Logan that had marked the spot. Apparently that Logan also had issues with his spelling. Ahem, "Logan was hear."

After our hike, we returned to our picnic site for the most amazing dinner of slow cooked meat, dutch oven potatoes, and--of course--peach cobbler. Then, as the sun set, we loaded up our cars, drove home, and slept in our own beds. Best campout ever!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Kentucky - Bucketlists

Katy made a bucketlist of things to do while we were visiting Kentucky, and I think we checked all of them off...

1. Visit the Newport Aquarium in south Cincinnati. We were pretty excited to cross the border into Ohio and check another state off our list, but the aquarium actually sat just before the border, still in Kentucky. (Don't worry- on our way out we drove across a bridge so we can say we went to Ohio.) We decided to get lunch near the aquarium, and I was super excited to see a Tom and Chee a stone's throw away! We first learned about Tom and Chee on Shark Tank, and have been anxious to try their famous grilled cheese donut ever since. I will admit, it was much better than I expected. My "real" lunch was a grilled turkey, mozzarella, and brie on wheat bread with creamy tomato basil soup. Mmmm.

The aquarium was a treat as well. It was very well done and there were some incredible water creatures I have never seen anything like.

Jeff's dad was struggling with foot pain, so we got him a wheelchair and commissioned Logan to push it. It turned out to be a great arrangement. Grandpa had a designated driver, and it slowed Logan down enough to stay with the group and not stray as he is prone to do.

2. See the horses train at Keeneland. This world famous racetrack was too close to not go visit. We got up early so we could watch the race horses train on the track. It was such a beautiful morning-- breezy and a little bit stormy with a brilliant dawn sky. Keeneland is breathtaking by itself with it's beautiful green pastures and perfect white fences, but the horses! Wow! Such incredible strength and focus! I had a blast testing the limits of my camera to catch them mid-stride.

3. Visit the Kentucky Horse Park. This was actually a back up plan when the stud farm we wanted to visit was closed. We went in the middle of a school day, and the place was practically deserted. It is mainly a place for retired racehorses and is run almost entirely by volunteers. I'll admit I wasn't blown away by the park, but the kids had fun and of course we got to see lots of beautiful horses. We also found a playground tucked away in the corner that we had entirely to ourselves for almost an hour. Perfection.

4. Enjoy the community walking trails and neighborhood park. This may not have been on Katy's bucket list, but it was definitely a highlight. Jeff and I took all the kids down a beautiful trail to play at the park one evening while James went to cub scouts and Katy stayed to let Hank nap. It was a beautiful evening with incredible weather. It was that kind of a day where it seemed a sin not to be out soaking it all in. The trio of girls (Savannah, Avery, and Isabelle) made every moment count. We sure miss the days when Avery lived down the street, but it is sweet to see that distance has not weakened their relationship.

Thus ended our chapter in Kentucky. To be continued.