Friday, October 30, 2015

Right Choices Pumpkin Patch

October has been absolutely gorgeous this year. Just enough cool weather to start the autumn leaves turning, but plenty of Indian summer days to make us want to be outside enjoying it all. I have been wanting to check out a pumpkin patch I'd heard lots about in Missouri, so we picked up a pizza to eat on the way and drove out on a Saturday afternoon.

The setting was unbelievable. Nestled between two small ridges, the patch was it's own valley paradise. The entrance was elevated just enough to give you panoramic views of the entire property. I had serious land envy.

We played the free games, then paid for the corn maze. We hadn't left ourselves enough time for the long maze, so we settled for the 5-minute shorter version. The maps they gave us at the entrance had a cross on the cover. Did I mention the name of this pumpkin patch is "Right Choices?" So awesome.

The patch had been a little picked over, so we headed towards to back to get a better selection. Truthfully, I feel like McGarrah's had a better patch (and is much closer), but nothing could compare to the views at Right Choices. Eventually we found our winning pumpkins, clipped them from their vines, and loaded them in the wagons. The hill at the entrance wasn't so enchanting when you had to haul 20 pounds of pumpkin up it.

We had to transfer our pumpkins from wagons to wheelbarrows, and naturally I saw that as a chance to get more pictures with a different background.

I really can't describe how beautiful this part of the country is May-November. It's something you have to see in person to really appreciate. Or maybe I just have a sweet spot for rolling hills, wooded backyards and secluded fields. I am so sad that this season is coming to an end, but luckily the holiday season keeps excitement levels high for at least a few more months.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Fall Hike at Lake Fort Smith

As the weather showed hints of cooling down, I realized the entire spring and summer had passed by and we hadn't hardly done any hiking. This was unacceptable, so when the kids had a Friday off school, we headed a short ways south to explore a new lake.

The trail itself was one of the more unexciting ones we have done, but we stayed right by the lake the entire time and the leaves were on the verge of their fall glory. My favorite part of the whole day was actually the drive in. Man, it's beautiful here.

We did have one exciting moment when we came across a snake sitting in the middle of the trail. I almost stepped on it before I spotted it. In case you were wondering, Savannah is a screamer when startled.

Look at these happy hikers! Must be because the hike is over.

After we finished our hike, we let the kids play on the shore for a little bit. Logan had brought a notebook with him, and was working on some inspired lyrics for his new song.

Just before we left, Sawyer got a hold of an extra large rock and threw it in the water. I guess the weight of it was more than he anticipated, and he tumbled in right after it! It was only a couple of inches of water, but enough to drench him pretty well. He rode home in a diaper.

The Showdown Half

Back in July, my friend and running buddy, Allie, asked if I was up for a half-marathon. I had taken a long break from running, partially to give my running injuries a rest, partially because of the foot surgery I had had in June, and partially because I was lazy. But I love a good race, especially with friends, and there's nothing like training for a race to get you back in the saddle. I hadn't run a half marathon since April 2014, which means I hadn't done a long run in over a year and a half. At first, it was rough. After a few weeks, I was asking Allie if she had experienced any runner's highs yet, because I sure hadn't. She assured me that she, too, was struggling, but that we would get there.

It was so great to have Allie as a training partner, coach, cheerleader, and empathizer along the way. Even though we live 3 hours apart, we would report to each other on all our runs and help motivate the other to get out there even when we were dragging. One day I got my long awaited high, and I couldn't wait to share it with her. We also celebrated as our runs lengthened and our times improved.

Race weekend finally arrived. We packed up the family and drove down to Dallas, since that was where the race was at. My family is so terrific when it comes to me and running. I spend a lot of time away from them when I train, often at inconvenient times, but they never complain. Jeff adjusts his schedule so that I can fit in my runs, often shuttling kids to doctor's appointments at the last minute because I don't make it back in time. For this particular race, they drove 5 hours each way, spent two nights in a hotel, and really didn't get much in return other than a chance to swim at the hotel pool. Even after the race they catered to mom, letting me shop at stores that we don't have at home and going to a teppanyaki restaurant for lunch since that is my favorite.

The race was beautiful. It was a perfect October weekend and the course went through some rural parts of a north Dallas suburb where we could enjoy the view of the morning sun on fields of gold. I felt great the entire run, and having a friend to run with made it go by really fast! When we finished, I didn't feel nearly as tired as I expected, and thought I could probably have gone a few more miles. That was encouraging, since a few weeks before I had had a killer 10 mile run that almost did me in. Allie ran into some breathing trouble and couldn't talk much, which meant I blabbered on and on almost the entire time. She was probably sick of hearing me go on and on, but is such a good friend that she claimed to enjoy it. ;)

I am so glad to be back in the running game! It feels so good to get out and run, and if I could only figure out how to do it without hurting my joints I would be running a race every weekend! These pictures are super unattractive, but it was nice of the race organizers to provide them. I have five shots crossing the finish line, and in every one of them I'm checking my watch. Sheesh, I need to stop being so time-obsessed.

Don't look at my face, check out my feet. I'm flying! Haha.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Trauma in the Backyard

A few weeks ago the kids were playing with the chickens in the backyard. The neighbor kids were in and out, and it was all around just a little bit rowdy and chaotic, as the best playdates always are. I was inside the kitchen, supervising from time to time through the window. At one point the door opened, and Logan ran in, completely unhinged.

"MOM!!! Cooper got the chickens!"

It was half yell, half moan, and half sob. (Is that too many halves?) I jumped into protective mother hen mode, and sprinted out back to find our next door dog, Cooper, with one of our chickens in it's mouth, shaking his head from side to side. Feathers were everywhere, kids were screaming, and I felt the sinking feeling that I was looking at a dead chicken. Cooper is a big dog-- a 100+ pound lab with hunting instincts-- and I didn't think our chicken stood a chance. Nevertheless, I ran to Cooper, and hit him sharply on the side while yelling his name. That didn't work, so I grabbed his jaw with both hands, and pried his mouth apart until he dropped Maggie, our black Australorp, on the ground. (I'm so grateful I learned to force feed pills to a big dog when we fostered Landrie several years ago, or I probably would not have had the nerve to grab a dog's jaw like that, especially when he's in attack mode.)

I kept a tight grip on Cooper's collar until he was safely deposited back home and I was sure he was securely contained. As I left our yard, I looked back to take a quick survey of the damage, and to my surprise, saw Maggie walking around the yard! I couldn't believe it! By this time, Logan was acting like he was the chicken with his head cut off, running around the cul-de-sac wailing, "Maggie! Maaaaggie! Noooooo! Oh, Maaaggie!"

I had to yell as loud as I could to get him to respond and listen. He was distraught and not focusing or thinking rationally at all.

"Logan! LOGAN! Come here! Listen to me-- Maggie isn't dead. She's NOT dead. And I need you to settle down and help me. We need to find the rest of the chickens and put them away. Calm down. CALM DOWN!"

He finally realized what I was saying, and took off at a dead sprint toward the backyard. But when we got there, we could only find one of our five chickens, and she was perched on top of the back fence. We both drew the same conclusion, and ran around the side to the greenway behind our fence. We have about 30 feet of grass behind our fence, and beyond that is the main road through our community. If the chickens had gotten out and made a run for it...

Logan took off running down the street, screaming Maggie's name at the top of his lungs, in that same pitiful wail he had been using since it all started. Again, I had to chase after him, yell forcefully to get his attention, then help him think through things.

"Logan, did you actually see any chickens out here?"
"No, I just saw the one on the fence and thought the rest must have already flown over."
"I haven't seen any out here, either. Maybe they are still in the yard, just hiding. Let's go back and check that first."

Back to the backyard we went, and Savannah joined in helping us look for the chickens. Within a few minutes, I heard the joyful cries of a successful search, and came over to find our poor brood of chickens hiding behind the shed, scared and traumatized, but all in one piece. I had to pick them up and carry them to the coop, otherwise they would not have left their hiding place. Once everyone was put away, I took Maggie aside to inspect her injuries. She had lost nearly all her tail feathers as well as a bunch on her back, and had two deep gashes, but other than that, mostly just seemed ruffled (and understandably so). She didn't even squawk when I poured hydrogen peroxide on her cuts or rubbed antibiotic gel in them. I knew she still might not make it, so we kept her separated for a day or two from the other hens, but I'm happy to report that two weeks later, Maggie is as spunky as ever and her feathers are starting to grow back in!

Although all the kids were in the yard to witness the attack, Logan was easily the most traumatized by it. He wouldn't let us talk about chickens or say Maggie's name in front of him for awhile, and worried that he would have nightmares that night. His defense was to try not to think about it, and he devoured a book for the rest of the evening. The entire experience was very enlightening, and taught me a lot about Logan. Logan internalizes things in a way most of us don't. He is always the one covering his eyes during movies or running from the room if it is even the slightest bit scary (even Disney movies). Having to see something like this happen in real life just about did him in. But he pulled through and I think will be stronger in the future because of it. We also have some new rules in place, such as the chickens must be in the coop while friends are over and making sure the gate is shut if the chickens are out.

After the dust had settled, Logan told me something he had learned. "Mom, some bad choices have little consequences, like losing privileges. But other bad choices have big consequences, like your chicken might die. I don't want to make any bad choices, because even though they might be little consequences most of the time, one day it will be a big consequence and I don't want that to happen."

Another valuable conversation that came of the incident was explaining to the kids a little about the animal kingdom. We had a good talk about Cooper, and helped them understand that he was not a bad dog, but was just following his instincts. He would never hurt any of them, but a chicken was a different story, so we had to be careful to keep Cooper and the chickens separate from each other.

When all is said and done, I am amazed how many good things came from such a potentially bad day. As one of my favorite songs asks, "What if the trials of this life are [His] mercies in disguise?"

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Love Letters

A few weeks ago, Logan and Savannah wrote letters to send to Grandma and Grandpa. I'm embarrassed to admit they do this fairly often, but I usually set the letters aside to mail them and then... never really get around to it. This time, however, they found the envelope, addressed it, stamped it, and delivered it to our mailbox all by themselves. I made sure the address was correct, but other than that I was a passive observer. Which means this letter actually made it into the mail system.

Although we had several talks about shipping times and such, the day after they mailed their letters, they started watching like hawks for a return letter. Every day they would jump out of the car after school, racing to check the mail and see if there was anything for them. I thought they would forget eventually, but after two or so weeks they were still dedicated to their cause. So when I checked the mail early one day and found a letter from Grandma there, I couldn't bring myself to take it inside. I left it right where it was, then waited for the after school mailbox check.

They were ecstatic when they came home and found their letter. They sprinted into the house while I finished pulling into the garage and started unloading the car. By the time I made it inside, they were already at the counter, composing their responses. It made me smile to see how much excitement and joy came from a simple letter. In our world of emails, text messages, and video chats, the novelty of a pen and paper letter has not been lost. There is something about knowing that your pen pal held that very paper in their hands just days before that makes the distance not seem so far.

Carry on, budding writers.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

FHE on the Trampoline

Monday night rolled around, and Jeff and I realized that we (again) had nothing planned for FHE. It was a beautiful evening, still warm from our Indian summer, so Jeff announced, "Home evening is on the trampoline tonight!" We had a perfect half hour seeing how high we could bounce each other and taking turns showing off our tricks. Pending bedtimes cut our night shorter than we all would have liked, but it was such a happy memory, no matter how brief, that it didn't matter. Well done, family night.


Just a little snapshot of an average day with a bunch of silly kids around. This is what happens when someone finds a sheet of sticky googly eyes...

or when someone else gets tripped up in the soccer net...

or when mom tries to give her kids a haircut and realizes how ill-trained and unskilled she is.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Pumpkin Patch Playgroup

Alyssa organized a preschool playdate at the pumpkin patch for all us moms with kiddos at home. We actually had a cool morning for once and kept our jackets on the whole time we were there. It felt appropriate to be dressed for fall since it is October, after all.

We did all the typical pumpkin patch activities, from climbing on hay bales to a tractor pulled hay ride to checking out the donkeys. I love this patch, not only for it's beautiful location, but because they hand you a big pair of clippers to go cut your pumpkin off the vine. Since the weather has been so warm, the plants were still green and luscious, not dead and withered like they sometimes are by this time of year.

I tried to get a cute picture of my two littles together. I actually got better faces in other shots, but I liked these ones better. Much more true to character.

I've come to terms with the fact that I will most likely frequent the pumpkin patch multiple times each Halloween season, at least for the next decade or so. We'll go again as a family some other time to pick pumpkins for the older kids, but it was nice to have a little mini playdate where I could focus on just half my brood at a time.

Thanks, McGarrah Farms, for the lovely day. See you again soon.

Our Inaugural Smith Girls Trip

Just a few weeks after my Mackay girls trip, I was able to spend a second weekend with the girls-- this time it was the Smith granddaughters' turn! I guess it's a little bit of a stretch to call it that, since none of us are Smith posterity by blood. But Grandpa Smith told each of us that he didn't believe in in-laws, so we've taken that to heart. Alyssa, Laurel, and Katy really do feel like sisters and cousins to me, and we had an absolute blast getting away for a day and exploring some places close to home.

We started the day bright and early with breakfast at Briar Rose Bakery. The pastries were delicious, but my favorite part was the quaint and collected ambiance of the bakery. From there we headed to the Junk Ranch, a giant flea market/craft fair set up in a barn and the surrounding fields. The morning was absolutely beautiful. As the sun rose, there was mist coming off the rolling hills and I almost felt like I'd walked onto the set of Brigadoon. I wish I would have pulled out my camera to capture it, but it was almost too magical for film, anyway.

The Junk Ranch was super fun to explore. I found all sorts of things that I could never see a purpose for, but coveted anyway. I ended up with a small bud vase and a book cut into a "P". It reminded me a little bit of the flea markets in Paris.

Fall is a great time for festivals, so we drove a few more miles down the road to the Apple Festival in Lincoln. We sampled apples, along with some other goodies, watched hay being baled (which felt rather pointless since we never saw a finished bale, even after watching for several minutes), and explored the craft and food booths. 

Lunch was brought to us by Hammontree's in Fayetteville. It was my first time there, but it had better not be the last! I wanted to try everything on the menu. Their specialty is grilled cheese, but the sandwiches didn't resemble any grilled cheese I'd ever had before. Mine had pulled pork, poblano peppers, and mole sauce. Delicioso.

We tried to spend our day doing things that are normally challenging with a bunch of kids in tow, including a little bit of shopping, a movie, and sampling way too much of Rick's Bakery while watching their staff decorate cakes and cookies. The highlight of the day was our Painting with a Twist class that evening, where we all learned how to paint a big eyed and brightly feathered owl. The class was my first experience of that sort, and it was super fun! Of course, it is hard not to be critical of your own work, and I am well aware I gave all my artistic talent to a select few of my siblings and left none whatsoever for myself, but--all things considered--I don't think my result was as terrible as it could have been!

We stayed overnight in a nearby hotel so that we could stretch our day out a little more and take advantage of the chance to sleep in. Apparently my body did not get the memo, and I was up at 7 am anyway, but I used those quiet early minutes to catch up on the notes from General Conference the day before. I made it home just in time for the morning session, and loved snuggling with my family on our sunny sofa while listening to inspiring and uplifting words.

I loved both of my girls trips, especially getting to know the women in my family better in a more intimate setting. And a little break from the daily grind is always welcome, too! Thanks to all who planned and prepared to make these trips happen!