Thursday, August 21, 2014

Back To School 2014

The elementary school crew

This school year creeped up on us quicker than any other year. Is it just me, or are summers getting shorter? This year I'll have kids in 5 schools - elementary, middle school, high school and two different colleges. That's kind of crazy.

Here's our sweet O, all ready for 1st grade.
When I picked him up after school the first day he asked, "Is every day at school going to be so LONG? It took forEVER for school to be done!"  The funny thing is, they're on an early-out schedule for testing and parent/teacher conferences this week and next. So the school day is actually just going to get longer. I'm sure he'll do great but I miss having him here at home with me in the mornings.  He's loving his teacher and enjoying eating lunch at school.

Our cute little Curly, excited for 2nd grade.
Curly gets to have O's kindergarten teacher for 2nd grade this year and we are thrilled because we love Mrs. P!  Curly was excited for school to start because she missed the math homework over the summer. What?

Hubba, our handsome 4th grader.
Hubba seems to get the new teachers for the last couple of years and this year is no exception. He was assigned to one teacher at the end of the school year, then it changed over the summer and now he's got a permanent teacher who seems like she'll be fantastic.

Princess is going to rock the 6th grade.
She got the teacher she was hoping for and is enjoying her new responsibility as one of the students who gets to push the button to play the national anthem over the intercom in the morning.

Cowgirl started school the day after everyone else because she's now in the 8th grade and the first day at her middle school is for 7th graders only.
She's taking some classes that sound pretty fun, like architectural rendering and a leadership class.  She's also excited that they will be doing The Sound of Music for the school musical later this year.

All-a-Boy is now a sophomore. When did that happen?
It is crazy to me to think that once Julia leaves for college All-a-Boy will be the oldest child at home. For most of his academic classes he is beyond the point where I can help any more. That's what happens when you have geniuses for children. I tell myself that all of my best brain cells went to my kids when I was growing them and it makes me feel a little better about my forgetfulness and lack of smarts.

Bring on the school year!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Getting Caught In The Rain

My soaked-to-the-skin family, safe at home

We decided to take a leisurely hike up the canyon near our home one Monday night.  The weather was beautiful, slightly overcast with just enough of a breeze to make a late summer day pleasant. As we began our hike we could hear very distant thunder but figured we had plenty of time to get up to the end of the trail and back. At one point there was a huge gust of wind that shot straight through the canyon and left us all exhilarated.  After that the overcast sky quickly transformed into a storm cloud that blew in right over the canyon.   

I'm sure you can guess where this is going.

Just as we reached the rocks we were hiking to a major downpour hit.  We tried to seek shelter but other than the trees there was none to be found.  We ran to a concrete building just a little ways back from where we were but there was just a slight overhang of the roof that didn't offer much protection. 

To Allen and I and our older kids, this was an adventure! But to the younger kids, especially Hubba, we were on the brink of disaster. Every time we saw a lightning strike followed by almost immediate thunder, Hubba would yell out to me, things like, "We're going to die!" or "We need to get out of here NOW!"

Eventually we realized that the storm was not going to let up, so we each grabbed someone by the hand and ran down to the van in the downpour, screaming and laughing. Hubba held tightly to my hand the entire way. He wouldn't let me stop to catch my breath or pull up my wet jeans that were slowly making their way south as they became more and more saturated. I probably should have told him that I had offered a silent prayer that we would be safe and felt a calming assurance that all would be well.  Once we reached the shelter of the van we asked if everyone enjoyed the hike. Everyone responded in the affirmative except for Hubba, who proclaimed it as the worst day of his life.

A couple of weeks later, Allen, Allen the Younger and All-a-Boy went on a high adventure scout trip where they did some canyoneering in a slot canyon. I can't really fill you in on all the details very well since I wasn't there, but they had another experience of being caught in a sudden downpour - and this time it was more like the way Hubba had imagined our family adventure to be - pretty scary with an unpredictable outcome. Maybe I can get one of my boys to write about it?  Regardless, everything ended well and everyone made it home safe and sound. In the time that they were gone we had prayed for their safety both morning and night, just as we pray for our missionaries and any member of our family who is not home with us.  I'm sure that the scout leaders and young men were sending some prayers heavenward during that trip as well.

Some would call it a coincidence that our prayers coincided with our safety but I see it differently - and I am certainly not going to see what happens if we tried to go without.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Look Who's Home!

On July 10th my oldest boy returned home from his 2-year mission for our church! I don't know how any parent can accurately describe the happiness of seeing your child after two years of absence. For almost a month before he got home I found myself randomly tearing up at the thought of seeing him again. It was just like when he left and I couldn't figure out where the emotion was coming from since he was coming back home!

The anticipation of his arrival at the airport was the worst. I just stood there with our family at the baggage claim, watching the escalator and trying not to cry.  I thought I was hiding it well until Julia looked over at me and said, "Mom, you can't cry yet, he's not even here!" As I looked around at all of the families that had huge groups gathered with large banners and signs to welcome their missionaries home I hoped that our small band of 10 (and no signs) wouldn't be underwhelming. We had chosen to keep this initial welcome home as something for our family only. I selfishly did not want to share in the moment with anyone else.
When the group of missionaries finally came down the escalator together and I caught a glimpse of our son with his trademark smile, all was right in my world.

Two of his good friends who left around the same time as he did were at our house to welcome him home.  I couldn't resist taking a picture like the one they had from their time in the Missionary Training Center together.
In the MTC in July 2012

At our home on July 10, 2014

There is so much spiritual growth and experience that happens on a mission. I am thankful for all he has learned while serving and thankful for the man it has shaped him into. It is indescribably awesome to have him here at home with us again, to hear him speak of his goals and aspirations for the future and of the people he has met and the things he has learned and experienced.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Colorado and HOME!

We were excited to get to Denver, Colorado and spend some time with Daren and Shannon! At some random city where we stopped for dinner we saw this mini Statue of Liberty and I commented that we didn't have to go to New York because we could have gotten a picture here and All-a-Boy, in a less-than-enthusiastic voice, said, "Yay. Let's stop and take a picture."  So we did.

And then we made him get his own picture, too. 

As we drove along we went through Happy, Texas.  As we passed the turnoff Julia commented, "Mom, I am beyond Happy right now." Such a clever girl, that one.

We had such a blast in Colorado!  We were greeted by Little A dancing on the lawn when we arrived.  The kids watched movies, played in the back yard, over fed the fish (sorry!) and played with Legos.  We went to a park, shopped at a thrift store and visited a candy factory.  It was so great to visit their little corner of the world and to have lots of time to just sit and visit after all of our time on the road!  Before we knew it, it was time to head for home. 

Little O and Little A got to be pretty great cousin-friends by the time we left and neither of them were ready for us to go.

But eventually all good things seem to come to an end, and this visit was no exception.

It was pretty exciting to be headed for our final destination: HOME! I almost wanted to cry as we crossed the border into Utah.

When we pulled into the driveway, we had driven just over 7700 miles on our three week journey.  It was SO GOOD to be home!

Well, until we noticed the sinkhole in the lawn, where the scouts had accidentally punctured our sprinkler line when setting up a flag in our yard a few days before we arrived home.  And then when we walked inside and the house smelled like something had died in there because our deep freezer had blown a circuit or something and stopped working who knows how long before we got home with shelves full of meat now thawed and leaking out of the door.  And then we went into the bathroom because it smelled kind of moldy/stale, and realized that there had been a slow drip happening beneath the sink the entire time we were gone, resulting in some minor flooding inside the cabinet.

At that point we sort of wanted a vacation again, but we were able to find the good in all of it (you can always find SOMETHING good if you look for it, I promise!) and just enjoy sleeping in our own beds again.

The day after we got home Shannon posted a picture of this drawing by Little O that she found beneath her couch after we had left:  

and we remembered what the whole trip was all about - connecting with each other and with family.

Family Reunion in Texas

I think my personal theme for this reunion was: no pictures.  The only time I thought to take pictures was when we were all in the pool at Troy and Becky's house.  Luckily a few others took pictures that they were willing to share with me (or that I borrowed off of Facebook - thanks Shannon!), but just let me say here that the reunion was a lot of fun even if I don't have the pictures to prove it.

The first day we met up with everyone at Galveston Beach, which is great for kids because the water stays shallow for a long way out.  But you want to know the best way to keep little kids close to you at the beach? Tell them shark stories before you get there.  Just sayin'.

On the way back from the beach we stopped at Buc-ee's, a gas station which claims to have the best restrooms in America.  They were definitely clean and much larger than necessary, but they were, you know, bathrooms. And everything's bigger in Texas, so there you go.

The next day all of the teenagers went to the temple together with some of their dads.

Such an awesome group of cousins!

Later that day there was a cake decorating contest for the boys

 and a tea party for the girls.

We had a family BBQ and pool party at Troy and Becky's house that evening, where we probably broke some sort of world record for how many people can fit into a jacuzzi.


On Saturday we all headed over to Elk Ranch and spent the day either lounging around (Julia and I) with some little people or at the nearby lake (everyone else) tubing or skiing.  Rachel found this awesome little friend in some cookery as she was getting dinner prepared...

Afterward everyone enjoyed some ziplining, canoeing and rides around the ranch.

We all went to church together on Father's Day, and then had a meal together before saying goodbye.

We drove all day and were treated to a bright orange sunset as we drove through some small towns in rural Texas.

Allen drove into the early morning hours and then we stayed the night in yet another hotel and rested up for another long driving day in the morning.

Florida to Louisiana to Texas

We spent three nights in Florida so it took a little more effort than usual to pack up our scattered belongings, load the van and head for our next stop, Louisiana.  This wasn't a destination, just a stopping place on the way to our real destination: a family reunion in Texas.

Oh, the driving. We were traveling in a season of storms and this day did not disappoint. I am in love with storm cloud covered skies so I took a lot of pictures of what I saw as we drove throughout this entire day.

 Another highlight for me that I feel is worth mentioning: as we got to the border of Florida and stopped for gas I made my usual walk through the convenience store in search of Hi Chews, my current love in the candy aisle. Not only did they have them, they were selling PEACH flavor, youguys!! I bought all 3 of the remaining packages and fell in love.  I could not find peach Hi Chews anywhere else along the way, but have since discovered that Seagull Book in Orem, Utah sells them.  You're welcome!!

Back to the trip...

The cute little chunk of Alabama that we drove through all pretty much looked like this:

When I was somewhere around round 18 of playing the Alphabet Game with myself, I saw this sign and thought of my oldest boy:
 because seriously, everyday IS a fun day with Allen the Younger.

As the sun was going down at the end of the day we could see these brilliantly bright yellow bursts of light shining through the occasional openings in the trees. It was breathtaking, but photos from a moving vehicle don't always work out, so here's the best I could do...

We arrived at our hotel in Slidell, Louisiana just as the sun had set. We checked in and then went to find some dinner. We decided on Sonic.  You would not believe the stares we got from everyone as we pulled in - and we didn't even get out of the van! As we were figuring out what to order a man walked up to Allen at the driver's side window and motioned for him to roll it down.  He then asked, "Are y'all the Duggars?" Allen told him that we weren't, but that we were all one family. The man responded, "I didn't know if maybe y'all had another van parked around the corner or something!" He then went on to tell us how awesome he thought bif families were and that he wanted to adopt a bunch of kids so he could drive them all around in a 15 passenger van, too.  His son had been standing there next to him the whole time, patiently waiting for a turn to say something. He finally blurted out, "Y'all with a vacation bible school trip?" His dad then told him, "Didn't you hear me talkin'? They're all one family! But not the Duggars." He then told us, "Y'all have a great evening" as they walked back over to their car.

The next morning we did a quick drive-through of the French Quarter in New Orleans.  It made me a little sad to know we were minutes away from where Elle is currently serving her mission and we weren't going to see her, but it was fun to experience a little bit of the culture and weather she experiences every day.

New Orleans from a distance

 One of the little streets in the French Quarter

The goal this day was to meet up with Allen's family at Galveston Beach in Texas for the first day of our family reunion.  The kids wore their swim suits for the whole 6 hour drive in eager anticipation of playing on the beach with their cousins.

We got to ride over to Galveston Island on a ferry.  The kids thought it was great that we rode in our van, on a ferry, in the water.  As we ferried along Allen mentioned that I can't say he's never taken me on a cruise.  Funny one, that guy.