Camping with the fab five

Someone told me at church today “If you go back and listen to old school Gary Smalley messages he said once ‘if you want to give your child great memories and bond as a family, go camping’.  Well, good thing something wonderful may come of our super challenging but super “fun” weekend.  Upon looking for this information online, I found this quote from him, which rings so true:

The real secret to becoming a close-knit relationship is shared experiences that turn into shared trials.

~ Gary Smalley

After a less than lovely and three hours later than planned departure (don’t ask), we were on our way with nearly everything we owned (except the portable crib for Finn which we wouldn’t know until bedtime).  After sticking it out to make almost three whole weeks with no fast food, we broke down and had McDonald’s on the way for dinner.  We got to the campground around bedtime and stayed up later than our norm getting all set up.  There were cousins which made everything more fun.

No computers, no dirty bathrooms that needed cleaning, no agenda besides to have fun.  It was great.  Until I realized we’d left the crib for Finn at home.  We figured we’d just make him a bed and he’d sleep on the ground on his sheepskin.  Notsomuch.  He threw the fit of his life.  I packed it up and went to the van with him.  We spent the entire night in there.  Me sitting up making sure he didn’t fall off the seat where he’d finally fallen asleep after a couple good hours of him screaming.  Afraid that any noise I made would wake him I tried to freeze and sleep for about 6 hours.  Instead of sleeping, I stared at trees and listened to him breathe and looked for signs up daylight.  There is something very un-fun about being awake when everyone else is asleep.

Some coffee and some happy campers beckoned me to choose happy and get on with the adventure.  We searched for crabs and found hundreds.  Finn chilled in the Boba on daddy’s back and looked positively exhausted, which made me slightly annoyed because really, he got more sleep than me.  By a longshot.

My sister, who is a rockstar, braved camping not with a needy 16 month old and four other kiddos but instead with a growing baby in her belly and her own two littles.  She deserves an award.  We both do, here is our game face the morning after camping, night one:

Our two girl cousin buddies enjoyed each other as always…

and all the boys ‘helped’ put up Nana and Papa’s tent on day two of camping fun:

Finn loved him some Papa…

and for that matter so did Kyler…

then everyone joined in to play “crawl to the beach like a crab” or something like that…

Ruby watched the silliness and stayed warm in her winter hat, because well, you know, this is still Seattle:

Daddy figured out how to build underground tunnels in the wet sand and everyone thought that was awesome…

It’s been just over a week.  I swore I’d never do it again at about 3 AM both nights while Finn kept me from sleep.  But you know what?  Our kids would tell you it was the best ever and a super fun weekend.  These are the things that memories are made of.  And as my sister so astutely observed ‘the terrible awful just sort of melts into the wonderful’.  One minute I was curled up in a ball in a van seat with a baby who wouldn’t sleep and shortly after I was sitting at the beach listening the absolute glee while my children found crabs of all colors and patterns and delighted in the simplest things.

It is that truth that leads me to say that probably, we will do it again.  Maybe we’ll do it a little better or maybe not.  But we will try again, we are crazy like that.

The tree

We have had many awesome, epic tree hunting adventures in years past.  But this year there just wasn’t any way to fit in a trip to cut our own.  Sometimes simply being flexible is the name of the game.  It was drizzling and cold, again, so it was a short lived outing but any outing with cousins is a fun one.  Oh how thankful we are to live nearby my sister and her stellar hubby and their beautiful, precious kids!

The pumpkin tradition

I wrote last year how much comfort we found in the months after we lost Chris’ dad in the simplest things.  Like doing the same things we’d done the year before and the year before that.  Pumpkins are one of those things.  And pulling into Bob’s Corn is the essence of autumn for us.  The kids look forward to the bumpy, uncomfortable cow train every year.  We’ve learned to bring garbage bags for muddy boots and fresh pants for the ride home.

Tradition doesn’t have to be big or expensive.  It’s just totally lovely sometimes to establish things that you can look forward to doing together again.

Next year this little girl will want to ride all by herself…and Finn will be big enough to ride on my lap!

Nana got in on the cow train fun – she wants everyone to know that the back is the most exciting/dangerous/bumpy place on the whole train

Note the Papa in the back, he’s trying to keep up with all his grandsons!

Can you tell he’s a little silly happy to have these three awesome men as son-in-laws?

The sisters – yes, I’ve worn that same jacket three years in a row!

Like Nana’s boots?

Oh the joy of the cousins – Issac told his mama the night before we went “I’m tired of doing all this stuff.  I just want to go to the pumpkin patch with my cousins.”  Who could blame him for that?!?

Too cute.  Last year she slept through the whole thing – totally ready for action this October!

Seven grandkids ages 8 months to 8 years!

First day of (home)school

These are for you Mama…

Only because she is very anxious to be in the mix, Audrey is doing preschool with us this year as a very enthusiastic 3 year old

At five years old, Kyler is beginning his kindergarten work this year – though if you’d ask him, he’d tell you that in fact no, he’s not actually.  It’s taken me weeks to convince him that ‘going into kindergarten’ doesn’t actually mean GOING anywhere.  He is relieved and I’m happy to have him here.

Caleb is heading into second grade this year.  He would rather study frogs and salamanders than math but we’re going to try and do both.  He is a voracious reader and we can hardly keep enough books around for his appetite.

Sweet Rylee Jeanne is ready to hit the ground running with her third grade studies.  She is most excited about her new math program (yay!) and the opportunity to learn crafts like needlepoint, weaving, sewing and the like every afternoon after she is done with her school work.

I needed to feed Phineas so Rylee read to everyone out of my new book stash.  This is one of my very favorite parts of learning at home.

Audrey tracing a leaf into her nature notebook.  We are looking so forward to one dedicated, directed nature study a week and trying to get outside and appreciate something in creation every single day.

A special place

Many years ago when my grandparents health was failing and my parents were forced to make hard choices about selling the family summer home on the beach just north of here, it was devastating.  I had endless memories, the happiest and best ones, of spending time there together year after year.  It took me 7 years to even go there again to visit.  But as the years passed my parents sought out a new ‘special place’ to build family memories.  They bought a timeshare condo in the mountains less than two hours from here.  Our kids are already enjoying the sweet predictability of ‘doing the same thing’ just like my sisters’ and I did growing up.  There is something rich about tradition.

That’s what drove me to pack up the van, travel without my husband and head north for two days despite a slightly sick baby and knowing I’d not sleep much at all.

So we could hike Horseshoe Bend trail….again.

So we could throw countless sticks and rocks into the raging river –

So Nana could look all “Daniel Boone” like this –

So we could discover a natural-formed teeter totter log –

So Finn could go on his first backpack hike and fall asleep –

So Audrey could squeal every time she watched a blue jay steal a peanut from our deck –

So we could swim and swim and swim some more!

Birthday Princess Audrey

We talked two years ago as a couple about how we wanted to downplay gifts at Christmas (making room for the real meaning of the season) and make an intentional effort to celebrate the uniqueness and blessing each child is on their birthdays.

We celebrated Audrey’s 3rd birthday (two days after my birthday and three days before our wedding anniversary…its been a busy week!) on Saturday with her sweet girl friends.  The sweetest princess pal being her older sister who prayed for her long before she was born into our family.  Such a treasure to watch these two girls love one another.

I took on my most ambitious cake-making yet with this 9 layer pink princess cake, it nearly tipped but we stuck a BBQ skewer in it and it held in okay!

The girls (and our two boys) all decorated crowns and scepters.

Audrey was pleased as punch with her cake, so worth the 5 hours of work!

By night’s end the party girl was worn out and we found her on the couch with her new pillow pet and her special blankie and her thumb…

It’s hard work being in a princess!  What a delight of a time to do girl stuff and celebrate the gift this sweet thing is to our family.  She makes us laugh and smile literally every single day.

Making room for the new

Though there is something wonderful about doing the same things every year-kids and grow ups alike (at least me) enjoy some amount of predictability.   But there is also (we’re learning) something to be said for be flexible and open to forging new paths when needed.  For ten years we’ve headed downtown into the city to see lights, look at window displays, ride the holiday carousel, etc.  One year we even took a ride on a horse and carriage.  Though it is still lovely, some things have changed.  Namely, the amount of children we bring with us!  Even with strollers, front packs, snacks and a good plan…it did not turn out to be the dreamy time it used to be.

We left this year thinking it might be time for a new tradition, who knows what, but the text my sister sent me on her drive home was “Remind of this day when I say I want to go next year!” as her kids screamed most of the way home.  Two of ours did too.  Times change and tradition sometimes need to evolve into something that will be fun for all.   We joked that we go to all this trouble, try hard to take fun pictures and enjoy it vicariously through the photos later because in the moment it is mayhem!

Here are a few highlights…

The cousins holding hands

Audrey thinking about enjoying her horse (Isaac looked about as thrilled in his pic!)

Between Caleb ‘injuring’ his knee every ten minutes and Kyler crying, we tried to snap a photo

Pretty sure Auntie Stephie enjoyed this year more than anyone else ~wink~

One tradition that deserves keeping is certainly Nana and the Nutcracker for the girls (Audrey stood in the driveway and cried for 10 minutes when they left, she is all set to go next year!)  Rylee was totally enraptured with the whole thing, even asked to sign up for ballet after she got home!

Another keeper so far, is the gingerbread making night.  Though it’s tough not to eat the candy, this year we learned if we bought gross candy, everyone would be less interested in eating it.  Having observed several big sugar highs and lows in our kids already this season, we were anxious to avoid another!  Black licorice, spicy gum drops, cinnamon drops and the like all made great decor and didn’t taste very good.

This house was almost as sweet as this little girl…almost

No candy for this cutie till next year!

Tree hunting

I was going to say tree ‘shopping’ but given how we’re just sort of meandering our way through the holiday season this year with no particular plan, it was really more like a hunt.  We’d been to church and had little time before naps but 3 weeks before Christmas and still had no tree.  So we just drove from church out towards the hills and stopped at a random tree farm, chopped down one of the first we saw and went home for naps.

OCC party – 4th year?

Just trying to put one foot in front of the other here…realize I’m way behind on blog pictures.   One thing I love about homeschool is that we can do stuff like this during the week, weekends tend to fill fast and get crazy and it’s nice to be able to move school work around to have a house full of people over for something special.   Back in November we did our annual Operation Christmas Child party and filled shoeboxes with friends, it was a wonderful time:

Pumpkin Patch 2010

There is something wonderful and healing for me about going to the same place to do the same thing year after year.  I am more aware of this now than ever just because the last couple of years have held a lot of change for us.  It’s nice when some things stay the same.  Like Bob’s corn…we had a perfect, cold, fall day with my sister and her family.