Thursday, November 20, 2014

Over the river and through the woods... grandmother's house we go!  Oh. My. Gosh!  We just got back from our first ever (non-Colorado) family vacation.  And I am tired!  We packed a ton into 10 days and were never more than a few feet away from each other.  Day and night.  In the the tent...all day and all night long...for 10 days, folks.  That's a lot of time together!  And it was really more like 3 separate trips. 

First Trip; Swim Meet:
All four kids swam at a three day swim meet at the University of Tennessee.  It was an awesome pool!  Together they swam 40 races.  It was a bit exhausting, but they all did really great and Sam got to swim at his first big meet!  And the funny thing is, he's even ranked as one of the top 10 (6 and under boys) swimmers in the state for the events he swam.  There just aren't that many little guys competing! 

Second Trip; Tent Camping:
When we left the swim meet we started on our camping trip spending the first night in the Smoky Mountain National Park.  It was gorgeous!  Chris and I had honeymooned there, so it was nice to visit again.  We camped in the to a river.  It got cold at night, down to 34.  And it sounded like we were sleeping next to a waterfall.  But it was awesome!  Hotdogs, s'mores and hot chocolate all taste better by campfire!

Travelling....we were packed in there with all the swim meet stuff, camping gear, food, clothes and, of course, Max.

This was our campsite in the Smoky Mountains.  Beautiful, but a little cold!   

We left the swim meet with a lot of wet swim towels so we tried to dry them on a line.  It was just too cold and wet though and a few hours later when we took them down I think they were actually wetter! 

Aren't they cute when they're asleep?

The next day we headed over to Charleston, SC to camp.  It was a more "citified" campground, but nice just the same.  In the morning the kids got to see the ocean for the first time!  The water was cold, but they were able to get their feet wet, find seashells, and watch people surf and kayak.   It was a lot of fun!

When we travel, we rarely eat out.  We pack lots of food to make sandwiches.  It's nice to find a city park or a nearby lake to eat at and lets us see a little more than just the highway. 
We also get to play really fabulous games Chris makes up like "kick the pinecone!"  Friends, we are nothing but cool!
Third Trip; Florida Tourist:
Next we went down to visit Chris' parents in The Villages - a gigantic retirement community where they live most of the year.  Our first day in Florida we went to Disney's Magic Kingdom.  We had one-day passes as Christmas gifts and were excited to finally use them.  And, um, just wow!  There really aren't words, are there?  From the amazing design and architecture, lights and sounds to the crowds, lines and oh the stores!  It's quite an experience and the kids loved every minute of it! 

We all rode Space Mountain.  It. Was. Awesome!  Sam sat in front of me, and honestly, I'm not even sure if he was tall enough to ride the ride.  We never looked and nobody asked us.  What kind of parents are we?  He cried the whole way...I felt so bad for him.  When we got off the ride (and he finished crying) he said, "Mom, I don't think I was ready for that....and I don't think I want to see stars for a really long time."  After buying a hat and a watch, the teller gave him a big button to wear that said "I conquered Space Mountain."  He loved it! 

Papa and Gigi had a lot of fun riding all the rides.  Each adult had a partner for the day to ride rides with and keep track worked out really well!   
Our "littles" had a great view to watch the parade.

Aren't they adorable?  Talking about all they stuff they just bought!  They finally understood why I made them save all their Christmas and birthday money. 

We survived!  Waiting for the tram back to the car with really sore feet! 
The next day we headed down near Tampa to go to Clearwater Beach.  It really was beautiful and warm enough the kids could swim in the ocean.  

Then our last day in Florida we spent in Jane and Howard's retirement community where more people drive golf carts than cars!  This is the parking along the streets! 

And for my UK friends...
And, just because...
We saw a movie, went swimming and the kids went to listen to music and dance in the square while Chris and I went on a date night.  Nice!  

Finally, we headed home.  We had originally planned to camp one more night...but we were tired and ready to be in our own beds so we drove all the way home and got in around 1am.  And we are celebrating tonight because we are finally caught up on all the laundry and missed homework! 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Family Picture Outtakes

Every fall since Sophia was born we have taken family pictures.  She's 11 now, so we've taken a lot of pictures!  As our family has grown, we've learned a few things.  We started out in the JCPenney Portrait studio.  It was easy and inexpensive, but they just can't pose bigger families well in their tiny studios.  Every picture started to look the same - all very stuffy.  And they really love their fake fireplace backgrounds!  I just don't get it. 

We finally bit the bullet and started using a professional photographer.  We love outdoor casual pictures and while the professionals are expensive, the quality of the pictures are worth it.  We found a great photographer that allowed us to just buy the rights to our pictures on a CD and then we printed them ourselves.  This is the way to go, my friends!

This year we tried something different.  I'm not sure we'll try it again though.  We haven't really been here long enough to find a great photographer so we decided to let Chris try to do our pictures himself.  He's got a lot of experience from his reporting and freelancing days, so he knows a thing or two.  But, taking pictures for a newspaper or magazine job is very different than taking your own family photos. 

First problem:   He didn't have a tripod or a remote.  Because that would be too easy.  So he was looking for tree stumps, large rocks, the hood of the car, and other things to prop the camera on.  He also packed a few Rubbermaid containers and stacked them up in the middle of the road/trail for a few shots.  Nice!  Nothing says classy like stacked Rubbermaids!  Picture him posing us, setting the timer, and dashing in and squeezing into each picture.  Fun times.

Second problem:  Sam.  Seriously, as you'll see from some of the pictures below, the kids is a total goof and if he's in a mood, he is just not going to listen (and follow) directions at all.  He is the king of funny faces and exaggerated reactions.  If Chris told him to move a tiny bit to his left, he would move six feet away.  Not going to lie -- this was incredibly frustrating.  It took us about three times longer than normal to take pictures this year and we were at least 1000 times more miserable! 

We haven't picked our favorite pictures yet out of the bunch, because surprisingly we actually got some good ones!  But here are a few that didn't make the cut.  Some of these Chris took, and some I took with my phone as I watched the ridiculousness of it all! 
Here, Chris is on the edge of a short drop-off trying to get the kids' pictures. 
Here he is after slipping and falling down! 
And here are the kids' reactions!
This is exactly how a lot of our pictures turned out.  Look at Sam.  Seriously a disaster!
This one is so funny!  Sophia's clearly caught up in watching what Sam is doing off to the side.  Yes, he is that goofy!
He kept trying to photo bomb the pictures too!

So we finally just let him be himself thinking he might get it out of his system.  We're still waiting for that to happen! 

So we discovered that not only are the professional photographer's actual pictures worth the extra money, but their trained ability to manage kids like Sam is truly priceless!  We saved a bunch of money this year on our pictures.  We got some really good ones I'll show you soon.  But, it really was a miserable and very long process so I'm not sure if we'll try it this again or not.  But we survived, and they're done!  And I guess that's all that really matters in the end! 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Everything is More Fun With Friends!

Everything is more fun with friends - especially hiking.  We've been fortunate enough to go on a couple of hikes lately with friends from church.  The kids have had a blast and we've noticed they don't really complain much when they've got friends along on the trails. 

A couple of weeks ago we went to Grey's Arch with the Rose family.  These girls were such sweeties!  And they were just as willing to trudge through the wet and muddy creek as my kids were - definitely not afraid to get dirty.  It was a pretty hot afternoon for a hike - and a pretty long hike at 3 1/2 hours.  But with the promise of pizza at Miguel's afterwards, we all made it! 

I blame Chris and Ben for the length of our hike.  Once we made it to the arch, we had to decide if we would return the way we came, or go on a bigger loop to get back.  We let the dads decide.  Right after that point, the hike got hard for about an hour.  Hard, like straight up out of the bottom of the Gorge.  At that point, I was thinking letting the guys pick the path wasn't the best idea.  But then the last hour was much easier walking along a ridge that was beautiful, so it was worth it! 

Yesterday we went up to Natural Bridge using the Rock Garden and Battleship Rock Trails.  Tom wanted to take a bunch of kids from his Wednesday night church class.  The three of us went with 12 kids and they had a great time! 
The girls...
The boys (minus Sam)

Sam had felt a little sick before we left, but didn't have any real symptoms so we didn't think anything of it.  About 15 minutes into hiking he started getting worse.  He got a pretty strong fever - the poor kid, his head was burning up and his arms were ice cold.  He was miserable.  At one point Chris even had to carry him. 
When we reached the top we decided it would be better for me to go down the easier main trail with Sam, Izzy and the twins.  That way we could get back to the car quickly so Sam could rest, and we wouldn't slow up the older kids hiking the rougher trail down.  We made it a competition and the little ones loved it!  They practically ran down the entire trail getting done 15 minutes before the big kids.  Then they got to sit in the back of the car and wait for the others while watching a movie.  Good times! 

It was a lot of fun to go on a hike with all those kids.  And we sure got a lot of funny looks from other hikers as they counted all the kids with us.  Sam came home and took a 3 hour nap.  He woke up for about 2 hours, and then slept for 15 hours straight not waking until 11:30am Sunday morning.  Thankfully the fever was gone and he was feeling much better.  I'm sure he'll enjoy the next hike much more! 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

What were we thinking?

Last Saturday was Isabella's 8th birthday.  It's so hard to believe she's 8, mainly because she's such a tiny thing!  We kept asking her what she wanted to do for her birthday, and every time she said she wanted to go kayaking. The only problem was her cross country team had a 5k run planned for that morning to help raise money for uniforms. So we figured we'd just do both.  

The night before she asked Chris if they could get up early and make pancakes together.  We had to be at the race by 7:30am, so they got up pretty early!  

Then we headed to the race.  Normally for cross country, the elementary school kids run one mile and the middle schoolers run two miles.  So this was longer than they were used to.  And yes, Isabella wore the crown through the whole race! 

Chris caught up with Sophia about half way and they ran together for a lot of the race.  Sophia ended up finishing in 28.40 as the first female to finish the race and second in her age division.  Chris finished 3rd in his (old man) age division.  Anna and Isabella did a combination of running and walking with their friends and Sam and I walked the route.  Honestly, it was more like I dragged Sam along with me.  That was really far for his 6 year-old legs!  We finished last, but he was the youngest on the course.    

After the race we headed home to open some presents and eat lunch and cake. 

Then we headed up to Cave Run Lake to kayak.  Chris recently found a used kayak on Craigslist so he bought it and luckily it has enough room for Sam to sit in the front.  We then rented two tandem kayaks.  The lake was beautiful and it was pretty peaceful since there were storms nearby and most of the boaters stayed away. We all got the hang of tandem paddling pretty quickly.  But we did learn the boats were a lot longer and heavier, so they were harder to maneuver.  (Especially if one of the kids in the boat decides to take a long break like Isabella!!)  At one point, we got dumped on by a really heavy rain shower.  It only lasted a few minutes, but when you're out on a lake right at the water level, it can be a little scary. 


Isabella is resting in the front of our boat! 

Sam is relaxing up front!
While Chris and I loaded up all three kayaks on top of the suburban (should have taken a picture of that!!) the kids found a stick tied to a rope, tied to a tree.  The perfect tree swing!  They had a lot of fun with it!

Afterwards we had dinner and headed home for some much needed showers.  And I'm sure you can imagine we were physically exhausted.  Running a 5k wore out every one's legs and then kayaking wore out our arms.  Man were we (Chris and I) sore on Sunday!  But Isabella had a great birthday and that's what really mattered!