Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Movin' On Up

After what seemed like forever, we finally sold our house.
This was the house that we bought when we first got married, before we were even married, actually.  We ripped up carpet, scrapped off wallpaper, torn out plumbing and made it our own.  We raised a puppy here, brought two babies home to this house and made countless memories.  So, if you ask if we were sad to see it go...the answer is no.  No, we were not.
The morning of June 14, the movers arrived and as we drank coffee and watched them pack the truck from the deck, Bryan and I agreed that it was the most relaxed and happy that we had felt in weeks.
 Our house was sold and we were moving on to bigger and better things.
 We had finally found what we had always wanted:  A farmhouse in the country.
Had we sold our house when we first listed it, we would have missed out on this.  Had I not emailed the right realtor at the right time about the dump down the street, she never would have mentioned this place, owned by her brother, not even on the market yet, the first house we had both ever agreed on.  It just felt like home from the minute we walked in.
Of course, in a 1940's farm house there is always work to be done.  We got a new septic system, and subsequently a new back yard.  But, we were happy with our choice and the kids were thrilled.  Who wouldn't love a full acre surrounded by fields?  The only neighbor we can see is a beautifully kept horse farm across the street.
 Our first major purchase was a riding lawn mower for Bryan, and a trailer for the lawn mower for me (a Mother's Day gift gone totally wrong).  But, the kids liked it.
 Getting ready for my 'We've Moved' picture.
 There was/is a lot of work to be done, but it is the fun kind of work that we have all looked forward to.  And, we've had lots of help.  On moving day my mom came and helped, while Bryan's parents took the kids for the day.  Then, later that week my mom, Aunt Tracy, Cousin Margaret Ellen, and Grandma came, cleaned, and unpacked all of the boxes that they had themselves packed only a week before.  We've been here three short months, but a lot has happened and we are just now starting to really get settled. 

North Side Story

After the graduation celebrations were over we packed up our car, including an extra person and headed north.  Morgan was planning to spend just over a week with us before flying back to Alabama. 
We made a few stops on the way to prevent our guest from having to ride too long in between the kids on the 12 hour drive home.  The first was at the Ave Maria Grotto in Cullman Alabama.  We have passed it several times and never timed it right to stop.  It is a park located on the property of St. Bernard Abbey.  The Grotto consists of a winding pathway through the woods in which 125 tiny replicas of religious and noteworthy structures are built from concrete, stone, wood, glass, and random other materials.  The tiny buildings represent the life's work of Brother Joseph Zoettl. 
Jack, taking a break on one of the benches.
I took plenty of pictures, but this just gives you an idea of what we saw.
 After a long drive which caused Morgan to consider going back to the abbey to become and nun, we arrived home.  We had plans, activities and fun.  And, I took very few pictures.  But, I did capture cake pop making.  Lilly received this no bake cake pop kit for her birthday and we thought it would be a great idea to let her make dessert for everyone.
The cake pops were fun to make and decorate, but only Lilly was brave enough to try one...and then eat the rest.
Later that week we tried to think of activities that everyone would like.  We went to the zoo, where Lilly insisted that I take her picture on almost every rock we passed,
 Jack got a shoulder ride.
 We saw a lion.
 Lilly raced a cheetah...and Morgan dodged the camera.
We did several other things; went to a movie, ate Greek food, Morgan and I commandeered the living room TV for chick flicks every night and sent Bryan high tailing it to the bedroom TV.
But, the icing on the cake, and the main reason for Morgan's visit was this, our Big Night Out to see 'West Side Story' at Clowes Hall.  It was Morgan's first time to see a live  Broadway musical, and my first time to see 'West Side Story'...not to mention my first time to see a live Broadway musical with someone who was as excited about it as I was.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Changing Tides

This year, instead of meeting Bryan's family in Florida for a family vacation we did something much more special, we went to Enterprise Alabama for Matthew's high school graduation.  Matthew graduated, with honors, near the top of his class and with several other special recognitions.  He heads to the University of Alabama this fall with a full ride, R.O.T.C. scholarship, not to mention a few other smaller scholarships. 
Obviously, Matthew is a young man with a bright future and has a lot to be proud of. 
 But, to Lilly, Jack and family friend 'Little Matthew' Matthew is nothing more than an easy going, always smiling, over sized playmate that counts as an adult.
Other than Matthew's graduation, we didn't do much except swim at Cam and Ed's.  It was perfect!
Lilly got brave and dove off the edge of the pool (not pictured: actually the picture of Matthew with the three kids is the only picture of Lilly from the entire weekend.  She was very busy playing and swimming with her new friend Little Matthew).  And, Jack got brave enough to jump off of the diving board.  Before you call Child Protective Services, please note that Bryan's dad is NOT throwing Jack off of the diving board, he is only giving him a little push, after he jumped, to make sure that he cleared the board.
More swimming.  Lilly (Gasp!  She did make it into a picture), Jack and Granddad hiding under a 'boat'.
 Jack became exhausted by the thought of what he would have to accomplish by age 18 to compete with Matthew. 
So, he decided instead to bring Matthew down to his level and get him to pretend to be an airplane.   
Congratulations Matthew!  Bryan and I are proud of you and can't wait to see what the your future holds!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Wolf Pack

Several years ago my best friend, Courtney, moved to Pittsburgh with her husband so that he could earn his PhD.  We planned to call and visit each other often so the move didn't seem that dramatic.  What we didn't count on was that jobs, school, pregnancies, and babies would eventually make the trip almost impossible.  For the past few summers we have planned to meet in the middle for a family weekend, but it has never worked out.
Finally, after seven years, we were able to make a plan and stick to it, and we met the Williams clan in Sandusky Ohio at The Great Wolf Lodge indoor water park and resort.  If you haven't been to a Great Wolf (and you have children with no fear of water borne illness) then you are missing out.  The resort is enormous with 30,00 square feet of water park, several activities that don't involve water, and huge family style hotel rooms, all for a reasonable price.
We arrived early Friday evening with the Williamseses hot on our trail.  After checking in, we were walking to the lobby to check things out and ran into them in the hallway.  It was quickly decided that the moms would unpack in the rooms while the dads took the kids to the water park.  This proved to be no big deal for Grant since he has been home with the kids writing his dissertation while Courtney has taken classes for her Masters.  Bryan, on the other hand, struggled with his task.  When I came down to the water with my camera, I was quickly informed that Lilly had been 'missplaced' for several minutes.  No worries, Lilly was found, learned a lesson about staying with 'her adults' and the kids were having a great time.
Jack and Maddie loved the area at the front for little ones.  Jack liked the water fountains, and Maddie preferred the slide.  She climbed up the stairs and went down the slide somewhere around a million times.

Jack stepping on one of the fountains and blocking the water.
Yep, then this happened. 
Within the first five minutes Lilly had led Bryan into almost every single area that the water park offered, just to check it out.
By the time we were able to get the kids out of the water park, dressed and ready for dinner it was late.  It was much later than I will admit to feeding my kids.  But, in an odd twist, it was one of the most relaxing and enjoyable dinners I've had in a restaurant with my children.  Lilly sat by Aiden and they talked, colored and ate as if they were in their own little world and possibly (as Courtney and I like to believe) on a date.  Jack and Maddie were entertained for much longer than expected with coloring and eventually smart phones.  Bryan and Grant were able to order more than one beer, and I even got dessert.  Crazy dinner with four kids, I know.
On our way to dinner, Lilly spotted this bear by the lobby.  She saw a mom taking pictures of her kids on the bears lap and insisted that we get some photos too...every time we passed the bear.
Confirming Courtney's and my belief that Lilly and Aiden were actually on a date.  We have been taking pictures like this for years and we've already started working on the slide show for their wedding.
The next morning, after everyone slept in and we had breakfast, we decided to take advantage of the some of the other activities.  Here the older two kids, with Bryan's help, did a magic quest.  The kids (adults) purchased magic wands, read clues from a magic book, and then searched throughout the hotel for treasure and artifacts.  Here Lilly and Aiden are getting their instructions for the quest.  Ironically, the screen that gives the starting directions was the hardest for us to find.  It was right outside the shop where the wands were sold.
Jack taking a turn with Lilly's wand.
Searching for another treasure.
Lilly and Aiden casting their spells to open the magic book.
Bryan, joyfully searching for the next clue.  He loved the magic quest and wanted to do it again and again. 
We happened upon a show int he lobby.  In an ironic twist, these animatronic figures sang a song with the chorus, "There's nothing to be scared of here", except for the creepy animatronic figures, of course.
Lilly and Jack getting into the show.
And, again on the bear.
If you are planning to do everything that  Great Wolf has to offer, you are advised to buy a pass.  Courtney and I decided on the Paw Pass for the older kids and the Pup Pass for Jack and Maddie.  Along with several other things, the older two got to do the magic quest and the little ones got to make their very own t-shirt in the Pup Club.  I ended up coloring most of Jack's shirt because the Pup Club had a little area with trucks that he chose to play with instead.
After the magic quest, t-shirt making, and creepy animatronic songs the kids, and parents, were all ready for more water park fun.
This time we left Grant in charge of Lilly and, as you can see, it was a good call because he is closely monitoring her and Aiden in the lazy river.
Bryan (not pictured here) was obviously in charge of Jack.
It took just the smallest bit of coaxing, but once we got Lilly and Aiden on the water slides, we couldn't get them to do anything else.

Racing slides!
Both Lilly and Aiden, again with some coaxing, eventually went on the biggest of the water slides too.  And, just like the little ones, once they did it they wanted to go again and again.
Jack and Maddie, however, had no interest in slides, but found some water squirters and ways to have fun in each section.
Lilly, waiting for the giant 700 gallon bucket to dump and shower the entire park with water.
Lilly taking a direct hit from the giant bucket.
Again, Jack and Maddie chose not to partake in the giant bucket.
After the water park we got some baths, dry clothes and, of course, the wolf ears that came with every one's pass.
Each of the kids was also able to make a stuffed animal.  Someone chose a dragon and a theme was born.  Everyone made a dragon except Maddie, who made a raccoon.
After being stuffed Jack puts a magic star in his dragon to bring him to life.
Grant gets in on the action.  Despite what his face says, he was actually having a really good time in his wolf ears.
In a rare and exciting moment, we were able to get a picture of all four kids, looking at the camera!
After making animals we went to the arcade to collect the tokens that each child was entitled to per their pass.  At this point, we realized that the passes had become more of job, trying to make sure were got everything that we had paid for, and less of a fun way to save money.
At least Lilly carried her own dragon around the arcade for a while.
We were desperately trying to find ways for the kids to hurry and spend their tokens so we could eat dinner and get down to the lobby for story time, but they kept wanting to ride things that didn't even require that we put a token for a five year old to enjoy it.
So proud of my liberated woman.  She hopped on a bike and said, "Aiden, let's race!"
Then, she proved that I have a lot of work to do because as soon as Aiden invited her to ride with him, she ditched her own bike and hopped on the back of his.
After a wild dinner of pizza in the room, we finally made it to story time and got the kids their "free" ice cream that came with the passes.
I have said it many times before and it never gets any less true....nothing attracts kids like an adult on the floor.  Maddie and Jack opted for cuddles while they listened to the story.  As you can see, Maddie may not be sure about sharing her daddy's lap.
Another thing that attracts children?  A large furry mascot animal with a line waiting to have pictures taken with him.  No one was interested in meeting the raccoon until a line formed, then it was all Aiden had ever wanted in his life.
And, of course, Maddie wanted to meet him too.  Although, I'm pretty sure Maddie wanted to actually meet him, not because there was a line, but because she wanted to give him a hug.
It was a great weekend:  A good plan, an equal driving distance for each of us, a lot of fun for the kids, pretty affordable for the adults, and a great way for our families to spend time together.  At the end, we said our good byes and counted this weekend as a success and vowed to do it again...hopefully, it won't take seven years this time.