road trip!

we had SUCH an amazing time on our recent trip to Tennessee. It’s been 5 years since I was last in that beautiful state – in 2007 I made three trips there (one with Kyle, one with my mom and one for my grandpa’s funeral). Since then, a lot has changed in our family, namely adding our two kids! I’ve been wanting to introduce them to my extended family there ever since Jack arrived on the scene, but it hadn’t happened yet. So it was high time we headed down there. Mom joined us for the trip, which was our first official family road trip (well, further than WI anyway).

We started out on a slightly overcast Wednesday morning, as soon as we got everything loaded after Kyle came home from work at 6am. We hit the road at about 8am and went through the fertile plans and rolling hills of Wisconsin, instead of down I-35 during rush hour. 🙂 We’re so smart. Armed with snacks galore, toys, books a plenty, one movie on the iPad, games on the iPod and Adventures in Odyssey’s to listen to, we were in good shape. Mom took driving duty first and I was on kid duty. Kyle, the warrior, slept.

We got hung up in some traffic in Chicago, which was par for the course, but arrived at my dear Lindsey’s house at 9pm, after 13 hours on the road/in the car. The kids did AWESOME. Nary a fuss out of either of them! Jack loved listening to Odyssey, Taylor was highly entertained by being able to see Jack directly behind her and everyone had a smooth ride. It was with gratefulness, however, that the kids fell into bed at Lindsey’s in northwestern Ohio. We had fun chatting it up with her, Marcus, Jessica and Janelle into the wee hours of the morning. The visit was far too short, however. I love Linz way too much to live as far away as we do. 😛

When we woke up, we enjoyed a few more minutes with Lindsey before she headed to work, then we took some pictures outside her house and hopped back in the car for a little drive to Uncle Pat and Aunt Annette’s house for lunch. Annette was already in TN for a scrapbook weekend, so we just saw Uncle Pat. The last time I visited them, they still lived in their house in town. Now they have a wonderful, charming and pastoral (I think I even uttered the word “bucolic”) little hobby farm on the edge of New Knoxville. We enjoyed lunch with him and his grandson, John; listening to Kyle and Pat swap cop stories. The boys played so well together and we were all glad for a chance to stretch our legs for a while! But all too soon, we had to get on down the road. We made another pit stop along the way for the incredible ice cream at Graeter’s in Cincinnati. I’d never been to Cincy – it seems like a cool town with lots of neat history.

Kyle navigated us through a terrific rainstorm while crossing Mt. Jellico and Jack was overheard saying, “We having fun, Mom!” with 250 miles to go before arriving, road-weary, at our final destination: Aunt Tamara and Uncle Rick’s home in Sevierville. :happy sigh: We settled into our guest quarters and slept so well.

It was odd and sad to be in TN and not see my grandparents. This was my first trip down there since they both went to heaven. Passing their street, going places they used to take me when we visited when I was a kid – it was all bittersweet. I was SO glad to bring my family there, but so sad that Grandpa and Grandma didn’t have a chance to meet my kids. The first morning in TN, I smelled honeysuckle on the air and imagined they were smelling it too…only in heaven it was even sweeter.

We did a little puttering around Pigeon Forge and Sevierville that first day. Papa and Grandma Meri bought Jackson some new Keens and we hit up the ol’ favorite of the Apple Barn for some more apple butter for the pantry and their fantastic apple dumplings. That night was a big birthday party for my cousin’s daughter and a friend of my other cousin. Everyone got to meet Jack and Taylor and it was such a fun night with family. I wish to heaven that we’d snapped a picture, but I forgot to. 😦

On Saturday, we were SO happy to see Karla! She was able to come over from NC with her friend, Ashley for the weekend. Jackson was so very excited to see her and made quick friends with Ashley too. That morning, my cousin Meriam joined Kyle, the kids and I for a hike up to Clingman’s Dome! One of my favorite spots in the Smokies. And it was a perfect day for it – not too chilly, not too warm. Jack was super duper excited to go through the tunnels and up the windy mountain roads, and did a good job hiking the 1 mile to the top too. It was so nice to spend extra time with Meriam. It’s been several years since we’ve seen each other and never have we had a chance to just sit and talk like we did while we drove to the dome and back. 🙂 One of the highlights of our trip for me! Later that day we had fun at a carnival fundraiser for my cousin’s kid’s school and spent time just hanging out as a family.

Sunday morning, Mom, Karla, Ashley and our family all piled into our van for a drive to and around Cades Cove – a TN vacation tradition. Why? Because 33.5 years ago, my parents exchanged vows to have and to hold from that day forward in Cades Cove. It’s where it all began for our family! Not to mention, its an absolutely beautiful part of the Smoky Mountain National Park. It was another positively gorgeous day and we saw baby bears, deer, turkeys, and woodpeckers in the park as we drove around. We stopped to take pictures in the field where my parents were married and at “The Tree” in Cable Mill, where we’ve taken family pictures ever since I was a wee little lassie. Precious memories.

We said goodbye to Karla and Ashley and had another family supper with my cousins, complete with homemade ice cream by Uncle Rick. SO yummy. Another fantastic day in the books!

Jackson is ALL about golf these days and we thought he would really love to go play mini-golf. We decided that would be our one “splurge touristy” thing of the trip. So while Mom and Aunt Tam kept Taylor, we took Jack to Professor Hackett’s Adventure Mini-Golf (or something like that). It pretty much made his life. LOL. It was so fun to see him get so excited. He even got a hole-in-one on the last hole! However, the excitement of that was overshadowed by the fact that the ball went into the hole and never came out again. 🙂 “I didn’t want it to go in da hole and down the tube, mom!” We grabbed Five Guys fries and Sonic burgers on our way back to the house for much needed naps after our fun excursion.

That evening, Kyle and I enjoyed a lovely date to Texas Roadhouse and a movie back at the Harrell’s on their big screen. We had to catch up on Captain America before The Avengers came out later that week. My mom was so sweet to put our kiddos to bed and love on them so we could escape for a while. I loved every minute of the time we got to spend together with our kids over this trip. It was a really neat week of sharing memories of my childhood with the people I love the most in the world.

We had ONE last day in Tennessee on Tuesday before we made the two-day trek home. And of course, we went back to the mountains. Jackson just plain loved hiking and going to the mountains, so it wasn’t a hard choice. I’m really glad that so far, our kids are up for the crazy adventures we like to enjoy. The hike of the day was Laurel Falls. Worth every bit of the 2.1 miles up. The last time I had hiked to Laurel Falls was when I was 15 or 16, with all my cousins and aunts and uncles over the week we celebrated my grandparents 50th wedding anniversary. The trail had a few more potholes and worn spots than I remembered from 15 years ago. 🙂 It was a beautiful hike and a lovely time in the mountains.

Vacation was wonderful, but going home is always lovely too. We left the Harrell House and went north to Indiana, where we stayed with my mom’s cousin Steve and his lovely wife Janet and saw my great-Aunt Doris (94 years old – hale and beautiful!). It was weird to drive past the Meridian St. exit in Indianapolis (where I went to culinary arts school 12 years ago) and painful to miss visiting with dear friends like Jamie as we went a little further north to be closer to home the next day. Steve and Janet told us tales of their farming life and we slept with the windows open and the crickets serenading us from the green fields of the Hoosier countryside.

One more day of driving – Adventures in Odyssey (Jack pronounced it “Awentures in Ossadee”) and a showing of “Babe” got us through Illinois, Wisconsin and then, we were at the Minnesota border! The kids did great again – until we were 5 miles from home. Jack didn’t take a good nap that day, so he was just DONE. Like my butt was DONE with the sitting business. We tumbled into the house and were greeted with a lovingly prepared by Papa Keith meal of penne and meatballs.

I’m so grateful we were able to make the trip – a huge thanks to my parents for making it possible financially, to Toyota for building the lovely Sienna minivan, to Lindsey, the Harrell’s and the Hurley’s for the lovely places to stay and the tasty meals, and to God for creating this beautiful country of ours. Traveling it by car was a delight and a fun adventure we won’t soon forget.

taylor charlotte::8 months

my sweet Tay-Tay, how in the world are you already this big? Just a minute ago, I gave birth to a tiny bundle of sweetness that was protesting this brave, chilly world. Today you sit on the floor grinning at me from ear to ear, babbling stories in your secret language in the ear of your little stuffed teddy bear.

You have made my already beautiful life even more lovely, dear daughter. The way you light up a room with your twinkling smile brings a joy to my heart that I can’t put into words. Taylor, you are a gift and a treasure from a gracious God. Your daddy, brother and I love you to the moon and back.

Little bits about you at 8 months:

  • you LOVE stuffed animals, music and playing with toys on the floor.
  • you are trying table foods left and right and enjoy being fed or feeding yourself (aka – making a royal mess).
  • you can sit up, scootch backwards and are darn good at getting whatever you set your mind to reach.
  • you don’t crawl forward yet, but I’m sure you’re just days away from figuring it out.
  • Jackson is your favorite person on the PLANET. If you hear his voice, you find his face in the room.
  • The adoration is mutual. Jackson wants to hold you all the time and loves you dearly.
  • when music comes on, you bop up and down. It’s adorable.
  • you have started mimicking us when we laugh, roar at you or cough.
  • we’ve begun showing you signs for more, thank you, milk, all done and please.

I prayed for you this morning, Taylor, that you would grow to love Jesus and serve Him all your living days. I thank God that He created you and put you in our little family. We are on an adventure of grace and I’m so glad that you will get to be part of it all with us. Hold fast to these two things: God made you for something great and we love you always, because you are our precious daughter. Nothing will EVER change those two truths.

Just for fun, here’s you and your brother at the same age.

Happy 8 months of life, Taylor Charlotte! Love always, Mommy, Daddy and Jackson

when I’m bigger, mom

several times today Jackson told me about what he is going to do when he is “bigger”.

  • he’s going to build big buildings on astruction sites (construction sites) like the one they are building near our house (a new laundromat).
  • he’s going to be a policeman and take the bad guys to jail in his police car (he asked Kyle if he would get him a police car, and Kyle said he would if Jack would go to school and get a job).
  • he’s going to the cabin
  • he’s going to make coffee for me when he’s 5 or 6.

He also had his first ice cream truck experience tonight, which was so fun. I got a little choked up when he ran down the street to pick out his treat.

All of a sudden, all of Jack’s 3T clothes are too short and too tight. I can’t believe how big he is getting right in front of my eyes. I sure love this little boy God has given to our family.

snow day!

even though Jack isn’t in school and I don’t have to go outside the home for my work, today has been declared a snow day! We’re having a good ol’ fashioned snowstorm here in MN at the tail end of winter. It’s been a strangely snow-free, mild season thus far, so most of us are kind of happy to see a big dumpload. And chances are it will be melted in a week or two. After last year’s insanely long, cold and VERY snowy winter, this one has been a welcome break. But I still like a fresh cover of the white drifts over everything like vanilla buttercream over the flat cake top of Minnesota.

As we were making breakfast, we heard a rumbling out the window and saw a 4-wheeler with a plow taking care of our driveway. Our awesome neighbors down the street sent their favorite neighborhood teenager snow remover entrepreneur down to our house AND paid him. Such a sweet kindness. Kyle won’t have to spend an hour or more out there later, but will still get to use his new snow-blower from my parents, just to take care of the few more inches that have fallen since then.  He will be excited!

I made some snow ice cream for Jackson this morning to enjoy after he had tromped around outside and “soveled” the snow. He loved it! I have such fond memories of mom making it for us when I was a child, and knew he would enjoy it too. While he had his snow fix, Taylor happily jumped in her new jumparoo thing that a friend loaned to us. She LOVES it. Bounce, bounce, bounce and spin!

About 2 hours ago I measured the snow on the deck and it was at 8 inches. And it’s still coming down! Now I need to clean my house – the kitchen and dining room floor is in desperate need of a mop and the dust could have stories written in it. 🙂 I hope you’re having a happy day, no matter the weather. As Jackson reminded me in song this morning: “This is the day the Lord has made! Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Blessings on you!

funnies from Jackson

lately, Jackson has been cracking us up with his bursting vocabulary and communication skills, his story telling and spontaneous song composition. Here are some snippets that I don’t want to forget:

  • the other night, Taylor spit up after a feeding. Jack loves it when we sing, “Stand up, stand up for Jesus” when he stands up after getting dressed or having a diaper (now only for overnights! Yay!) put on. So we died laughing when he sang, “Spit up, spit up for Jeeesus!” after Taylor’s burp. Another recent variation was “Clean up, clean up for Jesus”.
  • This morning Jack asked if he could “paint wif a bruwsh on de chair”. Last year when I was touching up the paint in the kids room, I let him “paint” with water on his little rocking chair. So right now he’s giving his chair a new coat of H2O. 🙂 How do they remember this stuff MONTHS later?!
  • He loves to “take a pitcher” with my iPod or my little point and shoot. We’re working on composition because I often find numerous photos of the carpet and cabinets on my photo stream.
  • Jack loves to greet Taylor in the morning when she wakes up, saying ever so cheerfully: “Good MOWNING, TAyer!”
  • Helping makes his world go ’round. Whether its with the laundry, the vacuuming, cleaning the sliding glass door with spray bottle and rag or with whatever I’m cooking or baking. Or ANYTHING with Daddy. Helping outdoors is a bonus.
  • Nikon is alternately his favorite or his enemy. When he does what Jack wants, he loves him. When he doesn’t, there is much weeping and gnashing of teeth.
  • If there is a cake or special dessert at some event we attend (or at our small group), Jack believes it must be time to sing, “Happy birfday to you”. This song is in his repertoire of random songs to sing as well.
  • When Kyle left for work last night, Jack sat on the couch and watched out the window until he drove off, shouting, “Bye DADDY! Bye DADDY!” over and over.
  • He wants everything to be “big big” these days. A little plate will not do when Kyle and I have “big big” ones. A “big big” (full) cup is much better than half full.
  • At meals he frequently declares his food to be “deeYIshush” and thanks me for making his food.
  • His favorite worship song is “Glory to God” and has been heard singing it while jumping on the bed, going to the bathroom and playing with trains.
  • Most days he wishes to wear his “jumping pants” (aka workout/wind/sweatpants). He loves to workout with Kyle and I. His DVD of choice is “ah-santy” (Insanity).
  • He must think “Merry Christmas” is a year round salutation because he still tells me that about 4 nights a week as I tuck him in. But it sounds more like “Mewwy Kissmas, Mama.” 🙂
  • Jack loves to go to church. “Worsip Jeeesush!” he exults as we drive there each Sunday.
  • I love hearing him say memory verses and catechism questions/answers. “Why did God make you and all things, Jack?” “For HIS OWN GWORWY!”
  • Nothing melts my heart so much as when he tells me, unprompted, that he “yoves” me and wants to give me a “tiss on the cheek”.
with his first snowman

I cannot believe how big he is and how much he can do/say/think. Most people guess he’s already three since he is so tall and big. His cognitive and physical development blows my mind almost daily. I know I will just have to blink and he’ll be doing something new and before I know it he’ll be graduating from high school and driving a car. 😯 In the meantime, I try to grab these moments and remember them, even as they slip through my fingers like grains of sand.

Have I mentioned I love being his mom? Well, if there was any doubt – I do. 🙂

mere life is interesting enough

“When we are very young children we don’t need fairy tales: we only need tales. Mere life is interesting enough. A child of seven is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door and saw a dragon. But a child of three is exicted by being told that Tommy opened a door.

Boys like romantic tales; but babies like realistic tales — because they find them romantic. . . . This proves that even nursery tales only echo an almost pre-natal leap of interest and amazement.

These tales say that apples are golden only to refresh the forgotten moment when we found that they were green. They make rivers run with wine only to make us remember, for one wild moment, that they run with water.” G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

I read this quote yesterday and it resonated loudly. Perhaps its because I have a two year old that constantly finds complete delight in the most simple things – like seeing the moon, or the “pink and yeyyow” sunset. Watching my son get so excited over things I have long since lost my wonder over (snow, cups of tea, etc.), brings me back to simple joys and captures my heart.

Let me never lose my wonder.

the sun rising over our neighborhood yesterday morning

christmas memories 2011

its the day after the day after Christmas. 🙂 Jack is happily playing with his new train and tracks in his bedroom wearing his new, self-described “jumping pants” from Grandma Char and Grandpa Rick. His awesome handcrafted work bench is downstairs and he wants to watch a “moomie” (Planet Earth) that Kyle got for him.

Christmas through the eyes of a 2.5 year old is far more fun than merely through my own. He made it so fun to open gifts and his repeated “Oh WOW!”‘s were priceless. On Christmas morning, we drove home from church and Jack fell asleep. He was all cute in his new puffer vest and dapper hat, clutching a stuffed teddy bear. If I hadn’t been driving, I would have snapped a picture, because I just want to remember these moments. They are slipping by more quickly than I want them to!

Jack loved moving the Advent star on our advent calendar and lighting the candles each night when we did our devotional. He said many a “Merry Kiss-mas!’ and would always say that as we said goodnight. It was great fun to give cookie plates to our neighbors and wish them a “Merry Christmas!” too. When we had a Christmas party with our friends the Sullivans and Gulbransons, Jessica made a birthday cake for Jesus and Jack LOVED singing “Happy Birthday” and blew out the candle with joy. We talked a lot about baby Jesus in the manger and the stable, in spite of the stupid dog eating our “gingerbread nativity”. I think he is “catching” that Jesus is the reason for this wonderful season.

the strangest part of the Christmas season of 2011 was that we had NO SNOW! Super odd. I can think of one, possible two other brown Minnesota Christmases I’ve experienced in my lifetime. Hopefully this remains an anomaly and not a typical event! I miss the snow. It’s the one thing that makes winter pretty. However, I am NOT complaining about the warmer temps which have accompanied the snow famine. Last year the snow and cold came early and often and stayed far past it’s welcome. We just need snow by the time we go to Lutsen to ski in February. Please and thank you, God.

We attended several different musical events this Christmas and Jackson loved them all. His favorite Christmas song was “The Little Drummer Boy”, which incidentally was MY favorite Christmas song as a tiny kid. I called it the “Pum-pum Song”. Jack especially notices violins in music or when he sees them being played. It comes out “why-o-lin” when he says it, which is totally adorable. 🙂 I wonder how young is too young to start music lessons? He is so interested in playing and singing and everything musical.

The family events were plentiful and wonderful. I’m so grateful, once again, that we live within close driving distance of both sides of our family. We made cookies and shared cookies, gave gifts and received gifts, played games and enjoyed many cups of coffee. Taylor was fawned over, held and adored. Jackson was made to laugh, giggle and said “STOP IT” when things got too exciting for him. oh silly boy. His aunts and uncles love him to bits.

Amazon Prime saved my shopping bacon this Christmas. Hooray for free two-day shipping and great prices on the stuff we wanted to give! 🙂 I got Kyle a bunch of fun little things to “fill his stocking”, since we gave each other a night at a bed and breakfast to be enjoyed at a later date. We gave Jack an IKEA rug for driving his cars and trucks on, the Planet Earth dvd’s, finger paints, bubbles, and a puffer vest. Kyle did an epic job filling my stocking – I loved it, especially the copy of White Christmas peeking out of the top. We watched that yesterday. I love that movie, schmaltz and all. 🙂

And now 2012 is around the corner. I was pondering a year ago, as I’m wont to do, and love thinking how Taylor was just a twinkle in our eye at this time in 2010. Now she’s here and we love her so much. She has this face-splitting, exuberant smile that is just contagiously beautiful. Though two kids have multiplied my work, they have also multiplied my joy. It’s so nice that God doesn’t give me one without the other. 🙂

I consider the best gifts of the year to be the ones from my Heavenly Father. My wonderful husband, Jack, our sweet new baby girl, the ability to give much to others, a warm place to sleep and so, so, SO much more. And most of all, I am grateful for the gift of a little child that grew into a man who rescued my heart and saved my soul. Merry Christmas indeed!