Puelston Family News 2016

2016 Highlights, Month by Month

January – we stayed warm and close to home. We also finished up 3.5 months of a little foster love being in our home 24/7 and started doing day care for her twice a week. Jack was in 1st grade at Art and Science Academy and crushed math and reading scores in his winter and spring semesters.

February – Kyle swept me away for a much anticipated 30ish hour trip to downtown Minneapolis for a performance of Newsies!, dinner at Fogo de Chao, and an overnight hotel stay. We had a great time! We enjoyed Valentines Day as a family too – always a fun time celebrating our love for each other.

March – by the end of this fifth cold month of winter, we’re always a little stir crazy and this March was no exception. The kids and I got out of Dodge over Jackson’s spring break from school (Kyle had to work, boohoo). It was our first mom plus kids road trip to Tennessee! The kids did awesome and we had a really great time visiting friends and family. We hiked in the Smokies, ate apple fritters at the Apple Barn, stayed with Johanna’s aunt and uncle and cousins, just enjoyed sunshine and warmer weather. Hope to do it again sometime! March also brought the celebration of Christ’s victory over the grave: Easter! The kids loved being in our church’s little Easter play too.

April – Spring came, and we got outside more again! Kyle took a trip to KY for the Together for the Gospel conference with some guys from church, and kept training for Grandma’s Marathon. Kyle and I enjoyed an evening with other law enforcement officers and their spouses at the Backing the Blue Line Ball. Super fun to have a great reason to dress up in a formal and hit the town. Jackson started Track and Field for kids and quickly fell in love with running fast on a track and high jumping and hurdles.

May – We had LOTS of family birthdays and events to celebrate! Birthdays and graduations and Mothers Day and more. Kyle joined our church softball league, I became a soccer coach for Jack’s team, and Jack took home a pile of 1st and 2nd place ribbons from his end of season track meet. Jack also wrapped up his first grade year at ASA. It was great to have him there this year and great to be done and on summer break.

June – my friend Heidi came to visit for several days, and I had my 34th birthday. Kyle ran his second marathon, and in spite of ridiculously hot temperatures, bested his last time! PR for the win. Super proud of him. We also camped in tents overnight with the kids for the first time in our married life (what?!) and it went as well as we expected! The oldest two took  swimming lessons and did great – its so nice to have swimmers. Grant was miffed he wasn’t quite old enough, but he’s excited to do it next summer.

July – Kyle and I ran a 5K in downtown Minneapolis on the Fourth of July – my first chip timed one and I almost reached my 30 min. goal. We got to enjoy a Twins game with Kyle’s family on a lovely evening, and Jackson turned SEVEN on the 17th. He had an Olympics party, which was a ton of fun. July wrapped up with our annual trip to Grand Marais with the Puelston family and we had an amazing time hiking/eating/swimming/being together up on the North Shore of Lake Superior.

August – As usual, we went to parks and lakes and had lots of outside adventures all summer long. Kyle’s birthday was crammed in to a full week of summer fun and parties for other people, and he and I spear-headed a week of missions focus at our church. I took the kiddos to Como Town with a friend and her kids and then we spent the last week of the month getting ready for our EPIC ROAD TRIP WEST.

September – the first two weeks of September were consumed by our western adventure! We road-tripped to Oregon via South Dakota (yay Badlands & Mt. Rushmore!), Wyoming (THE GRAND TETONS, OH MY WORD), and Idaho, with a long stop in Boise to visit our dear friends, the Hulsons. Once in Oregon, we prepped for and celebrated my brother Josh’s marriage to his beautiful bride, Taylor. The kids were ringbearers and a flower girl, and we had so much fun getting to know Taylor’s family, and touring the area Josh and Taylor live. Oregon is fantastic. Portland is weird and awesome. The mountains have our love. We headed back to MN via Washington, northern Idaho, Montana (huge!), and North Dakota. We were blown away by the beauty, variety, and grandeur all along our route. God is creative!

Once home, we started our school year with a second grader, almost-kindergartner, and a busy almost-three year old. Jack started piano lessons. Kyle and I celebrated ten years of marriage with a quick getaway to Duluth. Ten years. Wow, that went quick!

October – kicked off this crazy month by celebrating our Taylor girl’s FIFTH birthday! We had fun creating a Pinkalicious party for our pink loving girl. And then…weird medical crises hit the proverbial fan. Kyle had an infected toe turn into crazy cellulitis which resulted in a five day hospital stay and a week long recovery back at home. Grant took an ambulance ride to Children’s for a scary croup flare-up. We were thankful for insurance, doctors, and antibiotics over these weeks. The rest of the month was less eventful, praise the Lord. A little guy in foster care joined our family just before Halloween.

November – Every day life was the norm in November, with field trips to the MN Zoo and the Bell Museum, and adjusting to life with a baby in the house once again. I took an epic trip of a lifetime to Morocco for nine days – a friend and I went to visit a mutual friend and her family in the coastal town where they live. We had an amazing time and I want to go back with our whole family some day. It’s a beautiful country. Kyle held the fort down with all three kids while I was gone and did an amazing job at it too. We celebrated Thanksgiving the day after I returned from Morocco and truly had so much TO be thankful for in this year.

December – the whirlwind month of celebrations, joy, sugar, and Jesus! We filmed our adoption story for Adopt a Love Story (update on that whole saga coming soon), and celebrated Grant turning THREE! He wanted a superhero party and we hero’d it up. So fun. Kyle was given a Lifesaving Award at his department’s annual awards ceremony – we’re so proud of his hard and dedicated work in our county. We enjoyed lots of time with family and friends, and the kids were all in our church Nativity Play (Zechariah, a sheep, and a cute tot choir member). The celebrations of our Savior’s birth were joyous and we rang in 2017 as we reflected on a full, blessed, and busy year.

chocolate    jo-with-a-hat

overheard

When my kids’ say something sweet or cute, I try to jot it down on my phone instantly. I keep a running note with these little sound bytes and then a few months later, like to record them all here. I’ve got quite the collection now, so it must be time to dump them out and save them. 🙂

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Jackson

This morning I thanked Jackson for being so helpful. He looked thoughtful and then said, “Having three children is hard. And we’re going to have FOUR and that will be even harder. I like to help.”

“Can I vacuum for you, Mom?” Um, let me think about it, okay. 🙂

Kyle was painting the swingset this summer, and the neighbor girl asked: “Can your dad do that (paint)? Jack said: My dad can do everything! Anything!

Taylor, aka The Princess of Sass

Crunes = prunes.

As she looked at herself in the mirror: “Ta-da!!!”

In the car while driving to the North Shore: “How much longer?” Half an hour. “I don’t yike half an hour!”

“Why does daddy cut his hair?” ‘Cause he likes it short and doesn’t have much hair. BIG SIGH. “I wish him had hair!”

About school: “Can you teach me how to talk words?” (She meant teach me how to read.)

“I need to go vacuum my teeth ‘cause they aren’t so sparkly.”

She overheard me saying that some days it’s just hard to be a mom. “Do you want to be something else today? Like a…grandma? You could be a grandma instead.”

To Jack: “Don’t tell me what to do. Are you the mom??!” (do you think maybe she hears me say that to her and her brother a few times a day, or what?)

She and Jack were arguing about something petty. “Don’t argue with me!”

Newest word added to her vocabulary: “Literally”. What??

Far past her bedtime because she had taken a long nap: “I can’t go to sleep. My eyelids are GLUED open!”

Grant

He just says a few words: mom, da, amen (complete with a sign/clap), and signs more and all done. He has also started giving kisses and high fives, which is pretty darn cute.

taylor funnies

Taylor has hit a new level of vocabulary and verbal proficiency that is just cracking us up daily. It’s like she’s 2 going on 10. I wish I had a voice-activated recorder lying around because very often she comes up with something or we have a conversation that is just TOO MUCH. And I really wish I could capture her inflection in writing, because she has this adorable up-talk in her speech that I can’t explain. It sounds like she’s inquisitive, but she’s not.

Here’s a meager sampling, since we’re dependent on my memory…

Recently, Grandma Char had plans to come visit, but the day she was going to come turned out to be a day of snow. The drive is an hour and a half in good weather, so she very wisely stayed home and rescheduled. Taylor asked me, “When Namma tuming?” I explained that she couldn’t come because of the snow. Taylor replied, ever the problem solver, “Her tood put her boots on and walk here!” Well… 🙂

Trying to open the fridge: “I’m BIG! I’m OLD!” Unsuccessful: “I’m too wittle.”

In conversation with me: “Merember that, Mom?”

The other day, Kyle was at a meeting when Taylor woke up from her nap. It seems we have a bona fide Daddy’s girl on our hands. “Where my dad dough (go)?” “He’s at a meeting.” “OH! I YOST (lost) him?! Well, I miss him.”

“I ALWAYS yike to wear dose doves (those gloves).” (Always is a new qualifier of the week.)

“Mom, mom, mom, Johanna!” (I didn’t even know she knew my name. Then when I asked her if she knew that was my name she said, “Your name Mommy.”)

Me: Taylor, here’s your banana. Taylor: Thanks, honey!

Her version of “Who Let the Dogs Out?”:
Who let the dogs out? Wuff, wuff, wuff.
I don’t knoooow!

taylorgirl

two years with taylor

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at two years old, Taylor:

  • weighs 28 lbs. (70th percentile)
  • is 2 ft. 11 inches tall (80th percentile)
  • has almost all her teeth – those two year molars are still coming through…sigh.
  • runs and jumps and loves to walk or ride her plasma car.
  • talks up one wall and down the other – her vocabulary and communication skills surprise me every day.
  • is a total fashionista. She frequently tells me exactly what she’d like to wear and loves shoes and tutus. 🙂
  • still loves her Pooh lovey and her “blankek” (blanket).
  • adores her daddy, her “Namas” (Grandmas) and Granpa and Papa.
  • thinks Jack hung the moon, except when he is touching her stuff.
  • enjoys “Boos Coos” (Blues Clues) and Georgie (Curious George) and Dannel Tider (Daniel Tiger) for TVand
  • her favorite songs to sing are “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “You are my Sunshine”.
  • loves Sandra Boynton books, especially “The Belly Button Book” and “Pajama Time”.
  • loves to play “Ring Around the Rosie”
  • points out “trators” and “big trucks” when we’re on the road.
  • we still call her Tay or Tay-Tay for nicknames.

Taylor is my sunshine. 🙂 She makes me smile and at the same time, boggles my mind with her smart little self and so much personality. I feel like I know less about parenting her than I did about Jack, because his personality is more similar to mine and her’s is not. Where he likes to follow the rules, she would like them not to exist. 🙂 But oh I love her. She is a treasure.

I can’t wait to see what her response to her baby brother or sister will be and if she’ll love being a little mommy. She likes babies a LOT, so i think that will be in our favor.

She recently started singing along when we have family worship time – its so precious to hear her little voice singing “Bwess the Yord” and other sweet words of praise to our Jesus.

Jesus, Taylor is your girl. I pray for her to know you and love you. Please help Kyle and I parent her well. May she know your love because of our love for her. May she know your heart is for her. Amen.

Happy 2nd birthday, Tay-tay! We love you.

taylor lately

From my baby girl:

  • hork! = fork
  • airpape! = airplane (always said with much enthusiasm)
  • blankek = blanket
  • no, pease = no way, no thank you, i don’t want it. (unfortunately a favorite phrase at the moment)
  • happy, happy, happy and more happy = please sing to me: “You are My Sunshine” and other songs.
  • shoooo = shoe. This girl loves her shoes. 🙂
  • go, go, go = what I hear from the backseat when I slow down for traffic or stop at a stop sign or traffic light. My girl likes to be on the move!
  • She wants to do whatever Jack does and be wherever Jack is. She really missed him this past weekend when he was fishing with Kyle. It was sweet to see.

trying to ride her brother’s bike

lately in the motherhood

The kids are in a fun stage that usually leaves me laughing during the day and exhausted by the time they go to bed. I’m quite certain I’m biased as can be, but they sure seem like clever, adorable, sweet and sassy little people that I’m so glad belong to us.

Taylor:

  • started saying “peas” while signing “please” in the last 2 weeks.
  • will say “bah-bye” and kind of wave/open/close her hand when people leave.
  • cuddles her baby doll in her little rocking chair and says “bay-bee, bay-bee”.
  • discovered a love for climbing. On the furniture short enough for her, up and down the steps, over toys, etc.  (wonk-wonk. :-/)
  • all of the sudden loves books and has stopped pulling forbidden books off the shelf in favor of her own board books.
  • is very much enamored with the very small ride-on, motorized Jeep toy. She figured out how to push the button to make it go and wants to be on it all the time if we’re playing outside.
  • bawls her eyes out if she sees her daddy leave without her.
  • finally has more hair coming in! And I think, praise be, that Kyle’s genes are coming through for me! Her hair definitely has a reddish cast to it and some curls are appearing. I’ve always wanted curly, red haired kids. And since Kyle had red curls from infancy to his late teens, when it started getting darker (and started disappearing altogether), I figured marrying him was a good bet for that. 🙂

Jackson

  • “what you got-for?” = What did you forget? Anytime he means to say forgot or forget, he says “got for”. I love it.
  • At a stoplight, we observed a man next to us who had a very long (like ZZ Top long) beard. Jack’s sincere comment? “That’s a vewy nice beard.”
  • After a bath, he was cleaning his ears out with a q-tip and declared, “I’m getting the boogers out.”
  • “Mom, I’m finding for my toy gun.” Finding for = looking for. 🙂 We’re working on that one.
  • He really likes the soccer gold (goal) Uncle Nate and Aunt Kar-yah (Karla) gave him for his birthday this summer.
  • Kyle got a cut on his hand and Jack asked if he was “blooding”.
  • When he sneezes he announces, “OH! I gah-bwess-you’d.” Is that similar to turning Google into a verb? I think so. 🙂
  • “Last night” is his measure of time for anything we did in the past. A few weeks ago we took a harbor cruise of Lake Superior in Duluth. About a week later Jackson said, “Mom! We went on that boat yast night…and we went around the barber. Yet’s do that again!”
  • loves “Blues Clues”, “Dinosaur Train” and “Mr. Rogers” these days.

We’ve reached a stage where Jackson is more aware of things and pays pretty close attention to things that are said/overheard and simple explanations are not enough anymore for this big boy.  The other day on the NPR were talking about the girl in Pakistan who was shot in the head, Malala. I hear his little voice pipe up, “MOM! THEY SHOT A GIRL?!!” I’m thinking: “Great. Now I get to explain the Taliban and their oppression of women to a 3 year old.” Needless to say, we’ve been a little more vigilant about what he hears/sees now.

Or another example – last week we had an appointment with an adoption agency to talk about their programs and interview their director. Enter “explain adoption to Jackson”. 🙂 He got it pretty well I think. Later that day I was looking at adoption programs for various countries online and Jack saw the pictures of kids and said, “So, which kid we gonna adopt?” I hope we can help him understand this crazy process for his little brain. He seems cool with the idea of having a chocolate colored brother, so that’s a bonus!

And of course, a recent picture. 🙂 That’s all the news that’s fit to print!

 

one year with taylor charlotte

a year ago today I met my daughter for the first time. Now an entire year has passed – I cannot imagine our lives without her cheerful heart and brilliant smile. Taylor joined our family on her due date, bursting on to the scene at 11:56am. Since she was a whole pound and an ounce lighter than her bruiser of a brother was at birth, I felt like I had a “tiny” newborn. 🙂

she quickly found her place in our hearts and home. Jack became a big brother (and he’s pretty good at it!) and we became parents of two. This year passed with remarkable speed and here we are with a busy, ambulatory, beautiful and curious big girl named Taylor Charlotte. I love her with all of my heart and never would have imagined the extent of the multiplied joy she adds to my life.

she’s the second born. the next one. 🙂 so of course, we compared her first year to her brother’s, since its easy to think that a baby is a baby. But oh no. She is her own person for sure and for certain. An individual, cut from the same DNA, but sewn together by a Master Designer off a pattern all her own. 🙂 I love her. Her smile is electric – she just lights up a room and my heart when I see her grin. Her excitement for life and her tenacious spirit will serve her well as life goes on.  Her obvious passion and enthusiasm will be assets, I hope – she’s a pretty determined little lady. I look forward to getting to know her better and better as she grows – first into a little girl, then a young woman.

this year of being a mother of two has been a challenge for me. Not so much of me to spare between two people that need much from me. 🙂 More tiredness. More moments of thinking I’m not cut out for this. But more grace. Always more grace. And cups of coffee. And naptime, oh blessed naptime. He who has called me (to motherhood) is faithful.

at one year old, Taylor:

  • weighs 22 lbs.
  • is 30 inches long
  • has seven teeth
  • has been walking for over a month
  • doesn’t crawl anymore
  • still likes to wake at night 😦
  • loves her Pooh blankie and her paci
  • adores her daddy and has a BIG smile just for him
  • lights up when she sees me
  • thinks Jack hung the moon, except when he knocks her down
  • can almost navigate the stairs properly – loves to climb, but is a little unsteady going down
  • eats lots of table food, but still loves to nurse
  • is nicknamed Tay or Tay-Tay

Yes, our Taylor girl has brought lots of joy into our lives. So much joy.

Taylor Charlotte, we pray that you would KNOW the love of Christ and be His beloved. Your daddy and I thank God for your life and ask Him to grant you the beauty of salvation, the wonder of His love and the exceeding greatness of His power at work in your life. Keep living life at full tilt, Taylor girl. Don’t let anyone stop you from running hard after God and in the direction of the dreams He gives you. We will love you and support you all the way, sweet girl. Love you forever. Happy First Birthday, Tay-tay!

jackson is three.

three years ago, at 2:52am on July 17, we welcomed Jackson Keith into our lives and our world was forever changed. Meeting him for the first time was amazing. Getting to know him and helping to shape his little life these three years has been a privilege, a challenge, and a gift.

To my son, at three:

Dear Jackson,

Today, three years ago, you burst onto the scene. The nurses told me I was a rock star for the two hours of pushing it took to get you out of your cozy home and into this crazy world. Your dad kissed me so sweetly, in triumph and appreciation, as the doctor weighed you – I knew he thought you were amazing already. These three years have been just plain great. Hard at times, sleep deprived a lot of the time, but full of those incredible moments that take away your breath. The ones that make me want to forever remember them. To tuck them into my heart and keep them always. Thank goodness for cameras and iPods and video footage of your life – because I feel like its passing in a blur and I can only remember what you did yesterday. 🙂

Your tender heart and praise filled mouth make me so very happy. My day is riddled with choruses of “the sun comes up, its a new day gawning, its time to sing Your gongs again…bwess the Yord, oh my soul, ohhhh my sowl…” and “how He YOVES US, OH HOW He YOVES US” and I couldn’t love it more. The incessant question of “why” could very well be stricked from your vocabulary, but I know it comes with the territory of a three year old. I’d rather have your inquisitive self than any number of quiet hours to think uninterrupted thoughts. 🙂

Your delight for life and your grateful heart are really incredible. You aren’t without selfishness of course, but you often thank us for taking you places and doing things with you without being reminded or prompted. Most recently, you thanked me for your birthday party (which I loved throwing for you!) and for getting you lollipops.

You love to play sports. Baseball, golf, soccer…you do it all with gusto and intensity. Intense would be a good adjective for you at this age, little man. You feel, speak, play, interact, and just do life intensely. You love music. It’s super fun to see you get out your pretend guitar and “play” with the music on the “way-dio”. Current favorite songs? Tractor, Tractor by Andrew Peterson and Randall Goodgame and Dynamite by Taio Cruz. You like books. You will sit for quite a while and look at books, and of course you love being read to. Some of your favorites right now are “Halfway Herbert” by Francis Chan and anything by Richard Scarry.

The biggest change in your life so far happened in October when you became a big brother to Taylor! And what a great one you are too. You love her so much (sometimes a little TOO much, poor girl) and she thinks you hung the moon. Her face lights up like a Christmas tree when you walk in the room. Your cheerful, “Good MOWNING, Tayer!” is the sweetest thing. I hope you’ll always be good friends. Even when you’re 16 and 14, and 28 and 26. And 87 and 85. 🙂

Jack, your dad and I pray that the Lord would be the blazing center of your joy, intensity and passion. That you would TASTE and SEE that He is so, so, so Good. And that His love and grace would shape you into a boy and a man that follows Him no matter what.

I thank God for your life and how it is shaping my own. I thank Him that YOU are my son. Your dad and I love you so much. Happy Birthday, Jack-boy!

Love,
Your Mommy

Jack and Taylor’s First Twins Game

Today we saw the Twins play (er, lose to) the White Sox. For a noon game on a day which promised to reach 95 degrees and had a heat advisory warning. With both kids and Kyle’s mentoring kid from our local middle school, Hunter. Crazy much?

I was the one choking over our ticket prices – gone are the days of knothole Sundays and cheap nosebleed seats and Dollar Dome Dogs. When all was said and done, taking 2 adults, 2 kids and a baby to a game at Target field cost almost $100. that was tickets, gas, parking and one treat per person.

I only found myself wishing for the 72 degrees of climate controlled beauty that was baseball in the Metrodome a couple times. Our seats were blissfully in the shade and there was a lovely breeze.

It was really fun to see Jackson’s absolute rapture over big league baseball. Thanks to the incredible plasma jumbotron, he was able to follow a little bit. The two home runs the Twins pulled off got him excited! And this was Taylor’s response for a few innings.
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We had a great time, even though it was a shame that the home team didn’t win. The final score was 12-2, two hot and tired babes, one pretty happy 7th grader, and two exhausted but pleased adults. Go Twins!20120627-172131.jpg

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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.