Monday, June 24, 2013

bubble snakes

Saturday morning our ward had a service project to spread mulch all over the trees and flower beds. We were shoveling and wheel-barrowing wood chips around in the hot morning humidity for about four hours straight. Luckily someone brought Gatorade in an ice chest, and even though I'm not a fan, it definitely kept our energy up a little. And the kids were excited to drink it because...I'm not a fan. So they never get to drink the gross stuff.

The kids loved the service project. Ethan likes to work hard when he gets a chance. It must make him feel like a man or something. Josh just had fun running around. Ashley said she liked making a difference in the world -- she kept saying she felt like those kids on Disney Channel's Make Your Mark commercials.

When we got home, Josh asked me to cut the bottom off of his Gatorade bottle so he could blow big bubbles. We did that, then I added a bonus sock to the end of it, and they were amazed when it started making a bubble snake. Mom is so cool, thanks to Pinterest.

annual luau

Our village had its annual luau last week. The kids look forward to it all year.
They gave us leis, sunglasses, and hair flowers. I love that Chris chose a pink lei.

Even though I don't love this picture (it looks like I'm about to fall and squish Josh), I had to include it. I'm almost never in pictures, since I'm usually taking them. But I want my kids to remember that I was there, too!

For every activity the kids do, they get one prize ticket. Then they get to trade them in for a cool prize, anything from a tiny toy to an alarm clock.

The kids especially had fun watching the guys blow up these bouncy buildings earlier in the day. They kept running back into the apartment to get a drink of water, and to tell me they were helping set everything up. And they even "helped" to test out the bouncy slides. Such useful children.
 Ashley and the skull-boy behind her were tied as winners of the limbo contest. She's pretty good at it! By the time they finally won, everyone was clearing everything up because the lightening was getting too close, and it looked like the rain would hit at any moment. So they handed her twenty "tickets" for prizes, but the prize table was quickly being boxed up. They unpacked a few things just for her, and she traded her tickets for a shiny purple notebook.

The luau almost always gets lightninged-out, but that's kind of expected here in the summer, in The Swamp. 

It's a rainy day

The other day we had a huge storm roll through, with tornado watches and all. These storms are really fun to watch, even though they scare me a little.
 Within a few minutes of this tropical storm, our sidewalk was deep under water.
 Ethan was brave enough to go downstairs to look at the flood, even though he's terrified of the constant lighting and thunder.
You can't see how strong this storm is in the picture, but I hoped to capture that small tree bending over. Oh well. Just believe it was super windy.

I really enjoy these storms when we're snuggled up together at home. They aren't so fun when I'm all alone. Luckily my kids were all hunkered down with me, watching the storm on

Here's a nice rainy day song from my childhood. I still sing this every time it rains!

a backwards party

There are several traits or talents Ashley has developed over the years that she didn't inherit from me. She loves to do crafts and scrapbook, she is competitive and enjoys sports. And she loves to host parties.

She planned a backwards party for our family recently, and got most of her ideas from the American Girl Magazine.

First she said good bye and thanked us for coming. Then she handed out party favors she made for us (glittery signs with our names on them). Our last game was Pin the Head on the Hair, and she made a face and hair for each of us, then cut them out and taped them on the wall. While blindfolded, we had to take our face and try to pin it onto our hair. There was a backwards costume party, and a backwards story contest. Chris's story won:

"Before the man's alarm went off, he got into bed and put on his suit and tie. He stood there until midnight when he was wide awake. He got out of his bed, messed up the covers and threw the pillows on the ground. He put on a hat and coat and walked down the stairs. He rolled around in the grass to get dirty. He came back up stairs, put on his pajamas and went to sleep just as the sun rose."

She also had a backwards freeze dance, where we only danced when the music stopped. Backward limbo (how high can you go?) was a hit, as well as the backward running race.

Then she welcomed us to the party and it was over. No treats.

the jags are in the house

The boy's scout activity the other day was to go to the mall to meet the famous Jacksonville Jaguars. When I heard that, the first thing I said was, "Who?"...then I said, "Cool activity!" 
 I didn't go to this, but Chris did, since he is the new cub scout leader in our ward. In fact, our group is so small that they invited Josh to officially join, even though he isn't 8 yet. He walked around in his cub scout shirt for a few days straight saying things like, "Can you believe I'm a cub scout, mom? And I don't suck my thumb any more?"
 The boys were so excited to get autographs from these famous guys they'd never heard of. It was great!

 Here's Ethan, not making eye contact with the famous guy he's never heard of.

 See how big Josh is? He's a cub scout, and he doesn't suck his thumb, and he can write in his journal without any help.

 The Cheerleaders decided to be modest for the scout group, and put their jackets on. How nice of them.

 Our amazing scout leaders. I love and appreciate these guys (and gal!) SO much. They are energetic and excited to hang out with our crazy boys, and they always come up with interesting things to do.

Interesting things, like getting ice cream after meeting famous guys they've never heard of. Another best. night. ever!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

a pain in the pool party

The other day we were invited to our ward high-counsel-guy's house for a pool party.
It was a dangerous night. 
Soon after this picture was taken, Ethan scraped the tops of both his feet in the pool and had to sit out the rest of the party on a chair, dabbing his wounds with napkins because his cuts wouldn't stop bleeding.

Soon after this picture was taken, Ashley was attacked by a pack of rabid red ants. She had to sit out the rest of the party crying because her feet immediately blistered up with about 15 nasty bumps, and she could barely walk for a few days. I think the scars (emotional and physical) might last a good portion of the summer.
Luckily this guy escaped the party un-hurt. But too bad for him, he's now cut his foot twice in our pool over several days this past week. I guess he just swam too fast at the party, and the injuries that should have happened at the pool party finally caught up to him.

We were lucky, though. The lot across from this family's house had a recent, giant, deep sink hole that swallowed a good portion of the property. So the party could have gone much, much worse...

Despite all the trauma, it was a fun party, and I loved getting to know this family better. They're the kind of people I'd want to hang out with all the time if they didn't live 20 minutes away. And Chris couldn't stop moaning over how good the slow-smoked beef brisket was. Seriously. I think he had visions of juicy, reddish beef dancing around in his head for a week. It was just that good.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Mandolin Strum

It was a dark, stormy evening. The humidity swaddled us in its blanket, and the Spanish moss whipped back and forth in the pounding rain. A family from church invited us over for dinner, and after we ate, we sat around enjoying the rain in their cozy living room, playing board games with the sister missionaries who dropped by, and listening to this amazing  family play bluegrass on the mandolin, banjo, and guitar. It was a lovely Southern night.

One of the things I love about bluegrass music is that you can't feel too sad when you hear a banjo and mandolin. They have such a bright sound. I told this amazing family that I'd always wanted to learn the mandolin and banjo. Their daughter jumped up and came back in the room with a black case. She pulled out a practice mandolin and showed me some cords. Then she sent it home with me.

It's been fun learning a new instrument. Sometimes Chris accompanies me on the guitar and we almost sound good. I only know how to strum a few basic notes and pick out a few simple tunes, but it's a start. And Ashley asked if I'd teach her what I know, too. So every few days, she picks it up and practices the three notes she knows.

Maybe someday (after learning a bunch of new instruments...) our family will play like this:

Monday, June 17, 2013

museum musings and butterfly births

Whenever we don't have anything else to do, and we need to get out of the house, we head to the museum.
 How sweet are these boys? They argue a lot, but when they aren't arguing, they are such great friends.

These giant butterflies (moths?) looked fake, hanging around on that net. But one of them would occasionally shift and they would all stir for a minute. They also pooped out hard little balls that bounced all around.

We were pretty lucky because we arrived right when a butterfly decided to come out of its cocoon. The kids stood patiently at the window for about twenty minutes watching the cocoon wiggle, then break open before the butterfly climbed out.
 The kids designed their own fancy paddles, then pretended to use them in the pretend canoe at the pretend lake.

There's a grass hut the kids don't like going into because it's dark and musty, and there's thunder and lightning inside. When the lightning strikes, the back wall lights up for a second and you can see something (not sure what, exactly) happening in the background. A girl getting ready for a wedding, maybe?

 Ethan said he was looking at a baby starfish through the microscope. It doesn't look like a starfish to me, but it's hard to say...

  Josh De'Leon and his groupies, who will never get old.

  I'm glad I haven't seen most of these bugs in my apartment. Maybe only a few of them.

 The museum recently put up some larger-than-life images of local water scenes on the giant windows. They are beautiful and make you feel like you're at an aquarium. The one above is hard to see, but it's a manatee. There's also an alligator and a woman swimming.

Then my kids were eaten by a Jaws.
Even though we've been to the museum a million times, they thought this day was especially special because they were able to watch a butterfly appear. It was, once again, the best. day. ever.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Life Plans can change...and it's okay

We lived in this house for about seven years before we moved to The Swamp for school. Our plan was to come back after three years of university life, and settle down there when we were done. But so far none our Life Plans have turned out the way we wanted.

Before we moved to The Swamp, Chris worked for a university, where he was able to get his masters degree for free in the evenings. While he was doing that, I repeatedly had the strong impression over several years that Chris needed to go back to school and get his PhD, but I fought it. Hard.

Leaving a good job and a great neighborhood, and dragging our family off across the country to be poor college students wasn't in our Life Plans. Especially if we had to live where there were alligators. Plus, we were too old, our kids were too big, we didn't want to go into debt because we were saving for our retirement.

But one day as the impression struck again, I was filled with peace: this unwanted stuff needed to happen for whatever reason, and Heavenly Father would take care of us because it was obviously part of His plan for us. I let Chris know, and eventually he felt that peace, too. And it's been an amazing experience even though it's been hard. I wouldn't trade it for the nicest house and the biggest piles of money. (Okay, if someone offered me a big house and a big pile of money, I might trade our two bedroom apartment and the garlic smells that go with it. But then again, it's all part of the experience, isn't it?)

Chris's sister Marianne and her sweet little family were nice enough to live in our house for two years before he recently got a job somewhere else and they had to move suddenly. Then we had to figure out whether to sell or become long distance landlords for a year. It was a difficult decision, and Chris and I may or may not have cried a little bit for a few days. But it's interesting when you step back from the emotions of the moment, you can see Heavenly Father's hand in all things.

We loved our neighborhood and schools there, but we didn't want to rent our house to just anyone. We'd had too many friends who had their homes thrashed by renters. But two years ago the housing market was still pretty bad, and we wouldn't have sold our home fast enough. Then things miraculously lined up, with a nice stipend for Chris, and a decent place in The Swamp where we could live and not go into any debt for school. And Marianne's family needed a house with a yard. It worked out perfectly for that time.

And when Marianne needed to move (because her husband got a fabulous job offer in a place they really wanted to live!), the timing was right for us to sell our house within one week of having it be on the market. It took a month to close the deal, which happened last night. It was a bittersweet feeling, but we have no doubt in our minds that we're being looked after (including Marianne's family, too).

Our Life Plan now? We don't really have one. I think that when (if?) we come back after school, we might live in my parents house so they can go on a mission. Which they might not be able to do without someone reliable to live in their house. But who knows. Life Plans change...hard things happen...and it's okay. Things always workout better when we do what we need to do and not just what we want to do.

Trust that Heavenly Father is helping us along, and like a good parent, he knows what's best and he does it all out of pure love for us.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

fifth grade graduation

My kids go to a unique school. Like I've mentioned before, a good portion of the kids are from foreign countries. In fifth grade (on the brink of the hormonal roller coaster that will happen in 6th) , it's hard being a different race or religion or speaking a different language than everyone else. But at this school everyone is different. And bullying is taken care of quickly. Which means nearly all of the kids feel safe and happy there.

The school makes graduation from elementary school into middle school a big event. The kids were asked to dress nicely, and they marched into the auditorium to Pachelbel's Cannon, then had sweet little speeches from several kids (who talked about how much they loved the school and their differences). One of the girls who spoke apparently didn't speak any English at the beginning of the school year. Nine months later, she was fluent enough to give a touching talk in front of a large auditorium full of people. Afterwards there was a reception with refreshments in the cafeteria afterwards. For a fifth grade graduation, it was a nice event.

Here's Ethan with his teacher, Mr. T, who was a positive, fun teacher this year. I couldn't get any decent pictures, and the colors were really bad, so Ethan gets black and white pics.
  Here he is with his "presidential award" for being an excellent student. I think this award was partly for good grades, but especially for good citizenship. It was nice of Mr. T to consider Ethan for this award.
And, you know, in case you don't get awards from President Obama on a daily basis, here's his signature...or possibly a stamp of his signature? Does the president really sign these things anymore?

  Ethan was a bit overwhelmed by the crowd at the reception, and so we didn't get pictures of his other friends. But we did get one with his pal Malakai, the only other Mormon in his grade.
 And of course, a crazy one with Mr. T

After the reception, they said we could take our 5th graders home. Before dropping Chris off at work, we stopped to celebrate at Arby's. Even as a baby, Ethan gets "in the zone" when he drinks anything. So we (lightheartedly) warned him to never taste alcohol.

So here's a (kind of?) funny (embarassing?) story about Ethan's last week at school. This school has nice, hard bound yearbooks. We always just buy one to share among the three kids. This year I randomly bought the family yearbook through Ashley's class. Not Ethan's. No particular reason, it's just the way it happened. Last year it was Ethan's class. Next year it will probably be Josh's.

The other day, Ethan was sent to the Behavioral Resource Teacher (who disciplines naughty children) with a few other kids. After playing with their minds for a minute about being in big trouble, the BRT and Mr. T said that they wanted all 5th graders to have a yearbook. So the school bought one as a gift for Ethan and a few other deprived kids whose moms were too mean (or poor) to buy one for them.

That's me :)

He came home all excited with his very own year book. It was so sweet. And slightly embarrassing to be that mom. But sweet, nonetheless.
I love this school.