Wednesday, September 18, 2019

A Rather Antsy Kaitlyn

In some ways, I've been starting to feel a little bit like I'm in the waiting place...
We are waiting to buy a house...a decision we feel good about, but one that can still be frustrating at times.
We are waiting for our car to die before we buy a new one...the transmission seems really quite sketchy right now and the A/C barely works, so we don't want to take it on long trips.
We are waiting for Summer to end...but temperatures are still in the 90s with no end in sight. The kids were even kept inside again today for recess because the heat index was 100.
We are waiting for Sam's papers to be published...a process that is always frustratingly slow.

I know they're all very much first-world problems, but sometimes a little bit annoying nonetheless.
Add to that the fact that I'm starting to get a bit stir-crazy
(until Labor Day I had only left the Memphis area once this year!)
and you get a rather antsy Kaitlyn.

After a few conversations, we decided to set some family goals...
some things to focus on instead of all the things we are waiting for.
We decided to bike 250 miles together as a family this year. We got a hitch installed on our dying minivan so we can put our bikes on a bike rack and try out different trails all around Memphis. We replaced Sam's stolen bike, and I made a chart that we've started to fill out with a square for each mile we bike.
We decided to do 25 family service projects together. We will keep a list to track our progress.
We hope to go on 3 family vacations over the next year.
And Sam and I decided that each month we are going to try a new ethnic restaurant.
I have been wanting to expand my horizons a little when it comes to food and it will be fun to experience more of the city!
Our first stop was India Palace. It was a lovely environment with beautiful murals painted on the walls. The naan was incredible and it came with super delicious dipping sauces--spicy cilantro chutney and something else kind of sweet. I ordered coconut chicken korma and Sam ordered the lamb curry. Both of us really enjoyed our food! And they brought us the cutest little portions of mango sorbet to end our meal, on the house!

I am excited about our new goals and the progress we've made so far!
And I know some of my few readers have broad restaurant experiences...
tell me, what are your favorite ethnic dishes?

Monday, September 16, 2019

Labor Day at the Lake

On Sunday night before Labor Day,
Sam and I sat up talking about what we could do the following day to make the most of our time together.
The problem is that it's just so HOT from June through September that any outdoor activities besides water activities have little appeal. We hemmed and hawed for a while, and finally decided to visit Village Creek State Park in Arkansas.
It had been on my list of things to do for some time now, but I had never taken the plunge to get us there.

The website had very little specific information, but what little it had was very promising...
-super cheap tandem kayak and canoe rentals (as in, $15 for 5 hours!)
-30+ miles of bike trails
-a swimming beach
-darling cabins, remodeled this year (with fireplaces and kitchens!) for just $90/night
-a playground
-a visitor's center and plenty of free nature activities for kids
-and it's only about an hour and a half from our home!

We decided that if we just went to spend the morning there, we could check out all it had to offer and be better equipped to make plans for an overnight camping stay later on.
So the next morning we packed up the car and headed out for a day at the lake.

When we arrived, we decided I would go into the visitor's center and ask about the boat rentals. I hopped out of the car, a BYU baseball hat on my head, and took about 10 steps when I saw another family group and it looked like one of the girls was wearing a BYU T-shirt. I kept walking, trying to discreetly shoot glances their way to see if it was true, and I thought I heard them muttering "BYU" to each other as they stole equally indiscreet glances toward me.
Finally the dad shouted out, "Go Cougars!!" and I instantly turned around in my tracks and ran over to talk to them, calling out, "I thought that was a BYU shirt!" They live a few miles from us, and it was so funny to me that the very first people I encountered were fellow Utah/BYU friends.
And of course we share a mutual friend...even with over 16 million members, it never seems to take long in our church to find a random connection.

Eventually we decided to rent two tandem kayaks and a canoe. There were strict rules about only allowing three people in the canoe, even if two of them were babies/toddlers. We weren't sure how things would go out on the lake, but Sam took the little ones on a canoe, Talmage and Wesley took a kayak, and I took a kayak with Lincoln and we gave it our best shot.

With all the warnings about deadly snakes in southern waters (water moccasins!), I was sure to ask in the Visitor's Center whether there were any hazards we should watch out for.
"Oh no, we've never had anyone bitten by a snake," the kind employee told me confidently.
"We occasionally see one swimming across the water, but we've never had any problems. Just make sure you keep your boats away from the trees so they don't drop down onto you."
I was greatly reassured by her confidence, so we all enjoyed paddling the boats around...even Sam, who had to paddle the canoe with just one oar WHILE holding Benson and keeping Maxwell in check. He adamantly refused to let me take a turn with them, but he assured me that he had fun in spite of the challenge.

The park has two lakes, and we had been told that the other lake had the swimming beach, so we didn't bother putting the boys' swimming suits on for our boating excursion.
But to our surprise, there was a small swimming area in this lake as well!
Everyone was pretty well roasted after about 30 minutes of paddling around and the kids were very enthused about the idea of swimming, so Sam and I looked at each other, shrugged, and let them play in the water fully clothed, leaving their life jackets on from boating.
Sam was highly amused when a little boy, rather like Huckleberry Finn, sized up our kids and said in his cute Southern drawl,
"Why ya got life jackets on? Dontcha know how ta swim?? It's fine!! Ah drownded out there twice last week!"

In spite of their bulky life jackets and heavy clothes, the boys were extremely happy in the water and were greatly refreshed when we told them it was time to head back to the dock.

Because their feet were wet, we didn't bother putting shoes and socks back on the boys.
As we got back into our boats, we realized the seats had gotten INSANELY hot in the sun and we were scrambling around for something, anything to sit on to protect us from the heat! We finally made it back to the dock, only to realize that there was no employee to help maneuver each boat into its assigned slot. I had a hold of Talmage and Wesley's kayak and was trying to tow/direct/push them into their spot from my kayak while meanwhile Sam was standing with one foot on the dock and one foot in the canoe while holding both Maxwell and Benson! He had tried to set them on the dock, but it was way too hot for their bare feet and, because the canoe was balanced somewhat precariously on a launching mechanism, he had no way to set them down to get their things out of the canoe and help them with their shoes!
We were quite the sight to behold!
Eventually another visitor saw our plight and took pity on us. He helped a bit with the boats and I was able to take the little ones from Sam while he finished putting the boats where they needed to be and tracking down all our wet belongings.
The end was a little stressful, but in spite of the craziness, by the time we got to the car we decided it had been a really fun adventure overall.

We drove around the park a little more and I checked out the bigger swim area to get a feel for things, and then we headed home.
We were only home for about 30 minutes before we headed out to meet up with another family for a fun Labor Day pizza party! Their home backs up to the woods on the edge of the golf course, and the boys had the time of their lives playing with their friends on the trampoline, swinging on the swings hooked up to the trees, running/jumping in the sprinkler, and having a water balloon fight with hundreds of water balloons. We ate yummy pizza and enjoyed homemade ice cream, too.
This family is assigned to the other congregation in our town, but the dad works with Sam.
On one of his first days of work, one of Sam's colleagues said,
"So how many kids did you say you have? And you're expecting another, right? There's a guy here who is also from Utah and he has like six kids! I should introduce you!"
It turned out that he grew up just a few miles from Sam! It was so funny for him to instantly find a connection at work.
They stand out just a little (ha!) with their large families in their scientific, predominantly foreign work environment.

All in all, it was an awesome way to spend our holiday together.
And when all was said and done, we managed to end it with only one tick (on Maxwell).
I'm proud to report that I've (mostly) gotten over my fear of ticks and very calmly extracted it.
Now that we have had such a great conclusion to Summer, it would be great if the heat index would stop hovering right around 100 degrees every day.
Fall will be here soon, right?!?

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Home is Where the Grass Is

To anyone who has read this blog for more than a few entries,
it's no secret that I have somewhat of an obsession with grass.
Growing up, I took for granted the fact that I could lay in the shade without a care in the world,
breathe in the smell of freshly cut grass,
run and play barefoot,
and enjoy a beautiful, green landscape for most of the year.

When we lived in Texas, we spent very little time in our yard,
primarily because there were so many fire ants and other mean critters,
but the grass (St. Augustine) was so rough and poky that it wouldn't have been much fun to play in, anyway.
For three blissful years in Utah we had a lush yard with some annoyances of dry spots and crab grass patches,
but our backyard was a place we spent SO much time together as a family (Fescue and Kentucky Bluegrass blend).
Here in Tennessee, the grass (Bermuda) is an ugly shade of brown with NO green whatsoever for at least 6 months of the year. Even when it is green, it is only from a distance--upon closer examination, half the grass is actually in its dead state, so it's a very light/tan-flecked green. Each blade of grass is divided into multiple strands as it grows, so the texture is more like bushes than the soft grass of my childhood. And yes, there are bugs a-plenty! Moles dig up the ground, leaving large holes and bare patches behind. And it won't grow in the shade--strange that it is the grass of choice in a place where there are so many trees!

Can you tell I'm a bit passionate about it?
Trust me, just about everyone I know who is from Utah who lives here gets almost as excited about it as I do.
I have researched grass to find out what kinds of grass can grow well in Tennessee so that, if we were to buy a house here, we could perhaps convert our yard into something we love.
As silly as it probably sounds, especially to my native Tennesseean friends who don't know what they are missing out on, the grass and lovely backyards are one of the biggest things I miss about living in Utah. When I walk into our half-dead backyard and am met with a 20 foot long strip of pure sand by the patio where the grass won't grow because it's always shady, when I nearly sprain my ankle because I fall into a hole, and when the kids track dirt and dead grass in all day long, I almost pull my hair out with exasperation!
And during the long, hot, humid summers, I find myself desperately longing for the cool Summer evenings we spent together in our backyard in Utah.
Living in Utah brings frustrations, too, but I think it will always feel like home to me.

A few weeks ago, I was feeling particularly heartsick about being away from our families and so many other great things Utah has to offer.
I found myself fighting tears all weekend...
it didn't help that I had been attempting to can peaches and they were mushy and mealy and nasty and the skins wouldn't blanch off and I ached for the huge, firm, smooth, luscious Elbertas that grew in an orchard just up the street from us!
I went to Church with a heavy heart.
After Church, Sam had a meeting, so I gathered all the kids and asked if they wanted to walk over to a picnic area by the temple to wait.

Upon our arrival, I looked down and gasped.
"You guys!!! It's UTAH GRASS!!!" I exclaimed to the kids.
They immediately sank to their knees and began rolling in the grass, laying in the grass, and chewing on the grass as I looked up at the temple with fresh tears stinging my eyes--this time spurred on by joy.
Of course the temple would be the place that would make me feel at home!

I distinctly felt Heavenly Father tell me, "I see you. I am aware of your struggles. And I love you."
That moment became instantly sacred to me.

I don't know where our "forever" home will be...or if we'll ever stop moving every few years.
But no matter where I go in the world, I can always feel at home when I feel my Heavenly Father's love.
And the temple is one of the greatest places to feel that the most clearly.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

First Day of School 2019

We have settled into our new routine and the school year is going well.
All of the boys love their teachers--
Talmage and Lincoln got exactly who they were hoping for,
and Wesley really didn't care who he got.
He is so chill that any teacher will be great as long as they don't yell and scream at the class.
Lincoln heard at Kindergarten round-up that one teacher liked to play jokes,
and ever since then he has hoped he would get her.
And he did!
He has loved school, but was NOT happy when today a little girl at his table said she wanted to marry him.
Talmage's teacher was specifically chosen (according to his 3rd grade teacher) to give him a challenge, and so far she is doing a great job. His teachers do things like math games via Skype with school classes in different countries and teaching green screen and stop animation!

As I attended Back to School night, I marveled at everything the teachers have to keep straight.
They remember which students are absent throughout the day and set their work aside for them while keeping track of every single student who is not absent and notice the moment someone isn't where he/she ought to be.
They remember students' allergies and ensure that no food or other items brought into the classroom will cause anyone allergic reactions.
They remember how each student is getting home, and keep track of any changes made in the normal mode of transportation for each student.
They are aware of learning disabilities and help the kids who are falling behind while providing a challenge for the kids who are ready for more.
They remember unique circumstances that exist in each student's home life and provide needed support and sensitivity.
They remember which kids are on medication and send them to the office to take their medicine as needed.
They answer constant e-mails from parents throughout the day.
They celebrate the birthday of each student.
They remember social issues that exist within the class members and structure seating charts and other classroom activities accordingly.
They have a plan in place for how to protect their entire class in the event of disaster or crisis.
They take a personal interest in each student and show them love throughout the school year and beyond.
AND, they do all that on top of their day-to-day teaching, wherein there is an expectation for creativity, high test scores, student engagement, and cute bulletin boards besides.

As I considered all they do, I was overwhelmed.
Honestly, it feels like a lot just to keep track of 20+ children and make sure they are all safe.
I am so grateful for my kids' teachers and all they do to help them learn and grow.

(I realized Wesley's top button was fastened after I took his pictures...he looks like such a cute little schoolboy!)
And Maxwell had to get in the picture too, of course, pajamas and all.

Some of the fun of the summer:
-Talmage made "the mantis movie," a fully automatic PowerPoint presentation that is 264 slides long! He made all of the graphics on his own and wrote lots of text captions and mouth bubbles and the different pictures move across the screen in various ways, as he animated the whole thing.
-He also worked on learning Japanese and started learning Scratch, a beginner coding language.
-I did a book club with the boys and we had fun expanding our horizons in our reading. I plan to do this every Summer, and I definitely learned a lot for next time.
-Wesley chose to study nature and wilderness survival for his independent learning.
-Lincoln raced through dozens of chapter books right along with his brothers.
-The boys improved their swimming skills and Talmage and Wesley can now do flips and other tricks off the diving board.
-The little ones made us laugh. Lots and lots and lots.
-And bonus, we didn't die of the heat/humidity!

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Back to School Feast 2019

The Saturday before school started,
we had our annual back-to-school feast!
I had seen this idea from several different sources before Talmage started Kindergarten,
but I think the idea was started mainly by popular blogger and plane crash survivor, Stephanie Nielson.
In any case, it has become a highly anticipated event in our household and the kids say it's one of their favorite traditions! So thank you to others for sharing their traditions and inspiring our own!

We typically keep our feast fairly simple.
I let the kids each choose a favorite food for me to make,
and then I put out simple decorations and gift them each with a new book.
This year the kids asked for:
-Baked Potatoes (Talmage)
-Scrambled Eggs (Wesley--that one shocked me, as I didn't think he even liked them!)
-"Bunny Pasta" (Lincoln)
-Supplemented with our favorite honeycrisp apples and Caprese Paninis for Sam and I

The kids have such simple tastes that the food preparation didn't require much effort from me.
I decided on a primary colors/school theme and picked up some decorations from the Dollar Store and scattered ABC cookies around the table. I covered the table with brown paper again and set out jars filled with new markers for them to doodle while we ate (that has been one of their favorite parts of the feast!). With their wrapped books on their plates, IZZE sparkling fruit juice and mugs, and a couple of school lunch-type snacks at each spot, the kids were blown away when they came down from their bedroom, where I had banished them to play Legos while I got set up.
I was getting comments like, "You are the BEST MOM in the world!!!" and "Oh, WOW, this is so AMAZING!!" They were just giddy with excitement! It made me so happy to see how much they loved my small efforts to make things festive.

Looking at the doodles all over the table afterward is so fun!
Sam drew this funny octopus representation of a mom...

I responded with a goofy love-potion scientist.

Lincoln took off with our silly drawings for each other and made a version of his own that I just adore! Super hero mom and dad with capes and love potions of our own! I love the idea of creating a climate of love together in which our children can thrive. I thought his drawing was the most adorable representation of that goal.

Benson was a ham, as usual:

After dinner, the kids opened their books and then we introduced our new family theme for the year!
Last year I felt strongly impressed that we should emphasize AGENCY as we teach our children. While they can't always control their circumstances, they can control their actions and they NEVER have to play the part of a victim. They can choose to be kind, to remember their divine nature regardless of what others do or say, and to make their spirits triumph over their bodies.
I was pleased as punch when, a month or two ago, one of the boys commented that "Mommy loves talking about agency."
Meanwhile, Sam's pet topic over the past year has been proactive behavior. He is frequently complimenting proactive behavior from the boys and teaching them to do what they should do, without being asked.

So between these two passions, we thought an appropriate theme would be,

"Be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of [our] own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness."

The kids have been especially aware of their proactive behavior over the course of the last few weeks and we enjoy discussing what they did each week in Family Home Evening after we say our theme.

We ended our evening with chocolate chip salted caramel smart cookies (cookie ice cream sandwiches). It was one of those nights that counters the many, many frustrations that exist in family life.
I think that's one reason I love our little traditions so much.
They allow us to step back from the squabbles, the messes, the constant broken things, the crying, the stress, the lack of sleep
and see the beauty of our life together as a family.
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