Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Maxwell's Second Birthday

Sam's mom and sister were in town the week before Maxwell's birthday, so we decided to celebrate while they were here. The following week when he was sick and throwing up on his birthday, I was extra glad we had celebrated early!
We decided that instead of presents we would get a family zoo membership.
I just picked up a simple set of toy zoo animals for him to open and he was totally delighted by them,
and we went to the zoo with Grandma and Aunt Kellie, which was lots of fun!
They picked up the balloon bouquet for Maxwell to enjoy and filled the house with lots more balloons besides.
Maxwell is completely enamored by all animals and his reactions to them are hilarious.
I'm excited to have a year of lots of zoo visits with our animal lover!

A few tidbits about Maxwell at age 2:

-His talking is finally starting to take off and I love getting a glimpse of what is going on in his mind. I love how he says, "shanks!" when we give him compliments or items, how he shrieks, "WHAT?!," how he loudly exclaims, "BUS!" every time he sees one, how he tells me to "wook!" at things, and how the other day, when I was changing his diaper and he didn't want me to hold onto his legs, he said very slowly and adamantly, "WET...GO." He has a deep, husky voice that cracks us up to no end.

-He is an observer. He generally prefers to sit back and watch new experiences for a while before jumping in, but then he knows exactly how to do what he sets out to do once he gives it a go.

-He seems to have a logical mind. I say he's like a little engineer because he seems to have a natural grasp of numerical and spatial reasoning. We have a set of 12 blocks with 3 different sizes of balls inside of them. Shortly after his first birthday, he made 3 towers of 4 blocks, and I realized that he had stacked only the blocks with the same size balls in each tower. He loves order and patterns.

-He is kind of a clean freak and will frequently clean things up without being asked or bring stray items in from the car when we come into the house. He especially hates having things on his hands and got really mad when he saw sores all over them during his bout with hand, foot, and mouth disease.

-He loves animals and does hilarious imitations of them, he loves balls of any kind. He adores music and has hysterical dance moves and he frequently asks me to play the "I Am a Child of God" music video.

-He is totally enamored by his big brothers and follows them around everywhere, but he can also deliver an amazingly hard punch when he feels something is unjust. He has a very special love of Benson and I often say, "Were you just waiting for your best friend to arrive?" because the two of them seem to share a really special bond. Benson is happily fascinated by Maxwell despite the often less-than-soft touches.

-And one last story that demonstrates his orderly nature: A couple of weeks ago I was making cookies and realized I didn't have one ingredient so I ran to the store, taking Maxwell with me and leaving the other kids with Sam. I was in a huge rush, as Sam and I were about to leave on a date and I needed to finish the cookies so we could deliver them, so we booked it in and out of the store and then I buckled Maxwell into his carseat. As I started the car, Maxwell began pointing out the window and shouting, "NOOOO!!! NO!" I said some soothing words and continued on our way home, only to arrive and realize that I had left our groceries in the cart! I hadn't noticed, but the almost-2-year-old had!

We love our little Maxwell boy!

Monday, August 13, 2018

Another Beginning

Today was the kids' first day back at school.
The summer passed way too fast, but it's kind of nice that they start back up as early as they do because they get 6-7 weeks of holidays throughout the year.
The boys had a great first day back.
Actually, they thought all the administrative stuff was pretty boring
and Wesley's class didn't go out for recess for some unknown reason
(don't get me started on the lack of recess here...I will give you an earful!).

But they like their teachers and they have friends in their classes and we're all set to have another great year.
Lincoln was, naturally, dreading this day.
He misses his brothers so much when they are at school.
But when we were school supply shopping we bought him some new paints (and we got new scissors for Maxwell), so soon after they had gone to school he was at the table, painting away his woes.

We spent most of the day preparing for our Back to School feast we had this evening.
I long for good dining accommodations outside because there is just something magical about eating outdoors,
but this year we settled to have the feast in the dining room.
I covered the dining table with brown paper and scattered new markers and colored pencils all over it and the boys LOVED drawing before and throughout dinner!
They each got to choose a favorite dish to have, so we enjoyed
baked potatoes with the fixin's (Talmage)
lemon broccoli and bowties (Wesley)
scrambled eggs (Lincoln)
multigrain rolls
and homemade root beer (flat, because apparently dry ice is not a thing in Memphis).
For dessert we enjoyed caramel truffle snickerdoodle Smart Cookies.
Smart Cookie used to be located just off the BYU Campus when Sam and I were students, so early on in our relationship we went on a date there.
It's had kind of a nostalgic feel ever since, and we even went back for my birthday a few years ago.
We made our own "smart cookies" for tonight to coincide with the school theme.
The boys had eaten themselves sick with their favorite foods, though, so they could each only handle a couple of bites before they stuffed their leftover dessert into bags and put them in the freezer!

They loved the new books they each got to open,
and we introduced this year's family theme:
Establish a house,
even a house of prayer,
a house of fasting,
a house of faith,
a house of learning,
a house of glory,
a house of order,
a house of God.

We plan to incorporate our theme into our goals and requests in our home throughout the year
to help our home be a holier place.
The celebration was relatively simple,
but the boys were happy, happy, happy about it all
so I felt much the same despite the less-than-beautiful display.

Here's to a new school year!

Friday, August 10, 2018

The Mess I Always Wished For

After the lousy day we had on Sunday,
Monday really wasn't an improvement.
That afternoon I called my sister, basically in tears.
Her oldest is about 2 weeks older than Talmage and she just had her 5th the day after Benson was born, so there are few people who can relate to the situation I'm in quite as well as she can!
The house was a disaster again, mud had been tracked in all over the rug, kids had been fighting, I was the meanest mom, I had just spent hours at Walmart with all 5 boys hunting down school supplies through the masses of people and disorganization, and I was laying on the floor in a cluttered playroom while holding a sleeping baby. Needless to say, I was struggling to find the joy in the craziness.
"How do you not go insane??" I asked her.
"I feel like I used to spend all my time cooking and cleaning and I was happy with that, but now I just spend all my time putting out fires!"
As usual, our conversation left me laughing at the frustrating moments of motherhood and I hung up feeling loads better.

On Wednesday I was in a much better mental state and I came across this post I had written a while back.
I appreciated reflecting on that friend and her family, and it reminded me of another sweet friend I had in Texas. Each time I would visit her house, it was filled with evidence of happy children playing in creative ways--from blanket forts to paper circus tickets strewn about.
Our kids were still very young at the time, and I remember hoping so wholeheartedly that they would one day play in the same kinds of ways.

Later that afternoon, I walked outside and found 2 boys sitting together on a piano bench, plastic cups littering the ground around them.
Talmage was dressed in a ninja costume and had created multiple contraptions to catch flies.
We had a large swarm of flies buzzing around the backyard, for some reason, and since "they're pests!" Talmage had taken it upon himself to get rid of a few.
He sat holding a paper strip he had taped to a plastic cup which dangled over a cowboy boot that had been filled with ripped up pieces of bread. When a fly would land on the bread, he would carefully lower the cup until he caught it inside and then he would squeeze through the cup to smash the fly and add it to his cup full of corpses.
Nearby, the "landscape bag" trap sat filled with mud, grass, and a piece of bread.
Many flies would buzz inside the bag, and then when a group had collected Talmage would hurriedly zip the bag shut and smash the flies trapped inside.

Altogether the backyard was a horrible mess,
but I smiled to myself
because it was the mess I always wished for.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

We're All in This Together

Here in Tennessee, I get comments just about every single time I go anywhere with all 5 boys.
People are so kind and encouraging
and while I get plenty of "You've got your hands full!"
I also get lots of "You're doing a great job!" "What a darling family!" and "You are so blessed!"

Yesterday was the designated day to drop off school supplies and meet the boys' teachers.
I forgot I had taken the stroller out of the back of the van at home,
so I paraded through the school holding Benson while the other 4 boys trailed along filling the hallway, stopping for drinks, running ahead, pausing behind, and making frequent exclamations.
I juggled everyone in the classrooms, trying to fill out forms and organize supplies while making sure Maxwell didn't pull all the books off the shelves and Benson was calm despite it being time to eat.

I walked into the cafeteria to check out the stations there and a school employee came running up to me, a big smile on her face.
"First of all, do you need help?" she asked. When I mentioned that we were okay she continued, "Would you like me to hold your baby over there while you take care of what you need to do?"
I thanked her but informed her that we were just about to head out.
"Aww...I almost got to hold you!" she cooed to Benson.

The boys stopped at the photo booth on our way out and then Benson squirted potty out the side of his diaper all over the floor and my foot.

I rummaged through my purse and pulled out the baby wipes, bending over to clean up the mess, and then we were on our way.
As we walked out the door, a couple of women were on their way in and they paused, visibly counting my kids and then commenting on the fact that they were all boys!
(Next question from many people: "Are you going to try again for a girl??")
The last woman I passed stood there with her eyes wide saying, "I just...You're...I can't...You just...5 kids...You must be supermom!"
I laughed and said, "You should see the state of my house right now!"
She said, "Who cares?? You have a smile on your face and none of your kids are crying!"

I laughed again and continued on my way, herding kids, changing a diaper, sending Talmage back into the school to grab a forgotten item, and finally making it home to make lunch and confront the mess of the morning.
Altogether, I felt like a frazzled mess.
But the encouragement from my fellow moms left me feeling uplifted and happier in my role,
despite the overall chaos and constant commotion.

Kindness from other moms leaves me feeling all the more determined to encourage others instead of being critical or passing judgment--even mentally.
We're all in this together, moms, right?!

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Not My Favorite

Today wasn't my favorite.

Maxwell had a very nasty diaper situation at Church that got all over the place.
The boys were rough playing inside and knocked my new centerpiece off the table, breaking it.
Benson was fussy and wanted to be held when I needed to make dinner and Sam was gone.
Every room of the house was a disaster zone.
Somehow the boys ended up making "brown bubble solution" outside (brown=mud) instead of doing an uplifting Sabbath activity inside, which got them filthy (including Talmage's freshly dry-cleaned pants).
I came out from nursing Benson to find Lincoln hauling dirty rain boots filled with water from the bathroom to the bubble making station (and sloshing lots on the carpet).
Dinner burned.
My right leg hasn't been the same since my pregnancy with Benson and the pain in it flared up badly today.
I had so many interruptions that the rolls weren't finished until we had already finished eating dinner (they became a bedtime snack).
Sam wasn't feeling well.
Maxwell fell and got a scrape and goose egg on his forehead.
Various boys screamed, "OWWWWW!!!!!" all afternoon with about 20 injuries.
Lincoln started shrieking upstairs when he was supposed to be getting pajamas on. I found him stark naked and crying because "I tried to kick Wesley and I hurt my foot!"
I ate too many cookies trying to cope with it all.

I found a good multigrain roll recipe!
I was patient with the boys!
Testimonies at Church were beautiful!
My family loves me!
Boys in bowties are adorable!
The weather was relatively cool for this time of year!
And sleeping each night is a miraculous thing!

Here's to a better day tomorrow.

(Side note: I'm trying REALLY hard to get blogging again. I cherish the experiences I've been able to record in the past and I want to do more!)

Friday, August 3, 2018

Sick Birthday Boy

Today is Maxwell's 2nd birthday.
It's a good thing we celebrated with Sam's mom and sister last week when they were in town
(more on that later!)
because Maxwell has been sick and throwing up the past three days.

The poor boy has alternated between throwing up, seeming perfectly normal, and screaming with fury because I put juice in his sippy cup instead of leaving it in the juice pouch.
Yesterday morning I walked out of the master bathroom to find him lying on a blanket on the floor of our bedroom, fast asleep with a die he had been carrying around clutched tightly in his hand.
Somehow the sight of that little die in his chubby hand just broke my heart.
It only added to his innocence and helplessness.

So sorry your year has started out a bit rough, birthday boy.
Welcome to the terrific twos!

Thursday, August 2, 2018

The Story of the Velvet Ant

Talmage is a CRAZY bug catcher.
He always has been, from the time we went catching ladybugs when he was a year and a half old.
He has gotten to the point where he can easily catch house flies with his bare hands.
Tennessee has so many exotic-looking bugs, so the bug catching is constant here.

The other day I was making dinner when Wesley came into the house shouting,
"MOM!! We found a velvet ant!!! Just like at the Nature Center!"
Velvet ants are actually a type of ground wasp, nicknamed the "cow killer" because the sting is so painful--one of the top 5 most painful stings of all insects.
They are very distinct with red and black coloring, and a velvet-y covering all over their large ant-like bodies.
And, from what I remembered reading at the Nature Center, they're pretty rare in this area.

So I didn't bat an eye.

I smiled indulgently and widened my eyes while responding, "Oh, cooool!"
And then I went back to what I was doing, not really thinking a velvet ant was in our backyard.

Talmage, however, immediately responded.
"Wow, cool, I'm going to catch it!" he said excitedly, and then he dashed out the door.

Moments later he rushed into the kitchen, holding in his hand a partially sealed ziploc bag with, yes, a REAL velvet ant in it.
It was going nuts, crawling around frantically.
And then I started mentally going nuts.
Because my almost-2-year-old had been standing mere inches from it with bare feet poised to step on it.
(He was already traumatized by the incredibly painful black wasp sting he had gotten a couple of days before.)
And my 8-year-old had just caught it with his pocket knife and stuck it in a ziploc bag.

I took it out onto the back patio and began smashing it...and smashing it...and smashing it...
they have an incredibly strong exoskeleton and the thing just would not die!
Finally it was in pieces and I could relax a little and start looking up velvet ants.

Which led us to discover Coyote Peterson--such fascinating creature shows!
We were on the edges of our seats as we watched him let a velvet ant sting him (he was writhing on the ground...SO grateful it didn't get Maxwell or the other boys!).
Seriously, you ought to check it out.

My one regret from the whole thing is that I only got a picture of the velvet ant after I had smashed it to smithereens.
At least we have a couple of pictures of Talmage in action with a cicada!

Monday, July 23, 2018

When Breanne Came to Visit

This post has a lot of pictures...a LOT of pictures. Like, 100.
And those are just the best ones!
You've been warned.

My sister Breanne was starting a new job and decided to come visit us during the week before her new job started!
She cranked out the 12-hour drive from Washington, D.C. on Father's Day with a stop in southern Virginia for Church and arrived at our house that evening.

Last time she visited, over  Martin Luther King Day, I ended up in the hospital before we had done almost any sightseeing. I was super disappointed that her trip had been spoiled and had high hopes for this one.
But THEN, just days before she was set to arrive, Maxwell came down with a HORRIBLE case of hand, foot, and mouth disease. Like, easily over 1,000 sores covering his body and screaming for hours at a time.
It was heartbreaking.
And when Lincoln came down with a fever and threw up a few hours before she arrived, I was more than a little concerned that yet again we would spoil her trip.
Thankfully his bug was short-lived and the hand, foot, and mouth disease was contained to Maxwell.
After one day at home recovering and planning the rest of the week, we were ready to go adventuring!

Unfortunately, Talmage had Cub Scout Day Camp the entire week she was with us, so he had to miss most of our fun, but he came home each day soaked in sweat, suncreen, and bug spray and full of stories to tell about fishing (where they saw a water moccasin and one of the leaders had to chop its head off), BB guns, archery, a mud pit, and lots more fun activities.

So, without further ado, let me share some of the week's highlights!

Family Home Evening
For part of Family Home Evening, Breanne shared some interesting stories from her mission she served in Taiwan.
Like the amazing toilet-themed restaurant she went to.
(Oh, and some inspiring stories as well.)
She had gone to the International Farmers' Market near our house earlier and picked up a variety of Chinese desserts, so we had fun sampling them for our FHE treat!
Mango mochi ice cream is amazing stuff, let me tell ya.

Pink Palace Museum
Thankfully Maxwell's sores had disappeared enough that I felt okay taking him places,
and he was no longer screaming for hours at a time,
so we headed out to explore Memphis.
The Pink Palace Museum is something that people rave over here, and I honestly thought it was rather odd the first time we visited.
I like it more now, but it's still a rather interesting assortment of...stuff.
The museum is the former home of the man who started Piggly-Wiggly (the first-ever grocery store).
He was from right here in Memphis!
The mansion is under construction, but there is another section of the museum that features interesting things like a Life Science display, a grouping of ancient canoes that were found by a bunch of high school students in Florida, lots of rocks, the history of yellow fever in Memphis, a miniature circus, real Civil War weapons that kids can touch, a Martin Luther King exhibit, and a wide variety of moderately creepy wax statue displays (especially the pharmacist with purple hair).
The free summer membership makes it worthwhile to check out!

Shelby Farms Park
After the Pink Palace, Breanne treated us to lunch at Chick-fil-a and we took it to Shelby Farms Park for a picnic. Shelby Farms Park is an amazing 4,500 acre park (more than 5 times the size of Central Park in NYC!) not too far from our home. There are all kinds of things you can do there, from paddle boating to horseback riding to ziplining through the trees to playing on the amazing, innovative playgrounds.
They even have a herd of bison that live there!
The main playground consists of 4 "nests," which are like play areas set into huge pits, each one with a different theme. There is a climbing nest, a swinging nest, a sliding nest, and a sand/water play nest. Each nest is surrounded by an arbor-tunnel that is covered with flowering plants and provides the most delightful shade in the crazy Memphis heat and humidity.
It's perfectly lovely.

Overton Park
Wednesday was the day we tried to cram a lot of activities into because the weather forecast predicted rain on Thursday and Friday.
So we got ready bright and early and as soon as we dropped Talmage off at Day Camp we headed up to Overton Park to play at another favorite innovative playground.
Breanne is awesome, so she plays on all the toys with the kids and soon every kid at the park was swarming around her, wanting to join in the fun.
What kid can resist a troll under the bridge?

Family Art Day
After playing at the park for a while, we walked across the street to the art museum for the free family art day they do each week.
In addition to the art exhibit and storybook movies
(sing with me, Breanne! "Bugs, bugs, bugs, bugs, bugs, bugs, bugs, bugs, bugs, bugs, bugs, bugs, bugs!")
they had a project set up where the kids could make weather mobiles.
Wesley chose to make a thundercloud mobile
and Lincoln was more interested in drawing knights.

Blackberry Picking
I was feeling good about our timing for the day's activities as we stopped by the grocery store on our way home from the art museum. Everything was going smoothly so far.
But things started to get really hectic, really fast.
We ate lunch at home and then began prepping the bikes for a bike ride we planned for the evening.
Breanne loaded bikes into/onto her car while I made a couple of pans of pizza bread to eat for dinner that night. We worked to get the bikes, kids, food, water, and everything else loaded up and then set off to pick Talmage up early from Day Camp.
The last hour had been quite a frenzy to get everything done, but we were on track...until I called the blackberry farm, which was located in northern Mississippi, to verify that they were open until 5:00 and they told me they were only open until 4:00 and that we had to pick up our buckets for picking by 3:00 at the latest.
That posed a bit of a problem since I was picking Talmage up from Day Camp at 2:00 and it took almost an hour to drive there!

We were crunched for time but things were still looking okay until I sat and waited for Talmage...and waited...and waited. His group was not up by the pavilion and we had to wait for them to come up.
Finally, around 2:10, we were able to set off and we zoomed through the Memphis freeways trying to make up for lost time.
It looked as though we might barely make it and just at that moment my Google Maps app decided to quit working and I ended up on the wrong freeway, much to my dismay!
Long story short, I ended up going into the little store at the berry patch around 3:10 begging them to let us pick berries for just a few minutes.
When I told the sweet woman that we had driven an hour and could only stay for a few minutes, she gave me a couple of buckets and we drove back to the berry patch and the pirate ship!
(Yes, this is the same place we got our Christmas tree from last year.)

By this point Benson was hysterical so I quickly nursed him in the car while Breanne and the boys played on the pirate ship and then we had approximately 17 minutes to pick blackberries.
Why the rush?
I needed to be back at St. Jude to pick up Sam for an appointment (that was also in Northern Mississippi) before we would be going on our bike ride all together.
So we hurriedly picked a few blackberries and then I left the older three boys with Breanne while I raced back to St. Jude to pick up Sam. Breanne stayed at the berry patch with the boys for a bit longer before meeting up with us at Sam's appointment.
Despite its charm, the hectic nature of the trip didn't allow Cedar Hill to quite live up to the glowing review I had shared with Breanne!

Riding Bikes Across the Mississippi River
By the time Breanne met up with us, I was feeling the stress of the day and storm clouds were rapidly gathering overhead.
Wasn't the rain supposed to wait until Thursday??
(Not to mention the fact that Lincoln had opened the door in Breanne's car while they were driving on the freeway which was a teeny bit stressful for her as well!)
Sam's appointment went an hour longer than expected and I was waiting in the car with Benson and Maxwell while the other boys ran around in a field and we all munched on pizza bread.
By the time Sam came out to the car, huge raindrops were coming down, we had discovered that Talmage's bike tire would not hold air, and I was ready to give up the bike ride.
Breanne was adamant that after all the work we did to put the bikes on we needed to use them and Sam was feeling rather nonchalant about the weather and other obstacles, so I was quickly outvoted and we set off to unload the bikes near Big River Crossing back in Memphis.

We unloaded bikes and Wesley sweetly offered to let Talmage ride his bike while he rode in the bike trailer with Lincoln (who is just learning to ride a 2-wheeler), I carried Benson in the baby carrier, and Breanne had Maxwell attached to her bike in the baby seat.
We are such a spectacle everywhere we go, and as we got everything prepared the rain was coming down harder and harder.
I began to laugh at the absurdity of it all.
I had forgotten Sam's street clothes so he was still wearing his dress clothes from work,
Maxwell was screaming about riding with Breanne instead of his mom or dad,
Poor Benson's bald little head was getting very wet,
and the rain just kept increasing!

Eventually we set off, Benson didn't seem to mind the rain, Maxwell quickly cheered up, and the rain subsided.
I'm SO glad my doubts were squashed because this ended up being one of the funnest parts of Breanne's visit!
The rain had cooled everything off and we were almost the only people on the bridge because of the storm.
The views were magnificent and the ride felt wonderful.
We made it home that night wet and very tired from the crazy day,
but all very happy!

Peabody Ducks
We set off the next morning to visit Peabody Hotel and see the famous ducks!
They've been featured on countless media outlets including Oprah and Sesame Street,
and they're quite the random sight to see.
The Peabody Hotel is a super fancy hotel in downtown Memphis where presidents come to stay and Elvis used to shop for clothing.
They have a penthouse suite for their ducks that the Duckmaster brings down to the fountain in the lobby each day and each evening he takes them back up.
The public is invited to watch the Duck March, so together we lined the red carpet
(with a surprising number of other guests)
and watched the ducks run/waddle to the fountain.

To be honest I thought it was a bit overrated,
but Maxwell absolutely ADORES animals so watching him observe the ducks in the fountain afterward made it worth the hassle!

After the fun with the ducks, Breanne wanted to stop by a group of food trucks nearby and she once again treated us to lunch
(funnel cake for the boys and the most delicious South American sandwich for me!).
She dubbed the morning "Ducks and Trucks."

Mud Island Riverwalk
We made it over to the riverwalk on Mud Island on Friday morning.
We walked across the bridge to the "island" (which is really a peninsula) to walk along the engineering-wonder of the to-scale model of the lower Mississippi. I had read some reviews about the park online that indicated that it was pretty sub-par, so we were pleasantly surprised by the beautiful flowers, lovely shade, relaxing music, and fun wading river.
The river empties into a 1-acre "Gulf of Mexico" where you can paddleboat,
but we didn't even make it that far.
When 30 inches=1 mile, the model river is quite long!!
It was a really fun, relaxing outing and afterward we got lunch at a quaint grocery store called Miss Cordelia's which we ate outside the store on a picnic table and a porch swing.

Benson has turned into such a smiley baby.
His smile progression makes my heart sing!

Just Hanging Out
We also had a lot of fun just hanging out at home...
catching fireflies
eating blackberry cobbler with the most delicious Blue Bell lemon ice cream
swinging on the porch swing
blowing bubbles
watching the boys cram themselves into their makeshift swimming pool (ball storage box!)
delighting in Wesley's unusual reading positions
watching Coco and I Can Only Imagine (I highly recommend that one!!)
snuggling a baby
eating horchata popsicles (super YUM)
reading stories
and so much more.

All in all, it was a super amazing visit and I'm so glad we got to spend so much time with Breanne!
Hopefully one of these days we will make the trip back east to see the sites in D.C.
Maybe when we don't have a nursing newborn and the transmission on our car isn't about to go out. ;)

If you've made it this far, congratulations on wading through all that text and all those photos.
Next up: a visit from Sam's mom and sister this week!
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