Sunday, September 29, 2019

Thank You, Strangers

We have been busily preparing for Wesley's baptism
and all the surrounding activities.
His birthday isn't until the end of October,
but our month is jam-packed with family events, so I am trying to get a jump start on everything!
Tonight I lay beside him as he excitedly finished reading The Book of Mormon
by himself for the first time,
and earlier today we went to the temple to take some pictures to use in conjunction with his baptism.

While we were taking pictures, a man arrived with an elderly woman (who I later learned was his mother). He asked me if I would take a picture of them with the temple in the background,
and he mentioned that they were tourists from Utah.
I asked him what had brought him to Memphis, and he explained that he had come to Oxford, MS for work, as he works for Governor Herbert (the governor of Utah), and he loves civil rights history so he had toured around the area a bit at the same time, bringing his mom along.
He was very kind and effusive, congratulating Wesley on his upcoming baptism and telling us more about their visit. He offered to take a picture of Wesley and I together in front of the temple
and snapped a few with my camera before he and his sweet mother headed off to the airport to catch their flight home.
As we parted ways, I thought to myself, "I bet he doesn't just 'work for Gary Herbert'...I bet he is a higher-up."
Sure enough, when we got home, I looked him up and found that he is the chief deputy of staff!
I told Sam I am awfully good at giving famous people humble pie, because I usually don't know who they are. ;)

The experience got me thinking about a couple of other recent encounters with kind strangers.
The other day I was riding my bike, pulling Maxwell and Benson in the trailer.
I reached a short but somewhat steep rise in the trail and pushed hard to make it up while pulling the kids behind me and, when I reached the top, a woman down the street started cheering me on, saying,
"That was AMAZING!!! That's a hard hill! You go!! You are amazing!"
It really wasn't anything to be proud of, but her comments to a stranger totally made my day regardless.

A few weeks ago I was in the store, roaming through the produce section.
A woman came through the door and, when she saw Maxwell and Benson in the cart, she stopped dead in her tracks and clasped her hand over her heart.
"I just...they just...I just...oh!!"
I smiled at her, expecting her to carry on her way, but she began to tell me a story.
She told me about how, years ago, her baby had died. She said she was angry at God but then, through the grace of God, she was led to a baby girl to adopt.
She felt awfully sick during the adoption proceedings and it wasn't long before she learned that she was pregnant! She gave birth to her son and had two babies together.
She explained that Benson resembled her son when he was a baby and how she only wished that she had had many more children.
"You're young, you're beautiful, and you can have more!" she told me.
She was rather shocked when I said, "Well, I already have five..."
We parted ways and I continued on with my shopping, when she called to me from across the fruit and vegetable stands. She walked resolutely up to me and extended a hand filled with dollar bills.
"Let me buy your bananas," she said.
I immediately protested. "I can't take this!" The $21 she was trying to give me was MUCH more than I needed to buy bananas, and I felt certain that it would be a sacrifice for her to give me the money.
"Please. I can't do this for my children--they live in Pennsylvania. Please take it."
I hesitantly accepted the money and marveled that, yet again, a complete stranger had just given me money.
It must be a Southern thing.

I just love interacting with friendly strangers!
My mom is amazing at making friends wherever she goes,
and she once told me that when she went into a store, she liked to find the checker who looked the grumpiest and try to make them smile before she left.
It may not be my default nature, but I've tried hard to take a leaf out of her book and talk to people wherever I go. It's amazing to see how the world can feel like such a friendly place when I let down my barriers.
Thank you, strangers!

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Caramel Apples

I love our tradition of welcoming Fall with a batch of caramel apples!
It's kind of a long process, but one that I (mostly) enjoy.
Maxwell woke up from his nap when the apples had just been dipped,
and in his typical grumpy post-nap state, he was NOT pleased to learn that they weren't ready yet and that I wasn't assigning him his very own apple.
"Which one is MINE, Mom??"
The change in his attitude in the pictures at the end is so hilarious to me! He is sweet and sour right now, and we love both sides so much. How could we not with faces like those??
Delivering caramel apples to spread Fall cheer is almost as exciting as Christmas time!

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Superpower Dogs

The Pink Palace museum hosts free parties for members at Club level or higher every time a new IMAX movie comes to the museum, including a free showing of the movie.
Since we have a membership this year, I was super excited when I saw that the new IMAX movie would be Superpower Dogs! The activities at the party sounded so fun and included visits from Tennessee Task Force One, a dog-themed dinner, and presentations from a dog-training company.
Maxwell and Benson typically love dogs and display little nervousness when interacting with them, but they were a little more hesitant than they had been in the past...I think because the dogs were so BIG and there were quite a few people around.
The 3D movie followed the training of a police dog from the time she was a puppy and was interspersed with a number of different stories of other rescue dogs along the way, like an avalanche rescue dog, an ocean rescue dog, and even a therapy dog that surfs with kids in California!
The boys were huge fans of the movie.
Sam and I enjoyed it too, although I admittedly only half paid attention as I frantically juggled Benson, pacing around at the top of the theater. That boy is excellent at finding trouble wherever he goes!
At one point I had taken a seat with him in a near-empty section toward the back. He stood up in his chair and looked over the back and, to his delight, noticed some dogs laying down right behind him.
"WOOK!!!" he squealed excitedly. "WOOK!!!!"
So cute.
But also so disruptive.

My phone pictures are poor quality, but I wanted to document our fun night regardless!

Hot dogs were an obvious choice for the dog-themed dinner.

 Also cookies as big as Benson's face...

This picture shows Benson's typical enthusiasm about dogs. 

There was a table with trading cards on it for all the dogs of Tennessee Task Force One.
This seemed like it was probably the three older boys' favorite part of the whole thing, besides the movie! They loved deciding on which trading cards they would get and reading all the stats on the back!

Thanks to the Pink Palace for such a fun night!
We're already looking forward to the next IMAX party.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Yet Another Shiner

When I was growing up,
I always wished I could get a dramatic black eye from some injury.
Unfortunately for me, all of my eye injuries only yielded pain and never resulted in the black eye I hoped for.
But having five boys seems to be making up for those unfulfilled desires of my childhood...
my boys have had the most amazing black eyes!

Poor Wesley was jumping on the neighbors' trampoline a couple of weeks ago,
and he kneed himself in the eye when he was doing a back flip.
His eye was swollen shut for the first 18 hours or so,
but gradually opened up and darkened into a gorgeous black eye.

(The morning after it happened)

Here are a few other snapshots of black eyes over the years:

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?!?
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