Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Lately

Sometimes I really don't know how to answer a question like, "What have you been up to lately?"  My brain flashes scenes from my most recent days and tries to sort through the images to figure out what's worth sharing.

Not sure what I mean?

Allow me to share with you some bits from my week so far.  And, yes, it's only Tuesday.

Sunday morning started out as a typical Sunday morning does for us.  Jared and I woke up before the kids and both worked on getting ourselves ready.  Then began the process of ushering the children along from one task to the next to try to get everyone ready for church on time.  Only our "on time" is earlier than other people's because we have to get there early enough to drop off three children, make photocopies of my lesson for my class, and get Jared up to his post running the computer about 15 minutes before church starts.

The church service was great, and I was delighted to chat with church people before and after the first service.  Then I taught my Sunday school class.  We had two visitors, who sat right by me, causing me to temporarily get nervous and flustered.  I think the class went well despite my nervous chatter.

After my class (and the second service) was over, I needed to pick up the boys and wait for Jared.  He teaches the preschool class at church every other month and has been doing it for nearly ten years now.  This is his month to teach, so we had to wait for all of his kids to get picked up before he and Nora could join me and the boys.  We needed to rush home to change clothes and pick up a list of things to take to a family reunion 45 minutes away that started at 1:00.  We pulled out of the church parking lot at 12:17, so we knew we'd be late but that's sooner than we usually get out of church. 

We had no idea what was about to happen.

We drove toward our neighborhood, asking the kids about their classes and filling each other in on our own mornings.  We turned onto our street and got to the stop sign about a block away from our house.  The intersection was blocked off by two police cars.  Then we saw an ambulance.  Then we saw several fire trucks.  They were mostly parked in front of our house.

My stomach lurched as I realized...I think our house burned down while we were at church.

Jared thought quickly and found an alternate route to get to the other end of our street.  We had to park at the end of the street and walk to our house.  In the process of parking and walking, we realized it was actually the house directly across the street from us that had burned while we were at church.

Taken from our garage

Taken from our front porch


Taken while walking back to our car

Taken the next morning after emergency vehicles were gone

Our next door neighbor had seen lights flickering in the main floor windows (possibly flames or possibly electricity flickering) and then saw the garage explode.  He called for help.

The family who lives in this house (including five children) was out of state visiting family, so no one was injured.  Even their dog was safe with a neighbor.

We spoke to our neighbors then to some of the onlookers standing in our yard.  Then we had to rush inside to change and prepare for the reunion, even though I couldn't focus on anything other than the commotion outside.

We rushed to the family reunion and obviously got there late.  We picked through the food that was still left (we were SO hungry!) and tried to relax and enjoy seeing everyone. 

Jared's cousin had a new baby whom we saw for the first time.  Here, she's talking to her grandpa (Jared's uncle), who has battled severe health issues for the last couple years.

We were at a park, so the kids played on the playground equipment.  They also ran to the nearby water tower and struck this pose:


Griffin won the "guess how many candies are in this jar" game, so he got to keep the jar of gumdrops.


Jared's aunt and uncle won a bag of gummy worms and shared them with my kiddos.



After the reunion, we went to Jared's dad's house to swim for a couple hours and eat dinner.  We scarfed down a somewhat rushed dinner, and then Jared and I went to my brother's church for a once-per-year gathering in honor of a ministry run in part by my high school youth pastor and his wife.  We heard an update on the ministry, hugged and chatted with old friends, visited with my brother and his family, and then had to get back to Jared's dad's to get the kids and go home.

We had rushed to church, rushed home, rushed to the reunion, rushed through dinner, rushed to the ministry event, rushed home for a late bedtime.

For those of you who give me a hard time about not attending our church's Sunday night service, please reread this post.  This is my life.

Yesterday (Monday) was a much slower pace but still filled with drama and excitement.  First of all, the church my sister and brother-in-law just left (my brother-in-law was the pastor) basically suffered a split Sunday night.  Yesterday was filled with the fallout from that.

We got to spend the day at my friend Angel's house.  She's not only a close friend of mine, she's also my sister's sister-in-law (their husbands are brothers), so she's family to me too.  Her daughter Sophie is a little older than Nora (she's actually Griffin's age), but the girls love to play together. 

The kids all played together while Angel and I discussed recipes, decorating, etc.  She fed my whole family lunch, and everyone had a fantastic day together.

Oh, and Nolan got stung twice right below his eye by a wasp.  First time any of my kids have been stung.



A little ice and a little time helped the swelling go down. 

The girls wanted to spend the night together, so we took Sophie home with us in the afternoon.  When we got home, I wanted to go check on the garden and found that it was flooded from some rain we got in the morning.


Even though I was ankle-deep in water at times and my flip flops kept getting stuck in the mud, I managed to gather some decent produce for the day.


I incorporated the veggies (not the jalapeno) into side dishes for our dinner.  After dinner the kids played together so well that I was able to work on my current sewing project.  I'm making crib bumpers for one of my college roommates who is 10 weeks away from having her second baby boy.  While I was sewing, I received a text message from my other college roommate saying she's pregnant with their third baby!

The girls were having a pretend tea party that turned into filling the teapot with water and drinking tiny teacups of water.  Griffin joined the party.  Then I made them little tea sandwiches and snacks, and we eventually made hot cocoa with tiny marshmallows.


Nora and Sophie wanted to sleep on Nora's floor, and they built a fort over their sleeping area.  They went to bed very easily and were so cute.



That's two days of my life.  This entire ridiculously long post is just the last two days. 

Someone recently asked me for a favor and said, "Everyone else works, so you're the only one who has the time."

I'm not offended by this comment because I understand what was meant.  Some days I do have schedule flexibility that other people don't have.  Some days I get to choose how our day will be filled.  But then some days we have to be late to everything, think our house burned down, and are slaves to a schedule that doesn't end until about 10:00pm (at which time we begin chores like tidying up the house and folding laundry).

So now if you ask me how I've been lately or what I've been up to, and my eyes glaze over in a blank stare, you'll know why.

Jessica

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

In Other News...

You may have noticed that I haven't written much on here lately.  Even the few posts I have managed to publish have been mostly pictures.

My life over the last several months (basically this whole year) has been a whole new level of insane.  I have found it difficult to really write much because everything affecting me lately falls into one of three categories:
  1. Stuff that I'm not ready to discuss this publicly
  2. Stuff I'm ready to discuss publicly but would ruffle some feathers (and I have an insatiable need to please people)
  3. Stuff I'm just too busy to write about
Since those first two categories are tricky, I wanted to end my writing hiatus by telling you something significant that I just haven't had the chance to write about.

Early this morning, my sister Kristi and her family (husband and two kids) left with a jam-packed moving truck to move to Orlando, Florida. 

They are the first people in my immediate family to move away from the pack.  My brother and sister and I grew up in Central Illinois, and my sister is the only one who went to college out of state.  After her college years, she moved back to the city where we originally grew up.  When Jared and I got married, we chose a house just a few streets away from my sister.  Nine years later (last year), Jared and I moved just across town.  My brother lives about half an hour away, my dad lives 15-20 minutes away, and my mom lives about half an hour away.

It's a really long story as to how this move came about.  The shortest version is:  this is the next step God had planned for my sister's family.  My brother-in-law Dave has been a youth pastor and then senior pastor at their church for something like 12 or 13 years.  Now he will be teaching Bible classes to junior high and senior high kids at Faith Christian Academy in Orlando, Florida.  My sister will be teaching science to sixth and seventh grade classes there.  My niece and nephew will both be attending this amazing school.

My sister is the oldest child in our family, and she is five years older than me.  Our brother is right in the middle, and he's two years older than me.  Kristi and I were always in different stages growing up because of our gap in age, but we really became best friends when I was in college.  She was married and had her son Gracen, and her daughter Layla came in December of my junior year.  I skipped classes, giving up extra credit I had hoped to earn through perfect attendance, so I could come home for Layla's birth.

Then I got engaged, and Kristi and Dave counseled us for our premarital counseling.  Dave and Jared's brother Joel performed our wedding ceremony at Kristi and Dave's church.

Then I had three babies in 3.5 years, and poor Kristi had to take my many, many hysterical phone calls as I tried to figure out motherhood.  She helped me through nursing, teething, potty training, and starting school.

My sister has also been my hair stylist for years.  Please be advised that I may not be looking as fabulous in her absence.

My sister and I have been through ups and downs together.  We have shared as much life as we possibly could.  We have held on when life was crazy and overwhelming, and we dug deep to nurture our relationship.  We are very different in personality and disposition, and we've needed prayer and grace.  We have learned that nothing breaks family and that love means sticking it out in the imperfect moments.  Plus we use humor to get us through everything.

The process of preparing for her move was fine until other people got involved. ;)  Not everyone was supportive of their decision, and I don't do well with people mistreating my family members.  Then I encountered a whole slew of people who simply said, "Well now you have somewhere nice to visit!"  I realize that those people are just looking for something positive to say, but I've heard that line enough to last me a lifetime.  Plus that reaction completely bypasses the emotions involved in having my one and only sister move away.

I was recently talking to a friend and told her that my sister was moving and I was feeling a little blue.  She said, "It's not like she's falling off the face of the earth!"  That's also not helpful.  She quickly realized it and added, "But you have every right to feel sad."  She moved out of state away from the rest of her family, so she was feeling a little defensive.

Whenever I feel sad about my sister's family moving away, I just remind myself that this is God's plan.  I trust Him to take care of them, to take care of me and my family, to help us nurture our relationships from afar, and to use each member of our family however He chooses.  Ultimately, I'd rather be obedient to Him than have all my people tucked up near me, even though I really really want all my people by me.  My sister and brother-in-law are being obedient to God's leading, and I'm so proud of them for stepping out in faith.  Plus it's been amazing to watch people pour out blessings on them before they left.  I think the next chapter in their family's life is going to be awesome, and that makes my heart happy.

It's really hard to think about Gracen and Layla growing up more between now and the next time I see them.  I've celebrated every lost tooth, milestone, and change they've experienced.  In person.  Facetime and Skype will be so helpful but just not the same.  I need to hug them to see how high up on me they reach.  I need to examine Layla's new glasses and Gracen's fresh hair cuts.  I want to see how their freckles come out in the summer.  It's really pretty amazing that I've been able to experience these things all along.  I'm quite blessed that my sister has let me into her family from the beginning because I absolutely love being able to share in the small stuff.

Watching my kids hug and cry and say goodbye to my sister's kids last night was physically painful.  I don't want any of them to experience that kind of sadness.  This morning when Griffin and I both sleepily slumped out of our rooms and met up in the hallway, he said to me with a quivering chin, "Mom, they already left."  I knew exactly who and what he meant.  So we sat down on the floor in the hallway and cried together for a few minutes.

My spirit trusts God and my heart misses my sister.  And it's okay to do both at the same time.

I'm physically exhausted from helping with the move and emotionally worn out.  I don't have the capacity to look through all my old photos to share tons with you (although there are some GOOD ones...), but I do want to share a few with you.
 
My brother Erik, me, and my sister Kristi

Erik, Kristi, and me (taken last month)
Dave and Kristi (taken 2011)
Kristi and me with our cousin Elizabeth and our grandma
Baking in Grandma's kitchen--best place in the whole world! (taken around 2003)

How 'bout some pictures of the kiddos?
Gracen and Griffin
Layla, Gracen, and baby Nolan
Nolan and Layla
Layla helping Nora decorate cookies

Layla and Gracen came over to make homemade pretzels with us

Layla fell asleep on Jared so he decided to take a nap, too!
Whenever I was babysitting Gracen and Layla during the day, they loved helping me get the kids ready for naptime.  I have tons of pictures like these:









Layla is never happier than when she is mothering my kids or any other kids even slightly younger than her. :)

Aunt Kristi is famous for giving snacks at her house.  My kids have grown up asking for something from "Kristi's big doors" because her kitchen pantry had two tall doors (and the inside drawers were filled with snacks).


And just a couple fun pictures to finish out:
Dave learning to braid Layla's hair
Kristi and Layla--Do you think I should have asked before putting this on the internet?

Here's to sisters!

Jessica

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Zucchini Bites

Last Friday I harvested the first zucchini from my garden!


I wanted to incorporate the zucchini into our dinner that night, so I made Zucchini Bites.  I got the recipe from Stockpiling Moms, but it looks like the recipe may have originated on The Curious Country Cook.


I grated my zucchini (which felt kinda cruel after all that work to grow it) and squeezed out as much moisture as I possibly could.  I used one cup of zucchini to make one batch of Zucchini Bites, and I put the other cup or so of shredded zucchini in my fridge.  It kept beautifully in the fridge and I used it to make another batch of these little guys to go with our dinner last night. 

My kids don't like zucchini (little do they know how much we are going to be eating it...), but they seemed to like these Zucchini bites.  There's only one egg in the whole batch, but Jared said they seemed "quichey."  Apparently that was a good thing because he gobbled them up.  I used Parmesan cheese and Italian breadcrumbs (I didn't have any plain on hand).  These were a hit!

I'm sure we will be trying many, many more zucchini recipes as my garden flourishes!

Jessica

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Michigan Vacation (Part 2)

Oh vacation was glorious.  Those first few days were bliss.  I only checked my cell phone at the end of the day, and I didn't even charge it one night.  During regular life, I take my cell phone with me EVERYWHERE and it often runs out of charge before the end of the day.  We never watched tv, but Jared and I found a new series to watch together on Netflix at night after the kids were sleeping.  We never paid attention to time.  We stayed up late and slept in late.  We ate, well, all the time.  Also, this was our first vacation where no one needed an afternoon nap, so we were able to do fun stuff all day long.

My kids got to see what "Vacation Mom" looks like, and that's definitely different than Everyday Mom.  I was fun, easygoing, present, and much more permissive than my usual overbearing disciplinarian style.  We discovered that I am still capable of riding roller coasters, so we took advantage of that and worked our way up through the list of most thrilling rides at Michigan's Adventure.  Nolan and I are the only family members who rode every single ride at the park (excluding kiddie rides, of course, and one water ride that we just didn't want to do because of wet clothes).

The second half of the week was a little different for a few reasons.  First, some of reality outside of vacation made its way inside vacation.  There was a death in our extended family, and we needed to spend time making arrangements and having conversations about that.  That was unavoidable and obviously something we wanted to participate in so we could support our loved ones.  There were, however, other calls, texts, and emails that I found myself answering only to later wish I had let them go until later.

Second, the weather during the second half of the week was cold, foggy, and rainy.  We had planned a couple more days to just play in the lake and take the boats out, but we had to find other activities to do.  The kids (and sometimes Jared) still dipped in the water in the frigid weather for a few minutes just to say they did that day, but it was cold.

Overall, I am so pleased with this vacation.  We made the most of our time and really enjoyed time with each other.  This vacation was such a blessing to us and so very VERY needed.  It was just the right thing at just the right time.

Here are pictures of the rest of our Michigan vacation!

On Day 4 (Tuesday) of our vacation, we drove to a beach on Lake Michigan.  This was the first chilly day, and it was pretty cloudy as well.


That water was COLD!!!




Nora flying her kite on the beach

Nolan with his kite

Griffin with his kite

My Griffers

My little Curly Sue

Nora tried to feed a Dorito to a ladybug we spotted on my flip flop.

Jared and Nolan did a cold water challenge.  Then they promptly wrapped up in warm towels.

While we were busy playing, Nora ate nearly an entire bag of Doritos.



Getting buried in the sand

Relaxing






Nora wrote her name in the sand.  Those are her little feet.

Griffin did this all on his own.  I love that he wrote "Griffy."

My Love

Every now and then Jared grabs the camera and gathers evidence that I was on vacation too!

Since it was too frigid to stay in the water, we made the coolest sand castle city ever.
This is the beach we visited in the pictures above.
Just down the beach from us was a long pier leading out to a lighthouse.  We decided to walk out to it.
My kiddos walking the nearby pier so we could see a lighthouse



We walked the long pier to see this lighthouse.



Nora kept trying to do some sort of side kiss that I didn't understand, and it cracked me up.
Snuggling on the walk back from the lighthouse



We went back to our vacation house after Lake Michigan, and we took the boats and kayaks out on the lake.  We ended our evening with s'mores on the beach.

On Day 5 (Wednesday), we awoke to rain. I'm not gonna lie, I found the sound of the rain on the lake to be quite relaxing, even though it ruined our plans for the day.  Jared took the kids out to fish in the rain while I took pictures and got a few things ready for our day.


Jared caught the one and only fish the entire week!

Nolan holding the fish

Griffin took a (grossed out) turn
After lunch we went to a place called Craig's Cruisers.  It's a family entertainment center that has go karts, mini golf, and an arcade.  The rain let up for a bit, so we played mini golf first.


Griffin got a hole in one!


Jared beat me by ONE STROKE!  Also surprising:  the boys tied.

After mini golf we went inside to play arcade games.  I was too busy supervising kids and occasionally playing games myself to take many pictures.

Nolan and I teamed up on one game where we had to throw balls at clowns to knock them down.  Then Jared joined us, and the three of us were unstoppable!

We set a new high score!

We pooled all of our tickets together and then cashed them in, letting the kids split up the tickets and pick out their toys.  It's always interesting to see what they choose.

Before we left, we visited the batting cages and let the boys each have a turn.




We had a very special treat for dinner.  We found a Mancino's, which is a restaurant we haven't had since college.  There was a Mancino's near our college campus, and it was gooood.  My dad would always take us there on move-in day at the beginning of the year.  He offered to buy Mancino's for anyone who helped move my stuff in. :)

It was a happy reminder of my dad and a fun reminder of our dating days.  Oh, and it was super tasty!


Nolan took our picture

After we were back at the house and ready for bed, we played a couple rounds of family UNO.  We didn't make s'mores in our rain-drenched fire pit.

Day 6 (Thursday) was cold and foggy.  Jared and the kids tried fishing off the dock.  Again.


Good thing we brought jackets!

Rain and fog couldn't keep these kids out of the lake.


This was the coldest day, and Jared and Griffin decided to jump into the water together.

This day was a little hard to fill.  The previous day had already been somewhat dictated by the weather, and we used up our rainy day idea (Craig's Cruisers).  So I had to get a little creative.  I got online and found several options for us.

We decided to drive to the White River Light Station.  It was a functional lighthouse (with accompanying house) for years and is now a little museum.



We walked through the house, looked at all the pictures, read about the history of the lighthouse, and admired the old tools and boat parts.





Then we climbed up a spiral staircase to the top of the lighthouse.



When we walked out of the lighthouse museum, we saw a little walkway next to it that ran along some sort of channel that led to Lake Michigan.  We decided to follow the walkway and walk out on the pier (Is pier the right word?  Let's just go with it.) to explore.

When we reached the end (and I felt like all of my children were going to fall off the edge into the raging waters), Jared thought it would be fun to sit on the edge.

 A wave came up at that exact moment and splashed his shoes and pants.

This was standing on our pier and looking across the channel to a similar pier.

I tried and tried to get a picture of the kids, and they just weren't cooperating.  They finally all looked at me and smiled at the same time, and look who photobombed.

On our walk back toward the lighthouse museum, we veered off onto the beach.

Nolan ran toward the sand dunes so he could explore.

Griffin and Nora just wanted to go "look" at the water.  Wanna guess if their clothes ended up getting wet?

Nolan found this hole in the sand, which he said had quicksand in the bottom.  He had many theories about the origin of the hole.
Walking back toward the museum

The lighthouse and museum

We went back to our lakehouse for some lake swimming and dinner.  Then we filled our evening with one of my other creative entertainment ideas.

I found a nearby community college that was showing a planetarium show that evening.  We got there just in time to grab the last seats!  The show was called "Two Small Pieces of Glass," and it told about the history and uses of the telescope.  Then the college's astronomy professor gave us a tour of the night sky on the planetarium ceiling.


When we came out of the planetarium, we discovered cases of interesting rocks and gems from the college's geology department.  Rocks are one of Nolan's current interests, and we had so much fun scouring all the cases of cool rocks.


We ended our day of out-of-the-box fun by getting ice cream from the local ice cream shop we had passed several times.  It was called Tasty Corner, but we started calling it Mediocre Corner and Overpriced Corner.  But really, even when ice cream is expensive and nothing special, it's still good!



Day 7 (Friday) was our last day of vacation.  We had really hoped to just swim in the lake, take the boats out, and enjoy time at our little vacation house.  Unfortunately, the weather was still chilly and cloudy.  So we decided to be the coolest parents ever and take the kids back to Michigan's Adventure!

The water park was closed due to the temperature, so we spent the day riding roller coasters.  This time we skipped the little carnival games and we also packed a lunch that we ate in our car (we got our hands stamped so we could go to the parking lot and then re-enter the park).

We rode all of the big roller coasters that we didn't get to on our first day there.  It was awesome!!

Even though we rode all the scary rides, we had to take a family ride on the carousel.



The kids were holding hands...

...so Nora asked the boys to swing her.

You can't really see them, but Jared and Nolan were riding this roller coaster (The Thunderhawk).


Nora drove me around the track again.
Griffin drove Jared.

Nolan cruised around by himself.

Nora rode lots of "kiddie" rides while the boys rode bigger roller coasters.


We found a stand of souvenir hats.




Nolan was the only kid really into driving the go karts.

Nora was super nervous and had trouble reaching the pedal.

That's our signature family scowl.

Griffin was pretty focused here.  He ended up having fun driving.
Griffin's souvenir:  a Michigan's Adventure sweatshirt

The kids each had $20 to spend on souvenirs.  It was fun to see what they chose.  Griffin immediately found a sweatshirt for $19.99. This was so Griffin for many reasons.  He spent as much of his money as possible (he went right to the boundary).  He found what he wanted right away and stuck with it.  Plus he absolutely loves hooded sweatshirts.  Nora chose toys that had nothing to do with Michigan's Adventure or our vacation at all.  She picked a My Little Pony and a pink light-up ball that looks like a bunny.  She eventually added a little plastic snow globe that said Michigan's Adventure just because she had enough money left and Nolan told her she should spend it all.  Nolan agonized over his decision.  He picked up 47 items and put each one back.  He finally chose a baseball that had the them park logo on it (he plays baseball right now and has a different commemorative baseball at home).  But then he wrestled with how to spend the rest of his allotted money.  After many discussions, he decided to get a nice water bottle that says Michigan's Adventure on the side.  He had at least three reasons why that was a good choice.  It was just so funny to see each child's personality so clearly reflected in their souvenir choices.

Nora fell asleep on the short drive back to the house.


Jared laid her on a bed, and she stayed deep asleep.  Griffin decided to snuggle her. :)

This truly was an amazing family vacation.  I would say it was our best one yet.  We are so very grateful that we were able to have this time together so we could release a little pressure from life and spend a lot more time enjoying our kids.  We made memories that we hope we will remember when the kids are grown.  Maybe the pictures will help jog our memories!

Jessica