Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Andrew's 12th Birthday

Andrew's birthday was yesterday.  I can't even believe he is twelve now.  Where the heck does twelve years go?  I mean really, when they say these years fly, they really do.  From the time Andrew was born to today we've welcomed three more children to our brood.  He's lived in four different house and attended four different schools.  He's of course done all the instrumental things that come with growing up too, like losing teeth, learning to read, going to his first dance, getting his first injury that required a hospital trip and so much more (obviously!).  I cannot believe how fast it really does zip right by.

Today this kid is amazing.  We just moved into a new house and he's already jumped into the school's Spring play.  He makes friends quickly.  He is so kind to everyone.  He's writing a friggin' book.  What middle school kid tries to do that?  I hope he knows that I expect him to be a published author now!  He also loves photography.  He has asked me to teach him and he really learns quickly.  I love that he keeps his mind so open to everything.  I, however, will still always remember the little guy that wore blue plastic glasses while playing with his toy school bus at the little table we had for them in the living room.

This year for Drew's birthday, his dad is on the road.  We know how hard it can be when their dad is traveling, especially for a birthday, so we decided to do have a little fun over the weekend so we could all spend some time together before he left for his trip.  We went and saw the Lego Batman movie and we let Andrew pick a pre-birthday dinner.  He chose one of his favorite dinners, pasta salad, and root beer floats for dessert.  Who doesn't love root beer floats?  I love that the boys choose out of the box desserts!  It was a really nice day and I was happy Andrew could have a little celebration with his dad here.

The night before his birthday I felt like I needed to do a little extra something for Andrew.  I'm kinda psychotic about making sure my kids feel super important on their birthdays.  I never feel like I'm doing enough.  So at about 11pm I decided to make him some muffins for breakfast.  I knew I had some leftover strawberries in the fridge, so I looked up a recipe for strawberry banana muffins.  I turned on some Grey's Anatomy on my little white counter TV and got to baking.  After all was said and done, I finished up at about 1 in the morning.  I was so excited for Andrew to see his 12 muffins on his 12th birthday.  Apparently one of our cats got hungry though and managed to get into the wrap to nibble on one of them before we all got up.  The snot.  But when Andrew got up, he was super happy and said they were really good!

I also bought him a card.  One of those cards with the weird dog on it, sporting oversized googly eyes that said something along the lines of "it's your birthday and I'm so excited...." on the outside and "that I could poop!" on the inside.  He told me it was the best card he's ever gotten.  No better gift than to see him laugh so hard at something so silly!

The only thing he really wanted for his birthday was a new bike.  We ended up ordering it online and the delivery date was on his birthday.  We were going to wait until the end of the week so his dad could help put it together but I really wanted him to be able to ride it right away.  It was so nice outside too, it would have been a shame for him to just see a box full of bike parts.  I'm going to go on record and say that I'm definitely not great at bike building.  I did not spend much time reading the cryptic directions, but I did look at many an angle from the Amazon page to make sure I was constructing it properly.  I managed to get it together though and also did a little fun decorating for him to see when he got home from school!

No big surprise, when Andrew got home, he immediately took his brand new bike outside.  Everyone else wanted to be outside too, and why the heck not... it was GORGEOUS out!  So we all spent a little time riding bikes and hanging out outside, really for the first time since we've been in our new house.

Quentin's racetrack (our driveway is a big U, maybe even an O shape) was finally open for business too!

Mallory got on her tricycle and big brother Jeremiah helped her peddle around.

It was lots of fun getting outside and getting the kids outside to have some fun!

After all of that it was time to prepare Andrew's birthday dinner.  He wanted to have breakfast foods. I had decided to do waffles, eggs and omelets, sausage, bacon and hash browns.  If I could give out a handy piece of advice, I do not recommend attempting this kind of meal on your own.  Unless maybe you are a chef or someone who can manage like 3 different pans, an oven and a waffle maker on your own with ease.  I hopped from the egg pan, to the hash brown pan, to checking the bacon in the oven to the sausage pan, to mixing and pouring waffle batter, back to the egg pan, mixing up more egg yolks for another omelet, to checking the bacon in the oven again and so on.  It was so insane that I even managed to crack an egg outside of the mixing cup!

In addition to that sad little egg, the hash browns also did not make it.  Apparently I am entirely clueless as to how to make them.  I gave up after I managed to burn them to the bottom of two different pans.  Despite all of that craziness, the kids loved the meal and pretty much devoured everything!

This is what I felt like afterwards though!

My favorite part of the entire day was dessert.  It made all of the hard work and insanity so worth it.  Andrew's big brother, Jeremiah, told me that he wanted to say a little something after Andrew blew out his candles.  I said, "ok" to him and proceeded to get the apple pie ready with out thinking too much about it.

We sang 'Happy Birthday' and Andrew blew out his candles.

Then, Jeremiah stood up, reached in his pocket and pulled out a little piece of paper.  This is what he said to his little brother:

"Happy 12th Birthday!  I would like to say some things.  I think you are an amazing brother, though sometimes a pain in the rear.  But the truth is, you are one of the nicest people I've ever met.  It's the small things that can make a big difference (not that there's a problem with big things).  For example, last night you gave me the rest of your soda.  You asked for my opinion on the dinner for YOUR special day.  You make sure there is not a day that goes by where you haven't tried to brighten someone else's day, instead of your own.  It is these acts that make you who you are, and that is a very good person.  Stay the way you are, don't change. There is a need for people like you in this world."

I was stunned.  In a good way.  It was so special to see Jeremiah acknowledge his brother in such a positive way.  I see them being brothers, sometimes arguing, sometimes laughing, sometimes really in hate with each other but at the end of the day they really do see each other for who they are.  I know it probably took a lot for Jeremiah to do that and I was very proud!  It was an amazing letter, an amazing experience and an amazing day!

I sure hope Andrew had a great birthday!  It's bittersweet for me.  I miss the days when they were younger and more innocent but I'm also excited to continue watching them all in their life journeys and to see who they become!

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Amazing Colorado Springs

It has been an absurdly long amount of time since I last wrote a blog!  Crazy!  I've been trying to keep a promise to myself to get behind the keyboard a little more often for things other than Facebook.  Such as doing more blogging and working on some personal projects.  Being that it's already February and my last blog was about ten months ago, it isn't going quite as planned... but... I'm here right now, behind the keyboard, ready to share!

So, here goes it!  Last July we took our first real family vacation.  We've spent years going on mini getaways, usually long weekends, to the family cabin in Minocqua.  It's always a lot of fun and the kids love being there.  It's chalked full of family memories and history.  The roaring campfires and roasted marshmallows end out each day.  Sometimes there's even a mini fireworks show.  Boat rides, fishing, sitting on the pier, playing in the water... I have years worth of photos and memories to cherish.  We've always been grateful to be able to hang out there and it's allowed us to be able to get our kids away from home during the summer on a pretty small budget.  I needed something different though, something new.

We booked our Colorado Springs trip probably about three weeks before the trip itself.  It was one of those things for me... I was feeling stuck in my life.  I was in melt down mode.  I needed to go somewhere different.  To see some different scenery.  I wanted to be able to take my kids somewhere they'd never been to.  I wanted a trip they'd remember for years to come.  I wanted to celebrate how far we'd come in our lives.  I remember there being tears on my end.  I remember a lengthy conversation with my husband about how to make this work.  When we finally figured out that we COULD make it work, I was so friggin' excited!  I felt like the elephant sitting on my chest finally got it's fat butt off of me.  We took a lot of time researching what we could do out there and what we thought the kids would enjoy the most.  That three weeks flew by so quickly but I had us organized and ready to go by showtime!

We decided to drive to Colorado Springs, for many reasons, but mostly due to not wanting to deal with having to check Mallory's medical equipment.  Who doesn't love a good road trip though?  I remember road trips to Florida and Missouri and South Carolina when I was a kid.  I thought my kids should experience it too.  We left in the wee hours of a Saturday morning, knowing we had about a sixteen hour ride in front of us.  We had packed most everything in the car the night before so that we could just wake up, put the kids in the car and leave.  They all spent a little more time sleeping and when they woke up, we were ready with some breakfast snacks.  Well, Pop-tarts, but who doesn't love a Pop-tart?

Mallory sure loves them!

All of the kids did a great job on the car ride!

And this guy right here is who works so hard to make these things happen for our family!  Not to mention he drove the entire trip there and back, even though he didn't have to!  I told him I would have swapped with him at any time but he knocked it out himself.

Once we finally got into town the scenery made the long drive so worth it!  The kids were excited to see the mountains begin to appear along the horizon.  Even the near hour long traffic delay due to an accident didn't seem to bother us.  We had plenty to look at!

When we finally got to our hotel (and got some kinks worked out with our rooms) it was later than we had planned.  We were all pretty tired and very hungry.  Frank stepped up again and ran out to get us all some Culver's.  We then turned on some cartoons and settled in for the night.

The next morning, we got cleaned up and went down to the hotel lobby for breakfast.  (Thank goodness for the Hampton Inn's free breakfasts!)  Not before getting a shot of the view from our hotel room!

Then it was off to have some fun!  We spent a good part of the day at Garden of the Gods.  The kids often talk about this place as being one of their favorite places from the trip.  They loved being so up close and personal with the mountains and they loved climbing the rocks.  It was also one of my favorite places because I got so many amazing photos!  We looked around at the little museum there.  We checked out the gift shop and ate lunch.  We went hiking and climbing.  Lots of sight seeing.

Here's some of the photos from day one (Garden of the Gods)!!!

She's just so cute no matter what she does!

After Garden of the Gods, we made plans to have dinner with Aunt Sue who lives not too far from where we were staying.  It was so great to see a familiar face and catch up a little bit!  We also paid a quick visit to Cousin Spencer's Boy Scout Camp where he was working.  Our way back to the hotel from there gave us this beautiful sunset!

It was a great first day!

On the second day of Colorado Springs, we got up much like the first day.  Breakfast in the hotel lobby.  Mallory enjoyed a lovely bowl of Cheerios, a banana and some milk!

Then it was off to Pike's Peak!  I tried to get a photo of the kids at the Pike National Forest sign but the sun was in the wrong spot, so I got this...

Can't win them all!

We began our ascent to the top of the 14,115 foot high mountain and made stops along the way to explore, walk paths and take more photos!

This was one of my favorite spots heading up the mountain.  I wish I could come back in the winter and get the same photo with a snowy backdrop (and do a better job with the photo in general)!

We left our mark....

And got lots of photos on the way up!

We met this whistle pig on the side of the road.  This little guy was very curious about our presence and even seemed to want to get in our car!

The view from the top was incredible!!!

We all kind of got a headache up there.  Even so, we walked through the gift shop to grab a few things but hightailed it pretty quick out of there.  Definitely worth the trip up!

We drove back down the mountain and decided it was time for some lunch.  We found a pretty delicious pizza place and had a tasty meal.

After the tasty pizza, we decided we needed to go back to the hotel and have some pool time.  Oddly enough, the kids were totally psyched about this.  I'm being sarcastic because that's not odd at all... but why drive halfway across the country for a hotel pool, right?  Haha.  Because a pool in Colorado Springs is definitely better than anything in Wisconsin!

It was a great way to cap off the day!

On day three we went to the Cliff Dwellings and the Cave of Winds and ended our final day with a train ride in Cripple Creek.

The Manitou Cliff Dwellings let us walk around and explore the living environments of the Anasazi Indians.

The structures were very cool!

We had a lot of fun there, but it was a pretty quick walk through.

So we headed over to the Cave of Winds next!  We started our visit there with a ride on the Bat-A-Pult.  Well, Andrew and I did anyway.  The scenery was amazing!

Then it was into the caves.  Frank stayed back with Mallory.  He isn't a fan of small spaces and we figured the hour journey through the cave as well as the abnormal walking scenarios may be a little much for the Lady Bug.  So, I went in with the boys!  Frank grabbed this cute photo of Mallory while they were walking around outside waiting for us.  She was having lots of fun pointing out all of the flowers and smelling them!

Jeremiah manned the camera through the cave and got some pretty cool photos!

By the time we got out of the cave we were all ready for a little lunch.  We weren't sure whether we were going to go back to the hotel and maybe spend a little time in the pool again or if we should try to squeeze in just one more activity.  We eventually decided on heading out to Cripple Creek to try and catch a train ride!

This was pretty cool as it was an old, restored steam locomotive.  It took us on a pretty peaceful and scenic ride.  We felt even more cool because we got to share a car with some Hell's Angels!

We did have lots of soot on us by the time the ride was over but the kids had fun, their favorite part being Echo Valley.  The conductor stopped the train at the Valley and blew the horn and you could hear it echo, you know... hence the name 'Echo Valley'... haha.  It was pretty neat!

The next morning we packed everything up and made the long journey back home. The entire vacation was amazing.  The kids spent lots of time talking about Colorado after we came back home.  They even wrote papers about it.  Frank and I loved it so much that we even considered moving to Colorado.  I guess that's probably what most people say when they come home from a vacation, "wouldn't it be amazing to live there?".  I suppose that's the great thing about vacations.  You get to remove yourself from the normal every day and experience some new things.  You get to make memories with your children that they will carry with them, hopefully, forever.  I feel very fortunate we were able to take this trip and I hope we can go back again!