1st Day of School, Etcetera

This year, the first day of school was completely bananas. There was such an overload of emotions that I was pretty much numb. (And for most of the day Noel literally was numb.) But, let’s back up a minute.

Ortho P Dick
Noel has been using the dictation feature a lot lately. It has it’s quirks.

The Tuesday before school started, Noel had an appointment with the Orthopedic Surgeon. We knew there was a strong possibility that his arm would need to be reset since the bones didn’t look like they matched up in the x-rays from the ER, but we were honestly surprised when the surgeon recommended surgery. They wanted to do it as soon as possible before the bones started to heal improperly and of course the next surgery day was Thursday which was also the first day of school. It was a busy couple of days going to school open houses, getting Ellen’s hair fixed, and getting everything ready for the first day of school/surgery.

Kids ready to go to school
Kids ready to go to school
They were pretty excited, Ellen especially.
They were pretty excited, Ellen especially.

Thursday morning everyone was up early and anxious for various different reasons. First we headed to Cooper’s school for the first day of school parade. Cooper’s entire team was there waiting for us and said they’d be keeping an eye on Cooper for the next several days as he transitioned to full day school.

Our big first grader.
Our big first grader.
Waiting in line with his class.
Waiting in line with his class.

Ellen was so anxious to go to “real preschool,” so the second Cooper’s class walked into the building we left and headed to her school.

Ellen ready to head into class.
Ellen ready to head into class.
Ellen next to her cubby.
Ellen next to her cubby.
Ellen settled right in and started making friends.
Ellen settled right in and started making friends.

After dropping her off, Noel went home to do some meditation and I headed to the pool so we could both find some level of calm before heading to the hospital.

Bones

It was a little hard for my mom heart to not be there when my kids were done with school, but I think it would have been even harder to not be there for Noel. They put a metal plate and several screws in Noel’s wrist to line everything up. The surgery went as well as could be expected, but we were there for quite a few hours waiting for him to be both alert and not nauseous enough to go home. The kids were so excited to tell us all about their day, but a little mystified as to why Noel was so out of it. It was pretty much time to go to bed when we got home and when the kids protested I told them they needed to go to bed because they had school again the next day. Ellen was super excited about that, but Cooper wasn’t. After thinking about it he grumpily said, “Fine, but after school we’ll have lunch and play with my toys?” When I told him he’d be going full day every day now he said, “What?!?! Every day!?!?” Poor kid, it might be a rough 12 years.

Noel's hand, still orange from surgery. He jokes it's his spray tan.
Noel’s hand, still orange from surgery. He jokes it’s his spray tan.¬†

I wish I had some neat way to tie up this blog post or something philosophical to say, but the recovery part of this story isn’t over. Noel isn’t able to do much yet which has its challenges and frustrations for everyone. (Imagine not being able to do up your own pants or sit through church without your hand looking like a blown up latex glove. Then try to explain to your kids why they pretty much can’t touch Dad.) So, let’s just end this post with some counting of blessings. We’re grateful for amazing insurance that is making what could have been a financial burden manageable, for friends that watched our kids, and for the scouts that are going to move that giant pile of mulch that of course ended up being delivered this week. Lastly, I know they look dorky, but if you go rollerblading consider wearing wrist guards ūüėČ

Summer Tidbits

School started and summer is officially over. Here is a dumping of photos from our adventures that didn’t make their own blog post.

A Rule of Threes Day

Yesterday, Noel and I ended a date in the ER. You could say it had been “one of those days.” There’s that saying that bad things come in threes and if I count only the major offenses of yesterday, that seems fairly accurate to me.

The day started out innocuous enough. We slept in and were lazily making breakfast. (Oh, summer, we will miss this part of you!) One of the kids wanted to let the cat out and I gave my permission as long as they watched him. (He’s an insanely good hunter, but the bunnies in our area are diseased so we can’t let him roam).¬†A few minutes later, one of them ran into the house in a state of distress. The cat had climbed to the top of our very tall tree. This in and of itself does not bother me, he’s a cat, they climb stuff, but he was yowling and neighbors had come out into their yard concerned. We had plans for the morning, but I didn’t feel right leaving the cat when he’d garnered such attention. (Plus, I worried one of the neighbors would call some type of authority if I left and wondered if abandoning your cat in a tree would be considered animal cruelty.) So, we cancelled our plans and waited, and coaxed, and tried to look concerned instead of ticked off. Finally, after three hours, the insufferable creature climbed out of the tree.

IMG_20160811_090236702_HDR

We carried on with our day. There was therapy, laundry, and a date to prepare for. I went downstairs to change some laundry and when I returned upstairs I heard Ellen run to her room and shut the door. I went to check on her and found her with my haircutting scissors. (Which are kept in my bathroom on a shelf she can’t reach.) Because I had not been gone long, I felt certain I had nipped this one in the bud and started in on a mini lecture. Midway through I noticed her bangs, or rather a nice cropped section in the middle of them. I asked her to take a seat at the kitchen table while I retrieved a comb to see if this was something I could fix. On the way down the hall I spotted several tufts of hair and quickly returned to the dining room to inspect the back of her hair. There won’t be any pigtails on the first day of school, that’s for sure.

Hack Job

By this time, I was really looking forward to the date I’d planned for Noel and I that evening. We left the kids with our capable babysitter and headed off to have a picnic and go rollerblading. First, the storm clouds rolled in and poured rain. We picnicked under a pavilion and laughed at what a crummy day it was. After the rain subsided, we put on our rollerblades.¬†Back in the 90’s my whole family had rollerblades and since my feet haven’t grown sine then mine still fit. When we found a pair of rollerblades in Noel’s size at an REI garage sale I knew it was meant to be. This was to be our debut as a super fun, rollerblading couple.

30 seconds of fun
Complete with double rainbow.

We headed down the slight incline towards a path that went around a “lake.” Within 20 feet Noel was flat on his back and when I went to pull him up he very matter of factly told me, “I broke my arm.” He was so calm I didn’t believe him at first, but he was adamant. So, we made our way to car and over to the ER. Good thing we already had a babysitter. We walked into the ER, me wearing a completely juvenile t-shirt announcing I’m “The Cat’s Meow” and Noel clutching his arm. When the admittance staff asked what happened we couldn’t stop laughing. It was all just so terrible that it was funny.* We spent the 2nd half of our date in the ER getting x-rays, listening to the pained screams of fellow ER patients, and setting Noel up with a splint for his fractured radius.

ER

I’m pretty sure Noel will be referring to this date in the future as the worst date ever.

Splinted Arm

*The things going terribly wrong, but still laughing about it reminded me of the talk “Come What May, and Love It” by Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin. We aren’t always good at laughing when things go wrong, but when we are I’m amazed at how much better it makes tough situations.

The 2700 Mile Triathlon

At the beginning of the year we got caught up in the spirit of resolutions and decided we were going to do our first triathlon. After much thought, we decided we would do our triathlon in UT so we could visit family, have plenty of reliable babysitters, and choose from a variety of race choices that weren’t on Sunday. Eventually, we decided on a sprint triathlon in our old home, Logan, UT. It was a well thought out plan, at that moment. Then things changed as often happen in life. My mom got paid for a photo job with a free time share in Arizona the week of our triathlon. So we made a new plan that involved a lot of driving, but would hopefully be fun. Then we ended up making a quick trip to Utah and back just a week before because my grandfather wasn’t well. There was some worry about whether any of the plans we’d made would even be possible, but since you just never know what’s going to happen we moved forward with our plans knowing it was possible we might have to scrap them at the last minute. (And we would have without a second thought had he passed during that time.)¬†During the course of the trip, we drove a little over 2700 miles through four states. (Note, this does not include the mileage driven on the previous UT trip. We joke that we’re just trying to get as much out of our car in case we decide to let VW buy it back.)

Leg 1

Our first leg of the trip was to New Mexico where we almost hit a coyote, perfected a recipe for dark chocolate raspberry cobbler (hopefully coming to the cooking blog soon), and camped in the rain. (This is where the kind stranger mentioned in this post built me a fire.) We’d initially planned to see some things in New Mexico, but we were short on time and there were tons of people because it was the fourth of July weekend, so we just plowed on with our driving and decided we’ll have to come back another time.

Grandkids and Grandparents We met my parents in Heber-Overgaard, AZ where we spent a lovely couple of days hanging at the pool and visiting National Parks like Canyon de Chelly and Petrified Forest National Park. The time spent there was fairly relaxing, but short lived. (This is where the kind couple mentioned in this post fished with our kids.)

Pre-Race Pic

After three days Noel and I said goodbye to the kids and my parents and drove all day till we got to my grandpa’s house in Bountiful, UT. The next day we¬†worked our way up the Wasatch front saying hello to family and friends and ended the day with a dinner date in Logan, UT at second dam. (Oh, the nostalgia!) The next morning, was race day. We ran into a few more college friends and finally put our skills to the test. We didn’t really have any goals other than just finishing in a way we felt proud of, but we both ended up placing in our age groups. (We don’t think this would have happened at a tri in CO, people seem to be insanely fit here.) Then it was time to pack up again. We had lunch in Salt Lake with Vanessa Joy and Chris (Noel’s sister and her husband) and drove down to Moab where we met my parents and the kids.

Arches Sunset

When we’d looked at places to stay for that night we checked the Devil’s Garden Campground at Arches and they had exactly one spot the night we wanted it. We didn’t expect there to be any availability (it’s one of those competitive campgrounds that fills up 6 months in advance) so we’re pretty sure it was meant to be. The campsite was possibly my favorite campsite of all time. There was plenty of red rock for the kids to climb and gorgeous views. Everyone was pretty tired so we just made frozen pizza in the dutch oven, but watched the most amazing sunset from our campsite. In the morning, we packed up and hiked Delicate Arch. We haven’t hiked Delicate Arch since before we had kids, so it was about time. It was super windy so we didn’t stay long, but we were glad to finally introduce our children to such an iconic landscape. Then it was time for the final leg of our journey. We hugged my parents goodbye and drove the final 300+ miles home. It was another jam packed adventure, but it seems to be the way we do them best.

 

Frame of Reference

I just did the math and we’ve spent 45% of this summer away from home. I do really well with routines, they’re predictable and comforting, but when you’re traveling basically every other week it’s pretty difficult to create a norm. As we’ve had the privilege to go here and there I started to develop a post about how traveling makes me a better person, but as I drafted in my head the post started to sound like one of the pretentious family spotlights our neighborhood magazine likes to publish. (“Since our family values a world education it’s very important that little Xavier spend every summer abroad.”) I hated the direction it was going, especially since some of the most meaningful travel I’ve done has been something simple, like¬†camping trips in the mountains 20 minutes from my house. ¬†But I still couldn’t quite figure out what it was I wanted to say so I continued to mull over two small instances that stuck out to me from our most recent trip. (Post about that coming soon!)

The first night of our trip we were camping. Noel left to find firewood and left me at the campsite with the kids and a chimney of charcoal. It started to pour rain and of course all our rain jackets were in the car with Noel. I grabbed a tarp and was trying to hold it over all of us as well as the charcoal. Suddenly, a young Hispanic guy was at my side throwing an armful of wood into our ring and lighting a fire. At first I was annoyed. I didn’t want to be bothered. I didn’t need him to start a fire. I had it under control. He chatted politely until Noel came back and the rain dissipated. All the local places were out of wood and if that young man hadn’t helped us, we wouldn’t have had a fire. It wouldn’t have been the end of the world, but it was nice to have. It made me ponder whether I’m gracious when people try to help me and forced me to ask myself¬†whether I’m the type of person that would jump in to help a stranger in need or would I just assume they had it covered?

A few days later, the kids were throwing bread crumbs into a fish pond. A couple, possibly retired, came to the pond with fishing poles. I pretty much ignored them until the woman asked the kids if they wanted to try fishing. The couple then spent over an hour patiently fishing with our children. When we walked by an hour later we found them helping a new set of kids fish. It made me ponder whether I’m truly friendly and whether I’m the type of person that would give up some of my time to make a stranger’s day.

On one of our long drives, Noel and I were listening to an Invisibilia Podcast titled “Frame of Reference.” The podcast initially interested me because the main story featured an adult woman with Aspergers, but as we listened I also became intrigued about the theme of the show: how our frames of reference “filter our experiences and determine how we feel.” ¬†I realized that it wasn’t the traveling specifically that was urging me to be a better person, it was just a vehicle that exposed me to other people’s frames of reference. ¬†Stepping¬†outside of my stuffy, suburban routine and being exposed to things, people, cultures, and situations that I might not have encountered in my regular routine was the real secret. (And I think it can also be done to some degree through books, articles, and such.)

When I was in college I had a professor that would often encourage us to take new paths to work or class because it would change our perspective. I remember trying it a few times thinking it was mostly just a nice change of scene that occasionally spurred a new thought or crossed my path with a friend I didn’t usually see. I didn’t realize that departures from my regularly scheduled programming might force me to contemplate a new point of view or become more aware of the world around me. Not every deviation from routine will be life changing, obviously, but I think it’s important for us to shake up what we’re doing and examine whether our way of doing things or interpreting the world truly is the best way.

Prescription Strength Nature

I have a feeling last Friday morning is going to go into my Worst Parenting Moments Hall of Fame. It all started when I went to drop the kids off at the rec center daycare so I could swim some laps. Ellen was in a mood and didn’t want to wear the shirts they make all the kids wear. I finally convinced her to just hold the shirt which seemed like a fine compromise to me, but wasn’t found acceptable by the daycare. After basically wrestling her into the t-shirt I tried to leave, but she ran after me screaming and tackled me around the legs. For 30 minutes I reasoned, begged, bribed, and threatened while other parents and children came and went without incident, but every time I tried to break away I got chased down again. (I would like to note that no one made any attempts to try and keep her there.) Finally, one of the workers told me, “I just don’t think it’s going to work today.”

Before I continue, allow me¬†to pause and say that I have¬†never considered myself to be a terribly patient person, which has led me to be completely surprised and fairly impressed with the level of patience I’ve displayed, on average, during my parenting career. My kid gets sick and I have to cancel my plans with a friend? I get over it after some initial annoyance. My kid throws a tantrum at the grocery store? Hardly phases me. My kid wipes blueberries all over the white bathroom towels? I sigh and wash them with some oxiclean. But my kids get between me and my workout,the thing that makes most of my patience possible? I completely unravel.

After the worker read the writing on the wall that I desperately was refusing to see, I called to Cooper that we were leaving. He protested because he didn’t get to play, while I wrestled the shirts over their heads and threw them violently into the dirty shirt hamper. One of the workers meekly offered that I “just need to keep trying another time.” And with razor sharp sarcasm, I scoffed, “Right” and glared at her. Then I yanked my kids out of the room forcefully by their wrists. After slamming all the car doors, we drove home, enshrouded in a cloud of screaming (mostly me) and by the time we pulled into the garage everyone was sobbing. It took 10 minutes of sweating in the sweltering garage and a concerned phone call from Noel before I felt ready¬†to get everyone into the house and try to¬†face the wreckage. The rest of the day was busy, which was good, but my mind kept wandering back to how I felt like an abysmal failure not only as a mother, but a human being.

We had a mini backpacking trip planned for that night. Noel came home from work excited and optimistic, while I was morose and prepared for the worst. When we hit the trail I still was feeling down and pondering wether I needed to seek professional help. As we hiked those thoughts slowly began to recede. The kid that wouldn’t willingly stay at a place with countless toys, friends, and a playground, hiked without hardly a complaint and gave no indication that she even remembered me unleashing my rage earlier that day. She took my hand and chatted away about butterflies and how fast she could run. Once at camp, the solitude soothed my insecurities and as the kids laughed and chased each other through a field of wildflowers I started to think maybe I wasn’t a completely terrible parent. The kids didn’t fight as they explored and even dinner and bedtime went peacefully and with little complaint. By the time the kids were tucked into their sleeping bags and Noel and I were stargazing from the hammock, my outlook on life was much improved. I wasn’t a terrible parent or human being. Yes, I’d had a bad day and I’d¬†handled it poorly, but it wasn’t the end of the world. ¬†I¬†didn’t need therapy, I just needed a healthy dose of nature* to refocus me and remind me that life is bigger than one workout and bigger than the daycare. There are pockets of beauty, all around us reminding us that life is actually quite good. This satirical commercial, pretty much sums up my feelings on the subject.

  • As Nature Rx disclaims, “nature can’t solve everything, it may just help.”

 

Dirty Thirty 2.0

When Noel turned 30, we ran the Dirty 30 race at Golden Gate Canyon State Park. (Just to be clear, we did the 12 mile, not the 50K.) Logically, when I turned 30 we had to do it again. Because my brother-in-law, Joe, also recently turned 30, he and my sister, Hope, also joined us. And because we had three kids that needed watching, my dear mother came out as well to spend some quality time with the grandkids and make the race possible for the four of us.

Just the four of us.
Noel, Audrey, Joe, and Hope

We really wanted to be more prepared for the race this time around. Amazing friends watched our kids so we could go on a handful of Saturday morning “dates” and log some longer trail runs. Honestly, running dates are one of my favorite kind of dates. Still, life got in the way as it sometimes does, but we tried to be the wise, seasoned thirty-somethings that we are and keep our focus on training smarter, not harder.

Starting Line
At the starting line.

On race day, we hugged the kids and left them with grandma. One of the things that helped take the pressure off was that we had no delusions of winning anything. (Especially not the bloodiest finisher award. We really didn’t want to win that, again.) We started off slow and steady with a tortoise and hare attitude. Even though it was hotter, we definitely ran more this time and up until the last two miles I felt stronger overall. At mile 11 I was out of gas, but Noel¬†pulled me through and we kept up a nice clip to the finish line where we beat our last time by five minutes. (Certainly Noel not falling down the mountain helped shave some time off, but I’d like to think we were also just faster.) Hope and Joe had great finishes – literally, their final sprints were impressive – and we were all ready for a great post race party. At least we thought we were. Half of us didn’t really feel like eating and Noel was busy throwing up in various types of foliage. So, we packed up all our swag (the race really delivered¬†on the swag) and caught a bus back to our car.

Hammock Tickles

We enjoyed another day with the Walkers and my mom before they made the long trip back to UT. ¬†It was a quick and crazy weekend, but we all proved that we’re as tough as we’ve ever been. Including my mom, who totally dominated on the grandma front.

 

East Coast Extravaganza

At the beginning of the year, we made plans to visit Noel’s sister, Danielle, at the sweetest place on earth – Hershey, PA. We were excited to take the kids to visit their cool aunt who worked at a chocolate factory. Then, a few months ago she broke the news to us that she was looking for a new job and it was very likely that she wouldn’t be working in Global Chocolate Innovation (yes, that’s really what she did) by the time our trip rolled around. Because there were so many unknowns, we stopped all our planning, but kept the tickets (they were Southwest so we could have cancelled as late as 15 min before the flight and still banked the points) and just waited. A few weeks before our departure, things miraculously fell into place. Danielle would be in-between jobs when we visited and since her new job was in New Jersey we could check out both her new and old stomping grounds. (Go small states!) Still, the timing was a little crazy for everyone. Within two weeks, Danielle would quit her job, host us, move to a different state, and start a new job. We would finish some yard projects, end the school year, fly to PA, visit three states for both sight-seeing and moving purposes, fly home from NJ, welcome visitors of our own, and run a 12 mile trail race. ¬†It was an exhausting, fun-filled couple of weeks. This post is not going to be a literary masterpiece, but in case you want to know more about the trip, feel free to read the day by day synopsis and check out the huge gallery at the end.

Day One (Wednesday)

Mom and Babies

In the morning, Cooper graduated from kindergarten. That afternoon, we loaded up the car and began our journey. Because we have an unofficial goal to try every method of getting to the airport we rode the newly finished train to the plane. Morale was high and everything went well from our train ride to going through airport security. We arrived in Philly at midnight (10pm our time) and caught a shuttle to our hotel. Everyone was exhausted and pretty much fell asleep immediately.

Day Two (Thursday)

Liberty Bell

We stayed at a a Courtyard Airport hotel¬†and we knew beforehand that there weren’t any great breakfast restaurants nearby, so we came prepared with shelf-stable milks, Crispix, and some freeze dried backpacking meals. It was suspicious enough that TSA felt the need to search our suitcase. After a luxurious breakfast, we lounged at the pool and waited for Danielle. She picked us up and we went into Philly to check out the Touch Museum, Liberty Bell¬†, and the Rocky Statue.

Day Three (Friday)

Ocean City Beach

Danielle was busy with her movers, so we rented a car and drove out to Ocean City, NJ. We spent the afternoon walking the boardwalk, wading in the ocean, and burying our feet in sand. Then we drove home and laughed at the LONG line of stop and go traffic heading the opposite direction. (It was the Friday of Memorial Day weekend.) We took our rental car back to the airport and then played an unintentional game called “Let’s See How Many Different Kinds of Transportation We Can Take to Get to Danielle’s New Place.” I’ll spare you the long, boring stories of why, but in the end, it took one shuttle bus, one Lyft ride, one Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority Train, one New Jersey Transit train, a ride on the airport train, and finally a ride in Danielle’s Subaru, complete with dog. It was after 11 o’clock by the time we were reunited and we drove around looking for something that was open (gas station, grocery store, anything!) to find food. In retrospect, we really should have looked into a one way car rental and just driven. Danielle had spent all day stuck in traffic moving and her apartment was tetrised with boxes. We were all sandy and sweaty and in desperate need of showers. We couldn’t find any towels, so we made due with a bunch of her t-shirts. We blew up some air mattresses and wedged them in-between the stacks of boxes and fell asleep.

Day Four (Saturday)

Statue of Liberty

We all slept in and rolled out of bed in time to catch a late breakfast at Morristown Pancake House. As we were parking the car we ran into a parking enforcement guy and we asked if there were any free places to park. He laughed and said, “No, this is New Jersey.” When Danielle told him she’d just moved from Hershey, PA he said, “Why?” We felt very warmly welcomed. Breakfast however, was good. Next, we hit up the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. This involved lots of waiting in line and some slight panic about whether a ferry would actually pick us up and return us back to New Jersey. It was interesting to learn¬†about the history of Ellis Island and I realized that I should learn more about our country’s immigration laws past and present. It was also really cool to see the Statue of Liberty up close. We’d read a Kid’s National Geographic that featured some National Parks and Monuments and one of them was the Statue of Liberty, so the kids were really excited to see something that they’d read about in a magazine. We grabbed dinner and headed back to Danielle’s apartment hoping we could help her get some stuff unpacked. As we pulled into her cul-de-sac, we noticed there was a truck from the power company and a lot of people outside, but it wasn’t until we went to flip on the lights in her apartment that we realized the power was out. We went to the grocery store to get some essentials hoping that by the time we came back the problem would be fixed, but it wasn’t. We went out again to buy some candles. The kids thought it was awesome, but all us adults were a little hot (no A/C) and grumpy about the situation. The power didn’t come back on until 3 or 4 in the morning.

Day Five (Sunday) 

Gettysburg

Noel went out to get some more milk since the milk we had was spoiled. We did our best to hustle and get everyone fed and dressed then drove two hours to Danielle’s old apartment in Hershey, PA. We went to church at her old ward where Ellen threw a huge fit when we left her in primary, but finally calmed down and Danielle taught a really good final lesson to the high school aged girls. After church we drove to Gettysburg. We checked out the cemetery and then had a picnic in the rain. Our luck was getting sort of comical at this point so we just laughed and sat in the rain for a decent amount of time before it became too much and we got back in the car.

Day Six (Monday, Memorial Day)

Chocolate World

A good friend of mine moved to Pittsburgh last fall and she and her family drove to Hershey to spend the day with us. We met up for lunch. We were going to get sandwiches from a delicious local Hoagie shop, but it was closed, so we went to Subway instead. Then we were going to go to this cute park with a castle the kids could play on, but they were doing a Memorial Day Ceremony nearby and wouldn’t let us into the park or give us any indication of how long the ceremony would be. (Have you ever heard of a park being closed?) Instead, we went to a different park and caught up while the kids played. Cooper and Ellen were so excited to play with Russell again. Everyone was having a great time, but Cooper brought the fun to an end when he threw up on the swings. We took a break to clean him up then met up with Jessica and her family to go to Chocolate World. We saw a 4-D movie, went on the factory tour, and made our own chocolate bar. The kids were in heaven and Danielle of course filled us in on all sorts of insider information. We finished off the day with dinner at Houlihan’s and then said goodbye to our friends.

Day Seven (Tuesday)

Getting ready for our buggy ride.

We got brunch and headed to Amish country. We checked out some fun shops and then went on a buggy tour of Lancaster County. The kids got a kick out of the buggy tour. Our buggy driver was Amish and it was interesting to see his family’s land. They had solar panels which of course interested Noel. When he asked if the Amish didn’t use electricity from the grid because of self-sufficiency our guide told us it was just a tradition that they upheld because of politics, which, one person of faith to another, was sort of disappointing. Maybe that was just his opinion though. After that excursion it was time to finish up loose ends at Danielle’s old apartment. We packed the odds and ends into a trailer and cleaned everything before heading back to New Jersey for another late night dinner at a gas station.

Day Eight (Wednesday) 

Penn Station.

We were up pretty late unloading the trailer the night before so we all slept in again. We didn’t have much time left, but we decided we wanted to see a little bit of New York before heading home. We rode the train to Penn Station and checked out Times Square and Central Park. The kids loved the park at Central Park. Then we took a frightening taxi cab back to Penn Station where we got some New York Style Pizza and some treats from Magnolia Bakery. Then it was back on the train to head back to the airport. We said our goodbyes to Danielle and then went through security. We were pretty exhausted and excited to be going home, but as we dug into our cupcakes and mini cheesecakes from New York we also felt a little sad we hadn’t had more time.

In case you are still reading, bless your soul, here is a large gallery of photos.

Five Years

Five years ago we bought our house. We haven’t done a lot cosmetically to the house itself (functionally is a whole different story), but the yard has certainly changed drastically. For the last five years, we’ve been amusing and annoying the neighbors with our landscaping attempts. We’ve slowly been making progress¬†and this year we had another big push as the five year anniversary of our home purchase loomed.

Good Bye Mountain Ash
Noel cutting up the trunk of the Mountain Ash.

As much as I hate to admit it, the tree our neighbor insinuated we’d killed did die. Not from neglect though, but from a disease. (It was growing mushroom like growths from the trunk and the limbs were rotting and falling off.) Last fall we came to terms with the fact that it was beyond saving and cut it down.

Spencer Apple Tree
Our new Spencer Apple Tree.

This spring we dug the stump out and planted an apple tree in its place. (We replaced a bunch of the dirt in case the disease lingered in the soil.) ¬†It will be several years before it produces fruit. Maybe you’ll hear about it in my 10-year update.

Branch Pile
A pile of branches as tall as me.

It was a snowy spring and we lost several branches from other trees in the yard. We’d also hoarded a bunch of other branches from pruning and tree removal.

Mulching.
The chipper in action.

It was enough that we rented a wood chipper and with the help of some neighbors turned the unsightly pile into useful mulch. It may not be the most beautiful mulch, but I love that we took something ugly that most people would send to the landfill and turned it into something useful.

Yard today
View of the yard from the porch.

We also finally built our boxes for growing vegetables in the front yard. The dirt arrived two days before we left on a big trip, so we provided more amusement for the neighborhood as we planted our vegetable seedlings with headlamps until well after dark.

Rock Path
Rock path and plants by the house.

We’d made a huge pile of rocks as we excavated different parts of the yard (some of which seemed like they might have been part of some landscaping plan from a different era), and finally found a purpose for them in a little path. We have more things we want to do to the yard (both long and short-term), but it feels like things are finally starting to look intentional.

Tulips growing through the Buffalo Grass in the Spring.
Tulips growing through the Buffalo Grass in the Spring.

I half jokingly told one of my brothers that yard work is the number one way we do missionary work. Joking aside,¬†it probably¬†is one of the number one ways we’ve gotten to know our neighbors. People will stop and chat or occasionally we’ll even rope people into our crazy projects. (Like when we chippered the mulch we got help from a neighbor and then helped that neighbor and another one mulch some of their own branches.) Being those crazy, but friendly DIYers has definitely helped develop a better sense of community. And that includes the judgmental elderly lady across the street. She¬†recently told us the yard is “starting to look good” which we took as a huge compliment.

Yard Part 2
View of the yard from the driveway.

When we first bought the house I feel like the yard was pretty boring; lately, it’s definitely become an outgrowth of our crazy, but hopefully beautiful personalities. Happy five years house!

2011: The year we bought the house.

2011

2012: The year we went nuclear on the yard.

2012

2013: First Garden in a Box and Buffalo Grass Sod

2013

2014: The year of neglect maintenance as we built the backyard playground.

2014

2015: Dug up all the bushes and planted a second Garden in a Box near the house.

2016

2016: Mulch, boxes, and a new apple tree.

2016

Commencement

Nothing could make a parent more proud than to see their child work hard and finally graduate . . . from kindergarten. I personally think kindergarten graduation is a little silly, but as a parent, I have to admit it was both adorable and hilarious to see the kids in their cardboard graduation “caps” and see the slideshow of what they want to be when they grow up. (Cooper is going to be a firefighter.) Cooper really has worked hard this last year. He’s made huge progress socially and is doing well academically. He had an awesome team that really looked out for him and helped him shine. Thanks kindergarten for being awesome!