Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Summer Bucket List 2016

I don’t think I’ve given much info on our summer bucket list for this year.  It’s shorter than last summer, which is probably good considering that the entire month of July was jam packed with activities.  We did manage to cross 4 items off the list during that time.  So August has been spent trying to finish up the rest of the activities.

The first item Ella wanted to check off the list was Learn to play Battleship.  For her birthday she had gotten not just regular Battleship, but Star Wars Battleship!  She was determined to learn how to play.  She has now mastered the game and is getting better each time we play.

As you can see, there were several dessert items listed on our list.  Ella still loves to cook and desserts are among her favorite.

She made homemade S'mores.  These are not your traditional S'mores (as you can see).  These are S'mores from the Pioneer Woman.  Basically it's graham crackers with marshmallow cream in the middle, then dipped in chocolate and topped with whatever toppings you want.  They turned out delicious...although they were pretty messy.

The heart cakes were also delicious!  Ella's Grammy gave her a heart cake pan for her birthday, so we got chocolate fudge cake mix and made little cakes.  Sorry, I don't have a picture of the final product.

The homemade ice cream we also ventured into new territory.  Instead of traditional ice cream, I found this no churn ice cream.  Basically you whip heavy cream, add sweetened condensed milk, and freeze.  Ella decided to add food coloring and turn it into the dye ice cream.

The kids also completed a movie marathon.  We went back and forth about which series to watch.  Originally Ella wanted to watch all 7 Star Wars in a row, but once I explained to her that we would have to sit in the basement for approximately 16 hours straight, she changed her mind.  Instead we opted for one of my old favorites, Back to the Future!  I was really excited about this since I hadn't seen the movies since I was a kid.  The movies were great and Ella actually got a lot of the 80's jokes because I'm such an 80's fan.  BUT, I had forgotten how terrible the language is!  I kept praying Ella wouldn't know what they were saying or repeat any of the words.  I did explain to her that there were a lot of words in the movie that I don't want her to say.  So far we're good.

As her book marathon Ella read the Addy American Girl series.  She has read almost the entire AG series and this was one of the few she had left to read.  Ella prefers the older AG books because they focus on girls in history.  She's read a few of the newer ones, but they tend to focus more on dancing or specific activities the girl likes to do.  Not really Ella's style.

We completed our 10 chapter books.  Ella read 6 on her own, and I read 4 with her.  The only reason I read a few with her is because I wanted to read them too!  We read How to Eat Fried Worms, which I thought was hilarious when I was a kid.  Ella's favorite was a book called The Mystery of Meerkat Hill.  We finally finished the 2nd book in the Little House on the Prairie series, and we read a Kate DiCamillo book (she's our favorite children's author) that Ella had actually read before and wanted to read it again with me, The Tiger Rising.  Now we are reading Harry Potter together...well, the first book.  Ella has never shown much interest in reading Harry Potter, and I've never read any of them, but she was asked by a cousin to give it a try.  We agreed to read the first book together, then she can decide if it's a series she wants to continue.

The only items we have left on our list are Make an Ice Cream Cake, Katie and Hal's wedding, and a Train Trip.  We look forward to checking those items off in the next few weeks!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Happy 9th Birthday, Ella!

On June 18th Ella had her 9th birthday party.  I know I say it every year, but I can’t believe she’s 9!  She’s such an awesome kid and so much fun to be around.

This year Ella decided that she wanted a Star Wars birthday party, and instead of activities, she wanted her friends to come over and watch Episode VII: The Force Awakens.  She picked out decorations and BB8 Birthday Invitations, and preparations were made.

The girls came over and we started the party with light saber building and a Padawan training class lead by Master Jedi Joe.  Even AJ joined in on the fun.  He was, by far, the most enthusiastic Padawan.

After their training class, the girls headed into the basement for food and the movie.  If I had to guess, they watched a total of 25 minutes of the movie before they decided to just play.  They played “mom and baby,” checked out all of the toys (which were mostly AJ’s since Ella’s big kid toys are in her room), and had a fashion show.  I just sat upstairs in the living room and listened to all of the activity.  It was hysterical!  And once again, I was beyond thankful for Ella’s friends.

The party ended with a giant birthday donut and presents.  This years party was simple and easy to plan, but the kids had a great time and Ella loved every minute of it.  She has decided that when she turns 10 it should be her last birthday party.  We’ll see how she feels about that decision as it gets closer.  In the meantime, I love having parties for her.  The parties remind me how far we’ve come and how, 9 years ago, we were told that we would be lucky to celebrate 1 birthday with her.

As a birthday bonus, our family friend, Ali, came to Ella’s school to read a special book to Ella’s class and talk about what it’s like to be an author.

Ali grew up in Casper.  She’s the same age as my brother.  In fact, she and my brother went to prom together.  After prom, Ali quickly became an honorary member of our family.  Ali has always been a fantastic singer and dancer, but recently she added author to her list of skills.  Ali is called The Story Lady and she often performs at birthday parties, local book stores and schools.  She tells stories, sings songs and gets the kids excited about reading.  Recently Ali wrote a very special book, “Butterflies Keep Flying.”  This book was inspired by Ella.  We are so honored that Ali wrote this book and are excited to share it with everyone.  If you’d like to order your own copy, you can get one here: Butterflies Keep Flying.

Ella’s birthday week ended on a high note with the beginning of summer vacation!  We’ve got our summer bucket list made and have started marking things off.  So far summer is off to a great start!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Memorial Day Camping Trip

Growing up in WY meant that my family went camping on a regular basis.  And because my dad likes to think he could be a modern day Mountain Man, we didn’t go camping in a tent in a camp ground like most people do.  We camped in a tee pee out in the middle of nowhere.  No bathroom, no sink, definitely no shower.  We brushed our teeth in the creek, we washed dishes in the creek, and we bathed in the creek.  Cooking was done over an open fire.  No camp stoves for us.  And we would go out for 4-5 days at a time.

Joe grew up on the beach, but always loved the idea of camping and would do it whenever possible.  As a kid he read the book “My Side of the Mountain” and claims that it changed his life.  From that moment on he was going to be a camping and hunting guide in the wilderness.  He even went as far as to go to a hunting guide training camp one year.  Needless to say, that career path didn’t pan out.  His love of the outdoors, however, is still strong.

When we got married we knew that we would go camping and take our kids camping.  Our wedding registry consisted of all of the items needed to make a camping trip successful…tent, mess kits, sleeping bags, lanterns, travel egg carrier, grilling tools, marshmallow skewers, etc.  We went a few times before Ella was born, but once she made her way on the scene life got in the way and the camping equipment started gathering dust.  We rented cabins a couple of times, and did some backyard camping trips (and basement camping trips), but nothing major.  No REAL camping trip.

It wasn’t her EB that kept us from going camping.  It was just life and logistics.  Where would we go?  When?  What time of year is best?  Then the next thing we knew, nearly 9 years had passed and Ella had never been on a real camping trip.

Well…that all changed this Memorial Day weekend.  Several weeks ago a friend had mentioned that a group of people from our church were going camping and they had some extra spots available on their campsite.  We jumped at the opportunity and cleared our calendar for a weekend of fun and camping!

I spent all day Thursday and Friday morning getting things ready and going shopping.  I did get pretty embarrassed when Ella and I were at the grocery store on Thursday afternoon stocking up on good camping snacks and junk food.  Suddenly I heard someone say, “Hi Ella.”  When I looked up it was Ella’s teacher.  I was immediately mortified!  Here we were with a shopping cart overflowing with more junk food than should be in any house, and I was so afraid Ella’s teacher would think this was how we really eat at our house.  Of course I started explaining the situation and she just laughed and said, “I think I see some fruit in there.”  Phew, so glad I threw in those strawberries, apples and grapes!

We loaded the car up on Friday morning and took Ella out of school early to get on the road.  As is usual in our area, traffic was terrible.  A trip that should have taken 2 hours ended up taking over 3.  Oh well.  We got there safe and sound and had plenty of time to get things set up before nightfall.

When we registered for our tent back in 2005 we chose one that, at the time, was a bit lavish for just 2 people.  It claims to be a 6 person tent with extra space for a “wall” if needed.  With air mattresses and clothing bags it’s not quite that big, but it was just the right size for our family of 4.  It held a queen size air mattress for Joe and me, a twin size for Ella, and even fit AJ’s pack-n-play.  We had just enough room to squeeze in our duffle bags and had a little strip of space to walk.  It was perfect!

The camping trip was a blast!  There were around 50 people including kids of all ages (AJ was the youngest).  Joe and I had a ton of fun chatting with all of the adults, and the kids had a good time being outside.  AJ was completely in his element!  He ran around and played in the dirt the entire weekend.  Fortunately I brought our little travel playpen, so I was able to confine him if needed, but most of his time was spent running around the campsite and exploring all things nature.  I was worried how AJ was going to sleep in this new environment with all sorts of sounds, but he was so tired from playing all day that he went to sleep each night without a problem and slept all night until the sun came up (5:30 am is REALLY EARLY).

There were only 2 downsides to the trip.  1) The heat!  The morning was perfect, when the sun went down it was fine, and sleeping was no problem.  But during the middle of the day with the sun blazing down, the heat was terrible.  It was so bad the first day that Ella sat in our van with the engine running and the AC blowing on her face.  The second day we took the hot part of the day as our opportunity to drive around and see some sights in the area.  Joe and Ella went exploring and took a stroll through the visitors center, we went strawberry picking (which was still hot, but at least we got a iced strawberry lemonade in the end), and Joe took AJ swimming which gave Ella and I the change to get some ice cream!  And 2) the ticks!  Ticks don’t usually bother me.  I’m cautiously aware of them and what damage they can do, but generally they don’t freak me out.  That said, this camping trip had ticks everywhere!  The first day Joe found one on himself, and I found one on Ella.  I have never been more thankful for bandages than when I saw a tick on her and knew that it hadn’t been able to get through the layers to actually get to her skin.  After that I put this thing called a Bug Band on Ella and didn’t find anymore ticks on her.  AJ got a complete tick check every time he got a new diaper.  Fortunately I never found any on him.  Every night we would take our clothes from that day and shove them all into a grocery bag and tie it shut in hopes that any ticks on our clothes would be contained.  When we got home all of our camping gear went into the living room on the hardwood floor where ticks were least likely to travel.  I spent the first 3 days home washing every single item that was on the trip with us.  And if I couldn’t wash it, it was put in the dryer long enough for the heat to kill any hitchhiking bugs.

We had such a great time camping and are looking forward to going again.  We learned a lot and while there are some thing we would modify, it was a great experience and I’m so glad we went!

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Jesus, Only You

My aunt tells the story of when everyone discovered that my dad could sing.  He was probably in the 3rd or 4th grade and she said that they were in their church children's choir and the director asked if anyone wanted to sing a solo.  Ronnie (dad) raised his hand.  According to my aunt, everyone kind of looked around at each other confused because no one knew if he could actually sing.  She said that when he opened his mouth the most beautiful sound came out.  Not only could Ronnie sing...he was really good!

Fast forward 70 years.  Every year Ella attends music camp at church, and every year she tells me that she can't wait until she's old enough to try out for a solo (they are usually reserved for kids who have completed the 4th grade).  She sings in the church choir for kids in 1st-3rd grades and every so often they will have a solo slot.  Well, a few weeks ago Ella came out of choir carrying some sheet music.  She explained that there was going to be some solos for their end of the year concert and she told Mrs. Beth that she wanted to audition for one.

This is where it's hard being a parent.  I love hearing Ella sing!  I think she has the sweetest voice on the planet!  BUT...the world is full of people who can't carry a tune, yet their mothers think they have the most amazing voice that has ever been heard.  Various TV shows are full of people who have spent their entire lives being told they are fantastic singers, only to have expert judges tell them that they can't carry a tune in a bucket!  And so my struggle began.  Encourage Ella to audition and help her practice as much as possible, yet keep her grounded enough that she doesn't get too upset if she doesn't get the solo.  I knew her competition...they were good...they were REAL good.

She practiced daily for 2 weeks.  I would peck out the tune on the piano and she would sing along.  She practiced in the car.  She practiced in the bath tub.  She practiced sitting on the couch.  She practiced while she was helping me cook dinner.  The girl seriously practiced!

The week came for her audition and I gave her a little pep talk beforehand.  We talked about how she had practiced as much as she could and as long as she felt good that she had done all she could, the results didn't matter.  And I emphasized that it was very important for her to be a good friend and if another kid gets the solo and she doesn't then she needs to be happy for them.  It's ok to cry and be sad, but it's important to not be mean and to support them.  She agreed.

Secretly, I prayed.  I prayed so hard that she would get the solo!  I prayed so hard that if she didn't get the solo that she would feel good about her audition.  I prayed the entire time she was in that choir room.

I picked her up after GA's (which meets after choir) and she came trotting out of the room without saying a word.  I anxiously waited for her to give me some sign.  ANY SIGN!  Nothing.  We just walked down the hall in silence.  KID!!!  You're tearing me up!  Finally, I asked, "How did choir go." "Good."  she responded.  Good?  GOOD???  That's all I get?  Just a plain, old 'good?'  Finally she said, "Well, I have good news and bad news.  The bad news is that I didn't get the solo I auditioned for.  The good news is that I got another solo and I'll be singing it in front of the entire church on Sunday morning!"  She went on to tell me the details about how Mrs. Beth announced that there was another solo opportunity to sing on Sunday morning with the big kids choir (4th-6th grades) and she asked kids to raise their hand if they were interested in auditioning for that solo.  Ella raised her hand, auditioned, and got it!  I was floored and so proud of her!  What courage!

Now if I'm being honest, I already knew she got the solo.  I direct the 4 year old choir at church, and afterward I usually just sit in the hall and talk with other moms until GA's is over.  This week as I was sitting in the hall, Mrs. Beth came up to me and handed me some music.  "Here," she said, "Ella got a solo.  She'll be singing on Sunday, May 22 in both Sunday morning worship services."  My heart was beating out of my chest!  Apparently, when she asked who wanted to audition, Ella's hand was the first one in the air.  I was so excited for Ella, but I wanted to hear it from her mouth, so I didn't tell her that I already knew.

Meanwhile, Joe was sitting and talking to some other dads in another area of the church.  Turner, a kid Ella's age, came out looking for his mom.  He was so excited because he had gotten a solo!  Joe's heart sank.  If Turner got the solo, that means Ella didn't.  He was happy for Turner, but already planning on how he was going to cheer Ella up from this disappointment.  Then, out of the blue, Turner said, "Ella got a solo too."

So here it is, without further ado.  Ella's solo debut.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

2015-16 Update

In the dictionary, under the word slacker, there is a picture of me along with the title of this blog.  I’m a slacker on updating.  I’m sorry.

Here’s a bullet update of what we have been up to this past year.

*We spent 2 weeks in WY!
*Joe and I went to Las Vegas for our 10 year anniversary!  While there we had our vows renewed by Elvis.  A dream come true for me!

*Ella started 3rd grade…how is this even possible?
*AJ started attending preschool and I (Katie) started teaching 3 year old preschool.  I never would have even considered sending Ella to preschool at 1 year old.  AJ, on the other hand, is such a social butterfly that he is simply not satisfied with moms company all day every day.  He needs to be around other kids his age.  Going to preschool has been really good for him and he really enjoys it.

*Halloween!!!  Ella was Princess Leia and AJ was Luke Skywalker.
*AJ broke his foot.  Seriously, this kid is all over the place with activity, so I can’t say we were really surprised.  Maybe we were surprised that it happened when he was only 1, but in all honesty, I don’t think this will be his last broken bone.  His favorite activity is to climb onto the arm of the couch and yell, “3-2-1 Blast Off!!!” then he jumps off of the couch arm and onto the seat.  This kids guardian angels are working overtime!

*Election Day - For the past 9 months Joe had been running for the Virginia State Senate.  Unfortunately he lost his race, but it was a fantastic experience and we are so glad he ran.  We learned so much through the process and had a lot of fun.

*AJ turned 2 years old!  We had a great baseball themed birthday party with all of his friends.
*AJ had his first preschool Christmas concert.  Before hand I was informed that he would either sit there like a deer in headlights, or stand up and throw his baby doll on the floor.  Fortunately he did the former.  He looked so cute in his red suspenders and bow tie!
*For Christmas we went to Texas and spent the holiday with my brother and his family, and my parents.  It was great to be together!
*While in Texas we went to see Star Wars Episode VII.  Ella was instantly hooked and can’t wait to get the DVD.
*It was at this time that Ella declared that she will no longer wear smocked dresses.  She thinks she’s too old for them.  I told her that she had to wear smocking one more time because she had a Christmas dress that perfectly matched AJ’s bow tie.  After that she never had to wear smocking again.  I’m a sad mom that this phase has passed.

*Back to School!
*I celebrated Elvis’ birthday by going out to lunch with some friends who are also Elvis fans.  This is becoming a tradition that I really enjoy!

*I took a trip to Georgia to celebrate Joe’s little sister who was about to have her first baby.  It was a great girls weekend away.

*Spring Break!  Ella declared that we are “lame” because we never go anywhere for Spring Break.  We tried to do one fun activity every day, so we weren’t stuck in the house.  But we didn’t do any exciting travel.
*Happy Easter!  It was another great celebration at First Baptist Church in Alexandria.  The Easter Bunny came to our house and brought special treats for the kids.  Notably, AJ got a Mickey Mouse lego train, and Ella got a Minions Fart Gun (what was the Easter Bunny thinking?).

*Star Wars VII DVD came out, so I surprised Ella by buying it without her knowing.  Within 5 minutes of bringing the DVD home and showing it to Ella, AJ broke our one and only DVD player.  Such is life with a very active 2 year old.
*We took our annual visit to Cincinnati.  Ella had surgery on her throat while we were there.  It was her first surgery with a new doctor, so we were all a bit nervous.  I’m happy to report that everything went well and she has recovered nicely.  She also had her yearly visit with the EB clinic.  She has had great weight gain (for the first time in several years) and her skin has been really stable.  Everyone was really pleased with where she is right now.

*I turned 39…how did this happen?
*The preschool year ended for AJ and me.  AJ will continue going to preschool summer camp for the next month while I stay home and take care of some home projects.

Ok, that should bring you up to speed.  Ella has about a month left in school, so we’ll start planning our summer bucket list soon.  We already have a lot of fun activities planned.

Both kids are doing really well.  AJ has started talking more and more.  He is constantly moving!  The only time he is still is when he’s eating or sleeping.  Ella is reading just as much as ever and is doing really well in school.  She struggles with math, but works really hard and is improving.  She is a fun kid to be around.  Joe and I are just doing what we do.  Life is busy but a lot of fun.