Saturday, July 25, 2015

Must Have Been Friday . . .

 . . . because we were once again making a trip to White Sulphur Springs!  Somehow we managed to maximize our trips to WSS this summer.  Nathan went up for 2 weeks after we got back from TX (although the L's brought him up--thank you!!), and we picked him up on a Friday.  That Sunday Caleb and Jonathan had to be up there, but this time Amanda L. was looking for more practice driving hours, so she and Ed took them up (THANK YOU!!).  They got picked up the following Friday, and just I went up, although I still took the girls to swim practice in the morning, so I left a lot later and got there just in time for lunch, completely missing Caleb and Jonathan's zip line trips.  But I got to eat lunch there, visiting with Kim U and Amy M, so that was definitely not a wasted trip!  Then Anna and Grace had to be up there on Sunday, 2 days later.  And they got picked up yesterday.  At least we had to drop off Nathan and Luke for 2 more weeks as well yesterday, so we don't have to go back again on Sunday!  We've definitely been burning up I-70 between here and there this month, though.

Yesterday we really wanted to make the zip line, since it was Anna and Grace's first time at camp, and I knew Grace for sure would be apprehensive.  Their time was at 10:00, which meant we had to leave by 7:15 to make it.  We also brought up another boy who is on Luke's staff, and I felt bad that he had to get up so early to go with us, since they technically didn't have to be there until 2:00!

We did make it there right at 10:00, and we watched 7 campers whiz down before Anna went.  She confidently zoomed down, and then it was Grace's turn.  She spent the next at least 10 minutes, maybe longer, on the platform, being encouraged by the counselors, as well as her large familial cheering section down below.
She eventually made it all the way to the edge of the platform, but I really didn't think she was going to going to ever let go.  I thought she was the last camper (there were only 10 kids last week), but then I realized there was actually one more boy waiting *very* patiently down below the platform.  At that point, I pretty much told her to fish or cut bait because people were waiting, and so lo and behold, she let go and zipped away.
Nothing bad happened, and she arrived at the end in one piece, just as we had all assured her would happen!  I don't really know what she was so afraid of, because she goes on all sorts of big roller coasters at the amusement park, and she has no problem there.  Maybe just the actual act of stepping of, since in a roller coaster, they do that for you?  Who knows!
Dailey took this picture of the kids and me, since all 10 kids were together for a few minutes.  Now Luke is on staff, and Nathan is there for 2 weeks as well.  He'll be doing special projects for the first week, then going on AOX for the second week.  AO is an outdoor adventure time, with rapelling, whitewater rafting, ropes courses, etc., and AOX is a special invitation-only week for seniors who just graduated, with a focus on discipleship.  I'm so excited to hear what he learns!

In the meantime, it's hitting home that just one week after Nathan and Luke get back, Nathan will head off to college.  That's hard to think about!  I miss having him and Luke around in the evening to share funny things with.  Drew was so funny yesterday.  We ate lunch at Taco Bell about 30 minutes down the road.  When we were standing in line, he was looking around the restaurant, and he got all excited.  "Look!!  There's Lukey!!" as he pointed to a Taco Bell employee sitting on his break at a table with his back to us.  Well, no, Pumpkin, we left Luke at WSS . . . he's not actually working here at this Taco Bell.  Although the guy was young and had short brownish hair, LOL.  So while Faith, Micah, and Drew were VERY happy to have Anna and Grace back, they were not at all sure it was a good trade to lose Nathan and Luke.

Friday, July 24, 2015

10 Months Old


This happy girl is 10 months old today!  She's gotten in 2 more top teeth, for a grand total of 6, and having those break through seems to have solved her diaper rash issues.  She is happily eating all table food, which is definitely helping her put on weight.  I haven't actually weighed her since we were at Dan and Melinda's (and I never did get in for a 9 month well-baby appointment.  Oops.), but I am confidant she is gaining, because she seems a lot chunkier.  She nurses happily first thing in the morning--and then sometimes one more time during the day, but usually not.  She's not angry about it; she just smiles, turns away, and flat-out refuses to nurse.  So technically she is still somewhat nursing, but who knows how long I can keep up with once a day feedings.  That is bittersweet for me, since I've been nursing for so very long, but it looks like the end is in sight for my nursing days.  Weird to think about!  She's still taking a bottle with no problems.  I need to get out the sippy cups again.  I tried her on one earlier, and she could not get the hang of it, LOL.  She just sort of chewed on it, which is exactly what her oldest brother did as a baby.  I bought at least 5 kinds of sippy cups, trying to find a spout where Nathan would figure out that he needed to suck on it, not chew it!  He took forever to get the hang of straws too.  Ah well, look how far he's come.  I have hope for Verity as well!

Verity is also walking, albeit unsteadily.  She took her first steps in a row on the Monday Nathan and I left for his orientation, and I was so happy to be able to see them! She had taken one or 2 before, as reported by various kids, but never confirmed by me.  She can now make it all the way across a room with those wide, wobbling steps of the new toddlers.  If she does crawl, she looks like Mowgli doing the Elephant March, with her rear in the air and her knees of the ground.  Occasionally she'll put her knees down, but she doesn't prefer it.  She's one of my earlier walkers.  Caleb was also walking before he was 10 months.  I've been thinking about this.  Verity and Caleb's birthdays are separated by only about 6 weeks, and both of them were ready to start standing and taking steps in the late spring--when babies stop wearing socks and shoes, footed sleepers, etc. all the time, and start going barefoot.  I think that helps my babies anyhow start walking earlier.  Verity is always looking for more things to get into, and she has become really speedy at going up the stairs.  I need to spend some dedicated time working with her on turning around to go downstairs.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Orientation

 Nathan and I just had some mother/son time--2 days of orientation!  We drove down Monday night and stayed at a hotel so we didn't have to get up super early to drive Tuesday morning.  As it turned out, we could have either slept in that morning or driven down then, because we did not have to get there as early as we did!  We arrived and parked, getting over to the student center by 8:30.  Nathan registered, picking up a cheaply made string backpack that broke a few minutes later filled with a nice t-shirt (which he is wearing above) and some other trinkets.  I registered as well and paid for my room and 3 meals on campus.  We stopped in at a coffee for the Corps of Cadets, where we met the AFROTC officer and chatted for a minute, and then we wandered around the resource fair, picking up more trinkets for a long time, since we didn't actually have to be at the main intro session until 10:30.  Ah well, live and learn.

The morning session was pretty peppy, and I have gotten very cynical in my old age, as it turns out.  Well, actually I was never that enthusiastic in crowd settings before either, LOL.  Several people gave speeches, and I was very impressed with their speaking skills, since they didn't use notes.  Eventually 30 of the peppiest, cheeriest, most enthusiastic students on campus came up to lead the new students around in groups.  They all trotted off to eat lunch and have their own presentations.  We parents got box lunches which we could eat anywhere.  I sat on a comfy chair in the student center and read the book I brought, The Sports Gene:  Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance, by David Epstein.   What an interesting book!  I can hardly put it down!  I gave my AP biology boys for this year a choice of a few books to read over the summer, and this is one of them, so I thought I should read it too.  It gets great reviews on Amazon, and I have not been disappointed!

After lunch, we parents went back in the ballroom (I sat in the back half of the room because the chairs were more comfortable and also spread slightly more apart--I was sandwiched closely between Nathan and a large guy during the morning session!) for more presentations by a wide variety of people from every different office you can imagine on a college--resident life, police, dining services, student advocacy, counseling, medical center, financial aid, etc.  There were 12 presentations in all over 3 hours, with 2 ten minute breaks.  It was grueling!  I got the sense that the administration really cares for the students and wants them to succeed, though, so that was nice.  Honestly though, I felt like the presentations were geared more for helicopter-type parents (although they say they never use that word!), because they were just full of a lot of info that I really had never even thought to be concerned about or even really cared all that much about, and that is pretty much all somewhere online.  When I think about going through this 9 more times, I make a mental note to sit in the very back and read my book, LOL.

Eventually Nathan and I met back up again, and we went to a session introducing us to the Corps.  There was no peppy cheerleading here, so I felt a lot better about it!  I really like the Corps, and it really seems like they want each cadet to succeed as well.  They showed a graphic with the average cadet GPA the first year back in 1992 being a 2. something (3 maybe?  I should have written it down), and that has trended upward, with last year it being a 3.1.  They really help the cadets learn how to manage their time, and what they're doing seems to be working.  Plus, as speakers in the other session kept emphasizing, you have to make the big university become smaller by finding a support group of close friends--that is provided in the Corps.

Then we headed off to an engineering orientation meeting.  It was good, but I don't remember any details.  I was pretty hungry by this point, LOL.  Actually, what I kept thinking was, "I am SO glad I'm not pregnant!"  Ha!  Finally we were able to make the long trek back to the van where we got our overnight stuff and checked into our 2 dorms.  The parents stayed in a renovated dorm with air conditioning and these humongous rooms.  I think the rooms were literally twice the size of Amy's and my room in college.  And each room had a private bathroom.  Nice!

Nathan and I met up again for dinner in the main dining hall, which has a bunch of different stations and is all-you-can-eat.  It was super-crowded and a bit overwhelming.  I was really hungry, so I just looked for the shortest line and got some Indian food.  One point everyone made a zillion times was how great the food is there (ranked #1 in the nation!), and the head of the dining services even said, "If your student comes home at Thanksgiving and doesn't eat your food, it's not our fault!"  I have to say my tikka masala is better than theirs, LOL.  But it was nice, and I could see that they have a ton of variety, so no one will get bored with the food.  I did note the next morning at breakfast that they do not have Cocoa Puffs as a cereal option, as good colleges should, so I could not give it my highest approval, unfortunately.

The dining hall was really crowded so we asked a family if we could share a table with them.  They were super-nice, as actually all the parents were that I interacted with, and we sat around chatting for another half an hour after our kids left to meet up with their groups for more games/fun.  Then I went back to my room, where I sat in the absolute silence and read for a long time, interrupted only by phone calls with my mom and with Bob, and with texts from Amy and Luke.  It was sooo heavenly!  I skipped out on the "parents reception" with a cash bar and everything for this time of peace and quiet, and it was so totally the right choice for me!

The next morning we ate breakfast and then Nathan had his advising session.  He was in a room with a bunch of other engineering students, each at a computer.  The department had pre-registered everyone for classes, based on AP/DE credit.  Nathan came in with 30 credits, so that helped.  He was most delighted that his 4 on AP lit got him out of both semesters of freshman writing!  He'll be taking chemistry, multivariable calculus, intro to engineering, his Corps/ROTC classes, and a lit class (because they have to take some classes from different areas to be well-rounded).  The speakers the day before mentioned a dozen times as least "Moms and dads, you WILL be separated from your sons and daughters during their advising sessions", as if that was going to be hugely distressing or something.  There was an advisor or 2 circling the kids in the room, helping whoever had questions, and it was fine.  Nathan and I had discussed beforehand some things he might ask about, but I really wasn't worried at all that he wouldn't be able to deal with anything that came up.  I went to a parents of engineering session, with another good extemporaneous speaker who was pretty funny as well.

Then we headed off to get all the ROTC stuff in order.  Lots of paperwork, fittings in the tailor shop, etc.  While Nathan was busy there, a cadet took up parents over to see a room.  The cadets will have to be 3 to a room for awhile, because the new dorm they are constructing is not yet finished.  The rooms will be . . .  tight . .  with 3 beds, dressers, and desks in there.  This picture is from the doorway.  One bed is lofted, with a desk and dresser under it.  The closet is on the right, past the sink.  
 This picture is taken from the window, and you can see the other 2 beds bunked, with one desk in the middle of the room, and one desk against the wall (where the boy is sitting), and one dresser under the bed.  The third dresser is in the closet.  The commandant of the Corps said they are having "Operation Light Load" when everyone moves in, with everyone encouraged to bring the absolute minimum!  Fortunately new cadets don't need all that much, since they can't have anything decorative, any civilian clothes, etc.
 So then we did some running around, picking up Nathan's computer, getting his student ID card, etc.  While he was finishing that, I drove over to Taco Bell and picked up lunch, which we ate in the car as we were driving home.  We ended up leaving a little after 1:00, and we got home around 6:00, with evening traffic.  Just in time for me to go to a swim meet!  Back to my normal, loud life, LOL.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Cinnamon Rolls

I wanted to share Elizabeth's cinnamon roll recipe on here.  This way it will be nicely typed out, even for me, since what I use, I hand-wrote on the back of a piece of scrap paper a million years ago (okay, not really, but it seems like it)!

I'm not the best at yeast doughs, but this recipe has always turned out well for me.  Plus it tastes delicious!  I usually make these at least for Christmas morning, which is definitely something the kids look forward to.  The recipe makes up 2 big pans of rolls.  The dough fits well in my Electrolux Assistent and Elizabeth's Bosch, but it would not fit in a KitchenAid, I don't think--for sure not a 5 qt. one.

If I was one of those fancy food bloggers, I would have a bunch of artistic pictures of a cinnamon roll from different angles and in different stages of preparation, but I'm not--and the pan Anna made on Thursday is long gone, so I no longer have any "models".  Alas.  You'll just have to make your own!

Elizabeth's Cinnamon Rolls

1 c. warm water
2 tsp. sugar
2T yeast
1 c. flour

Proof together for 5 minutes.

4 eggs
1 c. water
2T salt
2 sticks butter or 1 c. oil (I used 1 c. coconut oil)
3/4 c. sugar
9-10 c. flour

Mix these ingredients into the proofed mixture.  Add 6-7 cup of flour slowly, then the last few cups, so that your dough doesn't end up too dry.  Knead for 7-8 minutes.  Cover and let rise for 1 hour.

Punch the dough down, and divide in half.  Roll out each half as thin as you can in a rectangle.

Melt 1 stick of butter; spread on dough all the way out to the edges.
Mix up about 3/4 c. sugar plus 1 tsp. cinnamon, and sprinkle all over the rectangle.
Roll up from he long side.  Use dental floss to cut off 1 1/2 inch slices.  Place on greased cookie sheets or jelly roll pans.

At this step you can go a few different directions.  You can let the rolls rise on the cookie sheet for another hour and then bake them.  You can refrigerate them over night, letting them come to room temperature in the morning for about 30 minutes before baking them.  Or you can even freeze the rolls, putting them back on a cookie sheet and letting them thaw for a day or so before baking them.  That's what I usually do with the second pan, in an attempt to discourage gluttony, LOL.

Bake them at 350 for 15-20 minutes.

Frosting (probably enough for both pans)

2 oz. cream cheese
3T butter
1 tsp. vanilla
2 c. powdered sugar
1-3 T milk, depending on consistency

Or if you don't have cream cheese, just use 1 c. powdered sugar, 1 tsp. vanilla, and enough milk or orange juice to make a good spreading consistency.


Thursday, July 02, 2015

Summer Accomplishments

I go into every summer with a big list of organizational things to accomplish around the house, and each year it seems like none of them get done.  This summer I'm taking a different approach, and assuming my house will remain just as messy and unorganized, since there are still all these people living here, many of them still in prime mess-maker mode.  Instead, I've got some other more long-term rewarding projects going on.
First was potty-training Drew.  I knew that when we came back from Texas, this was my big shot at it, since we have a few weeks where we're not making a big trip.  I told him over and over before we left for Texas that when we came back, he'd be wearing big boy underwear.  He started peeing on the potty fairly often, especially down in Texas, when he was getting in and out of his swimsuit 10 times a day, LOL.  I think that really helped get him used to the whole idea.  Then last Friday the L's came by to pick up Nathan, since they kindly offered to give him a ride up to WSS with their family.  Elizabeth also dropped off a big bag of Theodore's underwear that he had outgrown--even the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle ones.  Micah was quite impressed with this sacrifice, and he was more than willing to pass ALL of his underwear down to Drew, since he had this whole new bag to choose from.  So Monday Drew started wearing underwear, and he hasn't looked back!  He's had 3 little accidents since then, which is really quite good, and the whole business was quite painless this time, I have to say.  Yay!  Drew's favorites are either Thomas the Tank Engine or Cars.  Hard to pick a favorite from those 2 good options, LOL.
Swim team has been taking an inordinate amount of time.  We have kids in every possible age bracket for morning practice.  Micah starts off from 7:30-8:00, then Faith and Grace are from 8:00-8:30, then Anna and Jonathan from 8:30-9:15, and then Caleb from 9:15-10:00.  I have never been so happy to have Luke not be swimming, so at least I don't have to cart Verity and Drew around the whole morning. Since the pool is about 10 minutes away, and no one wants to sit over there for 2 1/2 hours, I usually end up making 3 round trips.

Micah is the wild card.  Our team decided to offer a "junior swim team" this year for kids who couldn't make it across the pool.  They just had to be 4, which Micah turned not long before registration.  I was hesitant, given Micah's history of balking uncooperativeness, but Bob thought a summer of swim lessons sounded great, so we signed him up.  The only problem is that his practice is the earliest, and it's always the coldest.  So there are all these scrawny little kids crying about getting into the cold water, and Micah is right there with them (ETA:  Bob wanted to be sure to point out he is definitely a ringleader, not just a follower, LOL).  When he does get in, he does great with his little kickboard.  I just hope he will go through enough practices this year that he will get the idea of his arms working too.  If it looks like it's going to be cold or rainy in the morning, though, we've started just not taking Micah.  That makes the other practices just work out better.  Hopefully next year he'll be in the 8:00 slot by being able to cross the pool!

This morning, since it was after a meet, they didn't have a regular practice.  Instead, the little kids dove off the diving board into the waiting arms of their coaches.  Bob dropped Micah off this morning on his way to work, and he called to tell me he didn't think Micah would jump at all.  But when I got there to pick him up and drop off the girls and Jonathan, he had in fact jumped off 5 times! He was pretty proud of himself.  We'll see what tomorrow brings . . . I think it's supposed to rain.
Everyone else is doing really well.  Caleb and Jonathan are doing well, although Caleb is not thrilled about moving up to the 13 and up age bracket, where it seems like everyone else is huge and muscular, LOL.  Grace has really made huge strides.  She has been winning her freestyle and backstroke races!  Anna is an excellent swimmer too, although this year she's the younger year of her age group.  Also, she's had to learn the butterfly, as well as work a lot on breaststroke, her least favorite stroke by far.
This is Faith's first year on swim team, and she's doing great too!  She's just learned the backstroke, and she is so cute when she does it.  She pulls to the left until she hits the lane line, then corrects a bit, until she arcs back over to that left lane line.  It's a scallop pattern, LOL.  But when she figures out how to go straight, she'll really take off!  In last night's meet, the first time she swam backstroke, one of her coaches was in the lane with her, just in case she had trouble, but she didn't have any (aside from hitting the lane lines, LOL), easily making it across the pool.
Another rewarding project I've been working on is cooking with Anna.  She's really wanted to do more cooking, and she loves watching cooking shows on youtube, but I have not had a ton of extra time to teach her during the school year.  So far this week we've made some jam-filled cookies, banana muffins, and today's project of cinnamon rolls, using Elizabeth L's recipe.  They were just as delicious as they look!  She is really improving in reading through the recipe a few times, instead of just throwing random things in willy-nilly.  I don't know what tomorrow's project will be, but everyone else in the house is really enjoying the fruits of her labors!

We've also been doing some school to finish up some things for some people, and to do some new things for others, like Micah.  He has seemed really interested in learning to read, but again, I just haven't had a ton of extra time during the school year.  This week I got out the old "Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons", and we've started plugging through that.  He has watched the Leapfrog Letter Factory video a bunch of times with the girls, so he already knows a lot of the sounds (love that video!).  After doing a lesson or 2, I give him some letters to trace.  When Nathan was preschool age, and I desperately wanted to do *something* to show I was homeschooling, my friend Suzanne recommended taking an Usborne beginning handwriting book, tearing out all the pages, and laminating them, so the kids could just write on them over and over with a dry-erase marker.  I did that with 2 books (a handwriting one, and a space connect the dots one), and all the kids have loved using them.  Best thing I ever did, for sure!  So I got those out, and Micah and Drew have been having a ball each morning with those.  We'll see if he maintains his interest.  If not, no big deal.  He's having fun right now though!

So my house is still cluttered, messy, and unorganized.  To paraphrase my sister-in-law's sign at her house, "My house was clean for Nathan's graduation party on June 6 . . . sorry you missed it!"  But other important things are getting done, things with more lasting value.  Now I just need to fit in time to plan for my classes next year . . . I guess that will be July's big project.  Sigh.  I am not looking forward to diving back into it all again one bit!

ETA:  Oh, I almost forgot an accomplishment I'm so excited about!  I finally finished my snapfish photobook about our space-a Hawaii adventure from back in February 2014!  I think I started it over Christmas break, but it's taken me forever to finish.  One reason is because I incorporated my blog posts into the pages, so I had to deal with text boxes, and text in tiny fonts, which I couldn't take in big sittings.  But now it's on its way, and I can't wait to see it!  I hope it's a wonderful memory of a wonderful trip.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Happy Birthday, Nathan!

 Nathan turned 18 on Wednesday!  Like they say, the days are long, but the years are short.  I can't think of anything more rewarding I could have been doing for these past 18 years than raising him and his brothers and sisters.  Nathan is a huge blessing to our family, and we are certainly going to miss him when he goes off to college in August.  In fact, anytime he gets ready to go anywhere for at least a night, Faith asks, "So wait . . . this isn't when Nathan goes to college, right?  He's coming back this time?"
 We did not do too much celebrating on his actual birthday.  We did treat him to a shopping spree at Walmart, though--everything he could find on the new cadet packing list!  So now he has a big tub of random items up in his room, which really makes it seem real that he is in fact heading off in the not-too-distant future.  Bob and the other kids were at a swim meet Wednesday evening, so Nathan picked out a box of frozen barbeque pulled pork from Sams, and we had pulled pork sandwiches for dinner that night.  Thursday night we grilled chicken for his actual birthday dinner, as you can see on the special "Celebrate" plate above.  It was yummy!

Nathan didn't get too relax too long--Friday he left to be on staff at White Sulphur Springs for a few weeks.  I'm sure he's having a fantastic time there, as always, and we are missing him more than he is missing us!
 We've come a long way in 18 years!  This is a picture from December, 1997, when Nathan was dedicated at our church in Colorado Springs.  Bob and I were so young!  I had no idea at that time that 18 years later, I would still be changing diapers and nursing.  Probably better I didn't know, LOL.
Nathan is almost 2 here, still in Colorado Springs.  As you can see, he looks a lot like the rest of our kids.  We have a strong stamp, LOL.

One thing I have been remembering these past few weeks is my wonderful moms' walking group at Peterson AFB.  At some point a few months before I was due with Nathan, I noticed a flyer for this walking group up at the USAFA maternity clinic, where I went for appointments.  I started walking with them three times a week, and that group of ladies was such a wonderful support the rest of the time we were in Colorado. I really valued their friendships!  Three of us ended up having our babies in 3 days in 1997--my friend Gemiel had TJ on June 22, I had Nathan on June 24, and another girl, Mary, had her baby 6 weeks early up in Denver also on June 24 (she had been hiking in the mountains, and her water broke early).  We had a super-fun combined 1 year birthday party for the 3 babies the next year!

It is funny to look back and remember what a huge difference a few months of baby age seemed.  Jennifer had her first back in December, I think it was, and she became pregnant with her second not long after I joined.  She was so much wiser and more experienced, it seemed to me.  Felicia had her daughter a few weeks earlier in May, so Samantha seemed huge compared to newborn Nathan.  Dawn had Fredrick a few weeks later than Nathan, in July, and then it was Nathan's turn to seem huge and so old in comparison.  I am friends on facebook with Jennifer, Felicia, Gemiel, and Dawn, and it has been so fun to keep up with their kids, all of whom are graduating this year--a few months or weeks really makes no difference at all, LOL.  They're a great bunch of kids, though!  

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Cousin Fun

The kids have been having such a fun time here in Texas with their cousins!
Friday afternoon Melinda took us to "Safety Town" in a neighboring town's fire station.  I was expecting something where the kids climbed on fire engines and stuff (and there was a fire engine they could sit in), but it was so much more!  They have built a literal little town, with 4 blocks of little buildings, crosswalks, stop signs, cross walks, roads, etc, and they have 15 of those battery-powered jeeps for the kids to drive.  So the kids sit through a little presentation where they are reminded to stop at the red lights, stay in their lane, drive courteously, and so on.  Then they get to drive around this little town for 15 minutes.  Micah and Drew were too short to actually be the drivers, so Micah rode with Grace and Drew rode with Anna.  Faith was by herself, as were Emily and Elia.  The girls had so much fun driving!  There were definitely some boys who treated the whole thing like bumper cars, LOL, but it was a great program.  The girls would have loved to drive longer!
And of course there's the pool in the back yard.  The kids have been in there several times a day each day except yesterday, when we had stormy weather from tropical storm Bill.
The pool is big enough for all the kids, and it's set up just perfectly for a wide range of ages.  On the far end is a large flat "sunning" area, which is perfect for Drew especially to splash around in.  He and Micah also like to play in the "hot tub", which is not actually any hotter, but has a bench all around it so it is not too deep.
They also have a bunch of fun floatie things, like this airplane.  Micah has really loved this little ring.  In that, he kicks around the pool wherever he wants to go.  I will be glad when he learns to actually swim, though--hopefully by the end of this summer.  He's on the "junior swim team", so essentially he's having swim  lessons for June and July.  Of course, he can be not so cooperative, and the water was pretty cold in VA before we left, so he hadn't made any great strides, LOL.  But hopefully when we get back . . . he and Drew are both really enjoying the water here in Texas!
Faith and Elia are 2 peas in a pod!  They have such similar personalities.  They are so funny!
Poor Verity was not an initial fan of the pool, even though she was surrounded by her doting helpers, Anna, Caleb, Faith, and Elia.  When Caleb and then Luke held her, she was happier.  The next day I went in the pool too.  I held her at first and then put her back in her little boat, and she was okay with it then.  She was so cute in her little Winnie the Pooh suit and sun hat!
Drew has been really enamored with an alphabet puzzle they have here.  These are his favorite letters, along with an actual carrot because who knows why.  You will notice they are all food pictures--nuts, jelly beans, waffle, ice cream, carrot--and then "footprints".  The first time he did the puzzle, he called that piece "chocolate milk", so I guess in his mind, it does go along with the whole food theme.  Now the footprints piece is missing, so hopefully it will show back up again.
Tuesday night after dinner the younger kids and I headed over to a local park with Melinda and the girls.  It had a really nice playground, with lots of things to do, so it was a good way for the kids to burn off extra energy, since they hadn't been able to swim a lot that day either.  Yesterday they couldn't swim at all, and we really noticed a difference in how wound up and bouncing off the walls all the kids were last night!
Grace called this an "action shot".  At the base of this pole a little frog lived, the discovery of which caused great excitement.
Here is a picture of all the cousins except Nathan, taken right after church on Sunday.  We parked and as I came in the door, I told everyone I wanted to get a picture--but the girls had already started changing in to their swim suits!  I told them to change back into their church clothes for just a few more minutes, LOL.  The 5 girls really look like they are all related.  They all went to a local vacation Bible school this week in the mornings, and when Melinda would walk them all in, everyone thought she had 5 girls close in age, and commented on how busy she must be!