Friday, December 26, 2014

Merry Christmas!

We had a lovely Christmas, and I hope you all did too! Although we missed being with family this year, it was also really, really nice not to have to travel, especially since we were all just sick.  We needed a vacation where we just stayed home!
 We went to the Christmas Eve service at church, and I coerced everyone into a group picture, since we were all dressed up at the same time, a rare occurance indeed.  Unfortunately our church doesn't do a ton of decorating, so there wasn't really a Christmas-y place to take a picture, except in front on one pretty small tree that you wouldn't have even been able to see with all of us in front of it, and it was surrounded by people anyway.  So instead we opted for this lovely wall.

Bob and I stayed up way too late Wednesday night finishing up the wrapping and food preparation, and trying to get the main floor clean.  And it was clean--for one night at least.  My little Christmas miracle!

But our kids aren't the early rising type (whew!).  The girls got up at 8:00, and I got up a little later so I could start breakfast cooking and shower before nursing Verity (she's not an early riser either--yay!).
 Here we all are waiting for Nathan and Luke.  Drew and Micah would have still been sleeping at this point too, if we hadn't woken them up, and Drew did not take very kindly to the intrusion.  The day before, I had gone through the tubs of too-big clothes in Caleb and Jonathan's closet, and we found these big sleepers in there.  Nathan and Luke used to wear them, and Caleb and Jonathan decided they should wear them in a nod to Christmas morning tradition--everyone should open stockings in fleecy footie pajamas on Christmas morning, right?
 Before eating, we took this rather big selfie of all of us.  I saw on facebook that someone's relative had given "selfie poles" to people, and that is definitely what we need to get everyone in!  For breakfast I made cinnamon rolls and a ham/hash brown breakfast casserole.  I was worried about the cinnamon rolls because when I made the dough the night before, the jar I retrieved from the back of the fridge had a "use by" date of May, 2012.  Whoops!  Clearly I have not been doing much bread-baking lately!  It did proof, so I went ahead.  The rolls probably weren't as fluffy as they would have been with fresh yeast, but oh well, they still did rise, and they were yummy.
 While opening presents, we had the present-opener (going from youngest to oldest) sit in this special chair while everyone else sat on the couch and watched (except when they wanted a better look so they crowded around).  Here you can see Anna was totally thrilled to receive a pair of boots again this year--her big wish!

 Actually the system did work pretty well.  With this many people, and still so many young ones, there's really no great way for calm, orderly present-opening that doesn't take an entire day.  I like what my friend Carri, who also has 10 kids, does:  each kid distributes their presents to their siblings on one day (as in one kid per day), so the focus is more on giving than on receiving.  Maybe next year!  Probably the thing I enjoy most about exchanging presents is seeing what the kids choose to get their siblings.  They all love to get gifts for everyone else!  It was so helpful to have Nathan driving this year, so he could ferry some of the kids around.  
 Bob and I were really excited to receive these incredibly neat carved coasters my dad brought back from South Africa with him, as well as carved salad tongs with giraffes as handles.  If we have you over, I'll be sure to serve salad so you can see them, because somehow they didn't make it into the picture!

I actually received my favorite gift last Friday--a new dishwasher!  Yes, it *finally* made its way to Lowes while we were at Great Wolf Lodge, so Bob picked it up Friday afternoon after work.  He stayed up super late Friday night to install it.  I'm so thankful to be married to such a handy guy!  *He* is actually my favorite gift--this year and every year!  The dishwasher, a KitchenAid this time, is working well so far.  Give it a few months of our heavy use though . . .  I definitely do not miss washing all those dishes by hand.  A wonderful Christmas gift indeed!
 After presents, we sent the kids outside to play because it was a lovely 55 degree day.  Bob took them to a nearby field to shoot bows and arrows while I got dinner ready.  As we were waiting for dinner to finish cooking, my brother called--he and his girls were skyping with my parents, and they wanted us to join in on the call!  We got the 3-way skype to work (it's free now--up to 10 lines!), and we had a great visit.  My dad read the portions of Scripture that we always read in our birthday party for Jesus, and we sung the carols together.  Not as good as being together, but better than nothing!  My sister-in-law Melinda was not there.  She was with her brother who had flown out to TX to visit them, along with her parents.  But her brother had to be admitted to the hospital Christmas Eve, and will need surgery there in Texas, it looks like.  We're praying for him, but also for all of them, with all the decisions that need to be made, and with an unfamiliar team of doctors in a different city.
In this somewhat out-of-order picture, Drew and Micah are proudly displaying their gifts from Nathan and Luke.  Back in 2000, the Winter Olympics were held in Salt Lake City.  We were still stationed in Colorado Springs, and for Christmas 2000 we drove to Salt Lake City to spend Christmas with my Aunt Claire and Uncle Jim, and my Nana and Papa, who were living with them.  My parents drove out from Ohio, and my brother came from CA, and we were all together for such a wonderfully happy Christmas--never to be repeated, since Papa died the next spring.  He and Nana gave Nathan and Luke these bears, with symbols for joy and peace, from the Olympics.  Nathan and Luke loved the bears, but the past few years, they have lived on the top shelf of their closet.  So Nathan and Luke decided Micah and Drew would probably really enjoy them, so they gave the bears to them for Christmas.  The bears have a new life!  I love that Micah and Drew have a connection to the Nana and Papa that they will never meet this side of heaven!
 Verity is modeling a headband from Aunt Ann, who also gave her 2 very adorable hats!  Verity was watching us play a new game for us, Pandemic.  I heard good things about the game on the Well-Trained Mind board, and I really liked it a lot.  The premise is that there are 4 different plagues sweeping the globe, and you have to work with the other players to cure/eradicate the diseases before the outbreaks overtake everywhere and humanity is lost.  So instead of competing directly against the other players, you are all working to defeat the diseases.  It was fun!
And lastly we sang "Happy Birthday" again to Jesus, and ate birthday cake in his honor.  This is a ceremonial picture with our giant spatula.  This spatula was a gift from our friends Jerry and Louise.  Louise actually won the spatula a few months ago because she is an excellent cook and won a chili cook-off at our church.  Alas, they simply could not find a use for this practical utensil, so they generously passed it along to us.  We like to take pictures with it because it is really funny.  Actually, we did finally realize the perfect use for this spatula--flipping over a turkey.  On Thanksgiving, I like to roast the turkey breast-side down for the first while, to keep the white meat moist, and then flip the bird over so the breast isn't a sickly shade of white.  The boys and I struggled to turn the 24-pound bird over, and after we had accomplished the task, albeit not very gracefully, we realized that what we really could have used was a gigantic spatula--AND WE HAD ONE HANGING FROM OUR POT RACK!  So next year, we will be ready.  In the meantime, the giant spatula just gets ceremonial shots.

Merry Christmas!  May you all be able to find places in your house for all the gifts you unwrapped!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Christmas Break!

We've actually been on break since last Friday, after I taught the last Latin class for this year.  It hasn't been all that relaxing of a break so far, however, because we've been battling some head cold/fever thing.  My friend Emily posted this article to my facebook timeline, and it definitely describes our house, except that we're really not sick all that often.  Except right now.  And we're all passing the germs around.

  But still--we're on break!  And Wednesday at 11:00 we left for Great Wolf Lodge with Rivendell!  After we stopped for lunch, Luke drove the big van for the first time the rest of the way to GWL.  Now he is in complete agreement with our assessment that the big van is the most fatiguing and uncomfortable vehicle to drive.  He did great though.

Once again we had 2 rooms.  It works really well, with the younger 6 in with me, and the 4 older boys with Bob.  Unfortunately, I was not at the top of my game, packing-wise, since I really wasn't feeling well at all on Tuesday or Wednesday.  After we checked in and had pulled around to the door closest to our room, I told everyone to bring inside whatever they had in the van.  At that moment, it dawned on me that I had completely forgotten Micah's and Drew's blankets, even though they were clearly written on my list at home.  Oh, I just wanted to go home right then!  My head hurt, my nose was dripping, and the idea of a sleepless night of temper tantrums was more than I could bear.  Luke said he was sure it would be okay, because the boys would be so tired and they would just go right to sleep--but I knew that over-tired boys could certainly go the other way, into full-blown tantrums!  So the whole trip started off with a deep sense of dread for me.

 The waterpark wasn't too crowded, and everyone had fun.  We hardly saw the older boys at all.  The 3 girls hung out with Elena or Abigail.  That left Micah and Drew to go between the kids pool and the wave pool, while I followed with Verity in the stroller.  I wore my swimsuit bottom but just a regular t-shirt that whole time so it would be easier to nurse.  I knew I wasn't going to be getting all wet!

We left about 6:45 to go to Golden Corral for our traditional dinner.  The McC's called ahead--4 families, 30 people!  I will be glad when all our kids can go through a buffet line by themselves, though.
 Here is Caleb McC doing his famed re-enactment of the classic Beowulf and Grendal with gummibears.  Everyone was quite enthralled with his epic story-telling.
 We got 10 sets of fuzzy wolf-ear headbands, one for each kid.  I meant to get a picture of the older boys wearing them, but somehow that didn't happen . . . Drew looked really cute in them though!  This is Drew in his pajamas, and I am so pleased to report that in fact Luke's assessment of the situation was accurate--Micah and Drew miraculously fell right to sleep without their blankets with no fussing at all. Whew!  Such an answer to prayer!

 Thursday we paid for a late check-out of one room, which was nice, because after I nursed, I went back to sleep while Bob did all the breakfast stuff and took everyone down to the waterpark.  It was great for Verity to have one nice nap in her pack-n-play, since she didn't really have a good nap the entire rest of the day.  Drew and Micah came back up mid-morning, and they would have been pretty happy to just stay in the room, playing on the ipad, for the rest of the day, had that been an option.  Micah melted down when we packed up all the stuff in the room and told him he had to put his swimsuit back on!
 Here Drew is demonstrating his lovely cooperative attitude, with Jonathan modeling it alongside, just for good measure.  The little boys were definitely done by lunchtime!  It will really be nice in maybe 5 years, when all the kids are good swimmers, and no one needs an afternoon nap anymore!
 Look, a picture of me, to prove I really was there!
 Here's our group photo that a nice lifeguard took.  She took one on Christine's camera, and also one on Michele's.  For Michele's picture, she waited until the big bucket was dumping all the water--that shot will definitely make the yearbook next year!
One last family shot in the front of the fireplace in the lobby, which looks really evil and haunted in this picture, but is actually really nice and cozy.  It's sad to think Nathan won't be at GWL with us next year!

We left at dinnertime and drove straight to Cracker Barrel for dinner.  The Cracker Barrel is actually right next to the Golden Corral we ate at the night before, and Caleb was lamenting that he didn't ever even remember eating at Cracker Barrel.  We used to stop there fairly regularly on long trips, and Nathan remembers always ordering the kids chicken and dumplings meal, but then not eating very much of it, because as it turns out, he doesn't love their chicken and dumplings.  It just sounded good whenever he ordered.  He must take after his grandma and her great love for the idea of clam chowder!  Anyhow, we had a delicious dinner, even though Micah kept telling us he didn't want to eat--he just wanted to go home.  And eventually we did make it home around 10:30.  Today we're trying to dig out from the huge pile of stuff we dumped in the entryway last night and then ignored completely!

Sunday, December 07, 2014

The End of the Road

Our 2000 Honda Odyssey has served us faithfully for almost 15 years now.  It went over 200,000 miles last week.
Back in 2000, the redesigned Odyssey was a very hot commodity.  We knew about them from the internet, but there weren't any in Colorado Springs to even test drive.  We had to drive up to Planet Honda in Denver to see one in person, and it was the lowest stripped-down model.  That didn't matter--we loved the van, and we knew it was what we wanted, since it was the first Japanese full-sized minivan.  So we put our name on the waiting list at a few Honda dealers, and we had to wait 3 months to actually get one.

Planet Honda gave us a call, and we happened to be on our way to Utah to go "camping".  Bob was stationed at USAFA as an air officer commanding, or AOC, the officer in charge of a squadron on cadets.  USAFA was on spring break, and we had planned a trip to Arches National Park (where we "hotel-camped" with the L's--hey, we brought crockpots and made our own meals!) and then on to Salt Lake to visit my aunt, uncle, and cousin.  So we packed up our Pathfinder, drove up to Denver, waited around for several hours to do all the paperwork (L's waited patiently with us, even watching Nathan and Luke for us).  Finally we got the keys, transferred all our stuff to the new van (so much room compared to the Pathfinder!!) and drove off to Utah in our brand-spankin' new van.
Here is one of the scrapbook pages from that fun trip.  You can see us having a picnic out the back of the van!  Also, you can see Nathan and Luke as toddlers.  Look familiar?

We put a lot of miles on the trusty minivan, PCSing to Ohio and just traveling around the country visiting family and friends.  Eventually we PCSed to VA in 2004, and when Anna was born in 2006, we filled up the van.  So when we found out the shocking news that we were expecting Grace a year after Anna was born, we knew we would have to find something new for us all to fit in.    We ended up heading to Laurel, MD, where the Carmax dealership sells new Toyotas.  We bought a 2007 Sienna in what had to be the smoothest, most-hassle-free car-buying transaction ever.  I love, love, puffy-heart love the Sienna.  We decided on it as opposed to another Odyssey because it had 3 full seats in the middle row, seats that all could fit carseats, since obviously we had a lot of carseats to fit, and the middle seat in the Odyssey was a little one.  I still love driving the Sienna.  It is a wonderful van.  We have had absolutely no trouble with it, while we did have to replace the transmission on the Odyssey.

Anyhow, when we bought the Sienna, the Odyssey became the second car, racking up 10 miles of driving a day, to and from the bus stop for Bob's commute.  And eventually we had Faith and needed to buy the big van.  Once Nathan started learning how to drive, however, the Odyssey came out of its life of retired leisure, as he became its primary driver.  It faithfully carried him to cross-country meets, Civil Air Patrol meetings, college-related interviews, and even down to VMI where he drove himself to an overnight.  But it was definitely showing its age.  Then we had to get a yearly inspection for it right before Thanksgiving, and it failed soundly.  It needed at least $2000 in repairs, and that just didn't seem worth it, especially when there were other things, like really squeaky brakes, that also needed some attention.  But what would we do??  We really need 3 cars at this point, with all the running around everyone is doing, and especially with Nathan taking classes at the community college 3 days a week.  And we still need the flexibility of 2 minivans, since we still have so many people to transport.

So we started thinking about buying another minivan.  We pretty much assumed that we would head back up to Laurel to buy another new Toyota Sienna.  We wanted to buy a new one, since we were planning on having it for many years, and many, many miles.  Used Siennas are still expensive!  But before we drove up to MD, Bob wanted to check out the price on a new Sienna from the dealership that works with Costco.  Saturday night Bob, Verity, and I went to that dealership and met with the Costco guy there.  We were not that impressed with the Costco price--not anywhere near as low as the Carmax price--but what I was surprised at was how not impressed we were with the actual Sienna itself!  The new Siennas have a really little middle seat in the middle row.  It's too narrow for a carseat (and not flush with the outer 2 seats--it's a lot lower), and it's also too narrow for an adult/teen to sit there.  Also, it's physically attached to the left middle row seat, so it doesn't come out by itself.  So what you have is a seat that is only useful for kids between the ages of 8 and maybe 12 that you can't take out if you can't use.  Honestly, we couldn't figure out what car designer from what planet figured this Sienna design was a step forward.  The 2007 one was so perfect!!!  (Note to potential used Sienna buyers:  Toyota redesigned the Sienna to this new crappy design in 2011.)  We left the dealership very disillusioned.

Just for due diligence, Bob had also contacted the local Honda dealership that works with Costco.  We decided that since we were out, we should swing by there to see what the new Odyssey looked like.  I had very low expectations, since I knew it used to have the non-carseat middle seat.  When the salesman showed us the van, however, we instantly fell in love.  What a great van!  So many neat features!  And a middle row that can fit 3 car seats!  So after some hours of negotiating, we agreed on a price last night.  This afternoon we dropped our old Odyssey off at Carmax, where amazingly they gave us money for it.  Then we headed back over to the Honda dealership where after 2 hours of waiting and signing papers, we got the keys to a new Odyssey!
So out with the old, in with the new.  I can only hope that this new van will be as faithful as the old one!  In the meantime, we have tons of new-fangled computer-y things to figure out.  Bob will be driving it to and from the bus stop during the day, and then we'll use it to ferry people around in the evenings and on the weekends.  The kids can't wait to ride in it!  Micah and Drew don't realize I'm not really planning on moving their carseats into it though, LOL.

In the meantime, I used all the time this weekend that I had planned on writing an anatomy exam to shop for cars.  Tomorrow is going be a long day!  I feel like I need a weekend to recover from this weekend.  Only 1 more Rivendell until Christmas break . . . We did also buy a dishwasher last weekend, although so did everyone in VA, so we're not going to actually get it until maybe Dec. 15.  So that just leaves cell phones/plans to shop for.  And all the rest of our Christmas presents . . .

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Happy Birthday, Drew!

Drew turned 2 on Sunday.  I can't believe it's been 2 years since Drew was born!  He definitely thinks he is a big boy now.  When we came home from our trip to Ohio this summer, he stopped sitting in the high chair.  He's talking up a storm now.  If only he would show the slightest interest in potty-training.  Next summer for sure . . .
We already had his cake at Bible study 2 weeks ago, but we did have ice cream Sunday night.  Drew seemed a bit thrown by the "birthday" concept, although he was all about the ice cream!
He really wasn't sure what to do with his presents.  Finally he opened them with some help.  We got him this little train thing which folds out and is really cute.
I also dug around in closets and found this blow-up F-15.  We actually bought a bunch of these back in December 2000 from the USAFA gift shop before we PCSed from there (I found the receipt in the bag!).  This one had been blown up before and was just stuffed back in the plastic store bag, being saved for . . . this moment, I guess.  Caleb blew it up, and Drew really likes it, even though it doesn't look like it in this picture.  I don't expect it to last all that long, as I seem to remember the other ones deflating after not too many days of play.  We used to have F-16s in Thunderbird colors, as well as F-15s.  As Nathan pointed out, you can tell how old this is, since F-15s are obsolete now.  How nice to be able to recycle gifts like this!  Practically antique!
And here's a bonus picture of Verity, just because she's a sweet cutie!  So happy and smiley, and such a good sleeper!