Thursday, August 30, 2012

Honor Flight Heroes

I spent the first few years of my life as a "military brat" while my Dad faithfully served in the US Army  stationed in California, Texas, and Germany.  Although I don't remember much of that time of my life, as part of that heritage I was taught from a young age to appreciate the sacrifices that our servicemen and women give in order to protect our freedoms. As a parent now I've tried to instill the same values in my own children. 

So last year when Adam's Cub Scout pack joined with two other packs and got involved with a program called "Honor Flight Network," I was thrilled.  I don't know the full extent of what Honor Flights does, but part of it is that they bring veterans from all over the country to DC to visit the monuments of the wars they served in.  For many of them, it's a once-in-a-lifetime trip  that is very meaningful to them.    Then to cap off their trips, Honor Flights also arranges for groups to meet them at the airport to clap and cheer for them. 

And that's what these Cub Scouts did yesterday for a group of WWII veterans arriving for their flight back home. 

Adam may have been a little shy about talking to the veterans....

but he was quick to make sure he shook hands with as many of them as possible...sometimes even running to the end of the line so he could shake their hands again.  :)

The smiles on the faces of the veterans (and the scouts) was priceless...

It was amazing to watch the lineup grow as many passers-by stopped to pay their respects as well (Spencer wasn't a passerby, but happen to have them on either side of him)...

It was a meaningful experience for all of us there...
and one I hope we will never forget. 


O beautiful for heroes proved In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved,
And mercy more than life!
America! America! May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness,
And ev'ry gain divine!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Plan B

It's getting to be THAT time of summer. 
It's the time of summer when all semblance of productivity or creativity seems to have flown right out the window with the final vestiges of my patience.   

It's the time of summer when the kids ask for computer time or a treat or a movie and I say yes without hesitation, just because it's easier than keeping an eye on them while they play outside or making the effort to find them a healthier snack. 

  It's the time of summer when any shred of a routine would be a welcome reprieve from the sleep havoc we've been wreaking on our bodies lately with the ├╝ber late nights and random wake-up times we've been keeping... if only I could roll out of bed before 8:00am to make it happen.      

 As mentioned in this recent post, I truly do enjoy having the kids home with me during the summer and I treasure the family memories we make together each summer, but there comes a day when I just have to say....

it's time for school to start.  

We've still got another week before it begins, so to assuage my guilt for being so lazy lately, I thought it would be fun to take the kids on a fun outing today.  I did the research, made the plans, bribed the kids to clean their room, packed lunches, and took them to Butler's Orchard so we could do our traditional  Labor Day weekend raspberry picking (a little early). 

Too bad I didn't read the fine print...

We'd traipsed over 30 miles to get there and it seemed too sad to just turn around and go home, so we opted for Plan B and decided to stop at a playground that happens to be not too far from the pick-your-own farm. 

The Adventure Playground at South Germantown Park is a humongous, unique playground that is fun no matter how old you are.  We've been there a few times over the years and it never fails to impress the kids.  

The younger kids ran, slid, jumped, swung, and in general had loads of fun burning off energy and exploring the humongous playland. 

It was a little toasty out there, but that did little to slow them down. 

On busier days, there's a line of kids for these super fun saucer swings, but we practically had the playground to ourselves today...

What's not to love about a swing built for a crowd?! 

Cami and her friends made the best of the unexpected detour by allowing me to snap some fun photos of them...

They only agreed though, if I promised to put them on the blog....

Which when you're as lovely--inside and out--as Cami and her friends, Katy and Ashley, it wasn't too hard to convince me to blog about them.   The three of them are great friends and it's always a delight when they hang out with our family.    In particular, I'm always impressed with how sweet and accepting they are of the younger kids.  That's an unusual trait in teens and truly my younger kids consider them to be their friends too. 
The cute guy in this picture thought the girls were pretty fun and cute as well, since he followed them around and "flirted" with them the entire time we were there.  It's a good thing he wasn't any older or Glen might have had to start shooing him away.  :)


Now I either need to get unlazy enough try raspberry picking again later this week or I need to stop daydreaming about homemade raspberry jam on my toast!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Baby Jack

A few weeks ago Ellie's primary teacher allowed her to hold his couple-month-old baby while he taught the lesson.  She was instantly enamored with baby Josh and ever since that day,  Ellie has been begging us for a new baby brother or sister.  We didn't beat around the bush telling her that that she would always be our "baby" and not to get her hopes up on that front.  Eventually she started begging for baby playdates instead.  She insisted that she just wanted to play with a baby and that she would fully take care of him while he was at our house. 

Once again, I had to squash her enthusiasm when I told her that most mommies didn't let their tiny babies play at people's houses yet and that babies were a little harder to take care of than it seemed.   

Luckily where her Mommy and Daddy were unable to help, Uncle Matt and Aunt Karey came to the rescue. 

On Thursday night, my sister-in-law Karey gave birth to a very prompt (on his due date) little guy.  It was a whirlwind delivery, taking place a mere 5 minutes after arriving to the birthing center, but he was healthy, strong, and big (8 lbs. 13 oz.) and they were inviting us to visit as soon as we could get up to their house. 

So, today we went to visit.   
...and we were all enamored.    It may be 7+ years past the birth of my last baby, but I still feel right at home snuggling a little newborn.  
Baby Jack slept almost the whole time we were there, which did nothing to dispel Ellie's notions that babies are anything more than cuddles and cuteness. 

None of us could  get enough of this little bundle of sweetness and we often found ourselves just staring at his tiny little features...

Even Spencer was in love, bragging that baby Jack was one of the cutest babies he'd ever seen in his life. Although I agree fully with Spence's assessment on Jack's cuteness, I think Spencer was extra in love because Jack's middle name is Spencer. 

The only one of the kids who showed no-interest in holding or ogling over Jack was Adam.  He came close a couple of times, once to see if his pointer finger was longer or shorter than baby Jack's foot (longer), but other than that just did his own thing and ignored all the baby talk. 

 Glen tried to convince Adam to try holding him by demonstrating  how it is properly done.  The demonstration did get the "baby" to laugh, but did not change his mind about wanting to hold a baby himself.

And the happiest kid of all there was Jack's big brother, Lincoln....

He was so mad at his Mom when, after experiencing some false labor, they came home from the birthing center without a baby.   Now that Jack is here though, he was all smiles and bragged about how his parents had chosen his favorite name for his brother.

I left their house with a huge smile on my face and feeling a little nostalgic, not only for the warm cuddles of a newborn and the entertaining conversations with a 4-year-old, but also for the comparative simplicity of parenting in those early years.  I'm not saying that those early years are easy by any stretch of the imagination, but looking back on those years from our current parenting standpoint,  they just don't seem quite as complicated as enforcing curfews, teaching morality, driving lessons,  and worrying every time they came home a few minutes late.    And even those seem downright simple compared to the life-and-death worry that has consumed us through most of this year. 

Afterward I was thinking though that Ellie might have been onto something...
....maybe a baby playdate every now and then is a great idea. 


Friday, August 24, 2012

Keeping up with the Crains: Vacation Memories and a Williamsburg Travelogue

I grew up in a family that not only adores traveling, but has made it into a competitive sport.  It's not that we were wealthy, in fact we were far from it, but it was important enough to my parents (my dad in particular) that they made it a priority.  Mostly we did roadtrips that brought us zigzagging around North America, driving through cities and states just to say we'd been there.  Then when I was 14 they'd saved enough frequent flier miles from my dad's business trips that they brought the whole family to Europe for a couple weeks.  We rented a bottom-of-the-line metal cargo van with utilitarian (a nice word for uncomfortable) seats and camped our way through 15 countries during one of the rainiest summers in European history.   It was miserable at times, but the trip truly ended up being a life-changing and amazing experience for us kids. 

By the time I graduated from college I'd visited 49 states and 19 countries and I felt like I was quite the world traveler.  But then it all fizzled out.  Nearly 20 years later and I am still at the exact same number.  We haven't even knocked off my one last unvisited state. 

One of my brothers keeps a spreadsheet  (seriously) that tracks countries visited by my family members.  I think he started it as a way to  keep track for fun, but it's turned out to be quite the competition fodder for certain of my family members.  Not me though.  Although I am the oldest, I am second-to-last on the list.   While my  brother, Nate, and sister, Heather, regularly plan exciting excursions around the world every-other-year or so and have been to nearly 50 countries.   Glen and I, on the other hand, have proved to be pretty sedate travelers.  Neither one of us really loves trip planning and we tend to stick to the same comfortable destinations over and over.    My younger kids don't even remember ever having flown on a plane.  

Our most common vacation destinations are:

Utah or Denver--because that's where our parents live. 
Idaho/Yellowstone--because that's where Glen's family cabin is
Minnesota--because that's where I grew up and up until a few months ago where my sister lived. 
Williamsburg, Virginia--because it's close to home and has a fun mix of different kinds of activities

Usually our idea of a daring trip is traveling a different route to get to a familiar destination.  Here are some of our more off-the-wall vacation destinations:

Philadelphia--we've lived 2 hours from there for 15+ years and have been there one time
Boston--we tagged along with Glen on a business trip there in 2007 and my kids still consider it one of their favorite vacations ever
NYC--we've been there a few times over the years
Outer Banks--although only  one state away, last week's trip there was actually our family's first trip ever to North Carolina
Pacific Northwest/California--one year my brother got married in Oakland, California, then two years later Glen's sister got married in Sacramento, so both times we just made it into a whole roadtrip around the area

I do have to interject here, that Spencer's Make-a-Wish trip will be to a country that no one in our family has ever been to before--a fact which excites me greatly.  I may be almost last in numbers of countries visited, but at least I'll have beat everyone to that one place! 

So with all that rambling on about my family's traveling habits, really I just wanted to show off some more pictures from our recent vacation.  Although we've been to Williamsburg a million times before, we actually discovered a few new treasures there this time.   Forgive the detail here, but since we travel here often enough I am hoping to keep track of some of these deals/places, to help us next time we go. 

First off we learned that our family is pretty spoiled when it comes to lodging.  Glen had researched beforehand and got what he thought was the best deal, which was a Knight's Inn in Williamsburg.  The kids started complaining as soon as we pulled up and with good reason.  It was dirty, had spotty internet coverage, had a laughable free breakfast of stale mini muffins, and because of our family's size we had to get 2 rooms in opposite ends of the motel.    We stayed there one night and basically decided that if we couldn't find somewhere better then we would just come home.  Luckily we found the Staybridge Suites in Newport News.   It was a longer drive to the sites in Williamsburg, but it had everything that Knight's Inn didn't.  It was clean!  The internet worked consistently!  The free breakfast was delicious and plentiful!  There was an in-room fridge and kitchenette so we could save money by not eating out!   And it had enough beds for our whole family to be in one room!   And to top it off, the nightly rate was cheaper than our 2 rooms at Knight's Inn.  We figured that with the lower rate, the filling breakfast, and being able to cook our own dinners, that we saved over $50 a night. 

And because it was in Newport News, it helped us to branch out from the same old Williamsburg sites we always do (Busch Gardens, the outlet mall, all the historical sites, etc.)


Virginia Living Museum--This very cool museum is in Newport News and had enough to see/do there, that we could have stayed there most of the day.   We stayed for a couple hours and watched a planetarium show,  before heading home.  There were discount coupons in the travel magazines, but with how big our family is, it turned out to be cheaper to just get a season pass.  We will definitely go back here again. 

There were aquariums:

Live animals to see up close (and even touch): 

A screech owl: 

There were walking trails with dozens of native animals to see:   

Another day we went to Go Karts Plus where we mini-golfed....

Spencer and Glen tied at first, then Glen won the tie-breaker...

LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this picture (even if Spencer is chewing on a straw)...

The kids enjoyed cooling off on the bumper boats

and they even rode a little mini-roller coaster, which Ellie thought was the coolest part about the day...

It was a hot day, so they enjoyed cooling off in this misting machine...


Newport News Park:
  A very large park, we could have stayed here much longer, but for the thunder that eventually came.  The kids enjoyed playing a rousing game of Frisbee Golf with Daddy. 

We also took a hike around part of a lake and got to see some wildlife, like these deer: 

And a whole lot of turtles...
We also saw redwing blackbirds, a humongous centipede, a real oriole's nest, dragonflies, salamanders, a woodpecker, a frog, and fish with neon green tails. 


Lastly we went to Fort Fun, a part of Huntington Park in Newport News.  Set right on the banks of the James River, it was a scenic spot for a children's playground.  Although not in the greatest part of town, it was fun and worth a stop to burn off some energy.  Storms were just about to roll in, so we had the playground to ourselves. 

All in all, it turned out to be a very fun vacation and maybe someday I'll stop blogging about it.  

But not yet. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Fleeting Summer Moments

It's been a good summer, filled with a whole host of fun activities (swim team, craft club, boys' club, boot camp, cupcake selling, lemonade stands, church camps, high adventures, etc),  but now those summer activities have ended. Our vacation is over.  The school supplies are bought.  Their new shoes and backpacks are tucked away in their closets.

Although there are still a couple of weeks before school begins again,  I can hear the kids' conversations turning more and more school oriented. 

"I wonder who my teacher will be." 
"I hope so-and-so is in my class." 
"I wonder if we'll get to eat the early lunch." 
"What outfit should I wear on the first day?"

No one mentions anything about homework or having to wake up early.  Right now it's all about the fun and social aspects of school. 

As we get closer and closer to the advent of the new school year though,  I am struck with the fact that I have very conflicted feelings about sending the kids out the door to school this year.  On the one hand, I can't wait to get back into a  routine again that involves kids falling asleep before 10:30pm and me accomplishing tasks without getting interrupted 63 times a minute.  But on the other hand, there's no two ways around the fact that I'm really going to miss them when they're at school all day! 

Sure, they keep me up late at night, make gigantic messes, and squabble like no one's business. 

But they also randomly write me sweet notes for no reason, play together for hours on end, try to surprise me with breakfast in bed on an almost weekly basis, and fill our home with a lot of laughter. 

All that with the knowledge that at the end of next summer we'll be dropping off Spencer for his first year of college and I know all too well that happy carefree moments like these are fleeting....

and I intend to embrace every one of them that I can. 

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