Thursday, July 31, 2014

Being Intentional

"Quality of's what we all are working on, right? Every day...although we call it being intentional."
~Kelle Hampton

I have this excerpt from one of my favorite blogs written on our refrigerator. I read it many, many times a day, and it is a good reminder that life doesn't just happen. There are always choices. Always new beginnings. It's all just a matter of the tiny choices. The small steps. The almost unnoticeable moments when the tone is set and the dominoes start to fall.

One of the gifts of this blog is that it has made me more mindful. It has helped make more tiny choices and whispered prayers. The short, two words prayers that are more about shifting my heart and perspective a million times a day.

This week, my focus has been Unrush Me. It hasn't always been easy. When the kids are taking twenty million years to get dressed, it's hard. The rewards, however, have been huge. I made the choice to make the kids pancakes yesterday morning. They asked, and I wanted to say no because of the to do list twelve miles long. But I said yes, and I saw their eyes light up. It's not about the breakfast. It's about them knowing that they trump the to do list. And I still made it through the whole list yesterday. I've found that when I slow down and am really intentional about each choice, time seems to go a little slower. The frenetic energy, apparently, was a major time sink. Who would have thought?

I'm still a work in progress. Unrush Me will stay written on my board for a long while. But I am have been so blessed by the answered prayer this week, and we are all the better for it.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Little Farmers

Last night, we went to the our little farm. With our crazy July schedule, this was the first time we've been there this month, and I didn't realize how much we all missed in until we were there.

Apparently, July was crazy for everyone. Ours was fun crazy--the farm not so much. Our pony, Lady, died of old age a couple of weeks ago. No one saw it coming, although we probably should have considering she was 30. The other really bad news is someone stole the chickens. Only 6 are left from the nearly 40 we had. They even took the whole kennel of chicks we had been raising. It was not happy news for the kiddos. But...they still found 3 eggs from the six that are left.

Once we were all caught up on the happenings, we set to work. I was paired with another woman to work on our pollinator garden. It's so important for the farm, but it was looking pretty rough. The farm manager wants to put new pathways in so we can get rid of the grass pathways, which will hopefully cut down on some of the weeding and beautify the garden. So...we spent the entire evening tearing out grass, laying brick, and then putting composted soil in between the bricks. The plan is to plant fuzzy, wandering thyme in between the bricks. It should be beautiful, cut down on weeds, and provide plenty of thyme for everyone. I wish I had taken before and after pictures, and I might next time I go (at least the after). We didn't finish the whole thing, but the main path is finished!

Meanwhile, the kids went off with Miss Erika and Miss Sandy to work on the orchard. We are working to establish a guild garden there, filled with plants that will help each other and bear the most fruit possible. The trees are established, so last month we spent hours taking down the cages and clearing the grass from near the base of every tree. If I never see chicken wire again it will be too soon. Last night, though, the kids got to help with the fun part. They planted flower bulbs and strawberries around the bases of the trees. Every once in a while, I would look across the garden and see them digging or watering. They were always busy, though, and I didn't hear a peep from them. They also harvested all the beans and lettuce.

As we were filling our basket with okra (I'm attempting gumbo this weekend), beans, potatoes, onions, garlic, lettuce, cucumbers, and eggs, they told me all about the work they had done. They were so excited to see some of what they planted being harvested. As they ran off to tell the animals goodbye, Sandy told me that they really have gotten to be good little farmers. She said they were truly helpful and did most of the planting themselves with her just supervising. My heart sang.

When we joined the farm, we hoped the kids would come to appreciate where their food comes from. We hoped that they would learn to appreciate hard work and delayed reward, and we hoped they would love just being outside in the dirt. It seems that they truly have embraced all of those hopes, and I couldn't be more thrilled.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Unrush Me...

Unrush me.

That is my prayer and my focus this week. Although summer should be a lot less stressful and hectic, I always find the opposite to be true. I think it's the lack of consistent schedule. Each week is a little different based on camps and everything else, and I tend to set too many goals for things I will accomplish in the summers. Too often, I find myself just trying to get through the day, and that's not how I want to live my life.

I also know I set the tone for our home. If I'm frantic and grumpy, so is everyone else. I want to exude joy--not grumpiness. It's a choice. All of life is just a series of choices. So...I'm choosing joy. One choice at a time. At least I'm trying.

I saw a necklace through my devotion site that is beautiful, and in tiny font it reads, "Unrush Me." As much as I would love the physical reminder, I'm also very content with the sentiment and grateful that it came into my life at the perfect time. I have written it in the corner of my white board as a reminder, and today I am choosing to slow down, focus on one thing at a time, and choose joy.

Monday, July 28, 2014

School Here We Come!!! wasn't really my original plan, but we are all ready for school! Evan found out who his teacher is last Wednesday, and with that information he was ready to get his school supplies. Issa is still waiting to hear, so the plan was to just go get Evan's backpack and lunch box Friday on our way home from Issa's last day of math camp.

Our plan was to start with lunch at the mall, but Issa noticed that Children's Place was having a big sale and thought maybe we should get the first day of school outfits. So we did. It was the first time I have ever actually taken Evan shopping, and I was shocked what he chose. I'm sworn to secrecy, but he is going to be the most adorable kindergartener. Issa's outfit is just Issa--that's all I can say about that.

After lunch, we went to get the backpack, and I laughed so hard the whole time. There is nothing like taking my two totally different children into a store and watching. Issa ended up getting her backpack and lunchbox, too, and they are just so them. I think we tried on every style in the store, and they couldn't be more different. Again, though, I am sworn to secrecy!

With all of that accomplished, Issa decided we should just finish the shopping. Who am I to argue? We aren't fans of crowds, and we had the school aisles to ourselves. The lists are checked off, and everything is all packed and ready to go! We start school on August 25, but there will be no frantic shopping around here. I am one happy mama....

Friday, July 25, 2014

Evan's Year in Review

The website I have always used to create the kiddo's year in review slide shows is no longer. Insert very emotional mama here. I've spent way too much time investigating other options, and finally finished Evan's montage last night, although I now have to wait for the dvd to arrive to share it. Creating the montage always brings such intense memories of the year and everything not captured in the images. And so, as always, my letter to Evan...

Oh, Little Man,

This has been quite the year. Although you will always be my baby, there is no baby left in you. You have entered the world of little boy at warp speed and with great gusto. Some things remain so familiar. You are still always on the move. I have pried you off of more perches, told you to get down off of more things, and said, "walking feet" more often than I ever imagined. You are my fearless adventurer, and I am so grateful my more grounded eyes get to see the world through yours.

You are also still always building something. Legos have become your very favorite toy, and I love that you no longer look at the directions. You just build--usually some kind of weaponry. I'm still adjusting to that one, but I know it is just a part of you.

Even though you are a weapons expert (and I mean that--we have checked out the entire military section of the library this year), you have the biggest heart. You give the best hugs, and you are so aware when other people are sad. You love to help me, especially in the kitchen, and sometimes I can really see you being a chef. You love making people happy, but you have enough of an edge to make it in that world.

You insist you are going to be a super hero some days, though. You love the Red Ranger and Captain America, and I love that you are ready to save the world. Other days, you insist you are going to build medical devices like Daddy. Buddy, he is one hell of a role model. Watch him. Learn all you can. I see so much of him in you, and I am so grateful for the relationship you have with him.

This has also been the year when you searched for your thing. We tried soccer--a dismal failure. Baseball--not your thing. Basketball--great except for games. You have now found ninjitsu, and you are in love. Little ninja, I love that you have this talent. I love that you have an outlet for some of that energy. More importantly, you are learning lessons that will serve you well. Ninjitsu is the way of the heart and sword. In Japanese, that combination stands for endurance and determination. That is you. You can have laser focus, which will serve you well. I don't know where your path with lead, but I know you will go boldly, and I can't wait to watch who you will become.

More than anything, though, right now I see your Granddaddy in you. You were named for him, and although we couldn't have known it at the time, there is no more appropriate name. As I reread the stories he has passed down to us, I see the ornery little boy you are now. The one who would rather be outside exploring than doing his chores. I see the stubborn streak I know so well. You have the same steel in your eye that he gets when the conversation is over. Lord help me. I see his razor sharp wit and the ability to love fiercely. You have his moral compass, his love of adventure, and his strength. I see it already. Baby boy, it's everything I wish for you.

Some days, as you are entering this new stage, these traits I love drive me to distraction. The battle of wills have been epic. But know, at your very core, that I love you with every fiber of my being. I will be behind you whatever path you walk, and you have two great men walking before you. Study them. Learn from them. Then walk your own path, little man. You are off to take on the world...

All my love forever and always,

Your Mama

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Office Distractions

Yesterday, I walked across the hall to talk to someone and came back to find this:
 There is nothing that stops any productivity quite like a small boy dancing on your desk.

Issa is in Math CAMMP this week, so Evan has been hanging out with me in my office. They are both pretty sure they have the better deal. Issa is having a blast doing math with 45 other girls. Evan is enjoying playing in my office and hanging out with me. He loves doing his workbooks while I do my paperwork, and he plays his Nabii while I work on my computer. Throw in a few Kinexx in the office and it's his idea of paradise.
Oh the cuteness. I have no idea how I am going to work without him next week. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

First Stripe!

Our little ninja earned his first stripe last night:
He was so excited! Ninjas earn stripes for focus, listening, and learning skills. Once he has three stripes, he will work towards the next belt. He couldn't have been more proud, and when Nana congratulated him, his response was, "Thank you. I had to work very hard for it." And that is why I love ninjitsu...and my little ninja.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

First Love

When we brought home Neela, we were a little concerned Viv would become second fiddle. She doesn't play as much, and let's face it: puppies are way funnier than dogs. Suffice it to say, we needn't worry:
Viv is still very much Evan's first love--so much so that he actually asked me to take a picture of the two of them. There really is something about a boy and his dog.

Monday, July 21, 2014


After a wonderfully exhausting week away at a conference, I came back home Friday night. I was able to get on an earlier flight home, which meant I was able to go out to dinner with my people. I missed my people. 

Saturday, we spent the day settling back in and running errands, but Sunday the kiddos and I headed out to see "How I Became a Pirate:"
The musical was based on one of their favorite children's books, and it was a perfect show. A great time was had by all, and now we are settling back into routines, and I'm back to work. Just as it should be...

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Wild, Wild West

Thursday night, we returned from 11 practically perfect days in Arizona. We decided to take a family vacation out to see where Brad's office is and explore all that the area has to offer. Before we left, we only booked hotel rooms, a trip via train to the Grand Canyon, and a rental car. We left everything else wide open, which gave us an amazing amount of freedom. It was bliss to plan our days without prearranged schedules or a check list of things we had to see. When we checked into the hotel, we raided the tourist brochure stand and just planned one day at a time.

We flew in on Monday, and stopped by Daddy's office to meet all of his colleagues. They are all lovely people, and it is so nice to have faces to put with names! We then checked into the Residence Inn:
 Having a kitchen made a world of difference! As soon as we were unpacked, we headed to the grocery to stock lunch and snack options. We even decided to just cook dinner in the hotel that night and settle in after a long day of travel. After dinner, we had to go swimming. It was what the kids were most excited about for the trip.

Tuesday, Daddy had to work, and the kids and I headed out to hike in Watson Woods:
 They were none too sure of this "woods" when we arrived. Once we found the path in, though, the hike improved. Soon, we were at a dry creek bed that provided ample opportunities for climbing:
 And log riding:
 And lizard spotting:
 By the end of our mile and a half hike, they had decided this woods might be pretty cool after all:
 Next year, we hope to hike all the way to the lake that is out there!

Tuesday afternoon, we headed back to the pool:
 In fact, we went swimming every day except the day we went to the Grand Canyon. We have fish for children.

Tuesday afternoon, we picked Daddy up from work and headed out to explore downtown Prescott. It is such a cute little town:
These little gnomes guard the new grass, which I find tremendously entertaining:

 We also found a great homemade ice cream shop:
 There was no way Issa was letting me get that picture of her:
 That night, we picked up pizza from Brad's favorite local place and then headed back to the hotel...and of course went swimming again.

Wednesday, Daddy was able to take the day off to hang out with us! We spent the morning at Heritage Park Animal Sanctuary, which is right there in Prescott. All of their animals have been rescued, and we were there to see this big bear eat his breakfast:
 He was watching for the keeper to walk up the sidewalk. As soon as he saw her, he jumped down and went to his den so she could arrange her food.

We also saw everything from eagles to raccoon, from lizards to mule deer. But the highlight was Cassie:
 We were able to see Cassie eat breakfast, too, and we all learned a lot about tigers:
 It truly was a memorable moment to see such a powerful animal "hunt" and eat.

Wednesday afternoon was spent swimming and enjoy the hotels barbecue dinner. By Wednesday night we headed out to Prescott's rodeo, which is the oldest continuously running rodeo in the world:
 The kids were enamored with the horses and cowboys, and the program did a great job explaining how the events factored into real ranch life. There is just something so right about an evening that starts with the National Anthem and a prayer. The rest of the evening featured some great riding and some epic falls, all supported by a rodeo community that appreciates the skill. The rodeo allowed some riders to rerun the event--not to score better--but simply to have the chance to show what they could do.

Thursday morning, we packed up bright and early and headed north:
Brad made this drive when we was interviewing, and he wanted us to see the views from 89A. We drove through Jerome:
 Unfortunately, Issa and I didn't do so well on the windy roads, and Issa now equates Jerome with vomit. You'll have that. Fortunately, we rebounded in time to appreciate Sedona:
 We had headed out early so that we could have breakfast at L'Auberge, which was where Brad went when he made this drive:
 The food was phenomenal, but eating creek-side was the highlight:
 The kids loved watching and photographing these ducks:
 We did a little shopping at some of the artsy stores in Sedona before driving farther north through more breath-taking views:

 Thursday night, we ended up in Williams, which is where the train would take us to the Grand Canyon the next day. We did another grocery trip to stock our room at the railway hotel and enjoyed another meal in the room, and, of course, we went swimming.

We thought there was no better way to spend the Fourth of July than at the Grand Canyon, and the Grand Canyon Railway was the perfect way to get there! Before we boarded the train, we went to a Wild West show at the end of the platform, and to our great delight Daddy was the one to get roped into the show!
 They asked him to play poker in order to win breakfast money since the gang's ma was in jail. After sufficiently mocking his "purse" and short pants, they declared him a card cheat and prepared to shoot:
 Thankfully, the Marshall arrived just in time to save the day. The kids and I were thoroughly amused, and the kids were very happy to pose with one of the gang afterwards:
 We boarded the train and were thrilled to find that each car has a guide. He was able to tell us all about what we were seeing and help us prepare to make the most of our time at the Grand Canyon. This is the Sleeping Man Mountain range (his head is to the left):
We also discovered that they had live musicians playing guitars and singing throughout the ride. It was a beautiful ride, but nothing was quite as amazing as arriving to this:
 Now, the Grand Canyon is a little rough for someone who is terrified of heights--like me. I spent the first hour just sure that the children were plummeting to their deaths if they were within six feet of the edge. This about cause me to hyperventilate:
 Thankfully, Daddy is fearless. We were all shocked by the complete lack of wall around all but a few feet of the canyon:
 We ate lunch in a cafe overlooking the canyon, and then we walked the Timeline Trail, which was easily our best decision. Every large step along the Southern Rim is a million years, and as you walk it guides you through the rock layers from the bottom of the canyon up. They even have viewing tubes to help you spot it in the canyon and samples you can touch:
 We walked the whole 2 billion years:
 And we were able to see the Colorado River (the triangle in the middle of this photo):
 This picture takes my breath away in so many wonderful ways:
 Just as we were leaving a storm came across the canyon, which was amazing:

 I even made it within a foot of the edge by the end of the day! Next year, we plan to spend more time there and actually go down into the canyon.

Soon, we boarded our train for the ride home. These pictures capture some of the little silly moments I loved about our week. Evan and Daddy teasing each other:

 Issa telling us stories and amazing us with how much she knows:

 And...we saw two herd of elk on the way back! I was desperate to see elk in the wild, and we finally did.

Just when we all thought it couldn't get any better, the gang from the morning managed to get on board:
 Thankfully they are kindly bad guys who pose for pictures:
 Please note, Evan will not hesitate to tell the Marshall exactly where the bad guys are:
 We arrived back just in time to catch the Williams Fourth of July parade--down Route 66:
 How cool is that? And...somehow we scored parade space right across from the grandstand:
Did I mention Williams is an incredibly small town? The MC owns the local music store, and apparently he knows every one in town. Brad and I were cracking up as he announced the floats. Not only did he mention what organization sponsored the float but he greeted every person on board by name. Our particular favorites were when he apologized to one driver for missing lunch and confirmed a lunch date for later in the week with another. We also decided at least half of the town is his neighbor. It was priceless, and the kids loved the small town feel and the pockets full of candy they brought home.

Arizona is too dry for fireworks, but the kids did learn who Smokey the Bear is:
 Saturday, we packed up car and headed back south. We had a fabulous Tex-Mex brunch on our way out of town, complete with live music. I may be ruined for all other Tex-Mex forever. This time, we drove Route 66 through Flagstaff. We had heard about the Museum of Northern Arizona, so we planned to stop there. When we arrived, we discovered they were hosting the Hopi Festival! We were able to hear live music from the tribe, learn about their traditions, see their weaving and crafts, and make a few crafts of our own. The highlight of my day was sitting at the craft table with a little boy who was about ten and a member of the Parrot Clan of the Hopi Tribe. He was so excited to share his culture, and I learned so much.

We left there to explore a volcano that is in Flagstaff. We thought we were headed to the park, but the GPS actually took us to the foot of the volcano via some dirt roads. It wasn't the trek we planned, but it was so fun--except for the couple of times we wondered whether the Impala would make it. It was gorgeous and another happy accident.

From Flagstaff, we headed further south to the Blazing M Ranch. It used to be a working ranch, and now they host cowboy dinners and a music show. The brochure over-sold the pre-dinner activities, but the kids were amused to put Daddy in jail:
 The coolest pre-dinner activity was a real roper teaching the kids how to rope a steer. We were really impressed by how detailed his instructions were--right down to which way your thumb points at various times. Issa, always the dancer:
 Evan initially roped himself:
 But he finally got a hay steer:
 After a tractor ride, we settled in to play horse shoes until dinner:
 Our little buckaroos:
 Dinner was served from what looked like a chuck wagon on tin plates with tin mugs. We had chicken, ribs, baked potatoes, baked beans, rolls, and prickly pear coleslaw. (Side note: I am now addicted to prickly pear anything. Prickly pear lemonade is heaven in a glass.) It was delicious, and it was followed by a truly wonderful concert:
 They sang true cowboy ballads, many of which I remember from growing up. The kids were in love. One of the very final numbers somehow captured our life raising our two kiddos. They sang Ghost Rider, and the same roper from earlier rode a beautiful palomino while riding a ghost costume around the outside of the dining hall. The strobes made him look like a ghost rider circling the hall. Evan thought this was the absolute best part of the evening. Issa was scared to death. Thankfully, she recognized the hat and we were able to logic it out before bed time.

Saturday night we headed back to Prescott, and spent Sunday recovering a bit from all the adventure. We went to a local breakfast place that used to be a train depot for a great brunch, and then we went to see How to Train Your Dragon II in a theater that may have ruined all theaters forever. Imagine leather recliners and a ticket and concession price half of what we are used to. Brad has announced he will be seeing many more movies in Prescott. That evening, one of Brad's coworkers invited us out to his house for dinner, and we had a lovely evening. Their home looks out over Thumb Butte, and it was a beautiful place to enjoy a meal.

Monday morning, Daddy headed to work and the kids and I set out exploring. We started our morning at Granite Creek:
There were plenty of stones for skipping. We then went to the Sharlot Hall Museum, where my children proceeded to astound me and every docent we met. The museum is a series of historic buildings from Arizona's territorial days, and when we walked in, each kiddo was given a scavenger hunt of questions to answer. The lady explained we should expect to spend 45 minutes to an hour to see the whole museum. We started in an exhibit about prehistoric life in Arizona, which was really interesting, and I stood back while Issa read to Evan and I answered the occassional question. We had the museum to ourselves, which meant they could wander and explore to their hearts content. We were able to see the first governor's mansion, which is a log cabin, and the docent there was incredible. She started by explaining that the cabin had been build when Lincoln was president. When she asked if they knew who that was, Issa responded, "He was president during the Civil War," and Evan chimed in, "He freed the slaves." Well then. Even I was a little surprised, but she ratcheted her talk up a bit and we learned a ton about the time period and how the cabin was built. We also saw an exhibit about the early days of the territory including the railroad, homesteaders, ranching, and Whiskey Row. We ended our tour in the fifth governor's mansion, which was a beautiful Victorian home. All said, we were there two hours. They were just little sponges! When we turned in our scavenger hunt, they each received a piece of candy, but I also said they could pick something out from the gift shop. Evan chose a set of lincoln logs, and Issa chose a set of marbles. Much of the rest of the week was spent like this:
 I love that they still love simple toys.

After swimming, we picked Daddy up from work and went to eat dinner at the Palace, which is on Whiskey Row. It's the most historic restaurant, and the kids had learned about how it had been saved from fire multiple times, including an incident in which a bunch of cowboys carried the bar out when it looked like the building might burn. The kids loved looking at the museum cases that were set up inside, and Daddy was pretty impressed with all they had learned.

Tuesday, we dropped Daddy off at work and then headed to the Smoki Museum:
 This museum is dedicated to all tribes west of the Mississippi. When we walked in, I realized it was just one large room, and I thought we might be there a half an hour. Again, we had the museum to ourselves and the kids were given a scavenger hunt. As a bonus, Mr. Bruce was working. He is a retired archaeologist, and he became our personal guide. Once he realized how interested the kids truly were, he dove right in. Instead of just showing them the matete that would have been used to grind corn, he let them try it. My heart about stopped when he took a piece of 9,000 year old pottery out of the case so the kids could feel the potter's thumb print in the clay. He opened more cases than he left shut, and we all learned so very much. The best part was he just followed the kids, seeing what they were interested in and telling them about that. Over two hours later, they were rewarded with obsidian arrow heads of their own for completing the scavenger hunt. It was an amazing morning. We went swimming, or course, and then picked Daddy up. We stumbled on a fun little Italian place, where the waitress was terribly amused by the kids splitting shrimp scampi and ordering balsamic vinaigrette for their salads. It was the perfect end to our time in Prescott.

Wednesday, Daddy worked a half day while the kids and I spent a little more time exploring downtown Prescott. After lunch, we headed to Phoenix since we had an early flight Thursday. We stayed near Arizona State, and Daddy used his Food Network ap to find an amazing pizza place. Life changing, wood fired pizza that was featured on "The Best Thing I Ever Ate." The waiter almost fell over as the kiddos split the market salad, which was watermelon and fennel, with their pizza.

And when in the West, we realized we needed some Western wear, which deserves to be featured. I found a hat on day one:
 Here is the deal, this hat saved me. Not only did it provide much needed shade, but it also kept my hair from blowing in my face.

Evan needed six shooters:
 He wore them to both the rodeo and the cowboy dinner.

Issa found a beautiful Yavapi butterfly barrette:

 She found it in Sedona, but Mr. Bruce explained it would be worn during the butterfly dance in the spring.

To put it simply, this trip was perfect. It was the right blend of adventure and rest, learning and playing. We laughed together and made so many memories, and we can't wait to go back next year.