Saturday, August 29, 2015

July Birthdays

Jason and I both celebrated birthdays in the month of July. It was a treat to have family members living nearby to celebrate with us! For my birthday, Kim and her boys met Jaden, Cody and me at a splash pad. What a perfect way to spend a hot July morning! The four older boys ran and giggled and splashed and threw water on each other. We stayed much longer than we anticipated just because they were having such a good time.

Even Nathan was good-natured about the water.

After our outing, Kim treated us to a delicious homemade lunch of minestrone, warm bread, fruit salad, and one of my all-time favorites-- apple cake for dessert. Yum! Everyone sang a wonderful rendition of "Happy Birthday," and then Cody, Jaden, and Ian happily helped me blow out the candles. Ryan plugged his nose (to avoid the smoke smell) on the sidelines. :)

While the 3-year-olds were napping, I gave Ian his first-ever piano lesson. Kim and I thought the summer would be a perfect time to try out lessons for him, and I was excited about getting back into some teaching! I always start lessons by showing kids the inside of a piano. My students to be fascinated as they watch the hammers move inside. Ian loved it, too.

I enjoyed having a little one-on-one time with my oldest nephew! Here, we were learning basic finger numbers as we tapped out rhythms.

Later, when Jason came home from work, he and the boys treated me to a special birthday dinner. Talk about being spoiled that day! :) They made a meal of spaghetti and meatballs with Holy Cow cake for dessert. The cake was a new recipe for us, one that included caramel sauce and Heath bars, that Jason had found and bravely tried out. It was so moist and just delicious! What a wonderful husband! Jaden and Cody eagerly helped with the cake portion of the meal. Watching the blender is one of their favorite kitchen highlights.

I don't think I've ever had two birthday cakes on the same day! The boys didn't mind singing happy birthday to me one more time. :)

Jason captured the boys' song on video. Aren't they adorable? I feel pretty blessed! :)

For Jason's birthday in late July, we invited a bunch of family members over for dinner. My parents had just arrived in Houston the day before for a visit, so we loved having them join our Texas crew. We enjoyed some visiting and hang-out time with the kids.

Isaiah, Chelsea, Nathan

Ian, Kim, Cody

Jaden, Papa, Cody
Amy and Nathan

Cody, Grammy, Jaden

After Jason's requested birthday meal of chicken bowtie pasta with pesto, we all sang "Happy Birthday."

We ended the evening with some slices of this large Reeses cookie and some family game time. 

Happy 34th birthday, Jason! You are a remarkable husband and father who leads our family with a humble, committed faith in the Lord. We love you!

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Jersey Barnyard

During our week at Camp Lonestar, our family spent one morning touring The Jersey Barnyard, a local farm just outside the city of La Grange. It was a little pricey, but we were excited about all the opportunities the boys would have to see, pet, and feed many different farm animals. Jaden and Cody loved the outing! Here are the boys right outside of the gift shop, awaiting the tour's beginning. I know, they're just exuding excitement. :)

A handful of hens and roosters were roaming the grounds nearby. The animals seemed very accustomed to visitors.

First, we got to tour the chicken coop (is it still called this when it's a large barn-like facility?).

We received a few handfuls of chicken feed for these feisty birds. Their aggressive pecking and noisy clucking were a little overwhelming for our boys.

The bunnies were much more docile. :)

The pigs and ducks didn't mind a little petting...

.... but we were told to keep our hands away from these turkeys.

Jaden took this direction very seriously. :)

The best part of our tour was stopping to bottle-feed these calves. We had to pay extra for the milk bottles, but it was well worth it.

Our tour guide advised us to keep a firm grip on the bottles. These calves were strong-- and hungry!

The bottles served as just a small snack for the calves.

Jaden and Cody took turns feeding the same calf, and then proudly displayed their empty bottles!

Next, we saw these eager-to-be-fed goats.

Throughout the tour, our boys were very hesitant to have the animals eat right out of their hands. Cody, I think, finally let this goat have some food. 

 Jaden preferred instead to pick blades of grass from the ground and happily toss them in the goats' general direction. As you can tell, the goats weren't too thrilled with Jaden's plan.

Next on the tour was a hayride. It was after 11am by this point, so it was a hot journey!

The tractor pulled us all the way to the farm's milking facility. Seeing all of the high-tech equipment and hearing about their procedures for milking was fascinating. We've come a long way since the days when a farmer had to milk all of his cows by hand!

The final perk of the tour was getting an opportunity to milk this very pregnant cow. Cody and Jaden each requested a bit of guidance, but both of them, to their extreme delight, were able to successfully squirt out some milk.

It was a memorable day out on the countryside! :)

Monday, August 24, 2015

Camp Lonestar

In mid-July, Jason took a group of kids from our new church on a trip to Camp Lonestar, a Lutheran camp about 2 hours west of us. Because the camp is fully staffed and has programming for the kids nearly all day long, Jason had quite a bit of free time during the week. When one of Jason's co-workers suggested that he bring his family along with him to camp, we thought it sounded like a great idea. Of course we'd prefer a week at camp compared with all that time at home without Daddy! The camp directors were completely okay with our family tagging along and let us come at no cost.

Jaden and Cody were thrilled to learn that they'd be spending a week at camp (even though they didn't quite know exactly what that entailed...). Our room was inside this air-conditioned building.

Each day, we tried to attend the all-camp activities. Jason went to just about every one, but the boys and I weren't quite as faithful, nor did we stay as long at each activity. It was fun to get a little flavor of the camp events, however. In the mornings, they had a camp singing time plus a devotion. The singing time was very active and quite loud!

Our family observed from the back. :) The boys and I rarely made it to the actual devo time.

In the late morning and early afternoon, the campers signed up for various activities, like archery, canoeing, challenge courses, etc. or had a small group Bible study time. During most of this time, we had free time as a family. It was great hanging out with Daddy!

In the late afternoon, the campers would often go swimming or go down the camp waterslide. Our family enjoyed the swimming pool for at least a couple days (you can see the pool in the background of the picture below). The camp meals were actually quite tasty. Of course, Mommy loves having any free, hot food at-the-ready for her hungry boys! For every meal but one, we ate in the cafeteria. This night, however, was a cookout with grilled chicken sandwiches, so everyone ate at picnic tables.

After dinner was another all-camp activity-- a sing-a-long with mail-delivery at the end. The campers always had to "earn" their mail by singing a silly song or acting out something random. Here, the campers were singing "I'm a Little Teapot." Jaden and Cody seemed to enjoy this camp activity.

Immediately following the mail-call, Jason had an hour with just his church kids. Here is the group that attend from Salem.

Jason planned a variety of games and events for them each evening. The boys and I always joined Jason for this time. On our first night of camp, Jason played a few icebreaker games with the kids.

They seemed to enjoy Jason's ideas and his energy. Our whole family appreciated the chance to connect with these Salem kids. By the end of our camp week, several of the girls in our group were giving Jaden and Cody hugs and high fives every time they saw us. So cute!

As Daddy was leading his games, Jaden and Cody played with their cars on the sidelines. :)

We filled our free time each day with a variety of activities. The first day, we spent a long time just walking around and exploring the campground. 

It was a beautiful setting!

Jaden and Cody each brought a dinosaur along with them to tour the grounds.

Then, we walked this path that ran around the lake.

It was somewhat freeing to have absolutely no agenda! We could pause to gaze at random bushes as long as the boys wanted to. :)

We were all surprised to find this turtle in the grass.

This little guy was actually quite speedy for a turtle! Apparently he had never experienced twin 3-year-olds chasing after him before. :)

We came across this firepit. You can see the dining hall in the background.

What a fun place to explore!

On our way back to our cabin, we walked right past this playground-- a perfect find!

Later that same day, we brought out the boys' outdoor vehicles (we figured these were a "must" on our packing list!). This concrete, shaded area worked well for the vehicles.

This area was called the camp trading post, where the campers could buy snacks and souvenirs during the afternoon.

Another day, we brought out these spray bottles for random water squirting.

Because the weather was warm and muggy, we spent some time just hanging out indoors, too. Little boys can make anything into a garage or race track! :)

We also brought along quite a few indoor toys from home-- duplos, puzzles, books, blocks. We definitely didn't pack lightly! :)

Another day, Jaden and Cody asked to play hide-and-seek. I didn't think this game would last too long, as our room was roughly the size of a small hotel room. But, their enthusiasm surprised me! Can you spot two little boys under these covers?

I couldn't believe that Cody fit all the way under this bunk bed! I didn't want to think about how dirty it likely was...

Surprise! Jaden was on top of the bed!

Here, Jaden was worried that I wouldn't be able to find him, so he wanted to give me a little clue... :)

Our experience at camp was great overall. As we suspected, though, the boys weren't quite as excited about camp life as the week wore on. We ventured into a nearby town on a couple days to give the boys some variety. We visited a local library, found a new playground, and even toured a barnyard (pics on that adventure still to come!). By Wednesday evening, Jaden and Cody (and Mommy too!) were a bit worn out. So, the three of us went home on Thursday morning, and Daddy arrived back home late Friday afternoon. The boys seemed excited to be home. By the next day, however, both of them were already asking to go back to camp! Go figure. :) Guess we'll have to accompany Daddy on another Camp Lonestar trip in the future!