Monday, October 9, 2017

Mountain Getaway

Last week we called off school and work and opted for family fun time in the mountains. With the Blue Ridge Parkway less than two hours from home, there are more trails, waterfalls, and views than we can ever take in. A couple of times each year we roll the dice and find a new place to explore and enjoy.
Waterfalls are always beautiful and unique. But no, you cannot swim under them. And yes, you can die if you slip. So please stay back and demonstrate an ounce of self-control, mmmkay? Kay thanks.
Winding trails with lots of flowers - and purple no less! - had this lil lady delighted. A clear sky allowed for spectacular views, and kept me on my toes to ensure I didn't lose a child on the steep slopes.
Same rock, different people, and different poses because we all wanted a turn and a view on the "blowing rock."
Sixteen years strong and I love this man more now that I did when I said "I do." I'm so thankful for the adventure and the laughter and the companionship we share.
This motley crew is what keeps me simultaneously laughing and and crying and energized and fatigued and coffee-guzzling and Jesus-dependent. They are a wild bunch with big emotions and big ideas and a big capacity for life.
Our getaway was pre-Fall color, but we enjoyed twinges of yellow every so often. During one morning hike, the magnolia trees were thick, the mountain river bubbled, and mosquitoes were no where to be seen!
Despite numerous "stay back from the water or you'll have wet feet for the rest of the hike" warnings, we inevitably had four pairs of wet and muddy sneakers. It's par for the course, I know, but it's the smell of river mud once we get back in the van that I can't handle.
Unlike most waterfall hikes, we walked two miles downhill to get to this waterfall... which meant a slow and steady two miles uphill to get back. Thankfully Jaxton walked the entire way down, and only collided with a tree once. And thankfully my husband toughed it and carried Jaxton on his back the entire way up, and only stopped for a break NEVER because he is a show-off.
Our family has an unspoken rule that if someone finds something really unique or sees a cool animal and is able to point it out, they get a dollar. This dates back to the toddler days with Grady and Micah so that they'd pay attention to plants and animals around them rather than just run and climb rocks (which only sometimes worked). 

During this particular hike, I ended up owing my kids several dollars when we got back to the van. 
Once, while Micah was around a bend and further up the trail from the rest of us, we heard him yell, "SNAKE!!" followed by rapidly approaching feet and gasps of air. Further investigation proved it was a friendly, though VERY ugly and VERY big, black snack. 

Later, while playing at the base of a waterfall, Grady Lee picked up a rock to throw and yelled out, "Crayfish! I see a crayfish!" He caught and held it, but somehow Micah was the one that ended up getting pinched. Why? Well, because he's Micah.

Not to be outdone, Jaxton discovered a big worm hiding under a rock and spent the better part of 20 minutes playing with it. I'm not sure the worm survived to go back to its home under the rock.

And finally, when the boys sat on a log to rest, one of them swore they saw a salamander and in a flash they were on their hands and knees until Grady Lee finally pulled it out of the rotting log.
Family fun time exploring outside - this is the stuff so many of our memories are made of! And I wouldn't want it any other way.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

School Is In Session

The 2017-2018 School Year is well underway! We've been at it since early August, slowly adding a new subject each week until Labor Day when everything kicked into high gear. Allow me to introduce the four students I have the joy and honor of learning with...
Jaxton Isaac... this hot mess is curious, eager, loud, and insightful. He is smarter than his three-year old grin suggests and is thoroughly enjoying fun, hands-on activities at co-op each week. (Although, almost any random scientific fact he spews no doubt comes from Curious George, Nature Cat, and Wild Kratts. Thanks PBS.)
Annalyse Joy... this missing-lots-of-teeth second grader thinks learning is fun, especially when it means being home where time is flexible, the demands are light, and her baby dolls can sit at the table with her while she works. She radiates happiness and is a strong leader when she's with five other second graders at co-op each week.
Micah David... this 100% athletic and 100% conniving and 100% ambitious fifth grader is on top of his study game when he can sit partly on the couch, partly on the coffee table, and partly on the floor while reading and writing. Never mind using his desk - that's so old school.  
Grady Lee... this almost-as-tall-as-me with bigger-feet-than-me sixth grader LOVES history and all things reading. It's not uncommon for me to ask him to stop reading and go play and that no, he cannot read several chapters ahead to see what happens next.
Some days science looks like this... my crazy bunch on the driveway. But, the neighbors are used to it by now, promise.

Initially we planned to join friends at the botanical gardens to observe the eclipse and to participate in some hands-on activities. But, after a 10-hour car ride home from New Jersey the day before, we opted to stay home and watch the eclipse via cereal boxes and aluminum foil. And guess what? It worked!
Most mornings by 9:00 our books are opened and we're scattered around the house doing our thing. The boys are 90% independent, Annalyse still needs help with reading instructions and getting started on various tasks, and Jax is a busy-body fury that simply wants in on whatever the big kids are doing.
Homeschooling really is a joy ride! It's a gift and a privilege and my kids have no idea how blessed they are in this regard. We talk about it a lot and relish in the freedoms it allows, but their minds can't grasp being in a classroom for several hours a day, waiting in bus or car pool lines, and completing evening homework during the week.
We've stayed with Samaritan Scholars Co-Op again this year and my kids look forward to it each week. Here are a few random pictures friends shared with me from our first couple of weeks...

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Fun in NJ and PA

We (finally!) squeezed in a summer visit with family in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. After almost two years without a visit north, we were long overdue. Life just happens and between various family members moving, job-related transitions, and other commitments, we couldn't find dates to visit that aligned with one another. Until last month!
Thankfully our 10-hour drive to New Jersey went smooth and we had no traffic delays or unexpected stops. Usually we are thinking (and sometimes saying) ugly things about traffic heading that direction. Too many people + Too small of an area + Too much construction = LOSE YOUR MIND.

Nana and Aunt Becki warmly welcomed us - rearranging their town home to accommodate our crew for space to eat, sleep, and play. They went above and beyond and we felt their love!
We sent one day enjoying the beach at Ocean City. The temperature was perfect, the waves were great, and sea gulls never stole any of our lunch this time. We ended the day with a walk on the boardwalk and ice cream... perfect.
A long weekend visit doesn't leave much "down time" for simply hanging out, but we managed to find pockets of time to relax and enjoy being together. Thankfully my mom-in-law has a go-with-the-flow mindset and is content to do whatever means spending time with her grand kids.
We spent a few hours roaming the Franklin Institute (enjoyable and worth it every time we visit!), we drove an hour to see more family, overtake their house, and burst their space with cousins laughing and playing together.
I'm thankful for two older nieces who were patient and generous with Annalyse. I think, more than anyone else in our family, she had the most fun and was the most sad to say goodbye!
My bro and sis-in-law went above and beyond to make our visit special: getting baked Amish goods, prepping Philly-famous foods, giving tractor rides, sleeping on couches so we could have beds...!

Our family was blessed by their generosity and kindness; and a day to do nothing but play and talk and laugh was wonderful.
NJ and PA - you were good to us this past visit. Maybe, just maybe, we can find a way to make a second visit happen before another two years pass by!