Saturday, December 31, 2016

Anniversary Trip: Florida Day 1

Dare I even start? This trip was the main reason I got behind in blogging and has been kind of looming over me for a while now. But it was a trip we have dreamed and talked about for five years and was truly even better than I imagined it would be. So here we go!

After we had such a great time on our five-year anniversary cruise, Ryan mentioned how it would be really fun to do another cruise for our ten year anniversary. And how it would be especially amazing to go to Florida for a few days first to see all the areas he served on his mission, then go on a Carribbean cruise. I concurred--because that would be amazing--and one or the other of us brought the idea up again every once in a while, but we never really discussed it in concrete terms.

Then in February of this year, we decided that we were going to do this thing. And by "this thing" I mean go on our Florida/cruise trip! We knew we had a bonus coming that would more than cover the cruise. And 10 years deserves to be celebrated in grand fashion. So we started planning. First step was finding a babysitter. We were going to have our moms tag team, but Ruth offered to watch the kids for our entire trip--she retired in the summer, and if she watched them the whole time, my mom wouldn't have to take any work off. We found the perfect cruise on the perfect dates--just after tax season. We booked flights. We started making an itinerary for Florida. We were in a trip planning zone--and our trip wasn't even going to happen until October!

Then June and July happened and we were a little bit worried about our trip. First we were worried about changing flights--for both us and Ruth--because we thought we were moving to Salt Lake. Then we were worried about WSRP saying "peace out" to Ryan on October 18, then not paying him for his last two weeks of work--because his last two weeks of work were an already-approved vacation. Why would they pay him to take a vacation when he would literally only work one day when he got back? Then there were some phone worries because our phones were part of WSRP's plan. SO MANY ISSUES. But we plugged through alllllllll the things, planned like we've never planned a vacation before, and on October 18 we kissed our babies goodbye and boarded a plane. TO FLORIDA.

Our flight was a red eye. We were traveling on Spirit Airlines so the seats were tiny and the leg room nonexistent (even for a shrimp like me!) And we were moving to a time zone three hours ahead--so we left Vegas at 10:30 p.m.and got to Florida at 6:45 a.m. Neither of us slept very well on the plane. In fact, it kind of felt like we didn't sleep at all. But when we got to Florida we were not about to waste our first day snoozing, so it was go time! We picked up our rental car, asked Siri for directions, and were off to our first stop of the day: Lake Trafford Marina.

When Ryan served in Immokalee, he did service at Lake Trafford every single week. The owners of the marina often offered the missionaries a free ride on their air boats to thank them for their service--but, being missionaries, riding in boats was something they couldn't do. People would step off these boats saying it was the most amazing experience of their life. So Ryan was more than a little excited to ride an air boat. It was something he'd literally been waiting 15 years to do! When we paid, we found out that the lady who originally ran the marina had passed away (which was really sad, Ryan was looking forward to seeing her)--but the lady at the counter had worked there when Ryan was a missionary! We had fun talking to her for a few minutes. She was very kind and very Southern. After talking to her, we went outside and saw our VERY FIRST GLIMPSE OF AN ALLIGATOR. Like not even that far away from us. I was kind of starstruck, if one can be starstruck by an alligator of no notoriety.

Soon we were on the boat! Air boats are very low--very close to the water. They have huge fans on the back that propel the boat through the water--a traditional propeller below the water would get tangled in all the roots of the water plants and trees. The fan is terrifically loud, but you get used to it pretty quickly. We cruised down a little inlet for a few minutes, seeing some beautiful water fowl. Then we hit the open water and we started flying. I've got no idea how fast we were actually going but it was truly exhilarating. Ryan and I had scored with front row seats and the air whipping past us and the birds exploding up out of the foliage was breathtaking.

After we'd crossed the lake, we slowed and wound through some paths in the plants/reeds/grasses/who knows what they were. We saw a Large Blue Heron that was, true to its name, quite large. We almost saw a bald eagle (our tour guide saw it, but we missed it). We saw white osprey and several other varieties of water fowl I've forgotten the names of. Water fowl are, by the way, amazing. Watching them take flight was cool every time we saw it, even though we literally saw hundreds of birds take off during our tour. There were some crazy birds that I didn't catch the name of that would dive bomb the water from these low growing trees--that were literally growing out of the water--and CATCH FISH. IN THE WATER. And not come up for water for a while. Because apparently birds that fly can also swim underwater now.

I think just seeing the birds would have been amazing. But then there were the alligators. At first, I was a little worried we wouldn't get to see many alligators--the water was high and warm, which meant that the alligators were perfectly happy to stay under the surface rather than coming out to warm up in the sun. But I shouldn't have worried, because we ended up seeing seven alligators total! My first favorite sighting was the baby alligator we saw. The tour guide said he was probably about 3 months old--the tour guide had kept an eye on the nesting site and got to see the alligators when they were even tinier! My very favorite alligator sighting was the alligator I was half afraid was going to attack us. Our tour guide had just slowed down to point out an alligator and we were all straining to distinguish the alligator from the floating lily pads and foliage when he suddenly burst up out of the water RIGHT NEXT TO OUR BOAT. I'm not even exaggerating. It was so crazy. And so cool! Also a little bit terrifying because our boat was so close to the water. I got a video of the alligator, which hopefully I'll be able to post here.

After the marina, we wanted to go see Immokalee. Immokalee was the first area Ryan served in as a missionary. It's a small town, which was cool because it all felt familiar to him. Our first stop was in Farmworkers Village, just outside the main part of the town. The "village" is filled with small, identical homes that at one point (still?) housed all the pickers who came to the area during picking season. Ryan taught people there, and it was literally the first thing we came to and a great way to start the memories flowing. From there, we visited his apartment, discovered that a shortcut the missionaries used to take is now covered in water--not a lot of water, but water all the same! We drove around the water to try to find the other side of the shortcut, which we eventually did locate.

One of the big highlights of the day was seeing the LDS church that was built just a few years ago in Immokalee! When Ryan served there, the members met in a middle school. The new church is beautiful and it's really cool that the members and missionaries have built a strong branch in Immokalee. Another highlight was eating gorditas at La Placita. Ryan was really, really hoping La Placita still existed because it was one of his favorite places to eat in all his areas. We were both happy to see it was still there! The gorditas were delicious--the best I've ever had, for sure.

After lunch, we were ready to move along--so to Naples we went. Just a few miles outside Immokalee we saw a nature preserve that mentioned something about jaguars, so we pulled right over. The place was absolutely deserted, and when we walked through the gates we felt as if we'd stepped into the jungle! The foliage was so green and lush and thick--it was super foreign to me. We walked the nature trail, which was about a mile or so and saw a lot of interesting plants and bugs, and fortunately (unfortunately?) didn't cross paths with any jaguars.

At this point, my lack of sleep during the night started to catch up with me. Ryan was feeling the effects of not sleeping, too. We decided to make an "emergency" stop for some caffeine. Ryan asked me to look up the nearest place to get a Dew and I unlocked my phone--then dropped it in my lap because I'd fallen asleep! Literally 30 seconds after talking to Ryan. And I was sitting upright, DOING something. So yeah, we were tired. Happily, there was a Circle K only a mile up the road and, once we'd had a little Dew, we were both much perkier!

We made it to Naples without further incident. We drove over the bridge onto Marco Island, oogled some ridiculous real estate, then went to find Ryan's Naples apartment. His Naples apartment was by far the nicest he lived in. I honestly don't remember a lot about the rest of the day (sorry Ryan), but I do remember that we wanted to get some ice cream for dessert, so set off in search of a scoop shop. We ended up in a Publix (I've never shopped there before, so this was kind of momentous), where we got a half gallon of ice cream and some fried chicken because why not? We searched in vain for a place with beach access so we could picnic on the beach and ended up at a "park" we found in the maps app. Said park was not so much a park as a single picnic bench that was on a patch of grass next to a very, very sketchy looking boat launch. But it worked out and we weren't even attacked by alligators or anything. So that was happy.

That night we collapsed into bed. And slept soundly until day two of our trip...

++Normally a post like this would have TONS of pictures. Unfortunately, I was the main photographer for the trip and my photos are currently lost somewhere in the cloud. Fortunately, Ryan did take some pictures and also uploaded some to facebook--and the facebook photos were his favorites anyway. We used our old iPhone 5 on our actual cruise, so I'll just have to post extra pictures when those posts come to make up for the lack of photos here!
 The gorditas of La Placita fame

 Ryan's mission apartment.

 A bird taking flight
 View from the air boat
 Lake Trafford Marina!

Church in Immokalee

Tree Climbers

In September some time, we were at a park and Ryan challenged the boys to climb one of the trees at the park. Our boys are both naturally cautious. They're not really adventurers. I have friends whose boys are all over the place from a young age--jumping off the couches, climbing on the counters, getting into every single thing--but my boys have never been like that. Knock on wood. Anyway, Ryan likes to encourage them to be adventurous and to stretch them out of their comfort zones. I'm more of a pansy, so I just watch and let Ryan do the stretching.

The boys very reluctantly started climbing the tree. They did not make it very far, but Ryan coaxed them just a little further, then just a bit more, then one more step--and before they knew it, they'd both made progress. Reed was above Ryan's head. Asher was four steps farther than he wanted to be. And they went and found another tree. 

Since then, the boys want to climb trees every time we are at any park. Ryan is often not with us, in which case the selection of a "good climbing tree" is left to me, someone who has never climbed a tree in her life. I'm learning what to look for. Reed is willing to go much higher in the trees than Asher is, but they are both way braver than they used to be.

A funny side note: the day after the first tree climbing episode found us at a different park. Ryan pointed out a good climbing tree to Reed. I volunteered to accompany Reed because Ryan was helping Lila on a see-saw. Reed realllllly wanted Ryan to help because, in Reed's words, "If Dad comes he will like make me go higher than you will. And I want to go higher." 

Another side note: Their newly found love of climbing has extended to all parts of every piece of playground equipment. Their new favorite thing is to try to go completely around a playground without touching the ground--and not just by using the usual bridges and walkways, but by climbing on top of the hand railings and such. Sometimes I just close my eyes or look the other way. My heart was not made to watch crazy boys do crazy things!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Halloween 2016

This year was the first time we've been home for Halloween since Lila's first Halloween! Our Halloween this year was pretty similar to years past, but I'll highlight some of our favorite parts of it anyway.

1. Pumpkins
Grandma and Grandpa took the kids to Gilcrease  Orchard while Ryan and I were on our cruise. In addition to having some of the amazing homemade donuts, cider, and kettle corn, they picked out pumpkins with the kids! Lila's was the perfect shape. Reed's had the perfect stem. And Asher's was the perfect size. They even picked out a hugely warty pumpkin for Ryan and I.

When Ryan and I were back in town, we carved the pumpkins! Reed was the only child willing to touch the pumpkin guts, so I ended up cleaning out two pumpkins. Reed wanted to try doing his all on his own. After I helped him get the pattern on to his pumpkin, he went for it! He had a hard time figuring it out at first, but did pretty good once he got the hang of using the carver. He had help from Ryan or I on a few tricky parts, but did most of it on his own.

Asher teamed up with Ryan and actually carved quite a bit of his own pumpkin. He chose a pattern he'd watched Uncle Steve carve last year--it's two pumpkin head people holding hands. The heads of the pumpkin people also form the eyes of a larger skull. It was quite cool.

And Lila, of course, was Mommy's team mate--which meant the she chose her pattern, held on to the carving thing with me for a few minutes, then took hundreds of pictures of the table cloth, floor, herself, and me while I carved.

After carving, we lit our pumpkins up with crazy LED lights, then took our traditional pumpkin pictures.

2. Trunk or Treat
Trunk or treat happened while Ryan and I were out of town. The lucky kids got to go with Grandma and Grandpa, though! They picked out some awesome decorations and made the back of the car look super spooky. The kids came away with a lot of candy, too!

3. Trick or Treat
We started our treat or treat night with a trip to the library's "haunted conference room"--it was better than in years past, but still not great. Oh well--one day I'll learn not to go! Anyway, after the library, we went to Sonic for cheap corn dogs, which is kind of a fun tradition, then it was over to Huntington for trick-or-treating! There were TONS of trick or treaters out and we saw lots of people from our ward. There was one street where literally every house was decked out like crazy for Halloween. One house had full size skeletons positioned on the walls to look like they were climbing up. Another had a huge screen playing Halloween movies. Another had an entire coffin full of candy. It. Was. Awesome.

The kids had a lot of fun trick or treating and only started complaining when their candy bags started getting too heavy, haha. We came away with a TON of candy and hadn't even trick or treated for as long as we planned!

4. Costumes
This year, Reed surprised me by telling me he wanted to be a vampire--I didn't know he even knew about vampires! We found a great costume online, though, and he looked awesome. He paid close attention to detail, making sure we had his hair slicked back with gel, white face paint on, and fake blood running down from his mouth. He was a little bummed he wasn't allowed to wear the face paint to dress up at school, but he still looked awesome.

I saw a Kylo Ren costume on a crazy good deal in September--I showed Asher and he was instantly sold. He loves Star Wars and he loves the dark side. His costume came with Kylo Ren's awesome mask which, surprisingly, Asher was allowed to wear to school on dress up day! He looked great.

And finally the baby girl. Our favorite store is the 99 cents only store, so we shop there quite a bit. One day, we found an adorable Princess Sofia costume for only $5 (not 99 cents ;). She LOVED it and decided right then (in August!) that she would be Sofia for Halloween. She had a Sofia necklace and a crown and loved being a princess.

5. Pumpkin Patch
A group of friends invited us to come on a preschool field trip to the pumpkin Patch. Lila was super pumped to go! She got to go on all the rides they had--swings, a spinning ride, a few huge inflatables, and a train ride! At the end, all the kids got mini pumpkins. And, because it was sweltering hot outside, we got ice cream cones from IKEA. At 10 am :)

Friday, December 16, 2016

Cookie Time

One day Lila asked me, "Mommy? Can we have friends over and make a craft or play or something?" This seemed like a reasonable request. And, because I was feeling particularly adventurous, I suggested decorating cookies. Lila responded with her happy noise and was immediately on board. We were going to have a cookie party!

The day before the party, the kids helped me roll out and cut all the cookies. I was super surprised to find that the cookie cutting was a very pleasant experience! We jammed to Taylor Swift while the kids independently cut their cookies while I was in charge of transferring to cookie sheets. After they were out of room, they'd peel up the extra dough, make a new ball, and help roll it out. I was kind of expecting a debacle but it was actually a lot of fun.

Our party got rescheduled because of Lila's family day, and we ended up partying on the day the boys were home for parent teacher conferences! They weren't sad. Lila had invited a few of her friends (Ashlin, McKynlee, Avery, and Lila) and the boys were also happy about that, because one of their best friends happens to be Avery and Lila's older brother, Ty! Between my kids, our friends, and their baby siblings, we had a full house!

Lila took a quick approach to cookie decoration. She'd slap some frosting on, ask me to help spread it, pour a gallon of sprinkles on, repeat. She decorated the most cookies by far--she made 8 or 9 compared to about 2 or 3 for each of the other kids! She was in heaven. The boys were a little more methodical. And some friends worked on one cookie for a good 15 minutes! All the kids were big fans of the sprinkles--most cookies had more sprinkles than cookie by the time they were done with them! And all the kids were fans of the edible spray paint color that Carolyn brought.

After the kids were cookied out, they trooped upstairs to play while the moms cleaned up and chatted. The kids might have had more fun playing that they did making cookies! I really lucked out in the friend department and I truly enjoy spending time with all the moms who came. The kids made a terrific mess upstairs but had a marvelous time doing so! When it was just about time to go, the kids asked us all to come upstairs. When we walked into the room, the kids--who were all piled on the top bunk--threw every pillow and blanket my three kids own at us! It was kind of hilarious. We had such a great time and I'm grateful for our friends!

 Lila hard at work, wearing the necklace Ashlin made for her. Ash and Reed in the background.

 First wave of friends! Reed, Ashlin, Lila, McKynlee, Asher, Adalyn

 And then the Gourlies came! From back side to front: Avery, Ty, Reed, Ashlin, Lila, McKynlee, Asher, Lila Jane, Cam, and Adalyn walking around :)

 One of our favorite baby friends!

 Ashlin, Reed, Ty

Lila Jane, Asher, McKynlee, Lila Jae

Ty and Avey


Reed's Party

 **Unfortunately, I've lost all my photos from September-November. So you'll just have to imagine what everything looked like**


We've started reading the Harry Potter books again. This time, it was just going to be Asher and I (Reed and Ryan read the books together last time), but before too long--after one chapter--Reed joined in with us. Reading book one got Reed very excited about Harry Potter again, and he decided to have a Harry Potter birthday party! He and I had a lot of fun looking up ideas together, choosing which things he liked best, and making things for the party. We found a blog called "East Coast Mommy" where the blogger had thrown a Harry Potter party for her eight-year-old son in November, which just about blew Reed's and Asher's minds. ECM also had a lot of good ideas that we used, and the boys kept telling me, "Oh, let's see what East Coast Mommy did" which was kind of hilarious.

Anyway, this party required quite a bit of prep, but it turned out to be really fun! When his friends arrived at our house, they had to run through a brick banner we'd hung in our doorway to get inside. Once inside, they visited various "shops" and received cloaks, wands, spell books, and quills. And once everyone arrived it was time to sort into houses! We'd found a cootie-catcher printable that would help us sort people, and everyone got a turn to sit on the stool and wear the sorting hat and get put into a Hogwarts house! Finally it was time for classes. Our first class was potions, where we used various wizarding world ingredients--like eye of newt and bat dung--to create polyjuice potion (elephant toothpaste) and veritaserum (volcano eruption). After potions, we went to Care of Magical Creatures, where our young witches and wizards had to search for pictures of magical creatures hidden around our back yard. Our next class was Charms, where the kids had to use their wands and a spell--Wingardium Leviosa--to keep their balloons levitating in the air. After, we had a tabletop Quidditch match. We'd made quidditch hoops out of straws and pipe cleaners, and the teams took turns throwing the Quaffle (a ping pong ball) through the hoops. After they'd all thrown twice, the score was tied! We sent the teams in search of the Golden Snitch! The team that found the snitch won 150 points and thus the game. Reed was actually the one to find the snitch, which was kind of fun.

Finally it was time for pizza and cake! I was pretty proud of how the cake turned out. We'd used East Coast Mommy's idea (hahahahaha) and made a simple cake with three tall Quidditch hoops sticking out of it and a golden snitch (made out of a ferraro rocher with wings attached) resting on it. It looked awesome. As part of dinner, we had our final class: Divination. Before our guests had arrived, we'd painted the bottom insides of their cups with food coloring. We covered the coloring in ice. Then, we had them each hold their cup while I poured in Sprite. The Sprite hit the hidden food coloring and changed color, predicting their futures! That was pretty fun.

After we ate, we took a trip to Honeyduke's Sweet Shop. Luckily for us, Reed's party came right after the Halloween clearance had hit the stores. We got a lot of the candy for his party on clearance. For Honeyduke's, we had Fizzing Whizbees (pop rocks--a huge crowd favorite), Mad-Eye Moody's Eyes (eye ball gum), Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans, Golden Snitches (Ferraro Rocher with wings attached), Sour Slugs (sour gummy worms), Licorice Wands (licorice dipped in chocolate and sprinkles), and Chocolate Frogs. The kids looooooved shopping at Honeyduke's. They couldn't get enough of the fizzing whizbees.

And just like that it was present time (Reed got some really fun gifts) and then parents started to arrive! Reed had a great time at his party and I'm really glad he has such great friends to share it with!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Reed's Baptism Photo Shoot

One of the blessings of having older cousins (besides loving them and getting to play with them) is that you get to see all the awesome things they do and copy the amazing ideas their moms have. One such idea was something we saw at Kody's baptism--his sign-in book. Grace had taken photos of Kody in his new suit, then used the photos to print a photo book with blank areas for people to sign in or write Kody a note. When I reminded Reed of Kody's sign-in book he immediately knew he would love having a sign-in book like that, too.

The first step was ordering the suit. Happily, we found a very handsome suit online and when it arrived it fit perfectly. Next, we had to go take pictures! Reed was a really good photo subject and posed just how we asked, smiled, and didn't complain at all. Finally, I had to make the book. There was a little drama because I paid extra for expedited shipping, and the book still hadn't even shipped the day it was guaranteed to be here--but after an online chat, my shipping was refunded and the book was overnighted so it arrived the next day. And, even though these photos are printed in the book, it just feels right to have them on the blog, too.

One last note--my favorite picture is of Reed in the tree. Reed has been super excited about climbing trees lately, and that particular tree had a perfect branch for sitting on. I love that we have a picture of him in a tree! I also really love the CTR punch to the camera.