Monday, August 25, 2014

My morning madness...

I have a love-hate relationship with mornings. Getting up is not my thing, but I have only met a few people in my lifetime that actually enjoy rising early and have no trouble climbing out of bed.  That's not me - never has been, and probably never will be. But I generally like mornings.  If I can actually get myself up, I tend to enjoy the quiet, and it's usually my favorite time of the day to go for a run or to walk the dog.

Enter my two children... These boys are testing every part of my being.  How is it that children do not have a "quiet" button?  I mean, seriously, mornings tend to be the "scream as loud as possible" time of the day, and I will never understand it.  Little r has always been an early riser.  Not sure how many of your remember when he was waking regularly around 500 a.m. The kid has the complete inability to sleep in, and yet, he doesn't really like mornings very much.  It's a terrible combination.  Now we have two, and once these children are awake, it's like a tornado is hitting the house.  I got lots of warning that siblings will fight.  I had no idea that the fighting would start already.  Did I mention that baby c is barely a year old? Yes, they fight and it's constant and insanely frustrating.  Any semblance of calm or rest I might have given myself through the night obliterates the minute the house wakes up.  My head can't get around the madness of my mornings. My children are my life. I love them with every cell in my body, and I hate that I start my day frustrated and internally combusting to avoid screaming at the top of my lungs. 

I have one week left before I start school back up again, and I have to retake my mornings. I can think optimistically that this is just a phase, but I'm not that naive. I know that I'm peering into a window of my future and I probably have years of this ahead. I'm going to start waking up early again. Ugh, the thought is painful, but it's oh so necessary for me to regain my sanity.  Something happens when you are allowed to wake up on your own terms, before the rest of the house starts to stir, and sip a cup of coffee, take in a deep breath, maybe even do yoga.  Even ten minutes can be enough to get my butt underneath me before the kids start their hooting. 

I started this last week, and I decided that I would take weekends off.  They are weekends afterall, so it made sense.  NOT doing that again.  I think I'm just going to set my internal clock to begin the day before 6 a.m. and try to learn to like it.  We are animals, we can be trained, right?  I'm over the ambitious goals of trying to complete a yoga practice or do homework or write a blog at that ungodly hour.  Instead, I am realizing that having a few moments to myself for nothing but peace can mean everything to a gentle start to my day.  Even if it's just ten minutes to sit on the porch and take a deep breath, it can provide an essential grounding to start my day.  Or at least that's what I'd like to hope, and I am certainly willing to give it a try.  If my eyes are in focus, my breathing has started, and my legs are no longer numb from sleeping on my side, then possibly that incessant screaming that starts my day, every day, won't seem quite as maddening.  

Eh, we'll see if it works, and if it doesn't, you can probably start reading blogs I write from inside an insane asylum because I just know that's right where I'm headed.   

I know I'm not alone in this, and I certainly have it much easier than others, so if you have any fun stories to share, have at it.  I would love to hear them :)

Happy Monday, you guys.  

Friday, August 22, 2014

Have we adjusted?

Have we adjusted?  That, my friends, is a very good question.  I'm not super sure how to answer that, actually, but I'm going to give it a try because the question is coming up a lot these days.  The overseas army moves have a tendency to feel like they last for freaking ever, and I'm not kidding.  Moving is a pain, but when you move your family, all your belongings, your cars, and your furry friends, it is a really BIG deal.  I knew this when we started the moving process, but I think I conveniently left the memory of the ordeal back in my distant memory.  Luckily I recorded most of the process on this blog, so if I ever need a reminder, it's not too tough to find one.

Our life in Germany was pretty incredible.  It was still life, so it wasn't without its stresses, but it was amazing nonetheless. As we started the looong process of moving back, I was really bummed, so I decided to begin focusing on all the things that I was really looking forward to once we were back in the US.  And I have to admit, as much as I really do adore Germany and absolutely loved living there, America has some pretty great things, too.  Mostly we make it super simple to consume things here.  Your credit card is a happy tool just about everywhere.  Believe it or not, that wasn't really the case in Germany.  Pay-at-the-pump is probably my happiest joy here, that and being able to check my mail by walking down my driveway instead of dealing with the military post office madness.  I could probably go on like this for awhile, so I'll save you the details...

So, yes, we are back in the land of the plenty where everyone speaks English. This last point was a bigger deal than I ever expected.  I thought it was super cool that we learned to speak German while we were there.  It was also pretty fantastic that as we traveled we were able to experience so many cultures and languages.  But I have to admit, even down to the last week we were there, picking up the phone to make a reservation or to find out important information was always an adventure regardless of how well my German grammar was or how proud I might have been to accomplish a conversation.  If I was even the slightest bit shy about making a phone call before we left, let me tell you, I actually have fun making phone calls now.  I still miss my German though, and I'm nervous I'm going to lose it quickly. Hopefully we'll find some opportunities to use it even if we use it to talk to each other (which is always a comical scene in our house).

Despite missing all things German (and all the friends we left behind), life is falling into place for us here.  Little r is crazy about his school.  Nothing melts my heart more than knowing we found a school that he loves and that it's helping him succeed.  For some reason he was really excited to go to a school where everyone speaks English.  We were initially kind of bummed about his enthusiasm, but honestly, I don't care much about that anymore because he's doing so well here.  I don't have the benefit of the kinderkrippe for baby c, but what I exchanged it for is a gym that offers child care.  I went from running trails (often with a stroller) and doing yoga in my living room, to lifting weights and going to pilates classes.  I'm not going to complain, but it is taking a little adjusting. Baby c and I will figure it out though, and right now I'm just thankful that I have the option.

Our neighborhood is downright awesome.  The people here are amazing, and we are making so many new friends.  We have also been lucky to meet people through mutual friends.  The army is so big here that someone we know was either here before or they know someone living here now.  Considering how difficult it can be in this day and age to meet people, I've been very thankful that all our friends are reaching out and setting us up with new connections.

Probably one of my favorite parts of living here though are the opportunities for little r.  I mentioned his school already. We also FINALLY have the kid in swim lessons.  I'm still at a loss for why it was nearly impossible to find swim lessons for a kid his age where we lived in Germany (so baffling).  We also got him signed up for soccer.  He did soccer and t-ball at our last assignment, but it was pretty relaxed.  I wish we could have stayed for little r to play with the German team, but I have a feeling this new league is going to be great for him, too.  And finally, probably the coolest thing ever, is that I found a stable here that provides riding lessons to kids little r's age.  It is so fantastic I feel like I'm in a dream sometimes.  Little r has always loved horses, but after visiting my mom this summer and seeing him around them again, I knew I had to find a way for him to ride.  I had no idea we would get this lucky.  He just started his lessons, but I hope to keep him at it as long as he's having fun and learning a lot.  My hope is that our next visit to my mom's will be him showing HER how to ride.

The house is just about "done" being put together.  Everything has found its place, but we are still finding the perfect spot for every picture, and printing new ones to remind us of all the really cool places we experienced together.  I'll write a blog here soon and give you a quick tour of this cute little house soon - I promise!

So, have we adjusted?  I think you could say that we have and we are doing pretty well.  After the whole "honeymoon" phase (where everything is new and exciting and a tad bit overwhelming) ended, I started to miss Germany and our friends and our life there. I think that is a pretty normal feeling though.  Living the military life means you are in a world that is constantly changing, you never stop meeting new friends, and you meet some people that you hang onto for a lifetime.  You are constantly getting reacquainted with your things, and forever questioning why you've held onto some of it for as long as you have.  It's fun to make each house a home, and to explore new locations.  Living in Europe put a little more adventure into our blood, so we'll be itching to reach out and discover what this part of the world has to offer - rodeos, fairs, caves, lakes, horses... Something tells me we won't be getting bored here...


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Rodeo Time - Lonestar style!!!

When you no longer live a stone's throw from the Czech Republic or some of the greatest Volksfests and Biergartens in Bavaria, you do the next best thing and head to the rodeo. HA! Ok, maybe that's a teeny bit of a stretch, but we are doing our best to seek out adventure here and heading to the rodeo is a great place to start.  I think it would surprise no one if I said that our family loves horses, put that together with a great vibe, loads of fun, and perfect summer weather, and you have a recipe for success. We are finally starting to feel more settled here, so it is time for us to enjoy some of the awesomeness this area can offer.

We donned our hats and cowboy boots, and tried to dig deep to get in touch with our inner country.  The rodeo took us to Hopkinsville, Kentucky. The name of the town alone makes me want to say, "yeehaw!"  It was really fun.  The venue was small, but it was a national rodeo, which meant the riders were all seeking points to qualify or move up their standings for the National Finals Rodeo.  The one challenge we had ahead of us for this adventure was that the rodeo didn't start until 8 p.m.  Our kiddos are usually in bed long before then, so we had no idea what would be in store.  That said, there was no way we'd head to the rodeo without them.

The boys both did great.  Little r had the time of his life.  The ropers were having a rough time, so little r kept saying that the cows were winning (haha), and he cracked up every time the rodeo clown did a skit between events.  My intermission though, both boys were D-O-N-E, and by that, I don't mean they were melting down, I mean they were completely passed out.  As soon as the action stopped for more than 5 minutes, little r was falling asleep sitting up. It was both hilarious and precious.  Mostly I was just proud of both of them for being so well-behaved and truly enjoying themselves.  It was a great time!  I can't wait for the next one!

A snapped a quick picture of the boys on our way into the rodeo

Barrel racing is by far my favorite event!

Falling asleep during intermission - literally fell asleep sitting up!

And baby c just gave in and sacked out!

Cutest entrant EVER! 6 year old girl barrel "racing"! 
Apparently we are coming upon festival season here, and we've heard fun and awesome things.  In the meantime, we'll be doing a little more exploring in Nashville, and seeing what other fun Clarksville has in store.  I promise to keep in touch!


Saturday, August 16, 2014

A tribute to Aunt Lynne - you will be missed...

Big R lost a special person in his family last week, his Aunt Lynne.  He wanted to write a small tribute to her memory: 

My Aunt Lynne holds a special place in my heart and in my life.  My father (her brother) was relatively absent in my life, but in contrast, Aunt Lynne made a huge effort to stay involved from the time I was little r's age through adulthood.  My parents were divorced before I was in elementary school, leaving my mother to (selflessly) provide and care for me on her own.  I never experienced any shortage of love, but Aunt Lynne always wanted to be be there for me in ways that her brother was not.   

Aunt Lynne expanded the scope of my world far beyond New England. She and Uncle Sam lived in Florida, and she was a huge facilitator, conceptually and financially, for many of my most memorable childhood experiences.  My New England upbringing and travels were spiced up by many trips to Florida. Disneyworld, Epcot, and Universal Studios are the "typical" tourist places she took me to, but the real adventures entailed cruising around on an airboat, catching cat fish, and swimming with the dogs in the St. John's river.  I took several trips to Florida with my mother, but before I was even a teenager, I was taking unaccompanied flights to visit!  One of those trips led to the ultimate adventure a somewhat nerdy kid could ask for: Space Camp.

Aunt Lynne and Uncle Sam worked with the shuttle program at Kennedy Space Center.  Aunt Lynne strongly encouraged my interest in space, aviation, and science.  She encouraged my interest so much that she paid for me to attend 2 weeks of Space Camp.  It was a remarkable experience, and happened to be the week that Shuttle Atlantis docked with the Russian space station Mir.  So, I was lucky enough to be at Space Camp to see a shuttle launch!

My youthful desire to be an astronaut eventually gave way to the still lofty goal of being an Air Force pilot, and, eventually, the realistic one of serving as an officer in the military.  Without her influence and patience talking to me without end about NASA, this interest, like many other childhood interests may have been left behind.  

As I grew older Aunt Lynne continued to give me incredible opportunities that have shaped who I am today.  During high school and even college, I continued to visit Florida for my fill of red fishing (salt water is way more fun than lurking around the swamps!) and time relaxing with my family.  But the real adventures were abroad.  My first trip outside of the United States came in the mid-90s when I traveled to England to spend time with her and my extended family.

Two weeks in Oxford and London was an amazing and transformative experience.  I was suddenly "worldly" as a 14 year old.  She was a very good sport, taking me to the Royal Air Force Museum, the Imperial War Museum, and even crossing Abbey Road with me.  The touristic aspect of the trip was very fun, but I suspect her greater purpose was a more important one: to include me in the family and ensure that I got to know my cousins and spend time with my grandmother.  

I had two more trips abroad with her and my family, to Barcelona a few years later and then England and Scotland the next summer.  Her generosity and desire to include me opened my eyes to other cultures and fueled my passion for travel, but, more importantly it exposed me to my family that before these trips I hardly knew.  

Her love for her family and friends is almost certainly what we will miss about her the most.  In her later years, split between North Carolina and Florida, she served as a caretaker and companion to my grandmother and Uncle Sam -- she was passionate about healthy eating (sometimes to the chagrin of Uncle Sam) and staying active in life - she remained a positive force and influence in my life, and others, always focusing on self-improvement and family.

I greatly enjoyed visiting with her as an adult, as well, which became easier the years I was assigned in Virginia.  Her mountain retreat in Banner Elk, NC, was close enough for long weekends, and our last opportunities to spend time together entailed hiking Grandfather Mountain, attending country concerts (well, fly fishing near the concert), and enjoying good wine.  I was proud for her to see the family that I built and can only hope that she recognized that she helped build the foundation of who I am today.

By the time I learned of her diagnosis it was too late to say any of this to her.  While I was in Europe our communication was much less robust than it had been, but only weeks before all of this we had time to discuss that I would not be far away at all.  Both of us expected that we would see each other in the mountains this summer or fall.

Now that she is gone, it means the staying connected with my family is not something that will just happen.  Her role as a loving and involved Aunt was not limited to me - she was there for all of her nephews and niece - for graduations, weddings, and parties.  The world is a lonelier place without her, the scope of her unconditioned love is not readily replaced by anyone.  She made my world a better place, and since we crossed Abbey Road together the most fitting tribute I can provide is from the Beatles: "and in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make."

Climbing the Spanish Pyrennes in 1999.  Not her favorite drive!

A family shot in Barcelona in the Summer of 1999.

Aunt Lynne, Gran Barbara, and Aunt Vicki at our wedding in 2006.

Having a good time!

Aunt Lynne and Uncle Sam at our wedding in 2006.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

All that school hub-bub...

When I became a mom, the thing I was most anxious about wasn't night feedings, dirty diapers, or potty training (although I know now that I was severely misinformed about this last one), it was putting my kids through school.  This seems ridiculous to admit, but it's true.  The school world intimidates me.  I want my children to do well, who doesn't?  And as if we need one more thing as mom's to add to our stress levels, school has gotten complicated these days.  I also knew that we were a military family, and just like my mom, I would be required to stay on top of things with every move and transition to make sure the kids are getting the education they need to succeed.

The things we, as military families, worry about definitely shift and change depending on the age of the children.  At the preschool level, I have military friends that are having to make a transatlantic flight from Europe to Virginia for the sole purpose of exploring preschools and getting enrolled.  It seems many schools won't even put you on a waiting list until they have met you in person and given you a tour of the school.  This might seem reasonable to most, but to a military spouse, this is a huge conundrum.  Another friend has her little girl in an Italian preschool.  The school ends in July and doesn't start up again until the end of September.  They are moving back to the U.S. where school starts in early August, and they are being told she might have to be held back. I mean, the horror, really?!  And finally, I have a good friend that is living in D.C. and making the huge decision to pay a year's worth of salary (only a mild exaggeration) to let their daughter attend a German immersion school because she attended school in Germany through the second grade and they want to give her the opportunity to continue her studies in a foreign language.  The scenarios feel endless, although they always find a way of working out, it's rarely without a little extra added stress and major decision-making (don't even get me started about trying to find housing at the last minute in an area in a good school district).  But we are resilient and grow stronger with every move!

Back to little r and my unreasonable anxiety about having school aged children... It never dawned on me that having little r in September was going to start the never-ending conversation of when he would start kindergarten (American kindergarten, that is).  Apparently this is now a hot topic of discussion among moms and dads alike.  Kindergarten is not what it used to be.  Rumor has it that things are more difficult for the little ones - sight words, computers, math... It's starting to become a trend to hold kids back and have them start kindergarten when they are older with the thought being that the maturity level will be higher and it will help them succeed. Big R comes from a different camp being that he was an October baby and started kindergarten at the ripe 'ol age of 4, meaning he was more often than not, the youngest in his class.  After we received our new assignment, we wasted no time exploring the best neighborhoods and schools for little r.  What we didn't anticipate was that he would be too young to make the crazy cut off date of August 15 for public schools.  After the shock wore off and we accepted that little r wasn't going to start kindergarten this year, we changed our focus to finding an excellent preschool.

The research paid off and all the cards seemed to fall right into place for us with this move.  We secured a house in a great neighborhood in one of the best school districts in Tennessee.  The preschool we found for little r is, like most of them, a daycare, but it's also a learning center.  After spending a couple years in the German kindergarten system, we knew little r needed a preschool that would provide the structure and academic challenge to ward off boredom.  Our child is a spirited little guy, and boredom would be a way to set him up for failure.  The school is incredible and seconds as a private school for K-2.  We really liked what we saw the day we took the tour, so we didn't waste any time getting him enrolled.

He spent a couple of weeks in the summer program before we were approached to ask if we'd be interested in advancing him to the kindergarten.  They felt he was ready academically.  Turns out they were right, and he scored pretty high on his tests. The big kicker of the whole thing is that it's only offered on a trial basis, so he has to show he can behave (yikes!), and also because he doesn't make the age cutoff for the public school system, there would be no guarantee that he would be able to move into the first grade next year.

We struggled with this decision at first.  Would it be better to move him forward now and potentially repeat kindergarten? Or would it be best to keep him with the preschool and stick with our original plan?  In my head I'm hearing all my friends supporting him moving forward, meanwhile also hearing other friends argue that he's just too young.  So, I asked his teacher what she would do, as a mom, and having taught little r.  Her response made all the sense in the world.  I knew the answer, but I suppose hearing it is always helpful.  She told me that academically he is demonstrating he is ready and should do well.  Being that he's younger, she said it's always tough to know how well he will adjust to a more academic setting.  We have the benefit of not being in the public school system because they can use the trial period to make sure he will succeed and that those that stay in the class are not disrupted by those kids that really aren't mature enough or ready.  We can also decide to keep him in the same school next year and not fight with the school system over his age, which is an added bonus.

I suppose it's obvious now what we decided to do.  I was a nervous wreck about his first day and this two week trial period.  Little r was crazy excited about going to "the big school."  I was excited for him, but also concerned how he would react if they decided he wasn't ready.  Guess these are just the things we have to prepare ourselves for.  Little r was amazing on his first day of school.  He even let me pick out something nice for him to wear, which was nothing shy of a miracle.  We met his teacher and the other students in his class.  I can see now the huge benefits of putting your child into a private school, if for nothing else, the student/child ratio is impressive.  He is one of 11 students in the K-1 class, and half of those students are first graders.  Is that great, or what?  I think later having him in the public school will be a great experience for him, but for this stage, I think we will definitely get our money's worth.

First day of Kindergarten - a picture is worth a thousand words, this is one very happy boy!!!

I'll keep you posted on how the little man is doing in his class.  With all the variables we often have to deal with in the military, it is crazy awesome when things fall into place.  I have high hopes and I love that we found this school for him.


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Our adventures in the Wild West!

So, we're finally back in the U.S. and there were loads of things for us to do.  Settling into our new home aside, we had three years worth of family and friend visiting to catch up on.  Our family and friends are spread out all over the place, and there was no way we could see it all in such a short amount of time, even though that's exactly what we truly wanted to do.  Instead, because it had been literally three years since we had visited everyone out west, that was on our agenda.  It definitely helped that Big R's parents had recently relocated to the Sedona area. (That part was exciting, too, because we got to explore somewhere brand spankin new!)

One thing we had either forgotten or chose to ignore was how much it cost to travel within the U.S. Seriously, my sister and her husband visited us in Germany for Christmas last year cheaper than it was going to cost for us to fly from Nashville to Las Vegas.  I understand there are a million reasons for airline prices to be what they are, but it's just unfortunate how expensive it can be to fly now.  We somehow finagled our flights through our frequent flyer miles, but since Big R had a million more miles than the boys and I had (because of flying back to the US for work), we had a wild schedule that involved us flying separately to make the most out of our miles and our dollars.  We were proud of what we worked out, even if it made for some interesting travel stories at the end of the day.  (This is where I tell you about how traveling with a toddler and a 4-year old on a red-eye alone is not probably the greatest idea in the world - HA!).

Our fist stop was Phoenix where we were picked up by Big R's mom and whisked out to their new abode just outside of Sedona.  Wow, what a breathtaking place to live, and their new home is absolutely adorable.  We had just shy of a week full of visiting "Africa" (I got to *kiss* a giraffe!!!), exploring ghost towns and old mines, watching thunderstorms light up the sky and fireworks from the rooftop, and dodging flash floods.  It was such an awesome time.

These are a couple pictures of their cozy adobe home and its surroundings...

a view from the front entrance... just love her stone oven

the backyard... and no, i'm not kidding!

We were there to celebrate the 4th of July!  Our first one in the U.S. in three years!  It was so fun, and we enjoyed it with an awesome neighborhood parade and a breakfast with the community where even Big R's parents were meeting folks for the first time.

the little man showing his American pride
the family "float" for the parade!

We took a drive to go exploring the area around Sedona.  It's gorgeous!

Goofy picture, but it captures our family and that moment perfectly!

this is the view we were trying to stand in front of - breathtaking!
the view was so inspiring, i just couldn't help myself! lol
Then we went to "Africa" - it's a place just south of Sedona called "Out of Africa" and it is a very neat animal park.  They take you on a safari-like ride to view many of the animals, and they let you "feed" the giraffes!  If you put the celery in your mouth, the giraffe will take it with his tongue and give you a huge kiss. Being that giraffes are by far my favorite animal, this was nothing shy of AWESOME!

baby c thought the kiss was hilarious!

...and little r was beside himself excited, too!
We were visiting at the start of monsoon season, so we got to experience and witness several incredible lightning storms while we were there. Big R is crazy talented with his camera and caught many awesome photographs of the storms.

one of the best photos of the storm

 Desert sunsets are also pretty spectacular.  Big R caught many awesome moments on camera with the sun setting as well.

a sunset in the Senoran desert
Our last day there we explored an old mining town called Jerome, and a nearby "ghost town" junk shop.  Sounds weird, but it's actually a really cool place with vintage everything! 

vintage pick up truck

an old mine and gear

their political preference was pretty clear at every turn as well - look closely at the label on the "soup" can

One thing I didn't realize was how large the winery business is in Arizona, and also how incredible the wines are!  Big R's parents live a mere 5 minutes away from the heart of wine country.  You know me, we had to do our fair share of tasting.  We were even given the night off to go enjoy Page Springs Winery - an absolutely incredible place with the coolest atmosphere and employees that are really passionate about their wine - while Big R's parents stayed back to watch the kids.  It was heaven :)

enjoying date night to the fullest!

It was time to say adieu to the beautiful red rocks of Sedona, and head to the Mojave desert to visit my family and friends.  A hop from one gorgeous part of the country to another.  We were feeling crazy spoiled.

these red rocks will definitely be calling our names!

A quick Southwest flight later, and we were in Las Vegas with my mom.  We planned the visit with my sister and her husband, and we had a couple hours to kill before their flights arrived.  So, what does any sensible crew do in Vegas for a couple hours?  Buy cowboy boots, of course. Haha, you thought I was going to say something much more interesting, didn't you? We had a lot of horsing around to do on this trip and no boots to enjoy it with. It was time to load up on some proper gear!

this pictures cracks me up

After our insane first night out on the ranch (where a lightning strike started a fire just up the hill from the house), we didn't waste any time horsing around.  (The fire started up again the next afternoon, so Big R and I hiked back up to try to keep it contained until BLM showed up again.  We grabbed a couple of pictures this time!)

hiking up to the juniper tree that is ablaze from the lightening strike

burning hot, but we caught it well before it was a severe problem

it still took the BLM crew a good hour to make sure the fire was out for good

There was a lot of horseback riding, mucking stalls, tractor driving, hiking and desert exploring, yoga, reading, piano playing, wine drinking, and relaxing.  Can't forget the child wrangling, screeching and playing either, can we mom?  My kids have a way of keeping you entertained and completely exhausted! Overall we had a pretty fantastically awesome time!

little r is a natural cowboy - he just loves horses

he has a great seat and so much ease around a horse

my beautiful sister and Smoke - who we used to ride when we were in high school!

Big R and little r on Stella

panoramic view of the valley after a hike to the top of a peak

streams formed after a day of good rain

sun setting on the rocks

Ryan was proud of his climb to the top!

baby c was super curious about the big animals...

...but he's not quite the horse lover yet that his brother is

heading for the trails on Stella

quick family shot (less baby c) on Rustler and Stella

Papa Tom let little r drive the tractor - he STILL talks about it!

views from another hike - this valley is gorgeous at every turn

love these old trees

Jess and I taking it all in...

...and striking a pose on the rocks

This trip also included a weekend in Las Vegas where we were able to visit with our friends.  I was beyond excited to spend time with my closest friends that I hadn't seen in three years.  I had no idea how much I was missing home and my friends until we were there.  The feeling was incredible and I savored every last single solitary second of it.

We spent the fist day poolside with Lacey and her kiddos.  The boys were in heaven.  I even got to spend some uninterrupted time with my best friend catching up - absolutely priceless!  Little r and Lacey's oldest, Ryland, are only 4 months apart, and they were literally instant best friends. It was too much fun watching them bond as if they had grown up together.  

Lacey and my little man
his love for the water is uncanny - this kid is like a fish!
Our next day we met up with my close friend and partner in crime, Monica.  She's an assistant curator at the Shark Reef in Las Vegas, but she and I also met when we worked together at the dolphin habitat at the Mirage.  We still have connections there, even after all of these years, so we took the kiddos to see some dolphins and then she brought us all "behind the scenes" at the Shark Reef.  It was pure awesome!

best pals watching the dolphins
did I mention we still had connections?  yep, the boys got to feed the dolphins and do a little bit of training...

...and they snuck in a pet or two.  

baby c watching the big shark tank from up above!

its too dangerous for the boys to feed the sharks, but the sea turtles loved the attention and the snack!

Monica has the coolest pets, and this snake was little r's fave!

Another amazing adventure to log into our book.  This might not have been southern France, the Alps, or Tuscan wine country, but it was just as awesome and incredible in every way.  We've been going nonstop for quite awhile, so I'm going to do my best to contain this adventurous crew and get us settled and into a routine.  Knowing us though, it's not likely to be long before we have more to write home about.

Love you all, and I hope you had fun reading about our western adventures as much as we loved having them.