November is a month of gratitude. Lots of people have been posting things they are grateful for on Facebook this month, which I think is wonderful. But for me, it's been a year of gratitude. Way back on January 1st I decided to keep a gratitude journal. I made it a goal, in fact, to have 365 things I was thankful for by year's end. And I have been true to my goal. I think back every night on the events of the day and find something I'm grateful for. Sometimes it's silly (cheese!), sometimes it's obvious (family), sometimes it's seeing God's hand in my life that day. Actually, often it's seeing God's hand in my life. I don't think it's a coincidence that I started this journal, and 29 days later Clark lost his job. I was NOT feeling very grateful on some of those days. But I had made a goal, and I was going to keep it, gritting my teeth if necessary. Being thankful helped me notice that we didn't have to make a single house repair while Clark was unemployed - not even 1 burned out lightbulb. It helped me notice that the very week I was worried about feeding my family on a non-existent income, we received 3 dinner invitations, the contents of the fridge and freezer of a family that was moving across the country, and the CSA pickup of a friend who was going to be out of town. And the RS president showed up with butter, pajamas, and encouragement. Because I was writing this all down, I could look back at that week, and see miracle after miracle. It was amazing.
So far I've had 10 months of gratitude, but it's been pretty much for my eyes only. Lately, I have been feeling like I should really write a thankful post in this month of gratitude. So here are the top things I'm grateful for:
Family. Obviously, right?
Pie. All kinds.
Employment. Oh, how grateful I am for Clark's employment. Heavy burdens have been lifted, and tears of frustration have been replaced with tears of joy. What a blessing.
Being Veterans Day, I'm feeling especially thankful for veterans. I wore my poppy all day, and thought of the men and women who have served our country. We went to Cantigny Park tonight, and visited the First Division Military Museum. They had luminaries set up all across a field, and there were soldiers keeping watch, even in the snow. I may have shed a tear or two. God bless our veterans.
I am thankful for the gospel of Jesus Christ, and perhaps more importantly, for my testimony. My religion is something I hold near and dear to my heart, and I don't think I've brought it up much on my blog. But it must be said that I have a testimony that Jesus Christ is my Savior and Redeemer., and that through his atonement, I can be made whole. I also believe with my whole heart that Christ's church has been restored on the earth, and that the Book of Mormon is true. The power of that book is boundless. By reading from it daily, I come closer to Christ. How blessed we are to have it. If you haven't read it, you should. I'm sure you can even request a free copy from lds.org. Or I can give you a copy. I have a spare.
That should do for now. Perhaps there will be a part 2 in a few days.
After the random assortment of thoughts I just posted, here is a random assortment of pictures!
First day of school, take 1 (in Michigan):
First day of school, take 2 (In Illinois):
Ella wanted her picture too, and who can resist that face?
We pulled out some taffy Aunt Kim sent us ages ago, and had a great time pulling it (and eating it). Ella was less than impressed.
We went through quite the building phase a few weeks ago. Legos were out every day. Even the blocks made a reappearance, after being tucked away for probably a year. Here we have a city, created by all of us. It includes a U for Utah, the tabernacle, Dow Gardens, and the Fox River. It appears to be a conglomerate city, adding components of Utah and Illinois and Michigan. Sounds like a great place to live!
The Cosley Zoo (a small children's zoo a short drive from our house) had a pumpkin patch section. There were pumpkins for purchase (we opted out), and all your typical pumpkin patch stuff. Including a cut-out for pictures, a miniature corn maze, and hay bales. What a great way to end our trip to the zoo!
Here are my Halloweenies! Ella is Cinderella, and Julia is a black cat.
And I'm a witch. Complete with a "wart" on my chin! (or really just a zit [I thought I was supposed to be done with zits in my 30s])
And finally, the pumpkins. The girls put their orders in, and Clark did all the carving. Most of it after they went to bed. Family togetherness!
-When I was little, I loved Where the Wild Things Are. There were few things finer in my mind than having my dad read this book to us, at night, on my parents' bed. Because if we were on my parents' bed, we could really rumpus. And as I read the book now, I realize that I always thought my parents were IN this book. They were some of the wild things - my mom was the red-head and my dad was the guy with dark hair and a beard. Did my dad have a beard? No. Do they look anything like my parents other than hair color? No. But still, that was them. I mentioned this to my mom a year or so ago, and she said a lot of kids think that. Really? Do any of you remember thinking this? Perhaps she meant books in general. Thoughts?
-I've always thought it would be lovely to travel by train. Though, to be honest, I probably want to travel by train in the 1950s. The idea of having a dining car and a room with a pullout bed and riding a train overnight just sounds so romantic. Not as in "lovey-dovey romance," but as in "dreamy and exciting." Like in the movie White Christmas. I want to travel on that train. Is that weird? That I want to travel for the mode of travel more than the destination?
-And speaking of White Christmas, I love snow. I love it! I even want to wash my hair in it (not really, they obviously haven't ever experienced snow). The thought of a good snowstorm thrills my little heart. I'm pretty sure I'm in the minority on this one, but winter is loads better than summer.
-Another thing from my childhood: I always wanted a Teddy Ruxpin. My friend Amanda up the street (a girl named Amanda on Amanda Ave, true story) got one, and she never wanted to play with it. Meanwhile I was DYING to play with it.
"Hey, Amanda, can we get out the Teddy Ruxpin?"
"No, let's do something else."
"Are you sure we can't just play with him for a minute? Just one minute. Please?"
"You have to play what I want or we can't be friends."
"Ok. *sigh* Bring on the My Little Ponies."
(You think I'm exaggerating, but this conversation happened more than once. It's how I learned what the word "threatening" means.).
I've been told they are actually pretty lame, but how would I know? Maybe they are every bit as exciting as I always dreamed! Can anyone confirm or deny the awesomeness of the Teddy Ruxpin? And was I crazy for wanting one?
-I'm a book lover. Finding the library in town saved my sanity that first week in Illinois. Going for 5 days without a library card just about killed me.
-In related news, I was invited to a new book club here. I went to our first meeting, and suddenly, Illinois was home. Something just clicked. We live here now. I am breathing a sigh of relief.
Ok. We're about to get very real here. Brace yourselves.
It's been about a month now since we moved. From the get-go I've known that the first few months would be hard, that it takes time to settle in and meet new people. I've done this moving thing a few times, and I knew that once the dust settled and the boxes were banished to the garage, things would start to feel like home.
The dust has settled. The boxes are banished. This still doesn't feel like home.
There is so much to be happy about. Clark has employment (HALLELUJAH!). We have returned to a regular schedule, with Dad heading to work every morning, and Mom staying home with the kids. Julia started Kindergarten, and has adjusted very well. We have a plethora of restaurants in this town. We're so much closer to a number of museums and zoos. And I am very happy about all those things. I keep trying to put on a brave face, and tell myself that this will all work out, to give it time.
But this doesn't feel like home yet.
I miss MY house. Part of me wishes we could just move back in. But I know that's not possible, so I want the house to sell quickly so we can move on financially. And there is really nothing I can do about that except wait and hope and pray that someone sees it and loves it as much as we did. I miss our old routine, our old preschool, all-day Kindergarten. And most of all I miss my friends. My dear friends! Between our moving and the moving of other families we know, I've got little pieces of my heart scattered all across the country, and at this moment? I feel like my heart will never be put back together.
And then the holidays are coming up. Oh, the holidays. What on earth are we going to do for the holidays? Christmas was still a bit sad in Midland, being so far from family, but now? How do I keep that happiest day of the year from becoming my own personal pity party?
Basically, what this all boils down to is: Wah. Moving is hard. Pity me.
We discovered Cantigny Park a couple weeks ago, and we all love it there. The gardens, the prairie, the mansion, the tanks. Julia especially liked the military museum, and begged to go back the next week. Shocking, I know. Obviously it's a well done museum if my 5 year old girl wants to go back. We're starting to explore the area and find our new favorite places to go. And maybe, just maybe, this place is starting to feel a bit like home.
To say our moving experience gone off without a hitch would be a lie. We've had a number of actually big issues since we got here.
First off, getting here was rough. You'd think a 5.5 hour drive wouldn't be so bad, but it was. It really, really was. I had the girls by myself, and Clark had the big truck with all our stuff. I wanted to climb out of the moving car about an hour and a half into the trip. I love my children, but they can be...trying at times. Particularly Ella. Somehow we survived. I'm just glad it's over.
Then, once we got here, we noticed one minor detail: the only dryer hookup is gas. And we have an electric dryer. So our dryer sat in the garage for about a week, while we worked that one out. Thankfully we have a great landlord, and he had an electrician come put in a line for us. But things got a little dicey there when we all ran out of underwear. I ran a load of undies and then hung them up all over the house. It's a good thing we don't have any friends who might drop by, because it was crazy underwear house over here.
And then we smelled gas. The kind from a line, not a person. It was coming from the stove. So we shut off the stove, called the gas company, and discovered that we did, in fact, have a minor leak. No stove for a few days. After having an appliance repair guy come out and discover that the part that needed replacing cost about $400, the landlord decided to just buy a new stove. Not a bad deal for us. Again, we have a GREAT landlord.
And who could forget the Internet Saga 2013. We signed up to get the internet started the week after we got here. I waited and waited at our house on the appointed day, but no one came. Until I looked out my window and saw someone pulling OUT of my driveway. You see, we live in a townhome, where the garages all face each other, and my front door faces a pond. So the cable guy had pulled into my driveway, called Clark (who was at work), and then decided no one was home. Despite my car parked in the driveway. Despite the fact that he had never actually found the front door, or, I don't know, KNOCKED. It turns out we even have a doorbell on our garage. I guess cable man didn't see that either.
After many different phone attempts, we were told that they rescheduled us for the next week. At a time that wasn't convenient. Without asking us first. I was pretty riled up over this tidbit of information, but in truth, I just wanted internet access again, and I was willing to do anything to get it. So we waited. And now, obviously, we are all hooked up. Patience is a virtue. I guess I still need to learn that one.
And finally, the AC in my car is not working. I keep telling myself that this is no big deal because fall is on the way, but it certainly was a big deal when I had to go get milk in 95° weather. And it continues to be a big deal any day the sun is shining. Come on, fall! Where are you??
OK. Rant over. Hopefully all the glitches have been resolved, and we can just live our lives normally. For a while at least.
There are toll roads. Lots of toll roads. I think it cost us 4 or 5 tolls to get here from MI. Tolls, tolls, everywhere!
There is a fee to register your child for school. On top of the lengthy supply list (even for Kindergarteners). On top of the tuition you must pay for full-day Kindergarten. We have opted for half-day, because $230/month for school isn't in the budget right now. This is a bit disappointing, as half day is only 2.5 hours long. Sigh.
You have to pay to have your trash taken away. Recycling is free. Trash is not. You buy trash bags and/or trash bag tags at the grocery store. I like this in theory, but I miss having an outdoor garbage can to put stinky trash in.
The cost of housing is quite high. Basically, it's not cheap to live here. Illinois is broke and wants my money. Unfortunately, I am also broke, and am ticked about giving it to them. Not a happy relationship so far between me and the Prairie State.
There are a LOT more stores and restaurants here. A. LOT. We have everything you could ever want. But see above about lack of funds. So someday, we'll get to eat at some fantastic restaurants.
Having more stores also means having more discount grocery stores. I haven't purchased a gallon of milk for under $2 in years, YEARS I say! I could get used to that.
We found a lovely walking trail/bike path right by our house that takes us around a pond and ends up at a playground. This is everything our family could ever want. Score.
The ward has seen HUGE growth in numbers the past 6 months or so. Lots of people moving in. In fact, there was another family that moved here the same day as us, just up the road, and we have mutual friends. So that's promising.
All in all, I think we're going to like it here. We'll have to spend more money, but I'm trying to look at it like a challenge to find all the free/discount things to do around here. Like a game to see who comes out on top, me or the state. I'm a determined cheapskate, so watch out, Illinois, I WILL beat you at this game!
It's only been 1 month since I last blogged, but it turns out 1 month is enough time to change everything. Everything.
Around the time of my last post, Clark had an interview with a company in the Chicago area. It was someone who had interviewed him before over the phone, but then they changed what they were looking for, and so things didn't pan out. A couple months later, they had an opening for an engineer, and immediately flew Clark out for an on-site interview. It went well.
A week after the interview, an offer was made. After much prayer and consideration, the offer was accepted. Coming from unemployment means you want to get started right away. You want to get started yesterday. So we sat down and looked at the calendar, to see how fast we could possibly do this. 2 weeks was what we came up with. So in 2 weeks we found a place to live, listed our house, packed up all our belongings, and moved to Illinois. To say it was crazy doesn't even begin to describe those 2 weeks.
We had so many offers of help from our good friends in Midland. Our kids were well taken care of, we had extra hands to pack and clean, and we even received dinners most of the nights that last week. In the whirlwind of activity, I almost didn't have time to think about the magnitude of this decision.
In the quiet hours of the night, when I should have been sleeping, I spent a lot of time thinking on the past 3 years in Michigan, and how much I loved it there. I thought about all the friends we had made, all the friends my girls had made. I thought about how much we loved our house, and how heartbreaking it was to have to sell it. I thought about all the places we had discovered and the fun experiences we were able to have as a family. And I cried. I'm still mourning the loss of our lives in Midland, actually. We had it good. I knew this would be coming, I'd known since January when Clark lost his job, but when it actually happened, when reality set in and I knew I'd be leaving one of the most precious places on earth to me, it felt a little like the sky was falling, and I'd never be happy again.
Of course, this is false. A little factoid about me: I can't be unhappy for longer than a few hours. My soul just can't take it, so I always find a way to pick myself up and hunt for the silver lining in all things. The grand paradox of my life is that I'm such a worrier, and yet I'm supremely optimistic. It's cyclical, I guess. Anyway.
We are here in IL! The boxes are all banished into storage, life is starting to calm down finally, and we are settling into a routine. Now we just need our house to sell. Seriously, friends, pray that we sell it quickly or we'll be in BIG trouble.
I decided at the beginning of the summer that I wanted my kids to learn the value of work. And, let's be honest, I was sick of cleaning up after them. So we resurrected the chore charts. Each girl has 6 jobs to do every day, plus a "special help" column if they do something extra that day, like help make dinner or weed or some other non-everyday job. For Julia we have read a book without help, empty the silverware basket, tidy up toys, schoolwork, clear the table, and make her bed. For Ella, get dressed without help, put away books, tidy up toys, schoolwork, set the table, and make her bed. They get a sticker for each completed chore. 100 stickers = a treat. (I'm thinking Slurpees.)
Let me be clear: I was sick of cleaning up all the toys. I wanted them to tidy up the toys every day. That was the main objective of the chore chart. The other jobs were nice and all, but I really wanted those toys picked up. I also wanted Ella to dress herself, but that was a distant second to the toys.
If you were to look at those charts today you would see that Julia has a total of 87 stickers, with a whopping 6 of those being from tidying toys. 6. Ella has 91 total, with 4 in the tidy toys category. There continue to be toys ALL OVER MY HOUSE. So much for that.
On the upside, Ella gets herself dressed every day. On the downside, she still requires someone to watch her get dressed for reasons unbeknownst to man. And if you try to offer help, you get this response: "We really need me to do this by myself now." I swear, that kid knows how to push every button you've got.
Now that I've vented, it's obvious that they've done chores, and I'm very glad for every single one they've done. Beds actually get made occasionally, Julia will read and write and do math without complaint, and the table is set and cleared most evenings. They are good kids, even if they scatter toys like nobody's business.
Have I mentioned before that I'm the planner in our marriage? Clark is a great many things, but a planner he is not. And that's ok, we need one of us to not be stressing out about "a plan," it saves our family from turning into a giant ball of worry. However when it comes to my birthday, I want a plan. I need a plan. And I've learned that I need to be very clear on what that plan should be ahead of time.
Knowing we are on a tight budget, I kept my requests fairly simple. I wanted to be the one who stayed in bed after the girls woke up, and then to have breakfast brought to me, which I could consume in peace while I read a book. I wanted to go for a hike at the Chippewa Nature Center (and I wanted everyone to LIKE IT). I wanted homemade macaroni and cheese for dinner, with pie and ice cream for dessert, and I would even be happy to whip up this feast, but I was NOT doing the dishes. And I wanted my girls to complete each job on their chore chart for that day. That's it. That's all I wanted for my birthday.
I am ever so pleased to report that my family really came through for me. I got everything I wanted (although there are a few dishes still waiting in the sink, but I'm not worried, Clark will get to them). Plus flowers. Plus new sunglasses. Plus some birthday money with which I purchased an apple corer and a Les Mis CD. (As an aside, how is it possible that I have made it to 32 and not owned this music?? I think I can call myself a music lover, in fact, and this is some of the most amazing stuff I've ever heard! Where have I been?) Julia presented me with a number of drawings that she has been working on throughout the week. These include Safari Julia, Pirate Julia, and Julia and Mom on a Sunny Day, and they are awesome. Some of her best work.
But the real kicker, was Clark had an interview. On my birthday! And he has another scheduled for next week. Who knows if a job will come of it, but I've discovered that there is nothing so rejuvenating as a return of hope. We are still in the same situation, but there is hope, which lightens the load, and makes everything seem brighter. Marvelous thing, that hope.
Here's a smattering of the things we did in Utah...
-Hiked the Y. We decided to give ourselves a "Provo Day," wherein we hiked the Y, walked around BYU campus, consumed BYU Creamery chocolate milk, and generally relived memories. We also got to spend the day with Clark's sister Jessica and her then-fiance-now-husband Tyler, as we happened to pick a day that Tyler had off work. Good times. We missed seeing the Adams family because they woke up sick. Less than good times.
-Speaking of Utah County, we headed down there a few more times to visit the Reids. I went to a Zumba class with Kim, and reminisced about when I used to dance. And then my hips were sore for days. Clark went on a ride-along with Officer Patrick and kept the peace (so cool). And we all headed down one day to see their house, play at the splash park, and enjoy a picnic dinner. Good times.
-One day we rented open kayaks at the Daybreak Lake and spent an hour paddling around the lake. This was one of my FAVORITE things we did. Partly because it was new, and it's not often that I get to do new things. And partly because it was outside, and so peaceful. I would do that again in a heartbeat. If only we lived in a fabulous community where renting kayaks (for free, I might add) is one of the amenities.
-We also hiked up Millcreek Canyon. I think the girls were pretty excited to be hiking in the mountains, and let's be honest, so was I. The crisp air, the sound of the creek, the trees, the birds. Nothing like it. (Though I will say, Michigan has the trees and the birds in abundance, and you don't even have to go further than your front yard, which is amazing.)
-Speaking of canyons, we managed to get up there again for a weenie roast with the Millars. Thank goodness our Utah trips coincided again! All time spent with the Millars is priceless.
-Speaking of hot dogs, holy smokes we consumed a lot of grilled hot dogs!
-Speaking of grills, we spent one night in a tent - in my parents' backyard. We made an "outdoor" evening of it, and cooked tin foil dinners on the grill. But wait, these were not your ordinary tin foil dinners! The biggest pain of a tin foil dinner is waiting for the meat to cook. So we used Costco frozen meatballs instead. Pre-cooked, and pre-seasoned! The second biggest pain of a tin foil dinner is waiting for the potatoes to cook. So we used frozen hashbrowns (southern style) instead. This plan was brilliant. It only took 15 minutes for those puppies to cook up. Add in some veggies, and BAM, tin foil dinners at their finest. Everyone actually slept in the tent, which was a miracle.
-Cafe Rio. Twice. Enough said.
-We ate at a number of restaurants. Julia has been asking for weeks now when we can go to a Peppers again. She means Chili's. I almost don't want to correct her, sweet girl. We also scored some Sno Cones, which helped beat the heat. They didn't have my favorite flavor of all time (Nectarine), but the Mango Peach was pretty good. Why have I never seen a Sno Shack here? Michiganders, any help on this one??
-Utah's Hogle Zoo never disappoints, especially when accompanied by Aunt Suzanne, knower of all animal knowledge.
-Jessica got married! To Tyler! GOOD TIMES. The wedding was lovely, the reception was beautiful, and the Coldstone was delicious. And much needed, since it was 100 degrees that day. Along with the wedding, all the Blockburger siblings were in the same place for the first time in 5 years. Please tell me it won't be another 5 years before we do that again.
-We met Ethan and Flynn (my new nephews). You know how as a parent you think your kids are way cuter than anyone else's? It turns out that's true for nephews and nieces, too. As Julia might say, "I just can't get my mind off how cute Ethan and Flynn are!!" I really can't. It's an obsession. Just thinking about it makes me want to hop on a plane right now so I can squish their cute faces again.
-We spent a lot of time with family. This was the most precious thing we did. Spending a month in Utah gives you ample time to do all the things on your list, leaving lots of time for hanging out, going to the park, going on walks, and playing games. We also got to go digging around the Blockburger home, sifting through precious artifacts from their family history. We learned a lot of stories from The Great Storyteller himself (Steve), and quite frankly, felt the Spirit. Family history work, I tell ya. It's more than names and dates. It's stories.
-We also got together with LOTS of friends. I'm reminded that I have amazing friends. And it feels like little pieces of my heart are all over the country. Why can't we all just live in the same neighborhood?
For the past few months I have been experiencing what I call food guilt. Nutshell explanation: The budget doesn't allow me to spend money on the foods I want to buy.
In depth explanation: We are on a tight budget right now. You might even call that an understatement. Here is our current budget plan: Do you absolutely need it? Then you can buy it. If there is any way you can do without it? Do without it. Case in point: my pajama situation. I discovered this winter that every single pair of pajama pants I own has at least one hole in it. Someone graciously gave me a pair that she rarely wears, and they quickly became the pajamas of choice every day. However, those pjs are made of fleece. Fleece doesn't work so well in the summertime. So I'm back to holey pajamas. But do I NEED new pajamas? Well, no. It doesn't matter too much what you sleep in. Though it does mean I cannot go to the store in my pajamas. So I guess this whole unemployment thing is doing everyone a favor and keeping me from doing that. It's the little things.
Anyway. We're on a tight budget. Guess what I have to go buy every week? Food! I used to love grocery shopping. Planning a menu, writing a list, picking the sale items. Loved it. Now I dread it. I walk through the aisles, asking myself if I really NEED that extra can of corn. Um, a can of corn costs 75 cents. WHY AM I WORRYING ABOUT 75 CENTS? And yet, I do, I absolutely do.
And then. AND THEN. We add in the whole foods/local foods movement. I want to feed my kids nutritious meals. I want to give them meat raised on a local farm. I want to buy that free range chicken, along with the eggs. I want to shop only at the Farmers Market, and only buy the best. I want to be that lady. But I just CAN'T. And it frustrates me to no end.
I can do the fresh produce. Produce from the Farmers Market can be cheap. But it turns out margarine is cheaper than butter. Though that's a bad example, because I actually have made that switch and only buy butter. But I cringe every time I see the price. Coconut oil is more expensive than canola oil. Honey is more expensive than sugar. The list goes on. And so I am left feeling guilty in just about every section of the grocery store, and it stays with me all the way home. It carries over every time I see a new post from the 100 Days of Real Food lady on Facebook. I WANT to only have real food. But I can't right now. Wah. Pity me.
OK, pity party over. On a more constructive note, I'm ever seeking for new ideas for healthy snacks for my kiddos. Healthy and yet not expensive. Any suggestions?
When Clark's sister, Jessica, announced her engagement this past winter, we knew we'd be headed to Utah in June. We just weren't sure where we'd be coming from or how we'd be getting there (courtesy of life in limbo). As it got to be spring, it became apparent that we'd be driving the 25 hours from Michigan to Utah. Cue panic mode.
25 hours is a really long time to be in a car with 2 small children. A really, really, REALLY long time. I was intensely worried about it, so I turned to the Facebook brain trust for help. They did not disappoint. I got oodles of advice, and most of it was put to good use.
Would you like to know how it all went? Well, let me tell you.
The trip out there was great. We did it in 2 days, with an overnight stop in Lincoln, NE. Day 1 was like a dream. It went better than I could have ever hoped for. We got up at 3:30am and were out the door just after 4. The goal was for girls to fall back to sleep and we could get a few solid driving hours in. No dice. But they were very quiet and restful (just not asleep) until sunrise. The day went very smoothly, with no potty accidents or major whining, and we arrived in Omaha at 5pm. We decided to take a long break there, see the Mormon cemetery, drive by Clark's parents' old houses, and take a quick tour at the Winter Quarters Visitors Center. Then we headed toward Lincoln, stopping at a McDonalds along the way for dinner. We basically got to our hotel, and went to bed. Getting up at 3:30 made it easy to fall asleep at 8, which meant no sitting in the bathroom, waiting for the kids to fall asleep (always my favorite part of traveling with kids!).
Day 2 was still good, but not as dreamy. We were all sort of sick of the car at that point, and it turns out Nebraska and Wyoming are both really large and quite boring. BUT. We managed to stay sane, had a nice stop at Little America for 50 cent ice cream cones (and a real playground, where Ella said [multiple times] while going down the slide, "My bum is shining!"), and got to Utah at 7:30, mountain time. (For those keeping track, we are in the eastern time zone, so we gained 2 hours.)
The trip back was long. Just, long. I think we were all SO READY to be home, and it's awfully depressing when you finally make it through Wyoming, only to see that you have 400 miles of Nebraska to get through before the end of Day 1. Julia was sick at the very beginning of that long trip home. I'm not sure if it was car sickness (we were going through a canyon) or lack of sleep or what, but I was grateful we had packed some ziplock bags in the glove compartment. SO so grateful. Also, we hit some nasty traffic around Chicago, which delayed us quite a bit. And we lost 2 hours with the time change. So we came home exhausted, but happy.
And what did we do in the car, you ask? What didn't we do, I say! Because I had been so worried about this adventure, I was ultra-prepared for the car ride. I wrapped dollar store gifts (though it was hard to decide when to give those out. You can't do every hour, or you'll be out $50! Every state means you get 2 gifts on day you go through Wyoming and Nebraska. In the end, I think we packed about 7 things per girl and doled them out as we became desperate.). I printed out Mad-Libs, which Julia got a kick out of - we're talking hysterical laughter in the backseat. I had coloring sheets, coloring books, workbooks, and a map of the US for each girl, so they could track our progress. I had Harry Potter on Audiobook (Julia loved it! Ella did NOT.), and numerous chapter books to read aloud. We had Scripture Scouts (BIG hit). Peter and the Wolf (they are obsessed with it). Music. Lots of snacks and food. And the piece de resistance: the DVD players. This was crucial to our sanity.
Best piece of advice I received? Print out all the rest stops that are along the way. This was wonderful to have, especially in those long stretches of nothingness. It made planning our stops a breeze. Side note: Rest stops in Illinois/Indiana/Iowa are WAY nicer than rest stops in Wyoming, and Utah for that matter. It must be that they get used more.
All in all, the girls did great with all this driving. And so did we, thank you very much. Details about Utah will have to wait for another post, this one is entirely too long already.
On the one hand...It's Ella's birthday! We get to have cake and ice cream! And there are presents!
On the other hand....I had to fit "bake a cake" into the birthday festivities. And Julia has spent the entire day crying, because, "Ella's birthday makes me feel jealous."
Also....I cannot believe my baby is gone. I have a preschooler. It's all going way too fast.
But then again....We made it to 3! Ella is gaining more independence each day, and she gets to start preschool this year, which means 2 mornings a week with zero children. And she is at that delightful age where all sorts of funny things come out of her mouth, which makes up for all the tantrums and selective hearing.
I obviously have mixed feelings about today. (I have mixed feelings about a lot of things in my life right now.) I think I'll celebrate the good, and let the bad fall to the wayside. Happy Birthday, Ella Joy!
So. Remember when Clark lost his job and our lives were turned upside down? We're still upside down. All along people have been asking how it's going, but lately I've had a lot of, "So, what are your plans?" Um, our plan is to find a job and then for him to work there. That's the plan. I've got nothing more concrete than that.
But it turns out that living your life on hold is not very fun. In fact, it sucks. You feel like you have no control, and you are just stuck. Waiting. Endlessly. It's hard to know whether you should live like you are about to move, or if you should just pretend nothing is happening to maintain some sense of normalcy, if for no other reason than the kids. (Think of the children!)
We've basically opted for the later. Not too much has changed around here, other than Clark is home all the time, and we have cut back on the budget. So life goes on, and suddenly I'm the chairman of the parent board at the preschool next year, and I'm not sure they fully realize that chances are we'll move sometime over the summer. I've tried to warn them, but I'm not sure it's sunk in yet. And then, maybe we won't. The unknown is overwhelming sometimes.
Anyway, the point is, we decided that we needed to have SOMETHING to look forward to, or we'd go insane. And since it's a real possibility that we won't live in Michigan for much longer, we thought it was high time we paid a visit to Kirtland, while it's still a short drive away. And since Clark doesn't have to do things like take days off, we went in the middle of the week during spring break. Left on a Wednesday morning, spent that afternoon and the next morning seeing the sights, and headed home Thursday. It was quick, but it was exactly what we needed. We did everything on the cheap, which turned out to be pretty easy because all the church sites are free! Except for the temple, which was a nominal fee. But still, a pretty affordable trip.
I had never been to Kirtland before, so I thought it was absolutely fascinating. And the girls did pretty well. It helped that we had some understanding missionaries, who kept the tours simple, and let the girls set the pace. I'm pretty sure it was best for us to go during the slow season, when we could be the only people on the tour through Historic Kirtland.
Here we are at the Whitney store!
And the temple. Oh, the temple. It was so beautiful. SO beautiful. I was very impressed with our tour guide, she was great. I'll admit to being a little skeptical of a Community of Christ tour, but that was completely unfounded. It was spot on. And we even got to sing The Spirit of God, in the temple! And on April 3 to boot (the day the Savior appeared in the temple). That was a very special moment. I'll never forget it.
And apparently on this trip Julia decided to have "open mouth" smiles.
On Thursday morning we headed out to the John Johnson home in Hiram,
OH. I'd heard from my dad that it was worth the drive, and he was
right. That home has the spirit there. From the moment you walk in,
you feel it. And we were the only ones there, too. The sweet couple
who took is through the home let Julia and Ella linger behind when they wanted to (watched by one of
them, to make sure they weren't wreaking havoc on the home), which made all the difference. It allowed me to really focus on what happened there, instead of on keeping my kids quiet. Here we are at the front door. Again with the "I'm going to eat you" smile.
So while it was a whirlwind trip, I'm so glad we did it. It gave us all something to plan for and look forward to, and it was a great experience. And honestly, more than anything else, I think we just needed the change of scenery. Even for just one night. I feel like I'm still trying to navigate life with Clark home all day, and I'm not sure I'm doing it very well. Doing something different was very much needed. For our sanity.
The past few years, Clark and I have made it a point to celebrate Pi Day (3/14). It's kind of the perfect holiday for us - a celebration of math and dessert.
This year I made 3 pies - Banana Cream, Chocolate pudding, and Apple. And may I say, the apple pie was to die for. I only got one piece, but oh my, it was delicious. So good, in fact, that I had to make it again for Easter Sunday. Partly because Julia begged me, and partly because I couldn't stop thinking about it. In fact, thinking about it now is making me salivate. Let's look at the close up:
Doesn't that look amazing? It was amazing.
We invited some friends over, and had quite the spread. Delicious pastry abounded. And we even had a recitation of pi to some crazy number of digits.
I've seen the article floating around Facebook about how we need to calm down on the holidays and make life easier for everyone. Pi Day gets a mention among the holidays that have been invented and talked up at school, resulting in kids coming home with high expectations. And sure, Pi Day might not be for everyone. But boy howdy, this holiday was made for me. I love that we do this holiday at our house.
It'd be a shame if I didn't take a minute and blog about Dr.Seuss Day at Julia's preschool. They usually have a potluck dinner for the families of the preschoolers, but this year they decided to mix it up a bit and have a Dr.Seuss celebration, on his birthday. It was SO well done. I mostly took pictures of the food, because it was all so clever! Pink Yink Ink Drink, Put Me In the Zoo animal crackers, Moose Juice and Goose Juice, Green Eggs and Ham, One Fish Two Fish, Truffula Trees, and Hop on Pop-corn. So fun!
They also had activity stations, with Seuss-related games. Here we have the photo booth, and the fishing game.
(By the way, Ella's shirt is NOT an announcement. It's a hand me down. And one of her favorite shirts, much to my chagrin.)
The Sneetch machine was a BIG hit - my girls were over there for at least 20 minutes, just going through and getting stars put on and taken off. But did I take a picture? No. They were occupied, so I occupied myself with chatting with adults.
All in all, it was a fabulous day. I think everyone had a great time.
Julia continues to be a Dancing Queen. Or should I say a dancing MACHINE. We crank up the tunes, and she busts out all sorts of moves. Like these....
Or some of these....
To see previous installments of our Dancing Queen, click here.
PS: Ella is a pretty cute little dancer, too. However, her awesome moves are still developing at this time. (Direct quote from Ella: "Mom, if you ask me if I want to go to Meijer and get a cookie, I will say, 'Sure!' at some point, but not at this time." The kid slays me.)
I mentioned a bit ago that we finally got enough snow to go skiing. (Finally.) And while later, we finally got a bunch of good, wet snow, so we could make a snowman! Most of the stuff that we get here is all powder and fluff. Not good for packing. So we were thrilled that we could make snowballs and snowmen and all kinds of fun things.
I even had a bag of baby carrots sitting in the fridge that no one was going to eat because no one at my house likes carrots (and yet I still bought them, wishful thinking I guess). So we gave Mr. Snowman a nose and some eyes. Ella took a little break to eat a carrot. The cold must have been getting to her at this point.
Then we gave the snowman. . . a necklace? A very low smile?
And I guess we put some very lopsided buttons on. Things started getting crazy. Meanwhile, Ella decided to lay down and try to make snow angels.
And since we had more carrots, why not put some in the back of his head, too? Then we get to see his carroty face from our window, as well as from the street!
A job well done. Ella refused to stand up. I don't blame her. It took a lot of work to stick all those carrots in.
A few weeks ago we got a postcard in the mail telling us Julia was giving a talk in Primary. (I sort of can't believe that I have a kid old enough to give a talk in Primary. But I digress.) Julia immediately set to work drawing pictures to accompany her talk. And then she dictated the talk to Clark, who typed it up for her.
By the by, did you know Julia can read? I mean, really read? She's been learning words for a while, but she is a full on, confident READER these days. She is reading cereal boxes and street signs and anything she can get her hands on. She read Nate the Great to me the other day. No joke: she's a reader.
So, let's review. She wrote her talk. She drew pictures for her talk. And she read her talk. With minimal help from her parents. I was BURSTING with pride. In full disclosure, Clark did plug in the scripture at the end, but other than that, it was all Julia.
Here we have the pictures, followed by a video of one of our practice runs. First the text:
"When we were in heaven, God had a plan for us so we could come to earth. He thought that would make us happy because he wanted us to go to Earth. Then he made the Earth with water and plants and animals and trees. Then he sent us all to Earth. The prophet Lehi said, "men are that they might have joy." In the name of Jesus Christ, amen."
Picture #1: The brown dots are Heavenly Father and Jesus. We have a yellow sun in the blue sky, and a tree, and some grass at the bottom. I'm pretty sure this is God creating the Earth.
Picture #2: The Earth. Signed by Julia. The tails on her a's get a little crazy.
We went cross country skiing today. Second time since we moved to Michigan. Silly me, I thought we were moving to the great white north when we came here. Turns out it's the great cold north, not so much with the white. Anyway, it was GLORIOUS. Here's to hoping we can go again before the season is over. Also, I'm blogging from my phone, since that's what I used to take the picture. My little dumb phone! I think it's awesome. Or will be if it works!
Let's lighten things up a bit here, eh? I haven't posted a video in a long time. This is from back in December. It's nothing particularly special, just us walking into the backyard to play in the snow, but I love it for a few reasons. 1) You can hear the snow crunching underfoot. That is one of the best sounds/feelings. 2) Ella loves snow. I can't get over how cute she is when she says, "It's snowing." 3) The way Ella holds her arms. Cracks me up.
The other thing I remember from that day was the girls going down the slide. That first time, with all the snow on it, it was pretty slick, and Julia thought it was the coolest thing EVER. So she tried her best to pile that snow on each time she went down the slide. Except it kept sliding off before she could get up the ladder. Comedy, right there.
I feel like I posted the big, bad news last week, and then sort of left you all hanging.
We are doing fine. Things are getting better. I still have my moments when I want to shake my fist in frustration at the heavens and ask why, but they are generally short-lived. In fact, let me share my journal entry from last Wednesday:
"I shall now list the little bits of awesome from my day:
I got to sleep in until 7:30 on a weekday and not feel guilty.
Julia showed her teacher the "books" she made. Complete with hand gestures. Couldn't be prouder.
Heard a Guster song at the grocery store. Proceeded to sing in the aisles and look like a fool. But a happy fool.
Julia's comment after getting the free cookie at Meijer: 'They always have the BEST cookies here.'
Both girls ate dinner again, with minimal coaxing.
Dinner was DELICIOUS! And healthy. Win-win.
Took a luxurious shower at night, with no time constraints.
Watched the Netflix movie we have had out for weeks, The Big Year. And enjoyed it.
Heard a Guster song in the movie.
Lots of messages of encouragement from friends. Texts, emails, facebook messages, blog comments. The works. (There really were a lot of these. And they were exactly what I needed.)
Flowers from a friend.
Finding a scripture that felt like it was written for me in this moment."
There were a lot of tender mercies that day. Thursday we went to the temple. More tender mercies, from the friends who watched our kids to the people from our ward working at the temple that day. I have felt an outpouring of love from all the friends we have. People asking what they can do to help. People offering to pass along Clark's resume. People offering to pass along MY resume, if it comes to that. It has restored my faith in humanity, really. People are good. People are kind. People want to help. And, perhaps most importantly, I feel so loved.
So, in summary, yes, this is hard. No, this isn't the worst thing that could happen. And we're doing fine.
This morning I woke up and packed a lunch for Clark. I got breakfast for girls and everybody got dressed. I took a shower while Julia and Ella watched a show. I decided to go for a walk at the mall after dropping Julia off at school, so I packed my bag with the necessary snacks and water. We were getting our coats on when I heard a car in the driveway. In walked Clark.
My heart sunk. I knew what this meant.
Today was lay-off day. He lost his job.
Since we were heading out the door to take Julia to school, we didn't have much time to sit and talk about it (or cry, let's be honest). We dropped Julia off and went for that walk at the mall together. It was nice having Clark there, but I'd rather he had his job still.
We talked about things. We have no idea what is going to happen, but it's almost certain we'll have to move. We've been in our house for all of 3 months. We've made 1 mortgage payment.
I know we'll be ok. I just don't know HOW we'll be ok. It feels like the very fabric of our lives is unraveling. It will be put back together somewhere, but I don't know where. Or when. All day I've been trying to do normal things. Make lunch. Read to little girls. Dishes. But in the middle of it, I'll stop and remember the shaky ground we stand on, and it'll take my breath away. I'll remember a small detail ("Time to sign Ella up for preschool!"), and then realize everything could change. Probably will change. We likely won't be here for preschool in the fall, and if we are? We might not be able to afford it. Julia was getting so excited for Kindergarten. She'll still be in Kindergarten next year, but not with her friend, Jack. We just moved. We just moved. And now we'll have to move again.
The strangest part is I've had this feeling something big was coming. Not good big. Bad big. It felt like things were going so well, and we weren't really being challenged enough. I just knew something was coming. In a way, this is a relief. Loss of a job is preferable to death of a loved one. But it's still hard. The uncertainty is almost more than I can bear. I'm such a planner. You'd think that by now that would have been drummed out of me, but no. I need a plan. I thrive on a plan. I guess the Lord wants me to rely on His plan a little bit more, and let go of my plans.
Anyone know of someone hiring a Crystal Growth Engineer?
With the start of new year, I've been doing some reflecting. Thinking on the past year, and all the good times we had, and thinking on the new year, and the hopes that come with it.
2012 was good to us. We went to Chicago, Utah, Mackinaw Island, Niagara Falls, and Palmyra. I gained a brother-in-law, and 2 nephews. Ella learned to talk up a storm, and to use the potty. Julia learned to read. Clark started running barefoot. And we walked 1000 miles as a family. (That's right: we met our goal!) It's been a great year.
I have high hopes for 2013. We made a new family goal, involving reading. 2, actually. The first: read the Book of Mormon as a family. It very well might take us all year, but I think we're finally old enough that we can do it. I'm very excited to get into the habit of family scripture study. We've been sadly lazy on this front. But no more.
And then there is our second goal. Well, I don't know if you can call it a "goal," as there is no set number. We are just going to keep track of all the books read (kids books) and pages read (adult books) (not adult books, just grown-up books) (who do you think I am?), and see how many we can get this year. I think it'll be exciting to see the list next January 1.
Also on the list of resolutions? Be more patient. Spend less time yelling at my kids. Do more yoga. And be more grateful. I'm hoping to write something of gratitude every day in my personal journal. A lofty goal, to be sure, but one that will infuse a sense of thankfulness into my life.
Here's to 2013! (I still think that sounds like a made-up number, not a year.)