Monday, September 18, 2017

Cardboard House and Catan Crisis

My mom and I stumbled upon this cardboard house kit at Hobby Lobby and felt like it was worth the $16 for an afternoon of fun for the kids. 

DEFINITELY WORTH IT.

They played with it for five hours! Drawing on it, playing peek a boo, crushing it, fighting over it. It was great. 






And then PopPop brought Cane's and we feasted.


Also, this happened the other day:


 I thought the sounds coming from the other room were Jack playing with the train set, but he was dismantling Max's Settlers of Catan game and shoving pieces down into the vent with Ripley, who was then trying to squeeze in and swat them back out (unsuccessfully). It was too funny for me to be mad about it, but Jack was definitely caught!




his head literally inside the vent hahaha

Jack even had tongs!
Also, Makall visited this week from St. George and we got to spend some fun time with her! A highlight was going to the temple with all of the siblings that were in town (Austin, Aaron, Makall, Makae) while Suzy watched the kids. We even went to Changs afterward, so obviously it was a successful evening. But we didn't take pictures! Alas!

Pictures!

A bounty of pictures await their turn to be blogged! I haven't been super busy lately, but every time I'm like "hey, I could probably blog right now" there is always something else I'd rather do: watch Guardians 2 with Austin, have a tidy house, make a treat, go out with friends, go to bed. But! Here we go, trying to catch up:

Natalie is doing really well in school. She seems to really enjoy it; she was really excited to tell me that today they learned to spell and read the word "see." She's really good at sounding out letters and if she is patient enough she can spell easy words. She often gets frustrated when we try to get her to read at home with us though, so we're trying to lay off and let her figure out how to enjoy it on her own instead of forcing her to. It's fun for us to see her growth. Parent/teacher conferences are next week!


 ^^she came home all excited to do the fundraiser for school and earn prizes. I told her if she threw away the fundraising packet and never asked about it again, she could choose her own prize at Target. WIN.



A cute Natalie quote from the second day of school as we were dropping her off at the front of school with the crowd of other kids:

N: "Oh look! Friends!"
Parents: "Oh, really? You know them?"
N: "Well, they're friends I just haven't met yet!"

We thought that was so cute. She's a good little friend. She loves going to library and playing on the computers, she recently got into Franklin the turtle (yes, the same Franklin we grew up with!), she loves earning prizes from Miss Beck's prize box, and she was really excited to do her first piece of homework last week!

Stockton is doing really well at his school, too. He works with Alex and Janelle mostly, with a few other therapists thrown in. Each day he has a piece of paper with picture prompts that help him tell us what he did that day, who he played with, and what he ate for lunch. "I....ate....purple chips! I...ate...spaghetti! I...played with....pizza planet!...with Alex!" They are proud of him because he is still working through goals faster than expected and really starting to show some great preschool readiness. They were really excited one day to tell me that when Alex left the room Stockton asked with no prompting, "where did Alex go?" He is having a lot of independent conversation/requesting/labeling, and it's really great. He's come so far!

 He loves pulling the pictures off the wall -_-

 just eating his apple and enjoying the view

 SO tired of him throwing stuff down the stairs. Trying to clean this up broke the vacuum!

an artistic Stockty shot
Jack continues to be petite and adorable, but often whiny too, little stinker. He learned how to climb out of his crib which I thought was going to really disrupt our routine, but he actually hasn't made it a problem! Sometimes in the morning he chooses to climb out instead of call for us, and when he comes out he is pleased as punch and says "I wake up! I climb out!" He makes everyone around him smile, and loves dancing to music. We love our Smalls.



 "look! I'm Rippy! Whisker City!"

 he loves rocks and sticks - he's such a little BOY


He rode that snail all around Target // on walks he sometimes makes us "watch out!" while he checks for cars. I didn't capture it in the picture but when he does that he holds his arms out wide to prevent us from moving forward.

Austin started his doctoral program in audiology. This picture shows how excited he feels about it.

I'm proud of him. He works so hard and does so well at literally everything in his life. Quality guy, I'm telling ya. He always makes more than enough time for us as a family and loves asking what he can do to help me. I love him!


Natalie likes making sure Kitty is safe too



picking out the marshmallows from the lucky charms for dinner....it was one of those nights
I've been running the past week or so. 8/8 days! 


when was the last time you did a puzzle? we did one with friends one Sunday
night and it was delightful!

I got this frame for the poster I got in Chicago and I loved
that the picture inside was the famous one we saw in Chicago!


thanks to a friend, we now have a sandbox! it is much beloved.

and thanks to another friend, we have this awesome little box that hooks up to our TV
and has all sorts of old school games (like over 200 of them!) Natalie gets to stay up
a little later than the boys and play with Daddy. It's hard to say who enjoys it more!

Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Big Change

I missed church for my Chicago trip, and that just so happened to be the Sunday that they announced a big change: our ward was being dissolved and we were all assigned to one of the two other wards in our building. It came as a complete surprise and I don't think I fully processed the information for at least a week. We met the following week as Trendwood Ward one final time, they released all of us from our ward callings, and we turned in all our materials and keys. It feels completely bizarre and normal at the same time - bizarre because it was so sudden and we're being separated from people we've served with for over 5 years, and normal because the Church is true and the work goes on and ward boundaries are arbitrary when it comes to testimony and personal conviction.

My first thought when I heard the news was, "ah! Which of my friends aren't in my ward now!?" and my second thought was, "wait! That means I'll be released!" I couldn't tell if I felt angry, sad, overwhelmed, relieved, or confused, or all of the above. Mostly I just couldn't get over my surprise. "Dissolving" just seems so abrupt - I prefer "assimilating" or "reorganizing." Denise called me right after the meeting to give me more information and we spent at least half of the conversation saying things like, "I just can't believe it." 

So, we're in the Capital Ward now. We lost our entire Bishopric (Haines, Bundy, Chamberlin), plus most of the other "permanent" families: Birdsall, Beddes, Sherrill, and many other families who we love. It will feel very weird to not see them and work with them every Sunday. My RS counselors are still in my ward, which is a huge relief to me, and also many of our student friends (although they will be leaving Lincoln in the coming years anyway). The dividing line is 56th street, and we live on 54th, so we are really close.

We were released from our callings. Austin had been in primary for over a year, and I had been RS President for almost 2 years. I feel sort of naked without this calling. It's been such a huge part of my life these past years and I don't think it's really sunk in yet that I'm done. No more making sure RS goes smoothly every Sunday, passing out visiting teaching slips, Ward Council, scheduling presidency meetings, dealing with food orders, keeping up with the stream of emails and texts about compassionate service, carrying the weight of what people in the ward are struggling with, and trying to make sure every sister's needs are met in the way they need to be. No more ministering visits, presidency temple trips, requesting callings, making sure people have rides, planning activities, organizing funerals, taking attendance, sending letters, praying for sisters to feel our love. 

We had one last Trendwood Ward Council on the final Sunday, and we each had an opportunity to share joys we've had, things we've learned, and advice we'd give to others who will have our calling. I loved listening to what the leaders in this great ward had to say, and was touched by the love I could tell they had for the people they had served so well. 

Here's some of what I've learned by being Relief Society President:

Never underestimate people. Let them rise to the occasion; don't make excuses for them.

Visiting teaching is hard but must be done in order to properly care for the ward. 

Every single person is dealing with hard personal struggles. Every single person.

You can't do the work alone; you have to rely on counselors and utilize the people who are called to help you. Expect people to do what they have been called to do and trust them to do it without you stepping all over them. Don't make everything your responsibility. There are no unimportant callings. 

I was the most successful and effective in this calling when I was devoting enough time and energy to reading and studying my scriptures. It was a 100% clear cause-and-effect relationship. 

Go to the temple. You will literally ALWAYS be blessed. 

Boundaries are important. You don't have to answer every single phone call or make a visit every single day. Finding family, recreation, and church balance was a constant struggle but an important one. 

It must be so hard to be a Bishop. As much weight as I carried on my shoulders, I'm confident the Bishop carried double. I have more reverence for that calling now and will always strive to support and sustain my Bishop. 

Some of the joys I experienced in this calling:

Working with my Denises. I still think it's funny that both of my counselors were named Denise (and Denice!). They continue to be a giant blessing in my life, both as friends and mentors. I have loved serving with them more than they could know. 

Seeing visiting teaching work the way it's supposed to: calling someone to alert them to a need of someone they visit teach and having them tell me that not only are they aware of the need, but they have already taken steps to help. Amazing. 

Working closely with Bishop Haines. Learning how to lead and serve and follow the Handbook. Feeling like he believed in me and knew I could do what was asked of me in this calling. 

Getting to know sisters that I would never have even met otherwise. 

Feeling supported from all the women in my ward. I don't think I went a single Sunday without someone giving me a hug or nice note, telling me I'm doing a great job. Those little actions and words really make a huge impact.

A greater desire to know God's will, since now I was seeking it on behalf of our Relief Society and not just my own self and family. My prayers have changed. 

And so much more! How can I capture everything? 

Sigh. I'll never forget this time in my life. I'm grateful for my experiences and what they have taught me. I know that I have been blessed and that I will continue to draw on these years for what they are worth for the rest of my life. Change is good. I'm ready to do something different, and I know the Denices feel the same, even though we're all sad to end our official service together. 

I was asked to bear my testimony in Sacrament Meeting after we were all released and I don't remember everything I said, but here's one thing that has stuck with me:

"We don't have to be anything other than what Jesus Christ wants us to be, which is as He is. So many people told me that they didn't feel like they fit in, or they felt judged for not being a certain way or doing certain things. Many of these sisters stopped coming to church and never came back because they couldn't measure up to the expectations, perceived or otherwise, of others. I know that this is not what our Savior wants us to feel. He only expects us to follow His example and strive to be like Him, and that will be enough."

I'm kicking myself for not getting a picture of me, Sister Ashby, and Sister Noble. I'm grateful we had the chance to be on the same team. I'm grateful we can continue to be together, even if we're not working directly together in callings. 

I'm grateful for Austin. He continues to be the best there is, in every way. 

Thanks for the memories, Trendwood. It's been unforgettable. 

Chicago!

Max asked me if I wanted to go to the John Mayer concert in Chicago in September, and I really really wanted to but didn't think it was logistically/financially possible so I told him no thanks. He texted me the next day asking if money weren't an issue if I thought I could be gone for a fri-sat-sun trip and find babysitters, etc, so I said "probably," and he said, "good, because I just bought two tickets."

I'm pretty sure my brain went "!!!!!!!!!!!!" With the financial consideration out of the way, I felt like I could make the rest of it work so I said YES and that was the start of our month-long anticipation of a brother/sister roadtrip to see one of our very favorite musicians and spend the weekend playing tourist in Chicago. It was so fun to plan the trip together, going back and forth on what we wanted to do and where we wanted to go. Our planning paid off because I think it was the smoothest, most streamlined and relaxed itinerary I've experienced. We were never bored or over-stimulated, neither tired nor too energetic. We never had to rush, and in the times that we had to wait for something (i.e. a table at a restaurant) we used the time to go see something else we wanted to see or look up an independent bookstore.

We spent over an hour at Target the night before, selecting baseball shirts, snacks, concert shirts, a belt, two movies, and whatever other miscellaneous junk we decided we needed. I went to bed early; Max stayed up late; we left at 5 the next morning in Mom's van. We got to Chicago before 1, gratefully passed our car along to the hotel valet, and with some of Max's signature manipulation were able to check in early. We dropped off our stuff and headed back out to go see the Art Institute of Chicago.

Max was late for our 0500 departure

 a beautiful sunrise; we trashed the car

On our way we passed the Bean and it was an excellent starting point as tourists in the city - what else screams Chicago more than these pictures?








96% of the reason we went to the Art Institute was because Ferris Bueller did too on his famous Day Off. I didn't realize how many famous paintings were actually there! I am not an art aficionado by any means, but even with my average awareness I recognized many classic works and it was exhilarating to see them in person. I loved all the Monet paintings best.





the lighting was really good so we took selfies. except max's was way better haha. 

*a note about selfies: after this trip, I was so tired of taking them! But I wanted to document moments, so I did what I had to do. 


 these were some of my favorites ^^^ (Mother and Child, Joan D'arc, and Fisherman's Cottage)



We were hungry after the museum; all we had eaten so far that day was a bag of Lifesavers gummies and McDonald's breakfast. Max looked up a random burger place a few blocks away and it was just what we needed: quiet, not crowded, good basic burgers/fries, and cherry coke. Perfection.





We tried to walk to our next destination but got all sorts of turned around and eventually just found a taxi to rescue us. That served its own purpose though because we saw more of Chicago and wasted time that we would have otherwise spent just waiting in line for our boat tour.

*a note about taxis: three separate times taxi drivers turned down our business! Twice because they said the place we wanted to go was close enough to walk, and once because he didn't like the address we gave him for some reason. It was bizarre; like don't you want our business?

The Chicago Architecture Boat Tour was a 90-minute ride on the top deck of a tour boat, narrated by a Chicago native with tidbits about history, current events, and, of course, architecture. We met a couple who were standing behind us in line and struck up a conversation that continued on the boat. We got excellent seats around a table in the back so we could listen to the narrator when we wanted to and talk when we wanted to without annoying anyone. It was really fun to have new friends to laugh with us on the boat and we thought the tour was interesting and entertaining. Great suggestion from Ananda! I highly recommend this if you have time in Chicago.










 The bridges were really cool, really old, and really low. And Max saved the day and lent me his hat, since I didn't have sunglasses.







Another thing I highly recommend: Giordano's pizza. I thought Chicago deep-dish was a tourist trap and not all it was cracked up to be, but from my first bite of the cheesy, doughy, tomato-y pizza I was converted. They have a great system where you put your name in to wait for a table and they text you when it's your turn, so you can walk around while you're waiting. Also, you can order your pizza right when you put your name in to wait, so by the time you sit down your pizza is ready almost immediately after. We spent our time waiting for pizza by walking to a nearby hole-in-the-wall bookstore which we happily patronized. When we got back, our pizza was waiting for us, and I don't know what they do to the onions/peppers but it was some sort of mystical crack that made me want to never. stop. eating.



By this time it was pretty late, so we grabbed a taxi home and watched football with our night-time view of Chicago keeping us company. It couldn't have been a better first day.



This was our itinerary for the second day:
-Wildberry for breakfast (wander around downtown during the 2-hour wait! Buy Cubs hats, sweatshirts, Harry Potter and Star Wars posters at a cool comic book shop, find another bookstore, and check out the Chicago Athletic Club. Great suggestion from Uncle Bob!)


 Old elevator up to the rooftop restaurant with an awesome view.




 The famous "game room." Max beat me at foosball (obviously) and we cooled off with a round of Coke.



Our breakfast! Probs not worth the wait normally, but since we had time and were playing tourist, it was fun.



-Cubs game! (riding the subway couldn't have been any easier, we loved our little cub Cubs hats, we had great seats and weren't by annoying people, and we came late/left early so we didn't have annoying traffic to deal with. Plus the Cubs actually scored multiple runs each inning that we were there, making it an entertaining game!)











-relax at the hotel pre-concert (we watched tennis, I went to get bagels and listen to my audiobook, we took our time getting ready.)

 I forgot to have them slice Max's bagel so he had to put the cream cheese on top hahaha


-CONCERT!

The whole purpose of this trip was for the John Mayer concert, so we were really excited when it was time to head to the venue. It was an outdoor amphitheater about 45 minutes out of Chicago. It was pouring rain the whole drive, but stopped as soon as we arrived. We somehow scored amazing parking, waltzed in, sat down in our box seats, and John Mayer came out literally one minute later. The timing couldn't have been more perfect!



*note to self: always worth the extra $$ for good, assigned seating. You don't have to come hours early to stake out your spot, and at least in this venue it meant we were also protected from the rain.




The concert started with "Why Georgia" and I almost immediately weirdly started to cry! I didn't know how to describe what I was feeling except I was just so overwhelmed with nostalgia, happiness, gratitude, and sentimentality. This is music I've listened to since middle school in Maryland. I can still vividly remember where I was when I heard these songs for the first time, driving around in my mom's old blue van. We listened to Room for Squares to DEATH and eventually had to get a new copy of the CD. I love all of those songs so so much and I guess it was just too much for me to handle with him starting off with one of them. I calmed down enough to not be embarrassing (and thankfully it was dark, so I had that going for me), and he continued to play more and more of my favorite songs. I guess to be fair there aren't really songs that I don't like of his, so it would have been hard to disappoint.




I had to go to the bathroom but I was trying to wait for a song that I could at least bear to miss, and when he started playing something I didn't recognize I took my chance and ran out to find the bathroom, only to hear him modulate into "Who Says." I literally turned around on the spot to run back to my seat; I wasn't about to miss that song!

I tried to capture my joy ^^

The whole concert was just so perfect. It was so surreal to hear all of these songs that I love so much, and especially to hear them performed live and sounding even better than the recordings! John (obviously we're on a first-name basis now) was so real and funny and chill and didn't take up much time talking, but when he did we all loved it. There was a funny part where he bragged about a cool chord in "Your Body is a Wonderland" and said that he didn't know another song that had that chord in it that was played on the radio, and then he shrugged and said, "just sticking up for myself."



The backdrops weren't distracting; I thought they added a lot of nice atmosphere to the concert without pulling us away from the music. It was fun to watch/hear John go crazy on the guitar; he really is extremely talented! Max and I were talking about how we sometimes have to defend ourselves to Mayer-haters (which, why is there even such a thing!?) but that people don't understand how good he really is from a musical standpoint and not just radio appeal. In fact, most of our favorite JM songs were never even on the radio.





It really was a dream come true. I loved going with Max - it would feel wrong to go to a JM concert and not be with him. The concert wasn't too long; when he finished the only song that I really really wanted him to play that he hadn't was "Stop This Train," but I wasn't too disappointed because everything else was just so good. Then he came on and played it as an encore and I was in tears again. He finished with a new song on the piano with just him singing and it was sooo good. I hope it will be on a new album soon.

We drove home in post-concert bliss, reminiscing about our favorite moments and already looking forward to the next time we can see him in concert. I got in bed and passed out almost immediately, tired from walking for two days and all the emotions I felt at the concert. I got up and had breakfast the next morning while Max slept a little more and then we packed up and headed home. We listened to our favorite musicals: Dear Evan Hansen, Les Mis, and Wicked (Max doesn't know Hamilton yet so I listened to that while he was asleep) and oldies like Maroon 5's first CD, Justin Bieber's latest CD, and all sorts of classics in between. My throat actually hurt by the end haha.

 morning after, haha


It was the perfect trip. Perfect weather, perfect company, perfect activities, and capstoned by the perfect concert. Max made it all happen for me and I'm so grateful! He's generous, compassionate, funny, cool, and observant. He really treated me on this trip and it's fun to have new memories to add to our Max/Jessie arsenal. How many people get to travel one-on-one with one of their siblings!? It was awesome.

And I'm pretty sure he missed his cat more than I missed the kids, haha. Til next time, Minkle!