Saturday, December 24, 2011

Where Do We Begin?

First, Merry Christmas!  There are no Christmas lights nativity scenes...but we do have stocking on the mantel.  We just moved into our new home last week and unpacked the last box a few days ago.  We didn't have it in us to unpack our Christmas items just to box them up again in a week or so.

My goodness.  It's been quite a ride for our family since October.  How about a quick recap?

I interviewed for a Corporate position at State Farm in October, was offered the position in October, Karen and I spent a week in Las Vegas for a CPCU conferment, Karen and I went on a house-hunting trip in November, we moved, spent a week in St. Louis for Thanksgiving, I started my job the Monday after while Karen and the kids stayed in St. Louis for another two weeks, and we moved into our new home in December.

Vegas, nothing that appeals to us.  Everything outside the strip was fun and the food was incredible (and incredibly expensive).  So we spent as much time as we could away from the "entertainment."

The temple was beautiful and a wonderful retreat.  It backs right up to the mountain on one side of the valley.  You can see the white spires from miles around against the brown rock.
And then when you go on the other side of the temple and look back towards the valley, it's quite a contrast with the temple elevated above the "world."  The Church sure knows how to make a statement.
And they have built a Stake Center alongside the property of the temple.  It has a beautifully landscaped desert garden.  Making arrangements to visit the temple was probably the best part of the trip. :)
But the next best part was a quick trip over to Hoover Dam.  It really is massive in person.  If you look behind the dam, you'll see a solid white line on the mountains.  That was the level of the water back in the 80s.
The bridge was completed recently.  There is no longer through traffic on the dam itself...which makes it much safer for all the pedestrians!
It really is amazing how they just built into the rock.  It was the best dam tour ever. The tour guides really enjoy using that joke in many different scenarios. :)
The lights of Vegas were beautiful.  We stayed at Caesar's Palace.  If you haven't been before and plan on going, watch out for the mini bars in the room.  Everything is weight-sensitive so if you pick something up out of the fridge, it automatically charges your account.  Nice.
And who needs to spend all that money for a show?!?  There is plenty of free entertainment along the strip.  The volcano is quite a production at the Mirage.  And it was super hot, too!
Karen and I could have spent all night at the fountains of the Belagio.  The music and water show was even better than Ocean's 11.
Larger than life doesn't even begin to describe what design engineers and architects have done in Vegas.
And this might have been the coolest intersection.  We played the role of the tourist and walked up and down the strip.
It was fun to see this familiar face on a billboard.  Karen noticed a nice touch on Gladys' finger...
See that?  It's a diamond CTR ring.  Love it!!!
So that was a quick recap of our trip to Vegas back in October.  We have so much catching up to do on our blog.  Maybe we'll get around to it...maybe not.

But we definitely need to share a few more select pictures.  Our family left Virginia the weekend before Thanksgiving.  A wonderful friend came over to take the kids after the movers drove off so we could clean the place.  Karen and I (ok...mostly Karen) did one last deep clean in our attempts to make the house more presentable for potential buyers.  Then we picked up the kids and brought them by the house one more time before driving west.  

We had them take their shoes off and run through the house.  Then it was time to say goodbye.  It wasn't easy...and there were definitely some genuine tears.  This picture pretty much captures it all.  The three youngest don't quite comprehend what was happening.  But the three oldest knew exactly what moving meant.  
Leaving was hard.  We made many good friends and created some incredible memories.  It was a beautiful part of the country (though we won't miss the trees that towered over our house and dumped leaves in our gutters year round).
And 800 miles away and a month later, we can finally call this new house our home.  Maybe we'll post more pictures of the new place.  It's amazing how quickly we've been able to settle in.  The neighbors are wonderful and the house will meet the needs of our growing family.
This last picture is an exact opposite of the kids leaving their home in Virginia.  The roles were reversed - the youngest (represented by Luke in this picture) was emotionally over-stimulated and was excited to finally be with Mom and Dad again.  The oldest (represented by Mark in this picture) couldn't wait to explore the new house.  I remember that feeling when I was his age and my family moved to St. Louis.
Good times.  Good times.  We're excited for the new adventures that await us here.  And we can't wait to record them here on our family blog.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween

Halloween is one of those holidays that has created a lot of tradition and good memories in our family.  

I can't lie - pumpkin carving is no picnic.  But it's fun to take the kids and choose pumpkins.  It's fun to choose a design.  It's fun to clean out the pumpkin (it really is a satisfying feeling to completely gut a pumpkin).  But the actual carving?  Mom and Dad's hands hurt for a few hours afterwards!
But seeing the final product makes it all worth it.  Neither Karen nor I remember carving pumpkins as a kid.  So we're enjoying it now as bigger kids.  Next year, we might let Mark carve his first one.
The costumes are another fun tradition.  It is now requiring a "family council" as the older kids get older.  And next year we might have to move away from the theme.  But for this year, we still pulled it off.  And Karen, as always, did an amazing job with the costumes.  There are a few individual shots below...only because the faces are so darn cute.  And then a couple of group shots.
Karen incorporated the theme into the candy bags, too.  The cops had "evidence" bags and the robbers had money bags.  How cute is this little robber?
I can't help but think of Barney Fife from the Andy Griffith Show when I see Peter and Luke in their cop outfits.  This group was a hit when we brought them to State Farm today.  It brightened up everyone's day.
Here's a group shot of the "Cops and Robbers."  Mark's candy bag was his ball connected to the chain.  And James' was the jail cell he was holding onto.  There was a hole at the top of each of the bars that deposited candy into the compartment below.  Brilliant.  
And we converted the red wagon into a Paddy Wagon.  Luke had Eliza in custody.  She looks angry in the picture below...and Luke looks frightened because he's trapped in there with her! :)
We love these kids so much.  And we enjoy dressing them up each year.  Mark will be 12 next this era may be coming to a close.  We'll see what happens next year.

Hope everyone enjoyed a safe and happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Peter Michael

It's still birthday season in our family.  Peter is the last of the kids for a couple of months.  He turned 6 last week and enjoyed time with family and friends.
His primary teachers came to pay him a visit.  How sweet are they?!?
Karen and I were in Vegas during his actual birthday (don't conference with pre-determined travel dates).  So Grandma took a picture and emailed it to us.  
We love this kid.  He's super lovable and pure sweetness.  Happy birthday, Peter!!!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Luke Preston

Our sweet little Luke has turned four! I can hardly believe it!
Very excited about birthday presents, does it get any cuter than that?
 This boy loves Leapsters, Legos and Diego.
Cake time! He was very excited about his Captain America cake!
This cake was really easy to frost, but the baking was a challenge. In the end it turned out pretty cool.
 See the cool layers?! Luke thought three colors of cake was pretty cool.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Mark Owen

I think "happy" might be an understatement for this boy when he opened one of his birthday presents.
Rejoice much?

For the little entrepreneur . . . if he hasn't given you the business plan spiel, just ask, he will:)

He even loved the cake despite my lack of artistic skills when it comes to superhero heads. It is hard to believe that he is eleven, but we have certainly been blessed to be able enjoy watching him grow this far and we are looking forward to the future!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Eliza Rose

Our dear little Eliza turned two last week! We can hardly believe how quickly the time has gone. 

 Here she is loving her new chimpanzee, and styling her fabulous bead necklaces.

Of course we got a shot of the whole crew getting very excited about a very pink cake. Birthday Season has begun:)

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Old Rag

There's a hike in Virginia...many hikers call it the best in the Commonwealth.  And, though I'm no professional hiker, I enthusiastically agree.

Old Rag Mountain is in Madison County, of the more beautiful counties I've visited (both from a historical and geographical perspective).  For our Webelos day hike to complete the boys' Arrow of Light requirement, we decided to tackle Old Rag.  It's about an 8-mile hike round trip...and just enough of a challenge to make it adventurous for 10-year old boys.
We were at the trail head by 6:30AM.  Next time, I want to be at the summit for sunrise.  Even though the sun rose as we scaled the mountain, it was early enough to still get this view mid-way:
There is something about the rising mist in the Blue Ridge mountains that really stirs my soul.

Old Rag is definitely not family-friendly.  I would hesitate to take anyone younger than 10 years old.  In addition to needing some amount of strength to pull yourself up and through various parts of the rock scramble, long legs and arms are certainly a plus, too.  I've hiked a lot of trails in my life, and I don't recall a trail where I was more dependent on the markers than I was with this one.  Once you reach the rock scramble, there are blue arrows painted on the granite to indicate where the trail is and, at times, which direction to go.  Here's one spot where Alex (one of the Webelos) got ahead and was unsure of the next direction:
So it was critical we kept an eye for the blue paint:
Yes, we fit through that crack in the picture above.  It's a little bigger than it looks.  And as you can see in the picture below, trees grow anywhere...even if there's nothing but rock (so it appears).  It's really quite amazing.
If you lose sight of the blue paint, sometimes the best thing to do is to look both ways...
So look through these photos and see if you can find the blue paint to keep us on the trail!

I love this next picture.  Garrett is just lifting Mark by his backpack to provide him a little more assistance.  Are we still on the trail? 

Do you see the blue paint in this next picture?  What direction do you think we went from here???
And if we had had no blue paint along the trail, we still would have had our guide - Garrett Dudley.  I love this man.
He was always one step ahead and always in a position to lend support or provide assistance.
Garrett knew when to stop and just chat.  And when to press forward.  He shared experiences he has had rock climbing and hiking in general.

This picture summarizes it well.  Garrett is a good good as they come.  And the boys are fortunate to have him.
Garrett is the one who suggested we have a prayer before the hike.  And, while I'm still unsure of what actually happened, I know Mark was protected as a result of that prayer.  The venom of a copperhead is relatively mild for adults.  But I'm glad we didn't have to learn how serious it could have been for a 10 year old.  This copperhead was actually on the trail at one of the switchbacks.  Mark was in the lead and the first to reach that particular switchback.  He's convinced it fell out of the tree.  The adults think the sound he heard was actually the copperhead striking at Mark.  Either way, there were numerous factors that made this a little miracle for us.
The rock scramble was certainly the most fun.  A solid mile of nothing but granite.  We went up and down...we had to suck it in and maneuver through tiny cracks...we had to find the right hand hold...and even jump on occasion.  It was everything a 10 year old boys loves to do (and the adults enjoyed it, too)!

This was the very beginning of the rock scramble.  We had no idea what was up ahead!  Good thing we took this quick break to enjoy some scenery.
We quickly learned that we needed both hands free for this part of the hike.  The dad's couldn't carry their sons backpack during this time.  And you couldn't hold your water.

At times, the boys would stand back and watch Garrett work his magic.  Then they tried their best to follow his footsteps.  You definitely don't want to misstep on these rocks.
The views were incredible - even near the beginning of the hike.  This picture was taken during our first of many breaks.  We found a nice flat piece of granite in the middle of the forest just a short walk off the path.  The morning sun was just beginning to rise.
As we got a little higher, the views became more breathtaking.  

And the rock formations are amazing on Old Rag.  I would love to see how they have been formed over time.
During our lunch break, Scott Sims found a nice spot to sit alone and enjoy the scenery.  Even in the late morning sun in the middle of August, the temperature and breeze were comfortable and refreshing.  It was a perfect day.
The boys - Steven, Alex, and Mark.  Steven is no longer officially a Webelos, but he's good friends with Mark and Alex and we thought he and his dad would enjoy the hike.  We certainly enjoyed the extra company.

See how strong these Webelos are?!?  They kept the rocks high enough for us to pass through. :)

Mark found some shade at the summit.  The boys enjoyed some exploration when we got up there.
Me and Mark at the summit...4 miles from the parking lot.
Here's a nice shot of Mark, Alex, and Steven.  They are good kids.
And here's the group - Steve and Steven, Scott and Alex, Garrett, and me and Mark.  It was a great hike and we couldn't have asked for a more perfect day.  And it was a great way for the boys to complete their Arrow of Light.