Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Orange Leaf

When I grow up I want to open up one of those self-serve frozen yogurt places.
The kind that claims to be so very healthy and beneficial for digestive balance.

The kind that encourages you to serve yourself about half a gallon worth of healthy and beneficial frozen yogurt into very large serving cups, then smother it with chocolate chips and candy bar chunks.

The kind that has bright green walls and orange couches.

And plays music, encouraging bad dancing from its customers.

The kind where your two year old can crawl under the legs of the molded plastic chairs
and an impromptu wrestling match with Daddy may take place.

The kind that your boy decides to visit in leu of a birthday cake on his birthday, so that he can craft his own birthday-cake flavored frozen yogurt covered in gummy worms and sprinkles.
Yes, the birthday celebration still continues.

Friday, August 26, 2011

I Just Hope Their Teachers Are Ready

Last week a couple of sisters started pre-school.

They woke up early, put on their first day of school clothes, and, with much anticipation, finally got to carry their backpacks and lunchboxes. In fact, a certain littlest sister has carried her backpack and lunchbox every day since then.

The two sisters went outside, in the 98% relative humidity, and posed for pictures before the fogged-over camera lens.
A certain outspoken four year old had the privledge of being the "line leader" on her first day of school.

I'm sure she hated that.
Being the first in line? Telling people where to go and showing them how to do it? That's not right up anyone's alley.

Maybe she will grow up and be a school teacher. Or a CEO. Anything but a tour guide.
Her little sister didn't have much to say about her first day of school other than "Harper go night night." I think she had a successful naptime.

I'm so grateful for the girls' little school, and I can't wait to see how much they are learning this year!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Dear Aidan,

Happy sixth birthday to my sweet A-man! I think back every birthday on the day you were born, the very first time I met my tall, skinny, red-faced screaming baby. Little did I know then that you would always be my passionate, spirited child.

There's a lot about you right now that I just want to bottle up and never forget. Your pappy always says that you'll never be a poker player. Every emotion you have shows from your head to your toes. We never have to wonder how you are feeling, or what kind of day you are having.

Your most favorite toys in the world right now are still your stuffed animals. You sleep with about 30 little animals every night, and after we put you and Dane to bed, we peek in to see you acting out all sorts of adventures with your animals. Your favorite is a little bear you have named "Andre Johnson", and then later clarified that "this bear is Andre Johnson. Even though the real Andre Johnson is black and my bear is brown." Just in case we were confused on the matter. You are very matter-of-fact about quite a few things, and a few months ago pointed out that Emerson has the same color of skin as your cousin, Joel Valdez. Who, as you guessed it, is not Chinese.

You are learning a real appreciation for all of the different and beautiful people that God created.

This past year has been a big year for you, you have learned so much in your final year of preschool, and you kicked off Kindergarten this past week with a bang and are loving every minute of it. You came home from your first day of school with this picture:
Your Daddy and I stared at this picture for a good minute or two, until you explained that, clearly, this was a picture of you next to a giant, blue cafeteria table. OF COURSE it is a giant blue cafeteria table. That is exactly what it looks like. (And we're going to work with you on spelling your name correctly.)

You CANNOT wait to learn how to read, so that you will be able to read stories at bedtime while Dane is reading. You are still learning how to "control your anger" every now and then, and have fewer and fewer tantrums and fits the older you get.

You have gotten so tall this past year, and are still skinny as a little rail. You're just a couple of inches shorter, and about six pounds lighter than your favorite brother in the whole wild world. You pick out your clothes every day, and we frequently see you in patterned shorts and bright socks pulled up to your knees.

We celebrated your big birthday with you today by eating lunch with you at school.
Well, if you can call it lunch at 10:35am. I was just barely able to convince the good people at McDonalds to put together a couple of Happy Meals at 10:30 in the morning.

(I did not realize that Harper and I were making the same face in this picture.)
Now I know why you are starving when you get off the bus in the afternoons. You got to wear a birthday crown all day at school today, and later today you have requested Papa Johns pizza and frozen yogurt as a special birthday treat. You'll open a couple of presents tonight, but your birthday party is this weekend at Chuck E Cheese. We broke our tradition of the waterslide party over Labor Day weekend, and took the easy route instead. You attended a party at CEC a couple of months ago, and talked about it nonstop for weeks. So instead of making invitations, cleaning the house, renting the slide, shopping for food, drinks, goodies, cake, entertaining the children, fighting the heat, remembering to pick up the ice, drying the children, opening the presents, passing out goodies, and cleaning the house again, we are simply showing up with a cake. Thank you for that, Aidan. This is the best birthday gift you could have gotten me.

You have been loving church these days. At the beginning of the summer you made the leap from the preschool room to the K-3rd grade area, and you get to be with Dane for part of the morning now. Our wonderful church has a worship band just for your age group, and one of the band members shared with me the other night about how much you love to sing your worship songs. Actually what she said was "he sings so loud that I actually got distracted while I was singing and forgot my words." Bless your heart. You know the words, and the motions, and you sing at the top of your lungs with a determined intensity. I'm afraid you take after your mother with your desire to sit in the front of the room, and sing really loud and off-key. Only I sit on the front row so no one else can hear me :)

Aidan, we love you so, so much and are so proud of the big boy that you are becoming. I cannot wait to see what Six has in store for you!

Monday, August 22, 2011

First Day of School- Boy Edition

Happy First Day of School!

Do these shirts look a little familiar? Like from my last post?

If you think I was fighting wardrobe battles on the first day of school, you are mistaken. Hence the plaid shorts and Texans shirts.

I didn't know exactly how this day would go, with my Aidan starting kindergarten. We met the teachers last Friday, and Aidan has the same teacher as Dane had, Mrs. S. (Formerly known as Miss G. Miss G. got married to a lovely man over the summer, so now she is Mrs. S.). Aidan and Dane got off the bus this afternoon, and Aidan was GLOWING. He had a great first day, and loved school! He made a few new friends, and his favorite part of the day was lunch, where he got to buy his lunch and drink chocolate milk.

Dane's teacher for the second grade is Mrs. W, and he has several friends in his class. And yes, he is wearing Harry Potter glasses. He bombed his vision screening at his pediatrician's office last month, and a couple of weeks ago his eye doctor declared him near-sighted. Dane, half-way through the fourth Harry Potter book, selected these cute round frames, and proceeded to draw a Sharpie-marer lightening bolt on his forehead. Needless to say, Halloween costumes will be an easy choice this year.
I am so thankful my boys had a great first day, and I am praying it continues throughout the whole year!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Go Texans Go

This past Monday morning, as I'm getting my day of grocery shopping and child wrangling planned out, I get a phone call from my dear husband from work.

Someone is offering me four free tickets to the Texans game tonight. They're on the 50 yard line and parking passes are included. Can I go?

Free tickets? TAKE THEM! Just don't plan on taking a bunch of your buddies from work.
Because I know a boy or two who would DIE if you went without them.

And a certain determined Mommy managed to get one of those boys to take a two hour pre-game nap, so he would be in a great mood all night.

According to Aidan, "Andre Johnson's team won, but he wasn't there." It's a tough pre-season pill to swallow, some of your favorite players may not actually be playing.

Brandon took just a few pictures at the game, but these gems were included for some reason:

Thanks, Brandon. I feel these shots really captured the spirit of the moment.

So this football season, if you're sitting around thinking to yourself, "Gosh, I have all of these football tickets that I just don't know what to do with", you know who to call!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Great Wolf Lodge

I know I'm a little late wrapping this vacation up. But I have yet to blog about Dane and Aidan's favorite part of Road Trip Extravaganza 2011. I thought I would start with an open letter to the friendly and accomodating people at the Great Wolf Lodge.

Dear WolfMan,

Thank you for hosting our little family on our final night of Road Trip Extravaganza 2011. We wrapped up a week-long road trip with a night in your hotel last week, and I would love to share with you a snippet of our experience.

We arrived at about 1pm, after driving in from the Comfort Inn in Oklahoma City. We had just enjoyed a lovely night at the Comfort Inn, taken advantage of their indoor swimming pool, where we were the only patrons, and partook of a tasty continental breakfast before heading your way. The room was clean, quiet, with ample room for the six of us. In the morning we filled our cooler with the free ice, refilled the sippy cups with the complimenary juice and milk, and headed out. All for the very reasonable price of $69.

I know.

The Great Wolf Lodge is not the Comfort Inn. But remember, it's not Disney World either.

I am not intending to compare apples to oranges. I made reservations at your establishment ahead of time online, and I was aware of the rates before I ever set foot in your hotel. I was prepared to shell out the $369 per night plus taxes and fees for my family to enjoy a night in a fun hotel and take full advantage of your much-publicized indoor water park. Upon check in, I was bombarded before I even left the desk with offers to shell out an additional $60 per child for them to enjoy a package of activities in addition to the water park. Didn't I want my kids to play MagiQuest? To run around the hotel with their wands, searching for treasure and slaying dragons? Don't you know they are going to see the build-a-bear store and cry big crocodile tears if they are denied the opportunity to stuff their very own Violet the Wolf? And the kid-geared nail spa! Don't forget the nail spa! What two year old doesn't need a $40 pedicure?

Really? I've just paid over $400 for the room and water park passes, and now you want me to fork over another HUGE chunk of change for additional activities? We're only going to be here one night. ONE NIGHT. 24 HOURS. So, no. We'll stick with the water park.

Our room was not yet ready when we checked in (the hotel generously allows guests to use their facilities before the actual check-in time of 4pm), so we took off to enjoy the much-talked about indoor water park. I had hoped to use a locker for my purse, only to learn that it would cost me an additional $10 to rent a locker for a couple of hours. Seriously. So we grabbed a couple of chairs, and hid my purse and husband's wallet under the diaper bag and the bag of clothes we had to change into.

One well thought detail: mine and my husband's wristbands were coded with our room key, so we didn't have to keep up with the room key while we enjoyed the water park. However. I had heard from others about the Great Wolf Lodge's "secure indoor water park", and applied the wrist bands required for admission to the little wrists of my children. And I have to say, I think some may have played it a little fast and loose with the word "secure". Basically anyone with a wristband on (every guest of the hotel) can walk into the water park and walk out with any child they want to. I thought maybe the room number would be coded on the kids' bands, or have a bar code they would have to swipe in and out with, but in reality their arm bands look just like the allergy bands that I put on my patients in the ER. Just a red plastic band.

We really enjoyed the water park. As I expected, I stayed with the girls in the toddler area, and Brandon and the boys ran around riding on all of the huge slides, Aidan tiptoeing past the lifeguards on duty so that he would appear tall enough to ride the cool rides. When I say I "stayed with the girls", what I meant was, I stood in the 18 inch toddler pool for a day and a half, two-year old Harper clinging to my neck and clutching at my swimsuit if I dared to venture anywhere except the toddler pool.

We did eventually hand over an extra $33 for my sons to share a wand (a cheap, broke-as-soon-as-we-got-home wand), and the boys and husband ran all over your fine establishment way past bedtime, playing MagiQuest, finding clues and treasure, slaying the dragons. MagiQuest was Dane's favorite part of the entire family vacation, in fact.

Mr. WolfMan, my family had a wonderful time at the Great Wolf Lodge. The rooms were clean. The water park was great fun. The whole "scan your wristband to get in your room" thing is brilliant.

But if you want me to come back anytime in the next five years, you're out of luck.

A couple of things I wish you had asked my opinion about before you opened your lovely hotel:

1. I appreciate you not charging for my 2 year old to use the water park. However, recognize that an adult will be attached to that 2 year old in the water park the entire visit, and consider a discounted adult rate for said adult. Because that adult will not be able to partake of your twisty slides and wave pool, she will be fighting to keep her swimsuit in place while her terrified daugher tries to pull it down the entire day.

2. Maybe think about more than 6 elevators for several thousand people in an 8 story building. Just a thought.

3. I just spent more money for a one night visit in your hotel than I did the previous 6 days on my road trip. Please don't make me think that my kids are "missing out" on something super fun if I don't pay an additional $33 for the MagiQuest wand. For crying out loud, we're staying at a hotel with a huge indoor water park. If there's another super fun activity, and it's costing you, Mr. Wolfman, the cost of a cheap break-as-soon-as-you-get-home wand, please consider making it a complimentary part of The Great Wolf Lodge experience. School age boys everywhere will appreciate it. The MagiQuest game was a huge hit with the boys in my family, the highlight of their stay was getting to stay up till 11pm and run around the hotel on a scavenger hunt with their Daddy. Well, done, Harry Potter-obsessed video game savant who came up with this concept. Mr. WolfMan is making a killing on it.

4. I'd love to give you suggestions about the food in your lovely establishment, but I decided my children may like a little money left in their college fund instead of sampling what I'm sure are world class cheeseburgers and pizza. We enjoyed our granola bar breakfast and sandwiches for dinner in our room very much.

5. I noticed, when we were in the lobby for the 8:30 "bedtime story" (complete with a wonderful story teller and one of those people-wearing-a-wolf-costume things), that your hotel bar is situated overlooking the main lobby, complete with its' 8:30 bedtime story. A horrifying thought struck me: there are adults here who may not have children with them. Business travelers, perhaps? Meetings? Conventions? Bless their hearts. They are in your fine hotel, sharing tight elevator space with all manor of half dressed people in soaking wet swimwear, my children are running up and down the hallways at 11pm, and now when they pop into the hotel bar for a little adult interaction, they are subjected to the preschool bedtime stories from Wiley the Wolf. File this one away with the elevator suggestion: Maybe next time put the bar as far away from children as possible. Everyone in there is trying to pretend children, and anything associated with a water parks and giant wolf costumes do not exist.

6. I hate to keep harping on how expensive this was. Did I mention I paid approximately $400 for the night? The hotel room was lovely, but it was a $120 room. The water park was unlike anything I have ever seen when it comes to on-site family entertainment, but simply put, it was not worth the money. I would have happily paid $250 for the experience that we had, but we shelled out way more than that, without ever paying for a meal. I understand that there are slightly more reasonable rates available mid-week during the school year, but I expected a lot more than I got for my money on this visit.

Hopefully, a few years down the road, we will reunite, Great Wolf Lodge. Perhaps my children will all be old enough, at that time, to better utilize your impressive facilities. Perhaps my cooler will be better stocked with goodies. Perhaps we will all play hooky and come during the school year. Perhaps we will request a room on the second floor and take the stairs instead of waiting for your six elevators. Until then, I am afraid this is good-bye, for now at least.



Truth be told, we had a good time at The Great Wolf Lodge. We just drove away the next day feeling robbed of all of our money, left with only a chlorine-ruined pedicure and a bag full of wet swimsuits. And a wand that broke when we got home.

All in all, our week-long Road Trip Extravaganza was a success! We learned a few things along the way (Harper + 3 siblings does not equal falling asleep at night successfully) and had some wonderful experiences together that I hope our children will remember for a long time. Dane's most favorite thing: MagiQuest and the water park. Aidan's most favorite thing: "When Daddy was throwing me in the air at the swimming pool". AKA, swimming at the Comfort Inn in Oklahoma City. Emerson's favorite part: "Yeah, it was fun!!". Harper's favorite part was probably feeling like a big kid the whole week, sleeping with her sister and brothers and playing and goofing off well past her bedtime.

My favorite part? Spending a week with my favorite people in the world.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Dodge City

I have no idea how long it will take me to recap this road trip. It’s possible that I will still be blogging about it right up until school starts. Consider yourself forewarned.

A couple of Aidan-isms from our trip...

“I think God must really like us the best because we love Jesus so much. Because where ever we go the sun always follows us.” (I didn’t have the heart to tell him that when you are driving west on a sunny afternoon, the sun does seem to follow you.)

“Do you spell ‘newspaper’ n-e-w-s-p-a-p-e-r? I can’t believe it ends with an “r”. It sounds like it ends with an “a”. News-papah.” (Someday he will be able to say his r’s and I will miss the cute way he says everything now. Even if sometimes he sounds like he’s from New Jersey and I can’t understand him. Love that kid.)

Sunday evening we arrived in Dodge City, Kansas, early childhood home of my dear husband.

(Brandon's childhood home)

We checked into a hotel, and within 5 minutes Aidan had launched himself from the bed head-first into the table, cutting his eye open and giving himself this sweet shiner:

It’s what happens when four little monkeys are jumping on the bed. And it’s what my kids do in hotel rooms. And I didn't really lock him in jail afterwards. It's just the only picture of the eye I could find.

We unloaded the van, just in time for Dodge City to experience it’s first legitimate rain storm in many, many months. It was long-prayed for rain for this drought-striken part of the country. Of course, as we are driving around looking for somewhere to eat dinner, seeing trees swaying and water whipping around, I may have cracked my window just a smidge listening for tornado sirens. I’m still convinced that we narrowly missed a twister. We ate dinner, then arrived back at the hotel to find that the power was out. Picture all six of us wandering down a dark hallway looking for our room, and then getting the kids to bed with only the flashlight app on Brandon’s phone as a light source. Always an adventure for us. Fortunately, the storm had cooled things off to about 70 degrees, so the couple of hours without power was not near as uncomfortable as it could have been.

The next morning (Monday morning) we were greeted with a breezy 75 degree day outside, and hurried out of our hotel room as quickly as possible and headed over to Boot Hill.

I'm sure there's some sort of historical significance to this train. The kids loved checking out the inside.

And Brandon and the boys loved climbing all over the outside.

"There's not a sign that says 'do not climb'! That means we can climb over it!" Which one of my three boys said this?

We went to jail,

visited the museum full of Native American artifacts and guns, and witnessed a gunfight. There's a cute little street-front of stores, made up inside to look as they did in the days of Wyatt Earp.

The pharmacy is always fascinating to me in these types of places.

And look what we have here!

Sasparillas were enjoyed at the Saloon where the kids danced around to live piano music.

And you can't go to Boot Hill without visiting the outhouse built for two.

Who thinks this is a good idea?

I'll tell you who...

One thing that I loved about Boot Hill was that it wasn't packed wall-to-wall with people. We saw a few other families there, but it was never crowded, and we never waited in any sort of line while we were there. My kids loved climbing on everything that didn't have a "Do Not Climb" sign on it.

Then, because my love for my husband knows no bounds, this unfortunate picture was taken.


The boys especially LOVED Boot Hill. The mommy loved Boot Hill because the place was a bargain! Our whole family got in for $35, and the gift shop actually had reasonable prices. We NEVER get souveniers at these places, but the kids each got to pick out little carved rock pendants for $1.75 each.

Little did I know how much I would appreciate these cheap prices as we left Dodge City, headed towards Grapevine, Texas and the Great Wolf Lodge.