Mother Neff State Park

Last weekend we made attempt #2 at a family camping trip. Overall, I think it went much better. The lower temperatures were a big help! And it didn’t hurt that Aaron’s parents joined us, either.

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Here are the kids, all buckled up and ready to go! We left Friday after breakfast and it took about an hour and a half to get to Mother Neff State Park, which is near Moody, Texas. Mother Neff is the first of the Texas state parks. It’s named after Isabella Neff, the mother of governor Pat Neff (later a president of Baylor University, sic ’em, Bears!). Mother Neff wanted land available for public use, and when she died she left a few acres she owned for that purpose. More land was purchased and donated, and the park is about 300 acres now. It was flooded badly in 2007 and is still in need of some repairs, which will be taking place in the next year or two. It’s not a very large park, but we had a nice camp site and enough trails to keep us busy on Saturday.

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Packing went better this time than last time, but I’m hoping with more practice we’ll have a better idea of what we need and what we don’t.

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Here we go along the trail! The prairie trails were closed for renovation and construction of more campsites, which left us some nice wooded trails.

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And there are our trailblazers! Evan led the way on most of the hikes. Nathan tried valiantly to keep up, but spent some time being carried as well. We had some purpose to our hiking: Mother Neff State Park has a junior ranger program and Evan wanted to earn his badge and certificate. We had a page of questions to fill out and some activities to complete. Several of the questions were about various areas of the park reachable via the hiking trails.

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Here was another goal while we were hiking: the state parks geocaches! Geocaching is sort of like a treasure hunt. People hide containers of various sizes (in this case, an ammo box, down by Evan’s hands) and post the GPS coordinates. Other people can get the coordinates and try to find the caches. Inside, there’s a log you can sign to indicate you found the cache. In the larger caches like this one, there’s often a stash of small goodies or “swag.” You can take your own items and trade for something of equal or lesser value. The boys traded in a plastic dinosaur and policeman, and they got a different plastic dinosaur and a happy meal toy.

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Crossing a wooden bridge with Grandpa. The creek was dry.

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Here’s our first major destination: Tonkawa Cave. It’s really just a large overhanging shelf of rock, but they believe it was used as a shelter by some of the Tonkawa Indians. The boys thought it was pretty amazing. It’s 45 feet from the drip line to the back wall, and about 90 feet wide. It was hard to get a picture that really captured the size of it. It’s pretty spacious.

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And here was our second stop: the washpond. It doesn’t look like much these days, because the springs that feed it don’t do well with the lowering of the water table due to all the other water use in the area. The current drought doesn’t help much, either. But historians believe it was likely a source of drinking water for the Indians in the area, and that early settlers may have used it for washing. When the Civilian Conservation Corps were working in the park in the 1930s, they put a concrete cap at the end of the pond (off camera to the right) and local teenagers used it for a swimming hole. At the time it was about 8 feet deep. Now it’s about 4 feet deep when full, due to the settling of silt. Image

And here’s Evan with the results of one of his junior ranger activities: filling a small big with trash picked up in the park. We carried the bag with us while hiking, and collected quite a number of things over the course of the day. Evan was very proud of himself. We all helped spot things, but Evan picked most of it up himself unless it was hard to reach.

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After our morning hikes, we headed “home” for lunch. These two had fun playing while we got their food ready.

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Here’s one end of the table — three hungry hikers!

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Nathan didn’t last too long on our afternoon hike. By the way, that backpack has a story. When we checked in at the office, I saw a row of “Nature Exploration Packs” for free rental. I asked about them and found out they were backpacks full of nature guides, various tools (flashlight, compass, etc.), a journal, and other useful goodies for exploring and appreciating the park. You initial for each item on a list when you check it out, and if everything is there when you take it back there’s no charge. We definitely couldn’t resist that!

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Here’s the indefatigable Evan, chattering away. Grandma is carrying his trash collection bag for him. We walked along the camp road to get to the starting point of our next hike.

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And look: this time there’s even a picture of me! See that red spot on Meg’s forehead? That’s because during her afternoon “nap” time she and Nathan kept butting heads through the mesh wall of her pack ‘n’ play and giggling at each other. She finally slept a little after I got the boys up to go listen to the Saturday afternoon ranger talk.

 

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Here’s half the crew making their way up some steps on the trail.

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And here’s Evan, leading the way as usual! We were on our way to the ranger station to turn in Evan’s worksheet and bag of trash.

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And here he is being sworn in as a junior ranger at Mother Neff State Park.

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He’s worn this badge nonstop since Saturday afternoon. He’s very proud of it — and he worked hard for it!

Time to get a few other things done, so that’s it for now.

 

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The start of Kindergarten

I can still hardly believe it’s here, but Evan has finally started Kindergarten. Fortunately for me, that doesn’t mean dropping my no-longer-baby off and leaving him — it means lesson planning and doing school with him myself! We decided Kindergarten should be relatively simple, and mostly about basic skills and the transition to sitting down and doing focused schoolwork. So we’re using a combination of Five in a Row (which covers social studies, language/literature, art, applied math, and science), Saxon Math (“real” math), and Hooked on Phonics. We’re also incorporating his AWANA memory work and Sunday school homework, and we’re doing some other stuff on a more casual level (like geography). So far, we spend the morning doing our usual running around (grocery store, park, library, etc.). We get home in time for Meg’s 11 a.m. nap, and Evan and I start on his Five in a Row work. Nathan often joins us for part of it and spends the rest of the time enjoying having the toys to himself. Usually we’re all in the living room, so Nathan will play on the floor while Evan and I sit on the futon or at the school table. We spend half an hour to an hour, depending on the complexity of our subject, Evan’s interest level, my available time, etc. Today was at least an hour as we were talking about a variety of subjects and Evan had a lot of questions. There was one day last week when we hardly spent any time at all, because the applied math was counting and it happened to overlap exactly with his Saxon Math lesson. We sort of merged the two rather than spend twice the time it really needed. After we finish with Five in a Row, we take a break for lunch. Usually after lunch Evan and Nathan play for a little while, then Nathan goes down for his nap. Meg generally wakes up around that time, although today she slept late… I assume she’s catching up on sleep after our camping trip! Today I let Evan choose whether he wanted to do math or phonics first: math! We did our calendar activity, then worked with counting bears. After that, we moved on to some reading practice. So far, that’s the one area he really fights me. Today he did very well, and even read me two stories out of the reader I have from when I was a kid. I’m beginning to think Hooked on Phonics isn’t working well for him and I may look into leaning more heavily on my set of readers. I think he does better with stories than with lists of random words, and there’s a lot of the latter in Hooked on Phonics. AWANA just started this week so I haven’t worked out exactly when/how it fits into our daily routine. Today, the boys practiced their verses with me while we were grocery shopping and they both have them solidly memorized already. Nathan even learned the reference for his verse, which he doesn’t have to start doing until next year. For geography, we’re listening to a CD of geography songs in the car (over and over and over again… aaaah!). Evan can already repeat to me that the British Isles are in the Atlantic across the Channel from France, that Ireland became a republic in 1949, that Greenland is in the North Atlantic northeast of Canada, and that Australia is the biggest island and the smallest continent. We still need to get those things solidly pinned down on a map, but we’re getting there. The other day I asked him to find China and he did it completely by himself. He knew it was south of Russia, and he learned to find Russia this summer while we were learning about “Peter and the Wolf.”

Anyway, all that to say, so far school is going well. I think we’re both enjoying it overall, and he’s progressing very nicely as far as I can tell after one week (and a short week, at that!).

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Here’s Evan on his first day of school last Tuesday (the day after Labor Day). Everyone on Facebook is doing pictures with backpacks and signs, so I figured I could at least take a picture even if my sign isn’t fancy and he doesn’t have a school backpack. You can tell he’s excited. Also, I realized that you know you’re a homeschooler when your “first day of school” picture features a barefoot kid.

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Nathan wanted a picture too, and Evan generously offered that Nathan could help hold the sign “even though he doesn’t have a kindergarten yet.” The hug was spontaneous.

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Our math lesson for the first day was “exploring pattern blocks.” I got a kick out of the fact that Evan doesn’t seem to think in 2D. He actually has a pattern block set in one of the toy rotations, but for some reason he just wanted to put these upright instead of flat. I think he told me this was Jericho.

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“And there’s the city inside the walls.”

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This is a giant caterpillar in the South Atlantic. Again, notice that while there are flat pieces he also has some set up vertically. He also specified that it was in the Atlantic and part of Africa.

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This one is from today, but I wanted to share it anyway. We were talking about small towns and he was supposed to build one with his blocks. I left him to it while I got lunch started, and this is what he built. I’m going to have to get him to tell me again what each of the buildings was. As soon as I got this picture, he and Nathan staged an earthquake and the town was lost to the world.

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Post-camping meal

What do you do for lunch after you clean up your camp site, unpack the car, wash everyone off, and give the baby a nap? You go to Rudy’s, of course!

 

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Evan watching Aaron dishing up the creamed corn while Meg gets started on an appetizer of white bread.

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Nathan looking to see what he wanted. He wound up with a pickle sandwich (as you see there, bread folded around pickle slices), creamed corn, and I think he tried some of the butter potatoes. Whatever floats your boat, kid.

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Now that’s some good stuff! Brisket, turkey, cole slaw, and there are the butter potatoes over to the left.

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Baby girl here has an appetite and excellent taste. She chowed down on the brisket and turkey, and had very healthy servings of creamed corn and potatoes.

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Camping in Georgetown

We’re hoping to get started with real family vacations in the near-ish future, now that the kids are getting a little older. To that end, we’re planning a trip to Palo Duro Canyon State Park next fall. We figure we should probably make a few practice runs before that, so this weekend Aaron took Friday off and we spent three nights at the lovely Berry Springs Park and Preserve in Georgetown.

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Nathan happily settling in to the dirt and gravel at the camp site, while Meg explores Evan’s camp chair.

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The camp site all set up on our first night. I think Aaron is getting water for washing dishes.

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Sharing the construction vehicles — perfect for digging in gravel!

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The camp site from the other side. Not sure where Evan got to! The fire ring/grill in the middle of the site was nice, but as usual, Texas is dry and there’s a burn ban so we couldn’t use it.

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The day-use part of the park had a playscape, so we made a walk over there Friday and Saturday mornings. The kids really enjoyed it. Here Meg has convinced her Daddy to push her in the swing…

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Evan is on his way up the play equipment…

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And Nathan is off exploring.

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Meg knows you’ve got to keep up with your water intake when spending this much time out in the heat!

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Evan on his way down from the playscape.

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Three hungry kiddos!

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We started school this week, and with Labor Day on Monday it was already going to be a short week. So, we took a little school with us. Friday was mostly a science day, as we were learning about buoyancy (also the water cycle and other water stuff, because as long as you’re reading about water you might as well do the thing thoroughly!). As part of the lesson on buoyancy, we filled up the “sink” and let the kids collect a variety of small items. We made a list and the guessed whether each item would sink or float, then we tested their hypotheses and discussed the whys and hows. When the experiment was over, Meg wanted her turn with the water. Notice Nathan still has a rock in his hand — he wanted to keep on testing things!

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While the younger two continued splashing, Aaron took over with Evan and read him some library books we had found. This one was called “Things That Float And Things That Don’t” and it was exactly what I wanted!

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This is the view from our campsite. See Meg off to the left, by the tree? And Evan is a little bitty white dot, a little to the right of center. They loved being able to explore, and we had the camping area almost entirely to ourselves.

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Mom dropped by for a visit on Friday evening just after dinner. They live in Georgetown, so we were in the neighborhood.

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This picture goes with a story. Our tent is a large one that divides into two rooms. Each room has an exit door. The kids’ room has the back door; ours opens to the front. Nathan took quite a while to fall asleep on Thursday night. At one point I heard him messing around with the zipper, and assumed he was playing with the “window” panel. I told him to stop; he did, and it got quiet. After a while I started hearing little snores from their side of the partition and I figured he had finally gone to sleep. Given it was almost 10 p.m. and their bedtime is 7:30, I don’t feel it was an unfair assumption. I was lying in bed reading my book when I heard a twig snap behind me. I rolled over to look and saw a fairly large shape moving by that tree you see. I couldn’t tell what the shape was, and it went behind the tree so I kept watching for it while trying to come up with a guess. A raccoon? A skunk? It seemed large for either of those, but I couldn’t think of any other likely possibilities. The shape finally reappeared up at the bathrooms, by the drinking fountains (see them on the side of the building), but with the way the lights were positioned I still couldn’t make it out. Maybe a raccoon sitting on the drinking fountain? It almost looked like a small child, but the only other camper in the park was a lone man. Surely no one could have arrived and set up that quietly after dark, especially with a small child. And if they had, what kind of irresponsible parents would allow a child that small to go that far alone at night without even a flashlight? I kept watching, and the shape left the drinking fountains and came back toward our tent. Finally the lights silhouetted it… and it was Nathan! I woke Aaron up in time for him to see Nathan come back to the tent and climb in. Neither of us would have imagined he would get up and leave at night without asking first! I gently instructed Nathan that he needs to ask before leaving the tent at night (technically, we hadn’t told him that) while Aaron affixed a small lock to the zipper of the kids’ door. I’m still a little amazed by it — I didn’t even hear Nathan leave the tent, or make any noise at all until he was next to that tree. Lesson learned! And in answer to my question, apparently *I* am the kind of irresponsible parent who would let my kid walk across the campground alone at night! Sigh.

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Here we are setting off for the playground on Saturday morning.

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Margaret loved the little signposts at her height. This one was about the type of tree in front of it (sorry, it’s not in the picture).

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Getting a drink after some hard playing.

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On Friday afternoon we tried naptime in the tent. That was a bad idea; the tent wasn’t well shaded at that time of day and the breezes didn’t come through very well. Since it supposedly got up to 101 that afternoon, it was pretty rough. So on Saturday, we put Meg’s pack ‘n’ play in the shade and she went to sleep right away.

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Doesn’t that look like a cozy spot? I sat next to her with my book until she fell asleep, so she wouldn’t feel abandoned.

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While she was sleeping, we let the boys try something fun for lunch. I don’t think I’d be in a real hurry to do it again, but we don’t eat this kind of stuff at home and I thought they’d get a kick out of cooking lunch right in the cups.

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Meg woke up from her nap feeling much better, and proceeded to snuggle with Daddy.

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After a while, we concluded she hadn’t gotten quite as much sleep as she could have used. See this face?

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It quickly turned into this face!

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But Daddy can fix everything.

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See, Mommy? Daddy loves me, and I’ve got my Bunny.

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The boys didn’t exactly nap, but we put their cots in the shade and let them listen to audiobooks for an hour or so. Evan is listening to “The Wind in the Willows” and Nathan got “Peter Pan” (the actual original J.M. Barrie version). I think the rest and quiet time did them good. It still got up to 100 degrees, but I think everyone was more comfortable this way.

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The park is partly set in an old pecan grove. The trees are gorgeous, and the shade is very nice.

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My parents stopped by — this time Dad came too since he was back from his business trip. He helped Evan climb a tree while we made dinner.

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Meg sat in her chair while everyone chatted; I think she was still feeling a little tired.

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And here’s Sunday breakfast. How do you feed a toddler too small for a picnic table? Set her plate on the bench and let her snag bites as she wanders around.

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We found this guy on our tent as we were taking it down, and relocated him to a tree. The boys were impressed with his camouflage. I really thought he was a leaf stuck to the tent until I took a second look!

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Nathan played with his trucks while we cleaned up the camp site…

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… and Evan sat with Meg.


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Staging everything to be loaded…

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… and a good helper for shuttling things to the car.

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What do you do with a couple of tired little boys while you unload the car post-camping? Well… you may decide that they’ve spent plenty of time in the fresh air and sunlight and let them watch a movie just this once. ;)  Meg got a bath and went right down for a nap. She slept more than two hours and didn’t wake up until I went and got her so we could go for our post-camping Rudy’s lunch. Later in the afternoon she came and sat in my lap and leaned her head up against me. I picked her up to take her upstairs, and she put her arms around my neck until we got to her crib. I laid her down, she smiled and said “Buh-bye,” and proceeded to take another good nap. The boys got their baths after the car was unloaded, then after lunch they took a good nap before leaving for their first night of AWANA for the year.

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Iowa Thanksgiving, Part 2

I’d better get the rest of this trip posted fast before I forget the details! It seems like life went crazy — everyone got sick in December, and we got to participate in the wedding of a very dear friend, and then of course there was Christmas and New Year… well, needless to say I got behind on more things than just blogging.

So, as I recall, Monday was a pretty laid-back day too. Dad Rhinehart went with his mom to the airport to pick up Dad’s sister Kathy, her husband Kevin, and their son Joel. That meant the kids had a nice, relaxed morning to get settled in and then a fun afternoon with family.

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Here’s a shot including most of the family! Evan and Nathan loved Joel, who was very creative with games and stories. That’s Uncle Kevin sitting behind Joel.

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At the (very large) dinner table, Meg got to sit next to her Great Grandpa and apparently had something she needed to tell him.

I didn’t take many pictures on Monday… so, moving on to Tuesday! We drove out to Amana for an amazing German breakfast… the food was delicious and it just kept coming. I think I could have eaten until I burst… but I didn’t. I also didn’t take too many pictures Tuesday, because we were walking around the shops and things with kids in tow and my hands were a little full. We did get a little Christmas shopping done!

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Aaron volunteered to take Meg for a while, and then Nathan also wanted to be carried by Daddy. Daddy being the obliging soul that he is, he put Nathan on his shoulders. We couldn’t resist the human totem pole picture. Unfortunately, Meg was getting quite proficient at grabbing onto and pulling things…

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… like her brother’s hair!

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Meg’s hands were removed from Evan’s hair and he consented to stand near her again, but not without certain precautions.

 

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Iowa Thanksgiving, part 1

Last year we were supposed to go to Iowa and spend Thanksgiving with Aaron’s grandparents. That didn’t work out; we wound up having to cancel and Evan made the trip with Aaron’s parents while the rest of us stayed home. This year, we were able to make up for it — and it was a lot of fun!

Friday night when Aaron got home, I had the car loaded and dinner waiting. We ate, cleaned up, grabbed the last few things, and hit the road. We drove up to Aaron’s parents’ new house in Allen. They had just moved in that Monday, and somehow managed to get two guest rooms set up for us by the time we arrived! We pulled in around 11 p.m., or maybe a little later. Evan pretty quickly went back to sleep, but Nathan was unsettled by the new place and had to get a basic tour before he was willing to settle into bed. Meg went down without a fuss. When we woke up in the morning, we had a breakfast of baked oatmeal and got everyone ready, then loaded up the cars. Evan had informed me that he was going to ride the whole way with Grandma and Grandpa, and true to his word he opted to join them from the get-go. He had a few matchbox-sized cars from the Cars movies — most of them he’s saved his money for and purchased, and we let him and Nathan each pick one out at the store as a special toy for the road trip. With his cars, his lap tray, and his water bottle, he was all set. I think Nathan also chose the grandparent van, and he was similarly set up with cars and a lap desk. Those first two hours were the quietest morning I’ve had in years! We headed north on I-35, stopping every two hours for some combination of food, gas, and/or restrooms. Nathan switched back and forth between cars, and we also traded out drivers and adult passengers. Evan stayed firmly in Grandma and Grandpa’s van for the entire trip. As the day progressed we pulled out a few extra toys for the boys: they each had a tube o’ animals from Michaels, some books, and a few other little things. We also had fun music, audiobooks, and Adventures in Odyssey. Top it all off with new scenery and delightful conversation, and what more could you want for entertainment? I’m pleased to say that we put 2,300 miles on our van over the course of the trip, and there was no screen time involved (unless you count Nathan’s fascination with watching the GPS on the dash). There were also very few meltdowns involved, and I think all but one occurred in the second half of the return trip. I had been nervous about how the kids would do on the trip (and how I would do as a result of how they did!), but I was favorably surprised. I’d definitely do it again, and in fact I think it was less stressful than flying to Oregon back in August.

We drove all day Saturday, finally stopping in Des Moines close to midnight. Evan had planned to stay up until we reached the hotel, but his valiant effort failed a few hours out. We got everyone settled in (Evan sharing a room with his Grandma and Grandpa, and Nathan and Meg with Aaron and me) and slept. In the morning we got breakfast and made the drive to Grinnell, where we had reservations for the rest of the week. It was about an hour away from Des Moines and 20 minutes from Brooklyn (where Aaron’s grandparents live). So we had a reasonably short drive, a stop at Wal-Mart, and then we found a park for the kids to run off some energy. The playscape was nice, but as far as Nathan was concerned the real treasure was a pile of leaves someone had conveniently left behind. Nathan must have run back and forth through the leaves a hundred times, while his dedicated entourage shuffled the pile back together as best they could. After some fresh air and exercise, we had lunch and then drove out to Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Evan was pleased to see his old stomping grounds, and pretty immediately settled in with some toys.

 

Meg with her Great Grandpa Rhinehart… and a string of beads we found before the trip.

 

Evan was excited to pull out this car carrier. Not sure if it was an old friend from last year or not, but he had a great time with it.

 

And Nathan got the wooden semi truck, which kept him pretty busy. He made some pretty realistic semi truck noises, too!

 

 

 

Evan obviously felt right at home.

 

And Meg switched laps: now she’s with her Grandpa Rhinehart.

 

It felt pretty good to stretch out after a day and a half in the car!

Nathan was excited to discover the piano. And actually, I was very impressed by the way he played with it. I wouldn’t call it musical, exactly, but it was definitely something more than random banging on keys.

 

Of course, he was also very happy with cars.

 

Meg finally made her way into her Great Grandma’s lap, and I think Nathan is checking up on her. He’s a very dedicated big brother.

 

After a while, we went out in the barnyard with Grandpa Rhinehart. These are his golden pheasants. Aren’t they gorgeous? I’d never seen anything like them.

 

Nathan made friends with Mandy, Grandma and Grandpa’s old Border Collie. She was laid back and easy going, which is exactly what he likes in a dog. All week he kept telling us, “I like Mandy. Mandy my friend. I want say hi to Mandy. Where Mandy going? Mandy like me.” Must remember: I do NOT need a dog… yet. ;)

 

We went for a walk around the pasture, and Evan liked climbing around in this corner.

Please note the rubber boots. These were designated barnyard boots, which I bought last year. Thankfully I bought them pretty large and they still fit this year! Apparently last year one of the highlights of Evan’s visit was being able to step in poop with his boots.

Here you can see some of the pasture and the house. It was a really nice house, and I think Grandpa built it. That’s Evan way ahead on the left, Mom Rhinehart holding Nathan, and Grandpa Rhinehart on the right. And that little black and white dot near the top right is Nathan’s friend Mandy.

The first day was pretty laid back, since we were all a little tired from the trip. The kids played with toys and enjoyed seeing the animals and the barnyard, then we had dinner and went back to the hotel for the evening. It took a while for Nathan to really settle in to a new place again, but he got to sleep eventually without too much trouble. He and Meg turned out to be our early risers, with 7 a.m. being about the latest they ever slept (at home, 8 a.m. is when they get up). Evan slept till 8 just about every morning, and also fell asleep as soon as he dropped into bed in the evenings.

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Trip to Oregon

I’m going to try to get caught up on some major events, so I’ll start with our trip to Oregon back in August. Unfortunately my grandpa passed away this summer, so the trip was to attend his funeral. There wasn’t any good way for me to leave the kids behind, and Aaron was unable to come due to project deadlines at work. So, all three kids went along with me. Fortunately my mom and brothers flew with us on the way out, and my brothers on the way back. They were a huge help and I’m not sure how I would have done it without them!

We arrived a little early, and the first day we were there my dad needed to see a lawyer in Corvallis. Corvallis also happens to be the home of one our favorite shoe companies: Soft Star Shoes. Previously I had only ever ordered shoes online, but even online they have a very friendly vibe and I decided it would be fun to take the kids in person for Nathan’s next pair of shoes. So, we rode out to Corvallis with Dad and walked down to their store.

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“Friendly” turned out to be a bit of an understatement. Just as we got ready to go up the stairs to the store, Meg (3 months old) started crying and wouldn’t be consoled. I went up anyway, hoping I could get her settled down and maybe find a corner to nurse her. As soon as we reached the top of the stairs, we were welcomed in and Evan and Nathan were shown a well-stocked playroom while Meg and I were settled into a rocking chair with a cup of water. Someone chatted with me a little, and when I said Nathan was in need of some shoes they tried a few pairs on and found his size all while I was still taking care of Meg. We made our purchase, and were invited to stay and play as long as we liked. Needless to say, I’m thrilled to be a customer there and very sad they’re located in Corvallis rather than Austin! We also explored the farmer’s market, which was absolutely gorgeous.

My memory is a little fuzzy on details, but I’m pretty sure that evening was the viewing. I wasn’t sure how that would go with the kids, but overall I thought they did well. In some ways I’m a little glad I had them there, because it was a nice distraction. It’s still hard to realize that my Grandpa is gone. I think part of me just thought he was immortal. After the viewing some of the family went out to my aunt’s family’s farm. It was nice to get the kids outside somewhere they could run around and make noise! It was beautiful out there, and it was nice to be somewhere I didn’t have to worry about fireants, snakes, mosquitoes or any of the other usual hazards.

Isn’t it pretty?

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Evan had fun trying to climb a tree. Here he’s getting some help from Capi, who I believe is my cousin.

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Meg also enjoyed some sunlight and fresh air!

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My Uncle Duane (Dad’s brother) got out the riding mower hoping to give Evan and Nathan a ride, but they weren’t very sure about all the noise it made. So, Daniel gave Ben a ride instead!

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The next day we had the funeral service in the morning. It was a really nice service, and I was glad I was able to make it. It meant a lot to hear people share what they remembered about my Grandpa, and hear about sides of him that I never saw. Grandpa was truly an incredible man, and it’s not hard to see how the things he did in his life have had lasting affects on future generations. Grandpa was married twice; my Grandma June died before I was born and my Grandma Bea when I was pretty young. They both had significant health issues at the end of their lives, and Grandpa loved them both through thick and thin. While dealing with that, he also managed to keep life stable for his two sons. My Dad said that looking back he realizes that things must have been just crazy, but he never felt that way when he was growing up. Grandpa was also a hard worker, and thought ahead to the future. Although he never made a lot of money during his working years, he was able to provide for himself financially in his retirement, including travel and generous gifts to his grandchildren and great grandchildren. When he died, his estate was in order and he left gifts rather than debts for his children. He did his best to teach his grandkids and great grandkids the same kind of mentality. Starting when I was born, Grandpa sent me (and his other grandkids) a savings bond for each birthday and Christmas. I didn’t really think much about it, but when I was in college Dad had me cash in a bunch of the mature bonds. I had a hard time deciding what to do with the money. I had had it for so long, and I knew it was important to Grandpa that I use it wisely. There were plenty of tempting things out there, but in the end I decided to start a Roth IRA and just keep saving that money. The savings bonds kept coming — and for my kids as well — until Grandpa could no longer get them at his bank, just last year. Instead, he gave us money to invest on the kids’ behalf. I admit that savings bonds never seemed too exciting on the Christmas tree when I was a kid, but I’m grateful that Grandpa made that effort to show us what it looked like to save money over the long term. Aaron and I are saving both for our retirement and for the kids’ college or other higher education, and having Grandpa’s example encourages me that we’re doing the right thing. Grandpa also served in the Air Force during World War II. He was a tail gunner in a B-52, completing 35 missions over Europe. He never talked much about it, but I’m proud of his service. On a lighter note, Grandpa loved his grandkids and great grandkids. I remember him frustrating my mom by turning around and buying us whatever she had just said she wouldn’t get — ice cream from the ice cream truck, magnets with our names on them, and other fun things like that. I got to watch him do the same for my boys. He’d sit and watch them play and just laugh and laugh. He always had huge handfuls of pocket change for them when he came to visit. The last time he was here, he handed me money and told me to go buy Evan a small electric keyboard after he watched him playing around with the one my parents have. He never got to meet Meg, but he did see pictures of her and he sent her a set of nesting matryoshka dolls from St. Petersburg, which are now sitting on her dresser. There’s a lot more I could say about my Grandpa, but I could never say it all so I think I’ll call this good for now.

After the funeral and a family lunch, some of us went back out to the farm for some downtime. We walked down to the Santiam River, where everyone had fun throwing rocks into the water and eating berries off the vine.

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Back at the farm, Evan finally consented to ride the tractor with Uncle Duane. Uncle Duane let Evan steer and, as he pointed out, they didn’t even run into anything! The boys dumped dirt all over each other and generally had a grand old time. When we got back to the hotel room I had to give them a bath, and washed enough dirt off the two of them that I’ll bet I could have planted a garden!

The next day was our last full day in Oregon, and we went out to the coast for the day. We visited the aquarium, had lunch at Georgie’s, and spent some time on the (freezing cold!) beach.

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Evan had fun at the aquarium with his uncles.

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The touch pool was pretty interesting.

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And there was a fishing boat to play on.

Nathan was proud to catch himself a lobster!

Here we are walking down to the beach. It was really cold (at least to this Texan!) and the wind was blowing pretty strongly too. Personally, I wasn’t too disappointed not to get my feet in the water. Brr!

Evan and Ben were feeling braver than I was.

Evan loved letting the waves chase him in. How he wasn’t freezing to death, I’m not sure.

Nathan was a little harder to deal with. He didn’t want to put his feet on the wet sand (or dry, for that matter), but he DID want to be out in the water. Any time Ben tried to come back out of the water, Nathan threw a fit. However, if Ben tried to set him down out there (or anywhere else), he’d crumple up and refuse to stand.

He was not a happy camper.

But finally he got the idea, and had a great time until it was time to leave.

Yeah, I think he liked the beach.

On the way “home” to Albany from Newport, there was an accident blocking the road with a 3- or 4-hour delay so we got to take a scenic detour. Tiny little mountain backroads in Oregon are impressively narrow and windy… and very nerve-wracking if you’re not used to them! We made it home safely, though… only to realize that Evan had left his beloved “green blankie with thread” at the restaurant in Newport. Since we were flying back home the next morning, going back was really not an option. I called and they said they had found it, and they were willing to mail it home to Texas for us. Evan had a little bit of a hard time with that, but we got him a stuffed frog to keep him company until green blankie arrived at home and he did ok. The next day was pretty long, but we made it home safe and sound. And my brothers did a good job putting up with me and being really helpful with the kids.

It was a long week, but I was really glad I could go and, as much extra work as it was, I’m glad the kids could go too. It was nice to spend some time with family, and it really did mean a lot to attend Grandpa’s funeral. I kept expecting to turn around and see him there with us on the beach, or to drive over to his house some afternoon and sit in his living room and talk. A few months later, I still find myself wondering when he’ll be down for a visit and expecting to see my Christmas savings bond in the mail.

Anyway, I hope we’ll go again sometime, and sooner rather than later.

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