Catching Up…Spring & Summer 2014

Well first of all, I’m happy to announce that I actually remembered the login password for my blog.  It’s been that long.

I don’t ever feel pressured about this blog, because it’s a hobby.  But when I printed the past couple of years’ posts into blog books last spring, it reminded me how much I love having this as a scrapbook.  I was also reminded by a certain family member that I’m way behind.  So I’m back in the saddle, so to speak.

I’ve definitely had enough time to blog.  I can’t use that excuse.  I could chalk it up to life experiences.  But I’m not playing that card either.  Somehow I imagine those life experiences will one day make their way into words on this platform.  Or maybe in a novel.  (I’m not suggesting I have the ability to author a book, but I may possibly have the content and the characters.)

In the meantime, I am ready to catch up on the past year’s happenings in the lives of my kiddos.  Thankfully modern technology sorts photos chronologically.  Otherwise, I would have no idea where to start.

My last post, written in early March of 2014, actually occurred at the end of 2013. (And this is why it’s best to keep up with a blog on a regular basis.)  January and February are always my least favorite months, as I’m not a fan of really cold weather, and I’m also sad to see the holidays end. But the winter months flew by, and we had some fun things happen along the way.

Walt competed in his first TaeKwonDo tournament and won a trophy for 2nd place in his division.  I’m not sure at this point if karate has a place in Walt’s future, but I do know he is quite fond of a  trophy.

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Walt also lost his two front teeth.  Apparently it happened before February 14th, evident from the heart and “Be Mine” owl in the background.

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Anna Katherine continued to play a lot of tennis.  Her high school team competed in several local tournaments, and she and her partner came away winners on this particular night.  (She also earned her letterman jacket.)

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IMG_1346It was chilly playing at the end of February, so AK and McKenna chose to stay warm in hammocks and blankets between matches.

 

Charlie turned 11.  He still believes he is one of the kids, and I don’t have the heart to tell him otherwise.  Considering he’s the best behaved in the bunch and never talks back, I’d say he deserves a cupcake once a year.

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Anna Katherine performed in Hallsville High School’s talent show with a classmate.  And they won.  (For all those people who worried about AK moving during high school to a new school and adjusting, rest easy.  She has completely settled in and feels very much at home here.   I fully believe if we moved to Kuwait she would be hosting dinner parties within a matter of days.  It’s her personality.)  They sang beautifully, and I was really blown away by all of the talent I witnessed that morning.  I’m grateful most of all that AK is happy and enjoying these last couple of years in high school.

 

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Ben and Walt headed to Mississippi to visit Gran & Granddad during Spring Break.
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Ben especially enjoyed some time on the lake fishing.IMG_1397IMG_1381

 

And he always loves spending time with his cousin, Matt.

 

While the boys were away, Anna Katherine and I considered taking a long vacation to the Bahamas.  Instead, we opted for oral surgery.  She had her wisdom teeth removed.  Happy times.

IMG_1383We did make a quick trip to Mississippi to visit Nana at the end of the week.  AK was definitely not at full speed while we visited, but she did get to see a few friends, and it was nice to be back “home.”

 

I took a break from working when we made the move, so I could spend some time getting the kids adjusted to their new schools and new schedules.  And I also needed a little time of my own to adjust to a new place and make some new friends.  After a few months, I knew it was time to seek at least a little part-time work.  So I completed the necessary paperwork and application for a Texas PT license, and it arrived mid-February.  While I was grateful to receive it, it seemed a little bittersweet.  It meant my time of volunteering at the school, meeting friends at the gym for yoga, and gathering with ladies for Wednesday morning Bible study was coming to an end.  It was very nice while it lasted.  But the bank account was screaming for back-up.  All those years of working part-time to help pay for groceries and “stuff” made more of a difference than I realized.  So I started looking for a job.  And by the end of March, I was officially hired by a local pediatric therapy clinic.  I enjoyed the time I spent in Tupelo doing physical therapy in the schools, so I knew this would be a good fit.  While I was  a little reluctant about taking a full-time position, my boss explained it might later transition into a part-time position as he added additional staff.  It sounded like a great plan.

Meanwhile, Ben kicked off his first year playing baseball in Hallsville.  He was allowed to play several positions including pitcher.  He always seemed perfectly calm on the mound, while I sat on the bleachers biting my nails.  I guess it’s part of a Mom’s job description.

 

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Anna Katherine decided she wanted to register for  some area USTA tournaments during late Spring.  So the first one she chose was in Dallas.  It started raining as soon as she was assigned a court.  And it never stopped.

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After an hour in the vehicle, the officials finally determined to postpone matches until the following morning.  AK and I headed to the Galleria for some dinner and shopping.  (We weren’t exactly dressed for anything fancy, but we were starving.  So we hit the food court.)

AK couldn’t resist a little ice skating.  She talked me into joining her for a few loops around the rink. Not before I reminded her that if I fell, she would need to get a stretcher.  (It’s a sad day when you are old enough to know that a fall will mean a fracture at worst and a few days “down in your back” at best.)

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That’s a fake smile with the face of fear behind it.  A little girl was determined to keep circling around me.  I tried to use my sweetest voice as I pleaded, “Please don’t touch me.”  She finally spun off and found her family.  And it wasn’t long before I found a comfy bench and enjoyed watching AK.

That tournament in Dallas was eventually cancelled.  We awoke in our hotel early the next morning to a downpour.  Fortunately we had some prettier days the following weeks as the school year came to an end.  And the tennis team enjoyed some nice weather to finish out their season.

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IMG_1451AK and McKenna had a great year together.  So thankful these two girls have had such a fun time on and off the courts.

AK celebrated her 17th birthday in April with a few of her friends at a local restaurant and then came back to our house afterward for cake.

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The following week, Walt’s first grade class enjoyed an Easter party.  (His teacher sent me and the other homeroom Mom a text early that morning saying she had pink eye and wouldn’t be at school.  She needed us to arrive a little early and take care of business.)

Sharla was in charge of the craft.  She (and Pinterest) decided it would be sweet to paint each child’s foot and make “footprint carrots.”  It was really cute and a little stinky, but we got it done.

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All of the first grade classes participated in an egg hunt.  At the same time.  In the same school yard.  Ten classes lined up, and after a grand countdown, approximately 200 first graders  ran simultaneously for a field full of colorful, plastic, candy-filled eggs.  It was mass chaos.  Of course, each child could get only 10 eggs, so Moms and teachers monitored the baskets.

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After returning to the room, the class decorated sugar cookies.

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Before it was over, Walt’s sweet teacher sent a text to check on us.  I responded that only two children had cried, and we were making it just fine.   I also included this picture in my reply.

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We actually checked out a little early, and since the weather was nice, we took Walt’s buddy Tom home with us for awhile.  And we made a trip to the park.

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We enjoyed a nice, long weekend at home.  The kids played with all the neighbors and hunted eggs numerous times in the backyard.  Sunday morning the kids scrambled through  their baskets early before heading to church.

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And then they posed so happily for the annual Easter pic.

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AK went to Jacob’s that afternoon to visit his family, and she sent me this photo taken by Jacob’s Mom.  I have no idea what the future holds for this cute couple, but I do know they have a fun time, and they’re making some sweet memories together during high school.  Regardless what direction their individual paths may take over this next year, they are the best of friends.

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At the beginning of May, Walt’s class enjoyed a trip to Gators & Friends (an alligator park in Louisiana).  I’m not really a fan of gators, but this was a really neat park with lots of other animals.IMG_1502

IMG_1505(Ummm, yep.  It’s a good thing those little gator-jaws are tightly shut with some extra-duty duct tape.)

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Next up on our calendar of events was prom.  In fact, Walt and I ran by the florist on our way home from the field trip to pick up Jacob’s boutonniere.   Jacob, by the way, is “the boyfriend,” allthough he now feels a little more like a part of our family.  They’ve been dating since March, 2014, and they really are such sweet friends.  My boys also treat him like a big brother.

Jacob picked AK up at the house, and then they  joined a group of their friends at a nearby restaurant for dinner before prom.  And lucky for me, I was a chaperone later in the evening.  So I had an excuse to take some fun photos.

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My shift at the dance was during the 10:00-11:00 hour.  I was really impressed with the decorations at the high school.  The Moms and teachers did a great job.  (I was at a gator park while this transformation took place.)

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I tried to stay out of the way of my own child while chaperoning, to avoid any potential embarrassment.  Thankfully I brought along my best zoom lens.

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The end of the school year wrapped up with Awards Day.

 

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IMG_1594It was a fun year in the first grade, and since I had a chance to help in this class each week, I was a little sad saying good-bye to these little rascals.  It was a sweet bunch!

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Walt had a great year with Ms. DeWare in first grade.  It was her first year teaching, and I told the school counselor that we would be thrilled to have a teacher just like her every year from here on out.  She was as good as any “veteran” teacher that we’ve had through the years.  And we’ve had quite a variety.  I didn’t even have a clue until half way into the school year that she was a rookie teacher.  Anna Katherine will sometimes mention one or two of her “favorite” teachers from her early elementary years.  I have a feeling when Walt is a senior, he’ll still be talking about Ms. DeWare.

As the school year ended, Walt earned his green belt in TaeKwonDo.

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He and his buddy Tom had fun being in the same class at school and in karate.  Two tough boys.

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Earning the green belt meant he was ready for sparring gear, complete with pads, helmet, footwear, mouthpiece, a jockstrap, and protective cup.  (Yes, he had a few questions about that cup.)

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The mouth piece makes him look extra-tough.

At the beginning of the summer, the boys spent a few weeks back in Mississippi. (AK stayed in Texas to play some tennis matches required by her coach and to spend some time with friends. Once the boys returned, she babysat as a summer job, keeping her brothers while I worked Mon.-Thurs.)

Since Ben’s birthday falls right before the 4th of July holiday (and he is always out of town on vacation with the grandparents during that time), we decided to have his party a few weeks early just before they left for Mississippi.  He and Walt were both wanting a water slide for the backyard, and since it’s hotter than you-know-what in Texas during July and August, I thought it would be a wise investment that they could enjoy during the summer break.  So we got the slide and used it for a Sunday afternoon party with the neighborhood friends.

(I also made a mental note that after this year, I will plan any future parties for Ben during the school year.  It’s tough on a kid having a summer birthday.  It’s more difficult to contact classmates, and everyone is busy traveling or playing ball.  We’re going to back up the birthday celebration to early May.  He totally agrees.)

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Five days later, I packed the boys up and carried them to Nana’s house.

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We had spent part of the previous summer with Nana while I worked a few weeks to finish covering maternity leave for a PT back in Tupelo.  The boys were thrilled to be back to do some fishing, swimming, playing with the neighborhood buddies, and hanging out with their Nana.

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Ben has a great time with Evan, who lives immediately next door to Nana.  They both share a love of fishing.  And they will spend hours together on the bank, talking and catching fish (or turtles).

I got to see my girls for a quick visit before leaving town.  We enjoyed dinner together at Bess’s house on Saturday evening to celebrate Brandi’s birthday.  These sweet ladies are like sisters to me, and I can’t even describe how much I miss them.  I’m so grateful for technology and the convenience of texting and Facebook.  It makes it much easier to stay in touch and keep up with their day-to-day lives.

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I would love to say that I wasn’t a wreck leaving this crew on Sunday morning.  But it was tough.  In fact, I cried the first three hours of the drive back to Texas.  First of all, I wanted to stay and visit, too.  We had only been there 36 hrs. before I had to return.  Not to mention I had never been away from my kids for a month.  And I also hadn’t worked full-time during the summer months since Anna Katherine was a year old.  That was sixteen years ago.  I enjoyed spending summers with my kids and just living life with them, watching them have fun and knowing what they were doing.  We didn’t have to do anything major but play in the backyard or ride bikes in the cul-de-sac.  But it was just good to be there with them.  This new life was a big adjustment.  I just had to keep remembering that no situation is permanent, and the full-time deal wouldn’t be forever.  It was just a season in life.

Fortunately the boys had lots and lots of fun and stayed very busy.  Each time I talked to them on the phone, it made me smile to hear the joy in their voices.  As much as I missed them, I realized they were having a wonderful time and would have eventually become bored at the house while I worked.  They enjoyed a week of VBS at our home church in Tupelo, and the last week at Nana’s they played with the neighbors and swam at the pool everyday.  They were thrilled about getting to eat at all their favorite restaurants and going to the mall to “Time Out” to play video games.  Basically, they were loved on and spoiled rotten.  Exactly what grandmothers are supposed to do with their grandkids.

I had hoped I could work out seeing them midway through the month, but I had to attend a therapy conference in Austin, TX during one of the weekends.  Between traveling to and from Tupelo during one weekend (14 hrs. round trip) and the Austin trip  (9 hrs. roundtrip), I couldn’t manage another road trip to see them.  Once they connected with Gran & Granddad, they made their way to Smith Lake in Alabama to spend the week of July 4th with their cousins.  They had a fun time.  AK was also able to be there.  Since I had just started the new job, I had no vacation time.  (In retrospect, it was not meant for me to be on that trip.)

I answered a knock on my door after work on the evening Anna Katherine and her Dad left for that vacation.  I assumed it was one of the neighborhood kids.  I was wrong.  I was being served divorce papers.  (And for now, that’s all I’m going to say about that. )

The kids returned on July 6th, and it was like breathing fresh air to see their faces again.  Nana had come to Texas to be with me during that week, and she stayed several more days to spend some additional time with the kids.  All three kids were scheduled to leave a week later for camp (Pine Cove for the boys and Young Life for AK).  I was originally a little hesitant for the boys doing a week of overnight camp, but since AK was their daytime sitter while I was working and she would be away during that week, I thought it would be a fun alternative to having another week of a babysitter at home.  I loved camp as a kid and also loved being a camp counselor, so I want my kids to be able to experience it.  AK had already been made aware of the situation by another family member, but the boys were completely unaware.  And I felt it was best to keep it that way until they returned from camp.  Either that or they wouldn’t need to go.  I couldn’t imagine the possibility of getting homesick and then having that to think about.

That Saturday afternoon, AK boarded a bus with some other kids from the Longview Young Life group and headed to Buena Vista, Colorado for a week at Frontier Ranch.

 

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I drove the boys the next day over to Tyler to Pine Cove.  I remember taking several pictures of the boys outside of their cabins and sitting inside by their bunks.  Yet I can’t find those photos anywhere.  (That can happen when you wait 6 months to post anything.)  I do have these photos from the day I picked them up.

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The counselors presented each camper with an award at the closing ceremony, describing a special character trait seen in that camper throughout the week.  (Another reason I should blog more frequently…I can’t remember what they wrote about each of the boys.  But we do have those certificates in a drawer somewhere.  I promise we do!)  Anyway, the descriptions of each child were very thoughtful and personal.  Sadly, by the time I walked away from Walt’s group and found Ben’s counselor with his group outside, they had just wrapped-up their presentations.

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And the real fun began for me when we arrived back at home.  There’s no greater joy than knowing your children have rolled in mud and water all week, returning their clothes to tightly sealed plastic trunks.

I’m glad the camp puts pictures on its website each night during the week of camp.   Sometimes it was a little challenging to spot one of my kids in the midst of all the others. And then other times, it was pretty easy. Exhibit A.

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They had a theme each night, and the boys said “Black Out” was their favorite.

imageThat’s my boy in the middle above with his mouth wide-open.

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They had to be detectives one evening. Not only was I happy to spot Walt in the corner of the photo, but I was tickled to see he wore the $5 “Detective” cap I ordered on eBay.

I was especially happy to see both Ben and Walt having a great week and meeting new friends.

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The last half of the summer flew by.  AK kept the boys busy during the week with a schedule of reading and various activities to keep them from being bored and just watching t.v. all day.  Walt did some tutoring with his teacher, Ms. DeWare, to keep him on track with reading.  And then I was off on Fridays, so we tried to find some fun things to do.  We went to a nearby water park one of those days, but I didn’t take a single picture.  The boys still say it doesn’t beat Geyser Falls, but they do love it.

My dear friend Brandi came to stay for the last full week of summer vacation.  She entertained the kids non-stop and spoiled them as much as any grandparent would do.  She also spoiled me.  I came home each evening from work to find a home-cooked meal.  In fact, when she left, the kids asked me if “Ms. Brandi” could come back again for a week next summer.  The weekend prior to keeping the kids, she treated me to a spa weekend in Dallas.   (We actually opted out on the spa and spent some much-needed R & R by the pool.)  That weekend and the following week helped revive me.  And it reminded me that friends are one of life’s greatest blessings, especially those life-long friends that stand with you through both the happy and the tough times.  The older I get, I’m realizing the true measure of a friend is her ability to ride out the storms with you.

I have so many thoughts I’d love to share about this past summer.  I love to write and express what I’m feeling.  But for now, I’m pondering most of those things.  And doing a lot more praying.  While sometimes people can say words that are hurtful in a difficult situation, I feel very grateful to have been surrounded by folks who have shared encouraging, sustaining words of truth.  Among those, I received this sweet message from a dear friend here in Longview.  “God is always faithful and will never leave or forsake you.  He is your constant.  And He will restore what the locusts have eaten….” (Joel 2:25)

I’ll wrap this lengthy post up for now.  And I’ll be back hopefully in the next couple of weeks to catch up on our fall and winter 2014.