Monday, July 30, 2012

Don't Mess With Texas

I believe it may take me as long to finish this post as it did for us to drive to Texas. In case you aren't aware, it's a LOOOONG way from here to there, so it took a mighty long time. Like, say, about 13 hours on the way out! Did you hear me? THIRTEEN hours. Now, I realize that there are people on earth who have taken longer trips, but, for the love, I'd sure like to know why.

The first four or five hours, you have this optimistic feeling that surely you've exaggerated how long it took you to make the trip last time and you will certainly make better time on this trip. Then a little over halfway, you get a sinking feeling as you realize you've only gone a little over halfway. About ten hours in, you start to feel stir-crazy and think that Texas is the meanest place on earth because it just won't stop! It's like when I'm getting Jack to practice his swimming and I stand several feet away from him and convince him to swim to me. It's not that far. But then, once he gets started, I slowly move further and further back until I get to the point where I get the feeling that if I don't stop, he might drown. Yep. That's what Texas does to me. Just pulls that destination further and further out of my reach...until I feel like I might lose my mind if I don't get out of that stinkin' car!

But, really, it's not that bad. No, really, though, I shouldn't complain. Because we took four children in the car for thirteen hours and there was only one child that cried for about ten minutes. Who says miracles don't happen today? People, that is miraculous. And if you don't think so, you've never taken four kids on a car ride to the grocery store, much less three states away.

Our first much anticipated stop was one of the kids' great grandmother's house in the town their grandparents grew up in. For some reason, the kids think it's paradise. I think it's just something about being at Mema's house with toys older than their mom, a neverending supply of food, and cousins/playmates galore. The kids are always ready to move in and stay forever. I love that they love visiting family so much.

The kids with their beloved Mema and their second cousin. Honestly, between five kids and one camera-hogging dog, this was the best pic we could come up with.

Her backyard was quite exciting. Luke found a tree that he swore grew giant green beans, which he is proudly holding below. Unfortunately, a swarm of mosquitoes or some other hard-to-see, skin-chomping bugs found it exciting, too. So, we didn't spend a whole lot of time out there.

The kids were just amazed that everyone who walked in the door was their cousin. They took up immediately with all of them, even though most were much older, and assumed that all these people had no greater desire than to play with and entertain them. Once, Jack was so immersed in his cousin/coloring book time, he walked right into a sliding glass door. And all of us laughed, except for kind Grandma, who was horrified that all of us laughed. But let's face it, there's not much that's funnier than somebody walking into a glass door. Aren't we a sweet, heartwarming family?

The kids with Mema and her daughter, Grandma. With these two sweet ladies here to spoil them, it's no wonder the kids didn't want to leave.

Just when we thought Mema couldn't handle anymore of the joy of having all of us staying at her house, we drove another two hours to Uncle Steve and Aunt Sandra's house. And if there's anywhere more fun than Mema's, this is the place. Let's face it, swimming pools beat out lots of cousins and old toys, lovely as those are.

Aunt Sandra is quite the hostess. There's candy galore, yummy food, a pool, a wonderful movie selection and, best of all, lots of couches for the kids to sleep on. Why is it that kids love to sleep in out of the ordinary places like couches, air mattresses, or the floor when grown-ups will do almost anything to avoid any of those sleeping scenarios?

Chris had two Texas wishes. Naturally, they both involved food. I must say, they ended up well for all involved. A few years ago, Chris discovered a taco trailer in his parents' hometown. We all made fun of him for hours leading up to his first trip to the questionable-looking trailer. Tacos from a trailer? The horror! But he proved us all wrong when Fannie's Taco Truck proved to be a seller of delicious, fresh Mexican food. So, we revisited Fannie this year, and she's still got the taco magic going for her.

When we got to Ft. Worth a couple of days later, Chris's one request was a trip to Dutch's. Though hamburgers aren't at the top of my Favorite Food List, I was thankful for the chance to revisit this place as the last time I was there a couple of years ago, I spent the entire time in the bathroom with a certain unnamed child who took approximately 46 minutes to complete his business. So, I ended up with a cold burger and soggy fries.

This time, I refused to take anyone to the bathroom and thoroughly enjoyed the ginormous burger that Chris and I split. I must say, coming from a non-burger girl, these burgers are amazing. Next time you're in Ft. Worth and are craving half a cow, go to Dutch's. And bring me back some fries.

Anytime you go to eat with us, you're going to have to wait for the extra-long table. Sorry.

Me and my sis-in-law, Sandra. The hostess with the mostest.
Since we weren't full enough after eating half a cow and a pound of fried potatoes, we all went to Meme's house that evening for a family dinner complete with bbq, sides, and (obviously the most exciting part) homemade peach cobbler, chocolate pie, and pumpkin pie. Not wanting to be rude, I chose the sampler platter. It looked like Max, the dog, had chosen the sampler platter a few too many times. And that's how I felt by the end of this day.

Our nephew, Jerod, getting Max into the least flattering position possible for a photo. Remind me to never take a picture with him.

Since Chris's grandfather died a few years ago, his Meme has been brave and moved from her hometown to the big city. She lives in an adorable neighborhood and seems to enjoy her new place. Our kids are so blessed to have two wonderful great grandmothers in Texas.
Sam sporting a new do. I think he's representing the Lollipop Guild.

I'll never figure out how I got a girl who loves creepy crawlies.

I'm thinking these new fangled neighborhoods with pools and parks built in are the way to go. The kids agreed. So did the rest of the family who probably breathed a sigh of relief once we took our kids to the park and gave them some scream-free time.

We ended the week of fun with a family trip to a Texas Rangers baseball game. Meme is a huge Rangers fan, so this fun outing was for her. I'm going to be honest and tell you that I'd been dreading this event for days. If you didn't realize, Texas is typically hotter than you-know-where in July and the thought of sitting for hours with four wiggly, bored kids while sweating buckets was not my idea of fun. We expected Sam to be a maniac and the rest of the kids to be miserable and make everyone else miserable along with them. But we were willing to go for Meme. That's love.

Let me tell you that another miracle occurred that night. As we drove up to the stadium, the sky became gray with clouds and a huge, gusty wind blew through. We watched the car thermometer go from triple digits to the high 80's in a matter of minutes. Since you can't slice the air with a knife out there like in the Deep South, once the temp dropped, it became the perfect evening. A breeze blew and it was truly a pleasure to be outdoors.

By the end of the evening, almost four hours after the game began, I was ready to call a news conference to declare my kids the best in the whole wide world. They couldn't have behaved better. We had one of those extremely rare moments when our picture perfect family smiled and had a grand time enjoying America's favorite pasttime. Extremely rare, people.

The cutest fan at the game.

Sam sat through most of the game and didn't even complain. Angel baby!
Luke was kept in line through the cotton candy bribe. Whatever works.

I'm pretty sure terror struck within a two row radius when we sat down with all these kids. Little did all of us know, no one had anything to dread.

Meme and her girls.

Meme with her amazingly adorable great grands. I mean, whose are these amazing kids? :)
It was a great week, despite the almost 2,000 miles of driving. I'm hoping that by the time we get brave enough to make the trip again, they will have decided to move Texas closer and make it much smaller. Hey, miracles still happen!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Summertime Yum

If I were a good blogger, I'd have a very well-taken photograph of the recipe I'm about to post. The problem is, it's so yummy that we inhale it before I can even think of getting the camera. See?

It's healthy enough that I don't feel too guilty about it, though it's still pretty packed with calories, I imagine. Who wants to add that up?

Another wonderful thing about this, besides the yumminess, is that the kids don't like it, so I don't have to share. Yay!

So, with no further ado, a recipe for my very own...

Peanut Butter Banana (and Chocolate) Smoothie

1 cup almond milk
2 tablespoons natural peanut butter
1 1/2 ripe frozen bananas
1-2 tablespoons plain yogurt (though I'm sure vanilla would work, too)
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa
1-2 squares of dark chocolate (I use the Ghirardelli baking bar)
1-2 tablespoons flax seed (just to sound healthy)
a handful of spinach (see above - you can't taste it)
a handful of ice cubes (or ice crescents, because who actually  has cubes anymore?)
(I've also added a tablespoon of honey, but it's good without it and fewer calories)

Put it in a good blender (not the cheap ones that get overheated when you try to blend soft butter) and blend it up!

Really, you can just throw in whatever amount looks good of all that stuff. I'm not usually very exact, and it always turns out yummy. It's like drinking a frozen Reese's cup on a hot summer day. :)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Mama Goes a Campin'

Hi, my name is Amy, and I don't do camp. I'm a stay-at-home (or a nice B&B) kinda girl who prefers to remain clean and non-sweaty and avoids bugs AT ALL COSTS. Unless my little girl wants me to go to camp. And then I do camp.

So, I knew I was in for a fun time when the one other adult on our bus got promoted to a car rider and I had to face a bus load of super-excited kids by myself. I found a seat next to the one little girl who did not appear to be overly excited, and it wasn't long after we turned onto the windy, hilly, long road to camp that she turned to me and said, "I get car sick really easily." From that point on, anytime she looked at me, I helpfully reminded her she should really be looking out the window.

Across the aisle sat the most excited girl on the bus. She asked me approximately 517 questions on the rather short ride, most of them about camp and what it would be like. I patiently reminded her 517 times that I'd never been here before, so I couldn't really say. I was also no help when she wondered if I'd heard the latest Justin Beiber song. Just as I was thinking we didn't have all that much in common, she made the statement, "You're only 25." I won't bother with the context of that, because it's beside the point. The point is, she thinks I'm 25. We are now friends for life.

Even though the trip was only about 40 minutes, the kids managed to ask "Are we there yet?" as many times as you'd expect if we were going to China. Finally, we were there, which led to lots of screaming and jumping, to which my car-sick friend rolled her eyes and asked why people her age had to be so annoying.
I felt as though surviving the bus ride was a pretty good accomplishment, but it was only the beginning.

I'm dreadfully afraid of those bugs that start with a "c" (or an "r" for short) and like to scurry about at night and scatter when you turn on the lights. My main concern in going to camp was being visited by some of these dreaded creatures, and wouldn't you know...what was waiting at the top of the stairs just before we went into our bunkroom to deposit our belongings? Yep, you guessed it. It was dead, but you know where there's one dead one, there's 10,000 live ones. (But I won't leave you in suspense. I only saw one live one the whole time, and it wasn't in my room or close to my bed. However, that didn't stop me from lying awake in bed at night imagining them crawling around the room.)
You can't see it here, but just below Maddie's bed, behind those lovely beach towels, is the spot where I laid and imagined all the creepy crawlies just waiting to get me. Yes, I'm weird.
As soon as we put our stuff down and got a quick briefing on the afternoon, the kids headed to the dock to canoe. I felt like I was the only one who thought things were completely chaotic and wondered if it was a good idea to send boatfuls of kids who didn't have a clue how to use an oar out into the lake by themselves. Amazingly enough, they all made it back safely, though not always with grace and skill involved, and there was that little girl in the blue bathing suit (you can see her below) to pull them back to shore, or something like that, if they found themselves stranded.

Here's my little Maddie, who you can plainly see is about a head shorter than most of her friends. She's a cute little shrimp, though.

Here are some of my chaperone buddies. Guess which one was the only one of us to swim in the lake with the kiddos. The rest of us felt it very important to stay on the shore so that we could watch and make sure everyone was okay.

I don't know the actual name of that big green thing in the water, but I would suggest "Giant Make-Em-Tired Thingy."

Here are most of the sweetest group of girls you'll ever meet. A couple missed the photo. Really, though, they are a remarkably wonderful group. I'm so thankful my girl has such great friends.
 We got lots of swimming time, canoe time, and just general hang-out time, but there were also great times of worship, Bible teaching, and quiet time. The theme of the week was "Running the Race," so there were lots of races and games that tied into the truths being taught. It was crazy to look around at that group of 50+ kids, knowing that it won't be long until they're not kids anymore, and praying that the truth they're learning now will take root in their hearts and lead them to run their race well.

Some of the sweetest times were each morning when the kids had a scheduled quiet Bible study time. They'd find a place alone out by the lake, and we'd see them reading their Bibles and having their own time with God. I'd wonder what was going on in those little heads of theirs, hoping it was meaningful time for them.

This guy here can tell you that "running your race" with sin in your life really weighs you down!

One morning, we split up into two groups. The first group played baseball in the blazing hot sun, while the second group went on a lovely hike up a hill to see the giant cross and enjoy the beautiful view of the lake. I was pretty happy when my group got to switch from baseball (not that I played or anything) to hiking. In the pic above, we're a group of happy campers heading into the nice, shady woods. We crossed the bridge, looked out over the peaceful lake, and started straight up to the cross at the top of the mountain. Everything was going swimmingly until somebody unknowingly stirred up a yellow jacket nest. Let me tell you, things went from lovely to horrid in about 1.5 seconds. Before we knew it, a slew of people, young and not-so-young, were screaming and swatting and cryin' for mama.

Now let me just say, I am not the person you want with you if you're ever caught in a burning building. I'm pretty sure I'd high-tail it outta there and check on you later. There were heroic adults who headed into the swarm, pulled kids out, carried people down the rocky hill, directed others to safety. I think I held someone's bag and contemplated how I really did not want to go any further up that hillside. I know for a fact that the thought of taking a picture did cross my mind, but then I thought it might be in poor taste. Seriously, I'm a chicken and not so helpful in bee-sting crises. And the whole episode is a prime example of why I'm not outdoorsy.

So, with our dramatic camp story behind us and lots of people pumped full of Benadryl, we headed to lunch. Can I point out that no one appreciates barely mediocre cafeteria food like a bunch of mamas who have to cook most every night of our lives? Even on the not-so-edible spaghetti night, I just put some salad on my plate and went back for another crusty piece of garlic bread. And we've never been so okay with "hashbrowns" for breakfast making another appearance as "tater tots" at lunch. Who cares? I didn't have to cook it!

Besides Bible study, roach dreams, sweaty baseball games, and bee stings, there was Hot as an Oven Rec Time. The main duty of me and my friends was to slather mobs of kids with sunscreen, try to find a spot in the shade, and show sympathy to anyone who turned up injured. The kids' job was to slide around in soapy water and kick giant balls into the goal for their team.

And then, if our pastor happened to pay them a visit, the kids were to give him a warm (soapy, wet, smelly) welcome. They did a good job.

Here I am in one of two pictures I asked a friend to take to prove to posterity for all time that I did indeed go to camp. We look so happy. And we were. But we were also dripping sweat from every pore of our body. In some ingenious move, swimming pool time was scheduled right after recreation. We've never been happier to see a pool.

The next morning, a few lucky recruits got to live out the dream of every 10-year-old boy. Get half-naked and smeared with shaving cream. Then have lots of other kids throw cheese balls at you. For some of us it's a nightmare.

Then they gave us the option of staying in the nice sweltering sunshine and play a game of kickball....or hike back up the yellow-jacket-infested mountain. Guess what my kick-ball-loving daughter chose? She went with peer pressure and made me go back up that mountain. (Please understand that I'm using the term "mountain" loosely here. Hill doesn't quite do it justice, but mountain may be a little bit of a stretch.)

For the first 250 steps, all the kids jumped and screamed every time a fly flew by. Let's just say we were all a little on edge and very aware of any flying or buzzing occurring anywhere near us.


In the end, we made it up that mountainish hill, touched the giant cross, enjoyed the lovely view of the lake, and made it out alive. Just in time for some questionable looking hot dogs.


Yes, ma'am, I was at camp. And I did wear nothing but athletic shorts, t-shirts, and a bathing suit the whole time. There is definitely a plus side to this whole camp business.

In the end, my poor, sweet Maddie and I had to leave that evening before dinner (less than 24 hours before the end of camp) because she was running a 103 degree fever. She had also fallen and scraped herself up pretty good the first day, so it wasn't the best camp experience for her. But she was glad her mama put aside all the ickiness and went with her anyway. It was a priceless experience that left me very glad I had gone...

....and very glad we have lots of boys in our family who have a daddy who would absolutely love camp. :)