Tuesday, October 31, 2017


We continued the Halloween festivities with our Branch's annual Truck or Treat and Chili Cook off Party on Friday the 20th. The Primary usually is in charge of this, but I was a little burnt out and we still had the program coming up in a week and the party would be when Chris was out of town AND the day before Charlie's birthday party so I told the Branch Council that if they wanted to do this, we'd need to divide all the responsibilities up. People still wanted to do it, so we assigned out tasks and called it good.  I was hoping to not actually be 'in charge' of it and just have a assignment, but alas, old habits die hard and people just kept assuming I was in charge and treated me as such.  Besides without a real leader, some of the last minute details can come as a surprise and I ended up running around like a crazy chicken the day of trying to make sure it all ended up ok.  I missed Chris' help tremendously, but was so glad my friend Shuniqua was around to help me hand out candy and get set up. 

Freddy was Captain America, Charlie was Iron Man, Alec was a soccer player, and Gwen was a ballerina. 

Being very pregnant, I thought resurrecting my cow costume from when I was pregnant with Alec was in order. Something had happened to all of the spots, so the kids helped me draw them on.  Also, I had to make new teats for my udder. We had about 20 minutes to get EVERYONE costumed and loaded up in the car. It was such a busy day.  We had a really good turn out and I thought my friend's Lexi and Troy (a scarecrow and a farmer) costumes completed my look so we got a picture.

The kids had a blast and everything turned out just fine. People were so helpful in cleaning up so I didn't have to be the last one there. Shuniqua and I won 2nd place for our Chili again (which we made the day before) and the kids got LOTS of candy.  I let them stay up sorting and trading with each other because I really wanted Chris' help putting them to bed. His airplane was delayed though so I ended up doing it by my self anyway.  He had been in Ohio on a business trip for one of his projects for 2 nights. 

The next weekend, Gwen was invited to go to party at our neighbors barn just across and down the road a bit from us. She got to reconnect with her two best friends from 1st grade. Super fun.

We managed to squeeze in Pumpkin carving the night before Halloween. Freddy was old enough to really get it this year and he came up with his design and scooped out his seeds all by himself. ("with blood dripping down") Alec did his entire pumpkin all by himself - including the cutting! Gwen and Charlie came up with awesome designs too and were heavily involved.  Some traditions are just more fun as the kids get a little bit older.  A friend told us to wipe bleach along the inside of the pumpkins after they're carved to get them to last longer.  We tried it and it worked a little bit. They probably lasted 2 weeks. 

Halloween day was a Tuesday this year so we had a fun little party in preschool.

Then after a quick dinner of peas and potatoes while Gwen was at ballet, we met up at a friends neighborhood and went trick or treating for 30-40 minutes, then drove to another neighborhood of someone in our branch who invited us to come there and did another 30 minutes or so. The kids got SO MUCH CANDY and the weather was so nice. I was exhausted by the end of the day and had to visit the bathroom twice at various friend's houses. This baby is sure growing!

Chris and I put the kids to bed just a tiny bit later than normal and still had time to watch a movie on Plex (we love you, Jared!) that is acclaimed as the most true-to-the-book version of Frankenstein.  

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Primary Program Success!

It was a little less stressful this year getting together the primary program since I'd already been in charge of it the year before. I kept some of the things I thought worked well, dropped the ones that didn't and added a few new tricks. This year, it went SO SO SO good. We had so many compliments and had almost everyone in tears by the end. :) Plus, I DIDN'T come home and cry this year, so win win!

We have less kids this year (only 13) than last year (20) and so some things were eaiser... like interviewing the kids for their parts. I kept a lot of the kids talks throughout the year too and used some of them for their parts so some kids I didn't even have to interview. I knew I wanted to use our two oldest primary kids (Alec and his friend Benjamin) to be narrators again and so I sat down and wrote out an outline with the two narrators talking back and forth to each other tying together the monthly themes.  Then I created a list of questions for each theme that I could use in my interviews with the kids. I really enjoy taking the kids one by one out of their class or sharing time for about a 5 minute conversation where I ask them some of those questions and try and explore their life experiences regarding the gospel topics.  Kids really do say the darnedest things.  I record the interviews so I can make sure I have their exact wording. Then I pick 1 or 2 questions that they had a lot of good stuff to say about, trying to balance it out amongst all the kids so each monthly topic is covered by 2-4 kids. It worked out that everyone had two parts this year.

It kind of sounds like a long process, but it goes by pretty fast and it allows each child's part to be so authentic and heartfelt. It makes for a program that truly is full of the children's individual candid testimonies.  With the older kids, I throw in some of the monthly scriptures at the beginning or end of their part that goes a long with what they're saying.  The kids parts seriously make the program. They spoke of honest things like, "Sometimes I get mad at my sisters when they do a wrong move during a chess game" or "I spit water all over my sister and even though it wasn't even that bad she planned to spit water on me. But I know she forgave me because she eventually played with me again. Sometimes you don't have to say the words, I forgive you, to forgive someone. You have to just let it go and move on."  or "I try to be like Moroni by showing my faith. I believe in church and I go to church. I believe in reading the scriptures and I read them every night. I'm up to 13 verses a day and I'm already in 3rd Nephi." or  "Jesus was a nice guy. He loves everybody. I can love everyone too. I give my family hugs every morning." (that last one was one of Freddy's parts).

We held one Sunday practice during class and sharing time the Sunday before the program and then met again for about an hour on Saturday, the day before the program.  My good friend is the music leader and she did an AMAZING job teaching the songs throughout the whole year, so that the kids knew all the verses to all the songs without needing any kind of prompts. Plus, she picked a really special new song that the kids just love. Its called, I will be what I believe. The end has the chorus of Army of Helaman overlapping with the chorus from the song. We asked the YW and YM to come up and sing the Army of Helaman part with us and it turned out SO GREAT.

I sat on the floor by the mic, so I could help with parts for the non-readers, and get the stool ready for our shortest kids.  I organized the program for the kids into colored groups. Each song has a color and the kids who have a part after that song are in that color group. I have a flip chart next to me that shows the color group we're currently on and the color/song coming up. Then after each song I just hold out the flip chart and mouth, "Yellow group" and the kids usually remember which color their are (or they can see their name written) and get in the right order for the microphone.  I have the program itself divided by these groups too, so that I have one piece of paper on the podium for each group to read off of and I switch out the next group's sheet during the standing up of the songs.

I had the sister missionaries and Chris come sit up on the stand to help the kids since we had no teachers available to sit up there during the program (one of them is the pianist and the other couldn't make it) then my one counselor I put by the microphone controls to monitor those and help the children line up in the correct order for their parts.

All of this helped me to be able to focus and listen to what the kids were saying and sort of just enjoy the program as it went a long. If we had extra time to fill at the end, I wanted to be able to be in the zone and share my own testimony, but as it turned out, I didn't have to say anything! No adult did, except the Branch President who kind of bore a short testimony as he closed the meeting.  (He was in tears too, by the way) Really almost everyone was.   Like one little boy in our primary was so moved by the song, I will be what I Believe at the end that he started crying (like scrunched up face, wiping away tears with his sleeve) crying.  I had tears myself, and when it was all over and I was gathering up my stuff I could see red eyes on almost everyone in the congregation.

Alec did an amazing job narrating. He had so many parts and added animation to his voice and spoke slowly. Its crazy to think that he's going to be the oldest kid in Primary in just 6 months and then he'll be 12 in a year and move on!! what?!?! Charlie had some really cool insight in one of his parts and laid out some good doctrine on the sacrament and repentance in his other.  I liked when he said something like, "Choices and consequences are like a fox and his tail. One end always goes with the other. You get to pick your choice but you can't pick the consequence." Charlie even volunteered last minute to read one of the 'guest' parts I had written in, in case some of our less actives showed up and wanted to participate.  Gwen did a great job as well and is a really good singer.  I love how I can count on her to sit by some of the more rowdy kids and not get rowdy with them.  A few people told me Freddy kinda stole the show. He ended up on Chris' lap for 1/2 of the program and Chris helped him do some of the actions for the Wise Man and the Foolish Man song and apparently Freddy's face was of PURE JOY and delight. Also every time he got up to say his parts, he would take his time stepping up and take a big deep breath as he looked out at the congregation before starting. Super super cute.

Mostly I think I feel so good about it because its OVER! And besides every day stuff like teaching preschool, Thanksgiving, and Freddy's birthday, it was the LAST BIG THING on my plate before the baby comes. Well, I am planning on doing a small Faith in God show and tell meeting sometime in November but thats going to be during the 2nd hour and pretty low key, so it almost doesn't count.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Charlie's turns 9!

Charlie wanted a sports themed party. We found some free printable invites online and modified them just slightly to match the sports he wanted to focus on: Basketball, Soccer, Football and Baseball. Then he proceeded to invite like 20 friends. He's such a friendly boy and even wanted to invite people in other grades that he barely knew. (I think partly because he was choosing people good at sports to be on his team when we played the games at his party - haha!). 

With the branch Halloween party the night before and Chris being out of town just before it as well, it was a kind of, throw everything together in the morning kind of a deal. We had popcorn, muddy buddies, gaterades and some games for the kids. Chris made some sports obstacle course games up and I led the kids in a pin-the-foot-ball-in-the-uprights game. (All of this per Charlie's request)


Then we had cake and opened presents. Charlie was so cute and excited about everything he was given, saying things like, "Oh!! I've always wanted something like this" or "I LOVE IT!" Alot of the kids wanted him to open the presents up right then to play with and Charlie wasn't up for that. I was both a little embarrassed and proud to see how he wasn't going to give in to peer pressure.

He loves the new boots he got from G and G Dixie and almost immediately knew what he was going to buy with the money from G and G Betteridge (arm warmer things that football players wear).  The only present Chris and I got him was a new bike.  Poor Charlie has been riding a bike smaller than Gwen's for the past few months and has never had a new bike - seeing as how he usually just uses Alec's old ones. 

Charlie's real birthday day was the next day on a Sunday so we gave him breakfast in bed (Crepes - his all time favorite ... which were thankfully left overs since Sunday mornings are really hectic and early for us). I had surprised Charlie by getting a few new things for his room: a new bedspread, a few pillows, curtains and some posters.  He again did such a great job of oogling over the new things and being really cute and grateful. 

Charlie is SO sweet and kind with Frederick. We moved Freddy and the little bunkbed into his room the week before to get ready for the baby and he's only been excited to share. Charlie is outgoing, friendly, tender-hearted, athletic, and busy. He's really enjoyed reading this year - especially books about "guys that do cool stuff outside with animals" like the books by Bill Wallace.  He loves sports and even wears sports clothes under his school uniform. He likes to dress up in matching outfits with Freddy for Church, and is kind of a goofball in primary, but usually does a pretty good job toning it down when asked to.  He is such a sweet boy and we love having him in our family. We love you, Charlie!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

BYU game!

We've been looking forward to when BYU came to play football here at MSU for a few years. We were hoping people would come out and stay with us to go to the game and see in person the crazy awesome tailgating. BYU hasn't had that good of a season though, so I don't think many people were really wanting to see the game. Thom and Brittany and their family were planning on coming out and we were really looking forward to some family time with them. But several days before the game, Brittany's grandmother passed away and they needed to stay in TX for the funeral. We were pretty bummed but you can't get mad about a funeral!  So we bought tickets to the game anyway and just went. Chris wore BYU shirts all week to work and even squeezed into the little BYU football jersey Freddy is wearing (that I picked out from my mom's dress up boxes) to the Pumpkin Palooza event on Main Street in Starkville the night before the game. One guy commented on it and thought we were just BYU fans that came into town the night before the came and chanced on the Halloween Event! 

Anyway, it was an early game so we pretty much got up, did a few chores and then went to tailgate. Charlie wanted to wear his State Football jersey and Gwen wanted to cheer on Mississippi State too. The rest of us were all in blue and white. It took us longer than we expected to get out the door so we got to BYU's Alumni Tailgate just as it was ending. We snapped a picture and headed to the stadium to get our seats.

It is fun to sit in a big crowd and cheer on two favorite teams. We mostly cheered for BYU, but enjoyed seeing State play well.

Surprising, we stayed for the whole game. MSU won, of course, but BYU at least had a touch down and a field goal and some fun interceptions. It. Was. So. Hot. So. So. So. Hot. I got sunburned on my face and arms and was just dripping sweat the whole time.  We ate stadium food for lunch and just toughed it out with cold beverages and a fan.  After the game we hurried over to the sideline to hear the BYU team sing our fight song. That was pretty cool. Then we walked back to the car (we had parked at our old faculty housing house) and got home in the late afternoon.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Breast Cancer Walk and Pumpkin Palooza

There are a lot of fun fall activities in Starkville. Particularly with it being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, there have been lots of cancer related events. Chris likes to attend these when he can and he took the younger kids to the walk-a-thon while I took Alec to a counseling appointment, then we drove across campus and joined them at the very end. They got free tshirts and other swag and food. Gwen wanted to get a picture with the cheerleaders. 

Friday was the Pumpkin Palooza on Main Street. We met up with friends and walked up and down the street, eventually skipping the businesses with the longest lines. Charlie was a knight, Gwendolyn a pirate princess, Alec a soccer player, and Freddy was Batman. There were a lot of people there so we didn't stay too long, but found our friend McKenzie who, because of her theater class at highschool dressed up as Anastasia to let kids take pictures with her.

We found a big Batman and Freddy got his picture with him, then Gwen saw Anna from Frozen and Charlie wanted a picture with Super man. Then we headed over to the Gines house for a yummy soup dinner and a movie. It was a really fun and different Friday Night. 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Fall Break Camp Out: the Great Smoky Mountains

With all the projects around home this summer, we didn't really get a chance to have a 'just-our-family' vacation and its been over a year since we've camped out so we decided to use our Fall Break to camp out and explore one of the nearest national parks to us. The Great Smoky Mountains are about 6-7 hours away to the north east in Tennessee and North Carolina.  We tried to get reservations a week or so before, but apparently October is one of the busiest months for the park and all the sites were reserved on one of the nights we were looking for. So we decided to just leave super early Thursday morning and get to the first come first serve campsite around lunch time. We packed up our stuff mostly Wednesday and just had the perishables to finish up on Thursday.  Chris had just gotten back from his check-up and scan in Nashville late Tuesday night so we really only had Wednesday to get ready. 

We got off fairly close to on time, around 5:00am and pulled up around 2pm to the campground. There were a handful of sites left but none of them had the designated tent spot big enough for our new tent but we found a good one with a flat spot in between the parking spot and tent area big enough.  We LOOOOOVED our new tent. I'm sad I didn't get a picture of it set up. We've been using a 4 man tent for our family for a while since our kids are small enough but this new one is a 9-10 person tent and is tall enough for Chris to not bed over right in the middle. While it feels roomy inside, it doesn't look very big from the outside and has a footprint of about 16 x 9. With the rain fly off, it really feels like you're in a screen room or something.

Right away the kids wanted to explore the river/creek just on the opposite side of the campground. They found a space to skip rocks and were very content while Chris and I set up camp.  Alec and Charlie can skip rocks way way better than me.  While we let Chris 'test out the tent' to take a nap (since he's had a lot of driving and late night/early mornings in the past 48 hours) I went down to watch the kids skip rocks. We saw a little water snake nearby ... which kind of scared us all but we just kept a close eye on the river back and continued to skip rocks.

We left to try and find a place to buy firewood so we could cook dinner and drove for almost an hour without finding much. Our campground, Abrams Creek, is on the very edge of the park but is super isolated from any towns or roads leading into the rest of the national park.  Also we had no cell phone coverage so I couldn't look up on maps where stuff was. I thought I had downloaded a map of the park to my Kindle before we left, but I couldn't find it. Really frustrating. We did find a hiking trail called Lookout Point or something that we decided to do before heading back to the campground.  It helped make the drive feel less pointless.

The view from the top was amazing! I was surprise how winded I was as we walked the 1/2 mile to the top. I guess I'm pretty pregnant and out of shape. The weather was pretty warm, but not uncomfortably so.

It was interesting to do as the sign at the top suggested and try to imagine what it looked like from this point hundreds of years ago when just the Native American's lived here.

We got back to camp just before dark and used the charcoal we brought to cook our dinners. I had made Macaroni and Cheese the day before and served it up in little loaf tins, covered it with foil and just warmed it over the coals. Then we had a salad mix and left over cantaloupe. It was a really yummy and simple dinner.

For dessert we did banana boats. Its hard to see it in Alec's hand's here, but we each put whatever toppings we wanted in a slit open banana and wrapped it back up in the peel and then foil and again warmed it up on the coals until the chocolate melted.

I always sleep terribly my first night camping and this trip was no exception. We slept with the rain fly off because we were worried about being too hot. But it got pretty chilly and with the humidity/dew it was quite cold. Freddy woke up in the middle of the night and needed to sleep in our bed with us for a while. Charlie was cold and the extra sleeping bag I brought to act as more cushioning for my pregnant body was needed to drape over the kids for warmth.   Around 2:00am I woke up hoping it was morning. My shoulder just ached and ached all night (I had gotten the DTAP vaccine two weeks before and something went terribly wrong... like maybe the nurse put it straight into the bone or something because it literally felt like I broke my shoulder).

But there's just something about snuggling in sleeping bags (on a queen-sized cot/bed) staring into the forest above you that I just love. By the time it was light the kids came and got warm in Chris and my space while Chris started more coals for breakfast.

 We had hot chocolate, breakfast burritos, and instant oatmeal packets. The burritos would've been yummy if I hadn't over cooked them. The kids needed 'the Daddy jacket' to warm up while we waited for breakfast.

This was our only full day and we really wanted to explore inside the National Park, so we left our campsite right after breakfast to go explore and hopefully find firewood somewhere along the way. It took about 45 minutes to drive from our campground to the nearest entrance to the National Park. We looked up a shortish, family friendly hike to some waterfalls and did that first. The trail was beautiful, the fall colors just starting to peep out.  The kids have some kind of adversion to walking on the trail and took every opportunity to run along or up or down any dirt or rock on either side of the trail. This frustrated Chris (and me) to no end and it was kinda hard to enjoy the hike.

We eventually made it to the water falls and enjoyed a behind-a-tree-potty-break (for the kids... I had had the foresite to go on the side of the road behind the car at the trailhead where there was a little more privacy).  The lack of bathrooms was kinda hard for my 7 month pregnant bladder and I ended up going in the trees more than once, or twice, (or three or four times).

The boys REALLY wanted to follow lots of people and go down a make shift trail to the lower falls. Chris HATES going off-the-official-trail, but consented and took the boys down while I stayed up top with Gwen and Freddy. I let them take off their shoes and wade a bit, but with a 40 foot drop to the next falls pretty close, I made them stay in a specific area and when Gwen slipped and fell in the water on the slippery rocks, I felt validated with my cautious rules. I was afraid she'd throw a fit about being all wet, but she handled it pretty well and laughed it off.

With more we wanted to see we headed back down the trail and tried once again to not let the whiny, disobedient, sassy tantrum throwing kids to kill the peace and beauty of the trail. I didn't really succeed and before we were 1/2 way down I had to take a rest and cry a little. My shoulder hurt, my kids were acting up and I was hot and tired. Why in the world did we do this?! 

We drove to another park entrance, visited the restrooms and gift shop and had a picnic lunch. Then we tried to predict how long it would take to visit two more places in the park and still get back in time to make dinner over the fire. We figured we had enough time and drove about 45 min to the center of the park and drove up to almost the top of the 3rd highest mountain East of the Mississippi river: Clingman's Dome. The short .5 mile trailhead to the top was closed but thats probably for the better since we were all tired. We let the kids climb on some big boulders, shopped at the small gift shop and took some pictures of the incredible view. 

Then we headed back towards our campsite, the long way via touring Cades Cove - the biggest valley of the National Park with the biggest meadows... the best spot to view wild life and see some of the early settler cabins. It was interesting to read about the people who lived in this valley before it became a national park. The 11 mile loop around Cades Cove is one way with a fairly slow speed limit. Also, with it being near dusk, prime time to see wildlife, and it being the busiest month of the year for the park, there were quite a few cars on the road. People driving trucks with people sitting in camping chairs in the back looking around. The weather was perfect. We were driving slow enough we let the kids get unbuckled and hang out the windows/sunroof to get good looks. We didn't stop at any of the cabins because we were worried about getting back too late to eat dinner.  We saw horses (not wild) and were hoping to see deer or a black bear. 

At one point, we had the decision to turn right, exit the loop and head home early but we hadn't seen anything yet so we decided to continue on the loop and just take the next shortcut through the loop to go back to that exit. I thought it would add 20 minutes or so, but the people were driving SO SLOW in front of us it ended up being more like 40 min. Then right before our shortcut turn all the cars stopped infront of us. We knew it probably meant something exciting like an animal sighting but no one was following the rules to pull off the road that we just sat there, just out of sight of what they were looking at. Kinda frustrating. Then finally the cars pulled slowly ahead and we were able to see a glimpse of the black bear they were all looking at as it wandered away from us about 200 yards away. You can KIND OF see the black dot along the edge of the grass on the left-hand side of this photo:

We sped down the shortcut road and turned back on the loop just a mile from our exit point and surprisingly there was no other cars on the road now. Just as we rounded a turn, we saw this HUGE black bear cross the road not more than 30 feet from our car. We pulled over and watched it walk quickly into the forest and when we took our exit down this dirt road a minute later, we saw the bear again. This time it stopped and looked straight at us for a while. Super cool.

Our one-way dirt road exit (which seemed like a totally legit road on the map and would've been a shortcut from having to drive all the way back to one of the main entrances of the park) turned out to be a little scary. It was more like an extra wide hiking trail than a road and we had to go so slow on all the switch backs and turns as it moved across, up and over the mountains.  Chris joked that we went on a Cr-ike (a car hike). It took a while to navigate and by the time we got out of the park it was 7:00 pm and pretty much sunset - we still had a 45 min drive back to our campsite. We decided to forgo the hot dog / chili cheese fries over the fire dinner and grab something at a Subway on our way back. It was a good choice. When we got to our campsite we were able to just make a fire to roast marshmallows on and listen to Chris read our family book. (at that time we were near the beginning of The Hobbit). All the kids just sat quietly in their chairs listening to Chris for almost an hour. It was the first moment that turned out how I had happily anticipated: sitting peacefully around the campfire.  The campsite had filled up during the day and we had neighbors to one side. This little boy kept sneaking over to our fire to listen to Chris.

The second night was much better than the first for a couple of reasons. 1 - we put the rain fly on and were dry-er and warmer. 2 - we were all so exhausted we all slept deeper.  Still by dawn, my shoulder was aching and I and a few kids had to go to the bathroom so I got up early and started the fire for breakfast. Since we didn't get to make our dutch oven peach cobbler for dessert the night before, we had it for breakfast. It was my first time doing a dutch oven thing totally on my own including the fire.  To make it seem more breakfast-y I put on the left over berries on top. It was delicious!

We basically had to clean up and go home since we still had a 7 hour drive and wanted to have the car unpacked and the house a bit settled before Sunday, knowing that come Monday morning regular life started again.  The kids helped burn the garbage and skipped more rocks while Chris and I packed up. 

Looking back, it was a good memory and I'm glad we made the necessary sacrifices so the kids could grow up with an appreciation for God's beautiful earth and camping.  But man oh man, camping is A LOT OF WORK.