Anna and her son Issac are some of our good friends from Canada. We were so happy they could come down and stay with us for a week. We had some chill days where we stayed home mostly and experimented with some fun Southern-Style recipes like blackened catfish, potato salad, homemade buttermilk ranch dressing, chipotle cranberry chicken, creamy collard greens and others. We had other days where we got out and explored some new local-ish places. We walked around the boardwalks at the Noxubee Wildlife Refuge, and went swimming at Lake Tiak O'Khata:
We toyed with the idea of driving down to the gulf coast for a night and doing the whole beach thing, since Issac has never swam in the beach before, but we all got a little sunburned at the lake. We decided instead to go 2 hours North East to Dismals Canyon in Alabama. It was this really quaint and other-worldly river ravine/canyon in the middle of rural Alabama. It was very beautiful, and a bit pricey, but hey its not like we're going to go there all that often. We got there a bit late and with a misunderstanding of their hours we only had 30 min to explore the canyon before they closed it. I liked how at each special little spot along the canyon floors there was a name for it and on our paper we could read a paragraph about the history of it. Some places were famous hide-outs for bandits, or the location of Native American ceremonies. Really interesting stuff. I wish I was steadier with my camera to have taken better pictures, but we were kind of pressed for time.
We had also paid for the 9:15pm night tour, and found ourselves with almost 2 hours to kill in the parking lot/little store area. It wasn't completely terrible. I got to take pictures of these cute kiddos and we enjoyed watching the fireflies.
Eventually night fell and we sat around some tables outside the store playing "Big Booty" and "I spy." Gwen had starting having melt downs around 8:30 and we decided we needed to buy 'energy' for our hike. We let each of the kids pick out a treat in the store. That little Gwen can be so motivated by food and treats...just like her mama. The kids ate some of their energy while Chris told a Sam the Suit story. (one of his longstanding made up characters). He is such a good story teller. Frederick was amazingly wide-awake but luckily he was mostly content to be in the hiking backpack as long as I kept walking around.
Finally our turn for the tour came and the kids excited grabbed their flashlights and one of our hands and we followed the guide back down into the canyon floor in the black night. We stopped in two rocky caverns and turned off all the lights. It took a little bit of time for our eyes to adjust to seriously pitch black darkness. I was reminded of the darkness that fell upon the America's for 3 days after the death of Jesus Christ and talked with the kids about it a bit. Once our eyes did adjust the guide told us where to look to see the little glowing worms along the rock walls. Apparently they're one of the only two kinds of glowing worms in the world (the others are in Australia). The guide called them 'Dismalites' but I forget their scientific name. It was really fun to see them and the kids enjoyed finding them.
At the second cavern the dismalites were low enough and close enough that we could find a specific one while it was completely dark and get real close, then turn a flashlight onto that spot to see what they look like in the light...they looked just like an inch long, skinny seam (just a strand really) of sparkly rock. Pretty cool. Climbing through the dark tight spaces with Frederick on my back in a big hiking backpack could have been a little tricky at times, but I got mad skills, so it wasn't a problem. :)
It was really fun to experience new things and see new places with Anna and Isaac. We had lots of time to chit chat and we enjoyed playing games and watching shows after the kids went to bed. Anna was always good to play games with the kids, (she probably played Labyrinth like 20 times in a 24 hour period) Gwen seemed to get really attached to her! Isaac and 'the brothers' as Gwen and I often call Alec and Charlie got along well. I'm so glad they could come visit!
We made a short stop at Thom and Brittany's (like a couple of hours) while we returned the rental car and picked up our van from the shop, looking as good as new. Then we hit the road again to finish the long long drive home: 29 car driving hours in 36 hours.
It felt great to be back home. Already this house feels more like home (having lived there 3 weeks) than it ever did in our last place (having lived there 11 months.) By the way, this house makes the 9th place that Chris and I have lived out of 10 years of marriage. I think we're here to stay a good long while.
The kids have really been enjoying the big bath in the master bathroom. Frederick usually enjoys being by his siblings but I think the usual chaos plus deep water and bubbles was a bit on the frightening side.
But after discovering that his hands and feet can splash the water and that bubbles taste interesting, he warmed up to the experience. Oh! how we all love this bright-eyed, kissable cheeked, smiley boy.
There was one disappointment upon arriving home. There must have been a mix up with the guy we've hired to mow our lawn every 2 weeks because our grass was over 3 feet high and looked like it hadn't be mowed since before we even left! We had company coming over in a few days and the yard was not usable at all in that wild meadow state. This is the only picture I got of the tall grass. Chris is out with our new chain saw trying to cut down this huge dead and diseased tree.
There wasn't anything for us to do but go out and buy a riding lawn mower. We had planned to get one all along as it would practically pay for itself after a year of paying someone to mow it twice a month at $75 a time. We debated between a regular tractor style mower that you could pull stuff behind and a zero-turn radius one. We got a medium to large size zero-turn radius mower and we're very happy with it. With the grass at an average it-needs-a-trim state, it will only take Chris about 1 hour to cut the main sections, maybe 2 hours if he cut everywhere. Not as bad as we thought! Did I mention it is really fun to ride?
Its been many years since Chris and I were able to go to the Utah Shakespearean Festival with his family. We were all very excited to be able to make it this year. We only had 2 and a half days of plays but we were still able to see and do a lot. Chris and Edward and Grandpa were able to go golfing two of the mornings. It had also been many years since Chris was able to participate in the illustrious ILLCRIC tournament put on by the AGA. He did pretty well! (INSERT CHRIS' OR SPORTS WRITER FARFEL MILLER III's DETAILED RECAP HERE).
While he was golfing the kids and I had breakfast in the hotel lobby and swam in the pool with cousins.
As for the plays, We were blessed to have babysitters (thanks Edward, Kayla, Dixie and Jess!) for Chris and I to get to see some plays together. We saw a Monday matinee of 12'th Night, then Chris went to the evening performance of Henry IV Part 1 while I wrestled the kids to sleep in the hotel room. The next day I saw the matinee performance of Sense and Sensibility. It was fun to see a book I love so much as a play, but it just made me want to read the book and watch my favorite movie version again. Tuesday Night we took Alec with us for the evening performance of Comedy of Errors.
Jess was taking Mady to the same show and it was fun to see the next generation initiated into the Archibald tradition of Shakespeare plays. The siblings were cute as they simultaneously explained the play's plot to their oldest children who listened well and sat still with serious expressions. So precious to watch traditions being passed down. The play itself was set as a western and had lots of body humor, I loved hearing Alec and Chris laugh out-loud. There was one particular part that I really enjoyed when one of the silly 'Masters' was slapping his 'servant' for something and the servant spun his head in the wrong direction of the slap. It looked unscripted as both actors paused for a second in shock and started laughing! It was hilarious. Live performances are just awesome.
We took the kids to the Green show one night and Chris was sooo excited when he learned they were bringing back the puppet show he used to watch as a child, 'Punch and Judy.'
Again, seeing traditions passed down from my husband to my kids was fairly magical to me.
The next morning we had to check out of the hotel and then run off to the family Picnic with the festival's founder, Fred Adams. Chris' Aunt is his daughter and since this festival is a larger Woodward family yearly tradition they always have a picnic with Fred. We hadn't yet gotten in the traditional shopping at Christiansens and the Cedar City Deseret Industries, so we squeezed those in and BARELY made it to the festival for our last and final show. We were taking all the kids (except Frederick) to Into the Woods. Alec and Charlie did great. Gwen....euuhh... she wasn't old enough to appreciate it yet. We had watched the Broadway video version with Tiffany and kids a few days previous so the songs and story were familiar, but it also prepared us for the second half of the play that was full of adultery and death. So because we were also driving the 20ish hours to Texas as soon as the play was over, we decided to just watch the first half. It was a good decision.
It had been a long, fun and full trip and we were ready to get our van back from the body shop in Texas and get home. We drove straight through the night as we were sort of on a time crunch. Chris drove until 2 ish when we stopped at a gas station to try and sleep for a bit, but Frederick woke up with the car off and I tried to feed him over and over again to keep him quiet so Chris and the other kids could sleep. But by 3:30, I was getting annoyed and told Chris I would just drive for a bit so Frederick could fall asleep. Surprisingly I was feeling ok, and drove until about 8:30 AM when Chris was a bit refreshed and ready to drive while I fell asleep. But its hard to sleep while all the kids are awake, cranky from many late nights in the past 3 weeks and tired of being in the car. They demanded attention and being very cranky myself, I didn't handle their squabbling very well. Two moments stand out in my memory...
At one point, after harping on them over and over again in a not kind voice, I reached a breaking point and turned around to deliver some very strong words. Seeing their 3 pouty, sad faces made me stop and it was like my eyes were opened and I saw them through new eyes. I saw 3 adorable, tired, troopers who had been strapped to seats for the past 15 hours. Instead of more complaints I smiled and gave them compliments and how great they've been for most of our trip and remarkable they were in their car-trip stamina. It was like I could see their agitation melt away and they unfolded in the bask of my praise. That moment was a real blessing from God.
The peace didn't last forever and I started to crack again during breakfast. Usually the kids do really really well, eating in the car, but in the span of 30 minutes, Gwen had spilled her Chocolate milk all over her car seat and the car's seat and Charlie accidentally dumped his yogurt down his seat. Having just battled a nasty smell in the car before our trip, I was SO FRUSTRATED about the dairy spills and so tired from not much sleep that I started ranting as I leaned over the seats and used wet wipe after wet wipe to try and get everything clean. I realized I was behaving poorly and I knew it was mostly just tired so in between rants about how gross and hard this was to clean up I apologized to Chris and the kids saying I was just tired and I'm sorry. The boys had been playing a shooting game at each other across my head as I leaned over to clean it up and at one point I slumped back and half growled under my breath, "just shoot me!" The boys heard me and went still with serious eyes, watching me in my distress, and then looked at each other as smiles spread across their faces. Simultaneously, they turned their finger guns at me and at the same exact moment started making shooting noises as they "shot" me many times. It was too funny to pass up and I started laughing, which made them laugh, which made Gwen and Chris laugh. I'm sure it wasn't so much true laughter as it was relieved chuckles that I wasn't still so angry. Its interesting how laughter really can defuse stressful situations. Another blessing from Heavenly Father. As was this huge, beautiful double rainbow we saw somewhere between New Mexico and Texas.
Not many hours after the Harker's left, we met with some Betteridge family to go bowling at BYU. The kids love doing this and are getting pretty good! My mom and Hailey were still in UT from our Heber Reunion and so we spent some time with them too. We packed up all our stuff from the Archibald's (where us and the Harkers had stayed) and we camped out at Jared and Ashley's up in Herriman for a couple of days to get in some more time with my family. We were all kinda exhausted from everything that we took it pretty chill there and just basically played around the house.
The little girls loved having a baby (someone younger than them?!) to play with and were happy to give Freddy toys...after toy, after toy. To me, Clara and Amelia still seem like little babies themselves! They enjoyed playing with the toys as much as they seemed to enjoy placing them by Frederick.
For the most part, Frederick enjoyed the attention.
We did make it over to a neat store where they have an indoor Ferris wheel, which was fun to ride. I kept thinking we would play outside more and go to parks or the reservoir or something, because i thought UT would seem so much cooler after being in hot and humid MS and TX, but it still felt pretty hot. Inside stuff seemed the most appealing.
At the moment, I can't think of anything else we really did...I guess we painted nails, watched movies, played with bubbles... Chris had to work most of those days, I think. Oh! Anthony and Amberly stopped by one day and we got to see them and their cute kids. We played a fun couch game where every person picks a famous person to 'be' and writes the name down on a paper. Then one person reads all the papers, only once and then everyone takes a turn making one guess at someone's name. Then if the guess is correct, the revealed person sits by their reveal-er and they become a team. Also Anthony flew one of his remote controlled airplanes for us. Fun times.
The evening after our Betteridge reunion ended, we met up with our good friends from Canada, the Harkers! They happened to be in UT for a family reunion the same time as us and were able to stay around an extra few days to have a little Harkchibalders reunion with us. It was their first time meeting Frederick the Cutie Pie and our first time meeting little Layla, less than 2 months old. Obviously there is a match set in stone between the two and we decided to take some betrothal pictures: (we honestly didn't stage any of the touching... I guess they agree with the arrangement!)
At least Freddy seems really happy about it.
We had fun taking them to see things around Provo. I thought it would be easier to wing it, but it turns out Provo has changed a lot and I don't super know lots of good kid-places. Whenever we're there we usually just hang out at Dixie's. We took them to the newly remolded Bean Museum and ate at the Cougar Eat on BYU campus. We tried to get some ice cream from BYU's creamery but with all the EFY kids there, it was CRAZY packed and busy.. we decided to just go to a splash pad and get some ice cream from another place.
Christy made us all these shirts. She's pretty cool like that.
Christy and I were able to go on a run the morning they left (and my running buddy, Amy from MS who also happened to be in UT the same time came too!) but all too soon it was time to say goodbye. We've really missed this family and many of our other Edmonton friends, it was so good to see them.