Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Camping at Lake Kincaid, LA

For Memorial Day weekend we met Thom and Brittany and kiddos to go camping! A good half way point between our two houses is the Kisatchie National Forest in Louisiana.  We planned to drive in Friday and break camp Monday morning. Friday morning though we get a text saying Thom had a TERRIBLE Thursday night stuck on a plane on the runway for 10 hours. EEK. He got major motion sickness and wasn't feeling well. So I stopped preparations to leave and pretty much thought we'd have to cancel the weekend. Besides Gwen and Charlie both threw up early Friday morning... but started acting normal really quick... like they had just drank too much water on an empty stomach or something. Then I get a call from Chris in the early afternoon that Thom took a nap and feels much better and I added that Gwen and Charlie were acting normal so Chris came home from work and within an hour and a half we were out the door! 

During the 5 hour drive there the weather turned from great to terrible.  We arrived at this unknown campground at 9:00 at night in the dark and with it pouring outside.. Thom and Brittany were an hour or so away. The first campsite: full, the second campsite: full. The primitive campsite was completely empty. There were no site numbers, no water, no flush toilets, no map and no people... but we finally spotted some picnic tables off in the trees a bit and figured out what the sites might look like.  We chose  the biggest one and Chris set up the tent in the pouring rain with Alec while I stayed in the car with the younger kids, 1/2 of which were asleep. We had our tent set up and most of our bags in when Thom and Brittany showed up.  Chris helped them set up while I finished getting everything settled for sleeping in our tent. Turns out things were a little squished for our family of 6 in a 4 man tent... especially when mom and dad sleep on a comfy queen/cot/air mattress combo. 

The rain stopped and we all slept pretty good. Freddy woke up and slept with Chris and I for 1/2 the night and everyone was up with the sun by 5:30. :) We had omelets in a bag for breakfast and biscuits. So delicious!

Then we headed over to the swimming area of the lake for most of the day. It was awesome! Perfect weather, perfect water temperature, lots of space.  The kids were in heaven. 

They don't allow pets or food on the sand so we had to eat our deli meat/chips/and apples on the grass right next to it. 

Then we headed back to the campsite to hang out and get a fire going for dinner. We got out the washer-toss set and had fun playing it. It was super cute to see Jane and Freddy play it. The kids did a fairly decent job of entertaining themselves, but I'm really glad we brought bubbles, and some card games.  

We had instant rice with sweet and sour chicken and broccoli and then Thom and Brittany brought stuff to make these awesome smores in a ice cream cone. We filled the cones with marshmallows, mini rolos, mini reeses, and strawberries and blueberries then wrapped them up and cooked them in the coals. The trick was to not put it on the flames but near some good coals and rotate it often. Melted chocolate/fruit goodness with a crunchy cone... can you say delicious?!

The day had been pretty hot and muggy but it sprinkled during dinner and actually felt quite nice. By 8:00 the kids were beyond tired and bedtime was a little tricky. Freddy was the last kid asleep in our tent. By the time we had everyone asleep it was pretty late and we were all pretty tired, but us 4 adults sat around the dying coals and talked a bit so that was nice.  I slept much better this second night because we could take the rain fly off and basically sleep under the stars since most of our tent ceiling is mesh.  

Sunday morning we woke up had a yummy breakfast of oatmeal and muffins and then headed 30 min into town (Alexandria) to attend sacrament meeting. Then we came back to camp and held primary outside. I gave the sharing time lesson, and Thom led us in singing time with his guitar.  All of our kiddos are on the shy side when meeting strangers and they were glad not to have to go to a new primary.  Then we ate a lunch of summer sausage, cheese and crackers and went on a hike.  Looking at the map we thought we figured out a way to shorten the 10+ mile loop by using some camp roads so we herded our group of young kids off down the trail. Alec and Charlie needed some lessons in hiking etiquette and Gwen quickly lost steam and wanted to be carried... Freddy too.  The trail was marked with blue diamonds and we used them to determine when we'd switch the trail leader since most kids wanted a turn. 

Freddy loved being the leader and would march with his shoulders back and pointed a stick forward saying, "fahyow me!" I was really impressed with Graham and Jackson, who walked the whole way and never complained (at least I never heard them do it.) 

We walked along the lake edge for a bit, it was so pretty. But it was also hot, muggy and soooo much longer than we thought. We worried for a bit that we missed the 'roads' we were going to turn off of and kept looking at the picture on my phone I took of the map to try and figure it out. After over 3 miles we found the camp 'road' and a half a mile later or so we knew for sure where we were and sent the daddies to walk on the busy road to get our vans and come pick us up. 

We were glad to get back to camp, had a yummy Sunday dinner of roast, vegis and mashed potatoes and a dutch oven peach/blueberry cobbler with whipped cream.  Freddy was way more than ready for bed at 7:30pm and we tried an experiment with putting him in the tent by himself first and when he fell asleep we put the others to bed with headlamps and books. It went pretty smooth but Freddy still took almost an hour to fall asleep.  Thom, Chris, Brittany and I talked by the fire and discovered a nocturnal ant colony making a new home or new tunnel or something right at Chris' feet. I fell asleep in the camp chair (I had forgotten to take my thyroid pill one morning and was pretty tired). Chris and I slept well again under the stars inside our tent despite Freddy came into bed with us again. 

The next morning we broke camp had hard boiled eggs, yogurt and muffins and took our last cousin picture. Chris and I discovered what happened to the 3 days worth of melted ice in our cooler... it just leaked out the open spout and puddled in our van's trunk! UGH. Its embarrassing to say this is the second time we've forgotten to close that darn spout. 

It was a really fun trip, the kids played really well together and it did not live up to my worst expectations of bugs and heat...but it was still pretty hot and muggy.  It definitely started discussions between Chris and I about renting a camper or RV, but a quick look online dropped that discussion when we saw the prices.   Maybe we should just get a bigger tent and invent/install a misting system around the camp. ;) 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

End of the school year!

We got back from Florida in the evening on Thursday and within 2 hours Mom had helped me unload and clean out the car, get the kids to sleep, and started on the laundry. Then we were able to sit on the couch together and watch one show (I introduced Mom to Flashpoint) on Netflix and got to bed at a good time. The next day we got the kids off to school, exercised, and then went to the Elementary School to see Charlie's End of Year Celebration and awards. Charlie got the Fox award for being a clever problem solver. His teacher, Ms. Black has been SO GREAT. We really really like her. Charlie worked hard and did his homework and made really really good grades. 

Then we rushed over to the community Sportsplex to watch the Kindergarten Graduation Ceremony for Gwen and 4  other kindergarten classes. Gwen helped lead the school's pledge and then all the kids sang some songs and walked across the stage. Freddy loved to blow kisses to Gwen and walk across the floor between where we were seated and where Gwen was sitting. One time he made it all the way to her and gave her a kiss and ran back. He's a cutie. 

Gwen has made some really great friends this year and her teachers have both been SO WONDERFUL. Ms. Walls and Ms. Sharon are so loving and sweet with her. Ms. Walls was so good to still push Gwen to make LOTS of progress despite having tested above the exit benchmark at the beginning of the year.  She is one intelligent cookie.

It was fun to have Mom with me for a few hours on Friday and it was sad to take her to the airport before the kids got home from school.  I love my mom so much.

Alec's graduation ceremony was 2 school days later on the very last day of school. I almost didn't go to the awards ceremony because I hadn't really heard anything about it just saw an advertisement for it on the corner of some random paper.  Chris and I and Freddy went and it although it took FOREVER, it was fun to see Alec receive some recognition for all his hard work this past year. He got awards for Straight A Honor Roll, meeting his AR (Accelerated Reading) goal every 9 weeks, and received the silver Presidential Award signed by Pres. O'Bama. :) Pretty great.  His teacher, Ms. Craft was nice and Alec enjoyed being in her class.

YAY!!!! We're done with school for a few hot months!!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Chris' birthday

Chris woke up early and drove 13 hours on his birthday with a 15 passenger van of students from Florida to home. They all gave him a great birthday present of unloading everything and returning the rental van without him so he could make it home before the kids went to bed.  We made cards for him full of compliments, memories, and service-gifts and the house was decorated to celebrate him and some of his accomplishments.  We're trying to save money for a Disneyland trip next year and decided we'd spend no money on birthdays and just make things or do special things with each other this year. 

My gift to him was to make his favorite meals and clean up dinner and put the kids to bed by myself for 3 days in a row so he could spend that time relaxing however he chose.We had breakfast-in-bed-granola-and yogurt, Beef stroganoff, burritos, teriyaki chicken, grapefruit, mush, etc.  Then on Sunday we ate carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. 35 has never looked so handsome.  

Friday, May 20, 2016

Last day

Our last morning we sent Chris off to the Kennedy Space Center early to get ready for the teams first official run.  And since it was slated to be stormy all day we decided to head to the beach first thing to soak up the partially clear sky while we could. We didn't bring any chairs or toys or anything.  We just basically walked along the beach looking for shells and the kids waded. The waves are just so fun and the water was warm. 

The weather was still holding up so we went swimming in the pool again. Everyone keeping their shirts on for fear of getting sunburned again. We had a lot of fun with the hotel's floating air mattress and we found the ideal floating combination for Freddy. He likes to be in his life jacket in a ring. He likes to rest his chin on the edge and kick his feet to move him wherever he wants to go.

We went up to the hotel to shower and get dressed and have naps/TV/quiet time and then went shopping at the Ron John's Surf Shop that we had seen lots of signs on the freeway advertising.  It was pretty cool. I don't think I've ever seen so many swim suits. I let the kids pick out one thing to buy and Mom treated us to an extra frisbee and headband and a tshirt for Chris. Meanwhile I've been texting Chris and found out that State's first official run went poorly due to some mechanical failure.  The big storm still hadn't really hit yet so we decided to meet Chris at one of the putt putt golf places nearby. Pretty fun. Towards the middle it started to thunder and lightening nearby so we hurried the through to 18. 

The putt putt place also advertised feeding or holding alligators. I totally wasn't up for letting the kids do it mostly because I was just tired of the whining and not wanting to give the kids anything extra but Grandma splurged and purchased (for not very much money anyway) a few cups of alligator feed  - hot dogs. They had fishing poles to hang the hot dog on and then you could have fun dangling it and choosing which alligator to try and feed. It was really fun. I'm so glad Mom suggested it. It was a highlight memory for me. 

Then back to the hotel to eat another crockpot meal and put the kids to bed. Once they were asleep, Mom stayed in our hotel room so Chris and I could have a little date.  We thought maybe we'd go out to eat dessert somewhere but I was tired and full from dinner still and so we just drove around a bit and got gas. It was dark and the lightning storm was crazy just south of us. We decided last minute just to try and walk along the beach for a bit. I'm so glad we did. We sat in the sand and watched the lightening storm in the distance...so so pretty and peaceful.  I couldn't last more than a 10 minutes or so because I really was exhausted and I went to bed and Chris went off to try and help get the robot ready for the final run the next day.

Then Thursday Chris helped get the car packed and Mom and I started the 13 hour drive back home to Starkville.  I didn't have any meals prepared but we had enough snacks to basically last us until an early dinner. Mom did a lot of the driving this time around, and we just talked the whole time and let the kids watch lots of movies. Fastest 13 hour drive I can ever remember. :)  Chris texted and explained that the robots final run was a half bust because half-way through one of the wheels got a little stuck and the motor got disconnected and basically couldn't move. Bummer. He's trying to talk the team into planning even further ahead for next year (with more concrete deadlines) and they've got plans to work on it over this summer.  

I'm not positive we'll go again next year, but it was fun to experience Florida's East Coast for the first time and see the context of the robotic mining competition.  I am SO GLAD my mom could come out and explore with us. She is such a great traveling companion, conversationalist, likes to spoil the kids in moderation, enjoys being in new places and is always happy to help however she is needed.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Kennedy space center

Our 2nd day in Florida we went with Chris to the Kennedy Space Center.  Mom was pretty excited to see this place. She's heard of it ever since she was a little girl and told us all about her memories of when the big advancements in space exploration happened. 

Here is the pavilion set up for the NASA robotic mining competition. They had some bleachers facing the testing pits and we were able to watch a few of the teams do their test runs. We missed MSU's run by a little bit but it wasn't all that eventful anyway so probably better that we didn't witness it. Then we walked over to the building next door where all the teams had work stations and got to see some of the cool designs the schools have come up with.  Chris can correct me if I'm wrong but the basic gist of the competition is to build a robot that could function well on the moon (so can't have air in the tires, must be lightweight enough to send on a rocket in the first place etc...) and that can be driven around remotely to dig really fine moon dust/sand and then travel back across the pit to dump it. Points for collecting the most, bonus points for autonomy, minus points for the vehicles weight, etc... You get 2 actual runs for the competition and then they rank the winners based on points earned. 

The team was trying to fix some lose sensors so Chris was able to walk around with us for the next few hours. We learned a lot. 

Two astronauts sat in this capsule for 2 weeks straight without every stretching their legs!!! Crazy. 

This rover is built with legos. Pretty impressive to these lego-loving kids. 

The Atlantis exhibit was by far my favorite thing. Its crazy to see all the stuff in person and get a sense for HOW BIG it all is. These rocket booster and fuel packs are HUGE!!

We walked around to the top of the building and watched this movie about the history of designing and building the first resuable rocket: the space shuttle.  It was really interesting and then the way you see the ACTUAL space shuttle, the Atlantis, for the first time was really impressive. It is HUGE and just amazing. They had a fun slide that shows the trajectory for the shuttle's landing that the kids went down over and over again. There was also a mini space station suspended in the air to crawl around in. And lots of other things to look at. One really good experience was the launch simulator. You watch another movie about the launch sequence and then you get a turn to sit through a simulation where the room tips up and makes you feel alot of the force and noise and bumping and tilting and everything. Its incredible to realize how quick it is and how fast the shuttle goes. Really really awesome. It was sad to learn that the space shuttle program has been shut down and that we're not doing it anymore. I know that's not news for many of you, but I didn't know or had quickly forgotten or maybe just didn't realize what it meant when I heard it. 

Then Chris had to go back to the team and help with stuff so Mom and I took the kids on the bus tour. We drove around and saw some of the launch sites and storage facilities and other buildings. Miles and Miles of roadways and vast natural swampish lands in between. Then they dropped us off at a separate campus where they had the Saturn V exhibit. We watched another really cool movie and saw the actual headquarters for one of the launches with the rows and rows of computers. Then we exited the theater and there hanging about 5 feet above our heads was the ACTUAL Saturn V rocket. SOOOO HUGE. (seriously... I know I'm being repetitive but its all so massively impressive). 

Grandma treated us to some dip 'n dots ice cream for a pick me up and then we headed back on the bus to meet Chris and head back to the hotel where we walked into an easy crockpot dinner waiting.  The kids (and my) sunburns were making a lot of us kinda irritable for most of the day and Mom had the wonderful chance to witness some awesome tantrums by Gwen and the typical fighting of tired-vacationed children.  We went to bed early.. well the kids and I did... Chris went to put some late night hours in with the team to get ready for their first official run early the next morning.  During evenings like that I wonder if its actually worth it to take the kids on trips like these.  I'm sure they aren't really appreciating the awesome-ness of our experiences and its easy for them to focus on the things they weren't happy about. But I know everyone, even adults struggle with that at times.  Looking back, I'm glad we went but there were definitely some hard times. I know my mom would say that the kids pick up and appreciate more than they share with me so I'll go with that as my final take away. (BTW... sometimes I have imaginary conversations with my mom in my head. I'll think about some problem or Brittney-fail and I kinda can guess what my mom would say back and even hear her voice in my head giving me a nice pep talk.  These imaginary conversations are never as great as the real thing but my mom's calming magic can help me even when she doesn't even do anything.... Does that kind of thing happen for anyone else? I hope I'm not the only crazy one...)