Monday, December 31, 2012

Mountain Bikers

Long before we had the kids, Lehr and I spent plenty of time on the mountain bike trails. Unfortunately we don't get out there much anymore, especially not together. In the past few years we've discussed when the appropriate time would be to get them out there, but with training wheels, it seemed silly to frustrate one or both kids with a trail their bikes couldn't handle.

In the last year Maddux has graduated to her two-wheeler, and she's recently picked up a bunch of speed. Between that and Eli's new Christmas bike, we decided to give it a go this afternoon. We packed up Lehr's and the kids' bikes and drove to our favorite local spot. This particular spot is great because it has a very tame, flat-ish beginners loop (about a mile) in addition to two more advanced ones. There is also a flat approach 'trail' that links the three, which would also be an option for the kids. I opted to not bring my bike in anticipation of one or more kids needing extra assistance while halfway down the trail.

I could not have been more pleasantly surprised; the kids didn't need ANY help. In fact, I had to run REALLY fast to keep up with them! Both Eli and Maddux did really well, even with the one steep downhill halfway through the beginner trail. Maddux rocked it out, and Eli was quick to follow. They both rode it a few times, Eli falling once and taking a quick 'hurt break'. After we rode the trail, we took the approach section out to the more advanced trails. In the last few months they have built a new BMX trail. We sat and watched several more experienced bikers rock the trail before we saw a few kids. That was enough for Eli; he quickly talked Lehr into following him down the trail. He did great, not falling at all, but bouncing all over the place. We decided Maddux might need another few months riding before she takes a trip down the trail, but it is definitely in her future.

Both kids rode the beginner trail again before ending on the 'field' where there were several logs and bridges and jumps to practice on. Both kids really enjoyed it and really REALLY improved their confidence on their bikes.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas 2012

Christmas was great this year. The kids and I discussed it was an odd pairing of excitement (over next year with the baby) and a slight sadness (over this being the last Christmas with the four of us). The good far outweighed the bad, as the four of us got to spend some quality time together, celebrating our family and the real 'reason for the season'.

I have to say that I was SO excited that this year, more than any other year, the gifts under the tree were not in excess (yay, extended family!!) We've struggled every other year with the amount of 'stuff' that gets wrapped up and delivered for the kids. Lehr and I stick to giving them each one gift and Santa delivers three (SMALL) things for each child. However, the rest of the loot that is usually found under the tree ends up so high in numbers that no one can even remember who each gift comes from. This year, while there were still plenty of gifts to go around, there was a more manageable amount. Yet Eli was still so in awe and in appreciation of what he got. He even commented later in the day that one of his friends that would be visiting later today "won't believe all of the stuff!". I love love love that he was able to look at the wonderful gifts he got and think only of how blessed he was to have them (rather than 'missing' what gifts he didn't get). I know if he'd walked through many other houses yesterday, his 'stash' would have paled in comparison, but (thankfully!) this year, he wasn't comparing his stuff to any one else's.

And when I tucked Maddux in for bed, I asked her how her Christmas had been. Her answer was, "Perfect." Again, with gifts that took up barely any space on the floor or on a credit card, it warms my heart to hear that her day was just as it should have been. I know she and Eli both know that Christmas is celebrating the birth of Jesus and they both know that Christmas is about spending time not money, but knowing and really getting it are not always the same, especially when you're a kid. But the responses of the kids this year really gave hope to Lehr and I that they just might get it.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Polar Express

The kids have loved the book for years, and last year I heard about a train in North Carolina that replicated most of the trip taken in the book. Scheduling and life got in the way last year and I completely forgot about it until just after Thanksgiving this year. Then it hit me that I have kids that are growing up really really fast, and the magic and awe around all things Christmas, including that book, may be short-lived. I quickly hopped online, moved a few photo shoots around and grabbed tickets for the four of us to take a holiday train ride. The only available time slot for the only day that worked for us was 8:30PM; that meant we had to stay in NC for the night after deboarding the train. Perfect for a quick family trip!

The day before we left, I told the kids to pack a small bag because we were going to drive to the Carolinas to take a train to find snow (no mention of the Polar Express at all). Our car DVD player, which only gets used on long car rides, failed us, so the drive up was a little more challenging. Eli has fallen into the habits of his mommy; he is a total bookworm. But Maddux doesn't have the attention span to do anything not involving talking or singing for more than five minutes, so the ride would be fine for a few minutes, followed by a few minutes of Maddux bursting out in a very loud singing voice while Eli loudly protested. Joy. We did stop a few times to do short short short hikes on the side of the road.

Once we arrived in town, we grabbed some lunch and checked into our hotel. We walked around town a little, but the cold and our fatigue at the *late* hour of 7PM made it less than fun to kill time before our later train ride (18-degree windchill!). We opted to drive around and look at a few neighborhoods of holiday lights before getting the kids dressed in their PJ's for the train.

Once we boarded, the kids woke up big time. We were able to sit in a 4-seat section, facing each other. Almost as soon as we were seated, we were served a small thermos of hot cocoa. The kids were in heaven. And minutes later, chocolate chip cookies. Seriously!??! The train drove through some woods, on the way to the North Pole, as a ticket checker came and punched the kids' tickets. Then a hobo (is that the right word?) walked through our car and said, 'hello'. After a few more minutes, they played a recorded reading of the Polar Express book and the car assistants walked around to show the book pages to those of us that forgot to pack our own book. Soon after that we arrived in the North Pole and could see the decorated houses of Santa, Frosty, some of the elves, and Rudolph. (The kicker here was that Maddux was a critic: "That's not REALLY Santa's house. But that's not REALLY Frosty's house. I don't think that is actually an elf's house..")

Once we passed the houses, we saw Santa and his reindeer outside of the window on the other side of the train. Joy....the kids were giddy. Santa was waving and the excitement in train was everywhere. A few minutes later, the train reversed and we started to sing some Christmas carols. The kids loved this, especially when we sang "The 12 Days of Christmas" and our family got to be the first day. Somewhere around the end of the song, Santa boarded our train car and entered from behind Maddux's back. She was the first child he talked to, and given her inability to speak to him, I think he caught her by surprise. She just smiled and he gave her a bell. When he asked Eli what he wanted for Christmas, he grinned and said, "A football". Life is good. He also got a bell before Santa moved on to another family.

Eventually we returned to our boarding area and we drove back to the hotel. The kids passed out pretty quickly, which was good because we had a full day on our drive home. The weather was much nicer, so we stopped for a real hike at Tallulah Gorge. The trail was about a mile around the top and then we opted to take the stairs down to the water and back up. 1100 all together (yup, half of those were coming back up). The kids did REALLY well. Eli even ran up most of them with me.

So so glad we took this trip because it will definitely be harder for the next few years, and as much as I hate to think about it, after that the kids may not crave that Christmas magic anymore.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Big Reveal

So the news is out now: we are expecting another baby in June 2013. We held off on telling the kids until we were about three months around for a few reasons, one of them being the fact that once they knew, it would likely be public knowledge soon after.

The tough part (for me) was finding a time to tell them. During the week was basically out of the question because by the time Lehr gets home from work, we only have time for dinner, bath, and books before the kids have to be in bed. Since this was such big news for our family, I wanted to be able to tell the kids and allow some family time for it to sink in a little. That leaves the weekends, and those find me just running from one shoot to another these days. This last weekend we had another busy one, but I didn't want to wait any longer. The only way it could work was for us to skip church. (You might argue that we could just tell them after church Sunday and then have the afternoon together, but the weather is always so great on Sunday afternoons that we always end up playing outside with the neighbors.)

So Sunday morning we woke up and came down to have a big breakfast together (something I always miss out on because the three of them typically do that Saturday mornings when I'm gone). Before we started breakfast, we sat them down on the couch and I showed them the ultrasound picture. I was shocked when Maddux knew right away what it was (because she's seen it in her baby book). She thought it was one of herself though. I then explained that yes, it was a picture of inside my belly, and yes, there was a baby in the picture, but this particular picture was taken a month ago, not five years ago. Both of their jaws dropped right then and they grinned like crazy. Eli was so excited to find out that we would have a baby soon, and of course Maddux went into overdrive, telling us all of the things she will do with and for the baby.

Eli first thought the baby would be here in time for Christmas, and was a little disappointed to find out he'd have to wait until after school finished for the year. Next came lots of questions and concerns over what I could and could not eat. They quickly learned that the baby couldn't eat regular food for most of the first year, but for some reason, they translated that to mean that Mommy couldn't eat those foods either. The first thing they told me was, "You can't eat pancakes this morning then." I assured them that even though the baby is getting fed through the food that I eat, my body changes the food into baby-friendly food.

Have I mentioned how excited the kids are? Because they are really really excited. They had a million little questions and comments, but they were all really great and positive ones. As usual, right around lunch time we made our way outside and play ensued with many other neighborhood kids. Within minutes, our news was spread. And then next morning at school? Eli and Maddux told their teachers and friends right away.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Night and Day

This clip doesn't show the full extent of it (and it was taken over the weekend), but every morning Lehr gets to see the polar opposite ends of the spectrum with Maddux and Eli. Since I'm still at boot camp when their alarms go off (and up until they're on the bus), Lehr get to spend the morning with both kids, getting them up, ready and out the door. Eli has really matured in this area, getting up with his own alarm and often times waking Lehr before he hops in the shower. Then he gets dressed, makes his bed, and it downstairs, ready to eat (usually in a good mood too!!!). Maddux, on the other hand, sleeps through her alarm, stretches in bed for as long as possible, wanders to the bathroom, gets distracted on her way back, eventually pulls on clothes and makes it downstairs only after countless reminders, 'encouragements', and warnings from Daddy. One, totally up and at'em, independent and happy...the other, slow-to-wake, needing help every step of the way. The crazy thing is, she doesn't typically need as much sleep as Eli: he's the one that is a grouch when he is lacking snooze time. In fact, even though she didn't have to, Maddux was up by 6:30 last year more mornings than not, just because. Crazy.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Tree Shopping

What a busy Saturday! After the Kids' JAM yesterday, we grabbed a quick lunch and drove to our favorite local tree farm. Maddux was SO excited to cut down the tree herself. (She was under the impression that she was the one that got to cut it this year; maybe we told her that last year?) As expected, the minute we walked into the tree area, the kids started excitedly yelling, "THIS one! No, THIS one! No wait, THIS one!" We had barely moved past the parking lot before they'd each picked three or four that were perfect. We urged them to walk further in, towards the back where I like to take pictures. After a few snapshots, we returned to our shopping. Less than 10 minutes later we all agreed on a tree so Maddux got on the ground next to Daddy and started sawing away. The trees are so soft and have such small trunks that it is fairly easy for the kids to do the work. She didn't make it all of the way through, but she put a dent in it. Just like last year, the kids' favorite part was the tree shaker. (They both do their own impression of the tree being shaken too.)

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Kids JAM

Eli had the MOST fun today. Our church pulled together some of the 'older' musicians to help teach and mentor some of the more up-and-coming kids today for a Kids JAM workshop. On Sundays, our kids go to C3 where all elementary kids hang out, worship, play games, watch and participate in a message just for them, and then they break into small groups. The worship band in that room varies from 9 year olds to grandparents. One of the purposes of the Kids JAM was to help some of the kids who want to be up on stage become a little more prepared.

Since Lehr plays in that room often, he led the drum portion of the day. Six wannabe drummers (some who have played before and some who have not) piled on the stage with him, all using a 3-piece set, and learned two worship songs. It was loud and it was awesome. Maddux (she is still too young) hung out and visited all of the groups (vocals, acoustic guitar, keyboards, drums, tech). So so cool!!