Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A Harry Potter Birthday Party

Note the current date: April 26, 2017 and I'm just now writing a post about Charlie's birthday party.  And for those of you who might not know, Charlie's birthday is Februrary 28th.  At this point, I'd also like to remind you that we did have good intentions of celebrating Charlie's birthday the weekend after his birthday but, we came down with the great stomach flu of 2017 and needed to postpone.  March is a crazy whirlwind for some reason so we picked Easter weekend as our make-up date.  The same people were invited and all was looking good until Charlie came down with influenza B the week before his party.  We were all bummed because it was looking like the party was a no-go again, but we miraculously were able to pull it off-- even if most of our guests weren't able to make it.

I had been so excited to give Charlie this Harry Potter birthday-- especially back in February.  We had been reading the first HP book (Charlie received the illustrated version for Christmas) and he was so submerged in everything Harry Potter.  As soon as we turned the last page, he was asking when we could read book #2-- which we began reading only a few weeks later.  But somewhere between finishing book #2 and Easter, the magic and excitement of the whole birthday party theme had worn off a little.  So when it looked like the majority of our guests could not attend and Charlie was still not feeling 100%, it would have been really (incredibly) easy to just pack up the loot and take Charlie to Chuck E. Cheese instead.  If only I hadn't gone to all that work already....

So (in a very selfish way because I had invested so much personal craft time already...) we went ahead and hosted the party.  And honestly, it worked out great and felt more magical than I ever imagined.

(Note: Thanks to the internet and Pinterest, I din't have to come up with a single original thought. Every idea you'll see here was stolen from someone else. )

Pictured L-R:
Books covered in printable book covers with HP glasses resting on top, wands made out of dowels and hot glue, stuffed golden snitch, Hedwig owl (borrowed from our school nurse).

I found this role of brick paper (that is supposed to be used for a photo backdrop) at Hobby Lobby.  With one slice up the middle, it became the perfect Platform 9 3/4 and held up surprisingly well.

Kitchen Great Hall:
Floating candles made with paper towel tubes, hot glue "wax", and battery operated candles.

We divided the party up into "classes".  First class was Herbology so we painted little pots with shiny acrylic paint.  (They are wearing school robes that I made from 3XL tshirts cut and hemmed to look like a robe.)

Anna and Charlie both sported some of Mason's best artwork to date: the lightning bolt scar.

Next class was potions and this was by far the most exciting class.  I had hopes of making some Borax slime and while I had all the ingredients collected and ready to go, it just really sounded like a lot of work to me that morning.  So I nixed it and told the kids we could make it some afternoon-- but I'm secretly hoping they forget about it.  

For potions, I collected a bunch of old bottles and tubes.  The Target dollar spot just so happened to be selling these funky colored bottles in February which were perfect.  I bought the mini cauldrons on Amazon and each student had three at their station.  We poured different colored potions (vinegar with food coloring) into the cauldrons and used a dropper to drop the colors onto the powdered Unicorn horns (baking soda).  The kids could have played with this stuff all day and when Keira took things to the next level by adding glitter, we about lost our cool because, well, it was just soooo cool.

After Potions class, Coach Mason rallied the troops for a rousing game of Quidditch.  We hung two hula-hoops up at either end of the basement and used different sized balls to play the game.  As Charlie and Keira tried to toss the ball through the hoops, Anna was in charge of the Bludgers and threw random balls at Charlie and Keira.  Meanwhile, Mason kept the golden snitch in his pocket until the last minute when he would let it loose and toss it in the air.  Of course, the person who catches the snitch is the winner so this was incredibly competitive. 

And lastly, the lightning scar cupcakes, homemade by me and Betty Crocker Moist herself.  I'm telling you, I went all out on this birthday party!  

Whew!  Not quite two months late but better than never.  So glad we actually went for it-- magic happens when you let it.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

I went for a walk the other day... the rain.

My to-do list was miles long, our countertops were littered with construction paper projects and mail and breakfast dishes, thoughts were swirling around in my brain, and my email inbox was nearing a record high. And being inside was making me feel trapped-- like I just needed to get out.  Except, it was raining, as it's been doing here for the past few weeks.  I stepped outside and stood in the very center of our gazebo, in a tiny radius of a spot that hadn't been touched by the gentle spring rain. I wondered aloud why it had to be raining (again) when this little voice piped into my head: Just go. Just go. Just go. And for once, I listened to that little voice.

I grabbed my jacket, an umbrella, and my rain boots and headed out to the trail.  The limestone surface was soft and saturated with rain, and each step felt like sinking into fresh bread dough.  I took a quick picture, silenced my phone, and vowed not to touch it unless I came across something extraordinary.

As I walked in silence, the cadence of my footsteps became mesmerizing.  Sheltered under the nylon pansy-print of my umbrella, I kept my eyes down, focusing only on the trail under my feet, letting my ears guide them.  Within a matter of seconds, it became a walking meditation of sorts.  With only my ears, I noticed birds chirping in the trees and bushes, small animals skittering into the brush as I approached, and worms lazily creeping along the trail-- as if intentionally baiting themselves for someone's soon-to-be afternoon snack.  I felt the breeze that carried a rogue midst of raindrops under my umbrella, and smelled the rain drenched air.

Before long, I was soaked from the waist down and my yoga pants clung to my legs.  At that moment, I realized I was chilly and as you know, I'm not a fan of being cold.  My brain told my feet to turn the rain boots around and I headed back to the van.  I put the umbrella away and let the drizzly rain soak me to the bone. In some weird way, it actually felt good.  My inner hippie felt so connected to the Earth at that moment-- it was peaceful but not quiet, calm but very awake, cold but still warm. I was moving yet my boots stuck to the Earth and time seemed to be perfectly synched to where I needed it to be.

I was almost back to the van when I glanced up and noticed a bird's nest.  It was built into the lower branches of a small tree which made it possible for me to inspect it closely.  The nest was the prettiest one I'd ever seen and the bottom edge had been made with remnants of Easter grass or packing paper. Two stiff corn husks lined the back of the nest-- almost giving it a little privacy wall because you know how those song birds like their privacy.   As I stepped closer, carefully inspecting the little nest, I half expected to find a tiny sign dangling from the rim of the branch reading, "Please Wipe Your Tweet!" 

Obviously, the rational part of me knows that birds aren't really going to hang signs up outside their nests (because duh, how would they hold the Sharpie to create it?).  But, is it possible that this bird might have a little creative flair?  A little push to be different?  A little something tugging at their heart to do something, make something, create something?  Do they have a little voice?  Did this bird listen to that tiny voice?  The one that said, that garbage over there sure would look fine woven into your nest!  The same voice that whispered, Just Go to me?

Did the bird build this nest hoping for attention? For the praise from admirers? Or did building this nest, with these creative fibers make that bird come alive?  Did she feel happier and connected to herself and the tree giving her shelter in the same way that walking outside in the rain made me feel happier?  (I'd like to point out that yes, I realize that perhaps the bird was just scavenging for items to build a nest but I'm enjoying these avian philosophical questions.)  To me, I'd like to believe that eccentric mama bird had decided to spruce things up just a bit for spring-- like most of us are ready to do-- replace the grey curtains with ones containing a splashy hibiscus print, bust out the pink flamingos and inflatable palm trees and decorate the yard, crack open the glow necklaces and scream, "IT'S SPRING!" Find something that helps us feel awake and alive and present.

For me, I've always felt these nudges.  Little whispers from the universe that urge me to get out. To try new things and venture out, even when the metaphorical rain is falling. But, I usually stop short.  I give in to fear and uncertainty, I don't fully let go.  I haven't quite stepped out into the rain. But this walk? The one where I would have missed this extrordinary bird's nest had I not stepped out into the rain?  This walk has me re-thinking things and hearing that voice again....Just go. Just go. Just go.

And what about you? The next time that little voice speaks to you, encouraging you to walk in the rain or dance around your living room or sign up for a pottery class or write that book or build a nest out of pretty paper?  Will you think twice?

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Teach Your Kid to Roller Skate

My grandparents' house had the longest hallway of anyone I knew.  I'm pretty sure the floor was cork, laid out in perfect 8 inch squares, all the way down.  A pocket door separated the hallway from a carpeted dining room, where my grownups would sip multiple pots of coffee and pick their way through donuts on Sunday mornings.  Liz and I participated in the donut ritual every week, but were often (always) shooed out of the dining room so the grown ups could 'visit'.  We knew things were especially juicy when the pocket door would gently slide shut so we couldn't piece together the classified information they were discussing ("little ears are listening" my mother would often chide).

So we were banished to the hallway and the adjoining rooms-- which there were a-plenty.  We played in Grandpa's basement-- which held more treasures than a sunken pirate ship, we watched Nickelodeon  in the back room, we spritzed Grandma's perfume, draped her jewelry around our shoulders, and we scoured the floor of Grandpa's closet for so-much-loose-change.  And every once in awhile, Grandpa's roller skates would be sitting out-- begging to be played with and put to use in that long, long hallway.

Neither my sister nor I ever owned a pair of skates.  We're not sure why, exactly... because I assume that if we really truly madly deeply wanted roller skates, my parents would have purchased them for us.  However, my parents usually (still) bought things for an occasion (Read: Christmas and birthdays. And maybe Easter).  And since Liz and I both have winter birthdays, I'm guessing we never truly madly deeply wanted roller skates (or even had them in mind) when our birthdays rolled around.  Whatever the reason, we just never had them and for obvious reasons, never learned how to skate.

So fast forward to 1989, when I was in sixth grade and miraculously invited to Morgan Nothwehr's birthday party (it was an obligatory invite--only because she was friends with Kelly and I had invited her to my party b/c I thought she was super pretty from afar).  My ego was flying high with one small detail-- this party was a roller skating party.  So somehow, in the past five years, everyone around me had learned to skate and aside from my clunky trips down Grandpa's hallway, I....hadn't.  But, I was eager to learn (and even more eager to fit in to this new group of friends) so I went to the party.

I vividly remember Morgan's mom and my new friends awkwardly holding my arms as my skinny legs splayed out in all directions, the heavy roller skates foreign on my feet.  Fortunately, I don't remember feeling embarrassed, but I do remember feeling a little upset-- that aside from those few trips down the hallway in Grandpa's skates, I somehow missed out on learning what everyone else had apparently been privy to.  Let's not forget that in the late 80's/ early 90's  skating rinks made a huge comeback and for the next three years, I'd be expected to Aqua Net the hell out of my bangs and skate away my Friday and Saturday nights if I wanted to maintain any social dignity.  Which is exactly what I intended to do.

And while I was bound and determined to learn how to skate well enough, I never really learned.  And I never forgot this whole thing.  Definitely not disgruntled about it, but I made a vow then and there, under the sparkly disco ball lights while slow-skating to Michael Bolton (OMG-I held Kevin Oestenstad's hand!) that when I was a grownup, my kids would know how read, write, and roller skate.

So here we are, in the future.  (One fourth grader once told me while playing MASH, "But Miss Bomgaars, you can't play-- because you're already IN the future!") And it's time for my kid to learn how to roller-skate.  Last summer, the opportunity presented itself while we were at Mindy's when her girls lugged out their skates and performed routines around her living room.  Charlie wasn't convinced until he saw Harry give it a try-- and then his fire was ignited.  He laced up the skates and gave it a go-- only to be super disappointed by how difficult it was.  But he saw the fun potential and later asked for a pair of skates and signed up for Roller Skating class at the Y.

I was so proud of him-- a six year old, ready and brave enough to learn something new.  But on the first day of his roller skating class, things fell apart.  As we walked over to his class, his eyes filled with tears.  He looked up at me and asked, "Do I have to go?"  Of course, we were on the playground blacktop after school, with plenty of moms and kids within earshot.  I felt like I was on display-- like I was supposed to somehow give the right answer-- but what was the right answer? Let him off the hook and tell Charlie that no, he did not have to go? Force him to go and do more harm?  ("My mother, your grandmother,  forced me to learn how to roller skate! I've been traumatized ever since!")

In the end, I knelt down and looked him in the eye.
"Charlie, you do not need to love roller skating, or even like it.  But you signed up for this and you do need to try it.  So today, we're going to go in to that gym and put on your knee pads and elbow pads and wrist guards.  We're going to strap on your helmet (which all the kids think is super cool, by the way) and lace up your skates.  And once you have all that protective gear on, you can sit and watch kids roller skate the entire time.  You don't have to even stand up if you don't want to.  But you're not going to quit before you even start.  I'll walk in with you and stay by your side as long as you want me there. Promise."  He looked up at me and slipped his hand into mine-- silently agreeing to these terms.

That day, Charlie surprised me by not sitting on the chair.  In fact, he never even sat down.  He walked in and saw his peers clumsily flailing around, some whizzing by, others skate-stepping their way around the gym.  They skated and fell and chased and laughed, giving Charlie a much better lesson than I ever could: this could possibly be fun.  And in the end, he skated the entire time-- even giving me permission to leave for a bit.  When Anna and I came back to pick him up just minutes later, he was on two feet--with wheels.  And the look on his face was priceless.  At that moment, I saw pride and happiness that only comes with overcoming something that is fearful or scary.  And at that moment, I realized that maybe all these years it wasn't really about the roller skating but something more.  Maybe it's about noticing when your kids are interested in and wiling to try something new.  Maybe it's about challenging them to do things that push them out of their comfort zone-- and standing by as they stumble and possibly fall.  Maybe it's about not just saying you believe in them, but actually giving them the chance and the challenge to show that you do. Perhaps it's giving them space to try, but also providing them with boundaries that protect.

Then again, maybe it really is all about the roller skating.

Day 1...

Day 5...

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Cottage 2017

The scent of the Northwoods is one that you won't soon forget, even after you leave the dense lodge-pole pine forests and wood-cabin-clad McDonald's.  You might try--but I have a feeling that after you visit, it will remain tattooed on your heart in the shape of a tall tall pine tree.  Or maybe a little black bear cub.  Or possibly a snowmobile or giant skido bumper sticker.  Whatever it may be, I guarantee you that something from the Northwoods will leave an impression.

For me, it's the air alone, and for the life of me, I can't really figure it out.  The upper peninsula of Michigan and the northern-most parts of Wisconsin are still the Midwest.  They aren't really out of earshot but they feel so different.  The air seems crisper, gentler, maybe a bit more relaxed.  The heavy pine scent is present everywhere-- and every giftshop seems to capatilize on it by offering candles and oil diffusers and eye masks containing "Northwoods" scent.  In the winter, the air is cool--not unlike ours at home, but it lacks the manufactured undertones that we seem to have.  Instead, there is a purity to the air that can't be compared to back home.

When we are at the cottage, I feel my best.  The air, the lake, the rutted Denton Road (that was recently paved and left me feeling all "old lady-ish" by realizing that times they are a changing...) all make it my happy place.  Things slow down when we are at the cottage and the daily grind seems to vanish like the morning fog rising above the lake.  Nothing is too different, yet everything is not the same.  It's as though a huge 'happiness charm' is cast over our family (sorry, we've been reading a lot of Harry Potter recently) and things just fall into place.  For this reason, we ventured up north for a few days over (a very cold) "spring" break.  Although we just returned from (semi) sunny Arizona, a trip North sounded like good food for the soul.  I packed oodles of yoga pants for me and comfy clothes for the kids.  We threw in some warm winter outerwear and for the first time ever, I didn't obsess about packing totes full of toys to keep the kid occupied, after all, it's the cottage! Our magical, relaxing place where things don't go wrong!  I looked forward to our break and the time it might allow me to play games with the kids, cook some hearty winter meals, and inhale the sweet pine scent outdoors and the sweet smell of raspberry shampoo on freshly bathed heads indoors.  I imagined flannel jammies and cozy fires and endless games of Bingo before settling down for bed.

In doing so, I made a fatal flaw.  I allowed myself to look forward to-- and be excited about our little vacation. Because, if you've read this blog for any amount of time, you remember that my number one strategy to dealing with (life, basically) a family trip is: Set incredibly low expectations.   Usually, this means my internal dialogue sounds something like this: "Someone will probably get sick-- please sweet Jesus don't let it involve throw up in the van.  The kids will be extra whiny. Anna won't nap and will have trouble sleeping at night.  Charlie will be bored without technology.  Mason and I will mostly be annoyed with each other.  This is going to be a long three days."  But as you already know, I had my rose-colored glasses on prior to the trip.

Big mistake.  Big.  Huge.  (Sorry, "Pretty Woman" was on the other day too.  Couldn't resist.)

This is not to say that we didn't have fun-- we had a great time once we adjusted our reality a little.  The kids were thrilled to stay in a hotel in Madison on Friday night.  This broke up our trip and allowed us to avoid pulling into the driveway at 2:00 am.  (Totally something we would do had we not been traveling with a spicy two year old.)

Anna constantly hijacked my phone.  

She also took the hotel phone and immediately stated that it was her puppy.  Although we tried to capture a video, it just didn't happen.  But imagine Anna pulling Puppy all over the hotel room and cuddling with it on the couch. 

Charlie wanted to sleep in the same bed as Anna so badly but she's just not quite there yet.  She thought he was hysterical and kept giggling and bouncing and laughing and slapping, etc. etc. etc.  Daddy put the ka-bosh on that as soon as I gave him the OK.  
On Saturday morning, we drove the remaining four hours to the cottage after eating breakfast and swimming at the hotel.  (I'm pretty sure both kids will tell you that swimming was the highlight of their spring break.) We arrived in the early afternoon, which gave me time to shop at Walk About while the kids and Daddy cozied up the cottage and watched basketball.  Sidenote: Is there anything better than a day fire?  Because I'm having trouble thinking of much...

The weather was much cooler than it has been in the past few years, but we did manage to get outside every day-- even if it was just a few minutes for a quick walk down Denton Road.

Sunday was by far our roughest day.  After a full afternoon in the cottage, Anna was ready for something new.  The hodge-podge of toys from generations ago was not intriguing, the original Chutes and Ladders game and "twirly" Bingo game held zero interest, and we hadn't bought nearly enough snacks to tide her over (in her opinion).  She cried and whined and wandered around the cottage until we declared an emergency outing to Shopko, where we would try to salvage our sanity.

As it turns out, Shopko not only held numerous toys and games that we found ourselves in desperate need of, but ultimately the key to our happiness as well. And while I wasn't quick enough to stop Anna from eating the orange tic-tack she found under the shoe rack, I was quick to find plenty of things to occupy our time for the next two days.  We dumped a few lego sets, new markers, games, movies, and some generic cheese puffs in the cart (oh, and new shoes too), lowered our expectations of this trip, and headed back to the cottage.

After arriving back at the cottage equipped with random toys and fresh attitudes, our remaining days were exactly what we had hoped for.  (Perhaps our expectations were even surpassed as I beat Mason's record on the "Bop-It").

She plead her case to go swimming time and time again, before taking matters into her own hands.  
Now that we're back in our house, suitcases strewn around the house, clothing half-washed/ half- dirty, dried-up markers that sat out for an 8 hour car trip, half-eaten snacks and no groceries in the house, it's easier to reflect on our time away.  Honestly, whatever our adventure, at this exact moment in our lives our truth is that traveling is hard.  Toddlers are such wild cards-- always giving us what we don't expect, which can provide extreme angst and anxiety or the biggest belly laugh we've had in days.  And while it's hard, it's something that we value and know we must continue.  I want our kids to move and explore and discover the joy of 'getting away'.  They need to learn that things aren't always the same as home and adjustments (even our attitudes, Mama) need to be made.  And honestly, the truth is that in giving our kids these mini adventures, we're learning and re-learning these lessons, and writing our own grown-up adventure as well.

Monday, March 6, 2017

There is an Arizona (super pic heavy!)

"Please don't get sick, please don't get sick, please don't get sick..." This was my mantra each and every day upon waking for the past 30 days, maybe more.  The area elementary schools have been battling the flu like children battle for longer iPad time, with classroom attendance falling victim to the rampet virus of 2017.  Normally, I understand that we are just as likely as anyone else to come down with the crud, but this time around we had plane tickets in hand that were burning holes in my pockets, begging to be used, and I was NOT going to let the flu stop us.

So last weekend, when Anna was ignoring food and complaining that her tummy hurt, I was sure that we were kissing our Phoenix trip goodbye and trading the warm southern sun for warm beds and Saltines.  But fortunately, she held on, never getting sick... and we were rewarded with our highly anticipated trip to Arizona!

The trip was a surprise to the kids, as we had told them this was just a trip for the grown ups.  Charlie figured things out quickly when he realized we were taking the stroller and kid backpacks on our trip, and he could hardly contain his excitement (mostly because the ipad was packed and fully juiced up).

And here we are, heading to the wrong gate (which isn't really a big deal in Cedar Rapids) but silly, none the less.

Let me introduce you to Gumdrop, the newest stuffed member of our family.  I purchased her as a travel companion--someone to accompany us on all our future trips and have visions of looking back on our family excursions when I'm 90, fondly remembering this little stuffed animal tucked into backpacks, posing next to monuments, and sitting next to teenagers wading in the ocean.....

Gumdrop checking out the first views of Arizona...

While Mason took care of the rental car, the kids and I waited for luggage.  Charlie took his job extremely seriously-- giving me the thumbs up signal when one of our bags was spotted.

And while the temps were cool by Arizona standards, Charlie shed his jacket the instant we landed, claiming "It's SO hot here!!"

After loading things up, we headed to Kelly's house to let off a little steam and run around.  (Actually, they jumped around in the bounce house while the grown ups drank a beer and relaxed in between owie reports) Kelly cooked for us and then we headed up to Fountain Hills, where we were staying with Lisa for our trip.

In the coming days, we were able to relax and yet pack plenty of little adventures into a short amount of time.  Nearly every morning we greeted the day with a morning swim as local golfers clad in their windbreakers and stocking caps teed off from the Tee box behind the house.   Goosebumps and chattering teeth weren't going to stop two Midwestern kids from a morning dip in a heated pool!

Because Sunday was the only day with a sunny and warm weather forecast we decided to head over to the zoo.  We grabbed a bite to eat and instantly, Anna started complaining of a tummy ache and refused to eat her food (????).  Mason and I, both suckers for a schedule and also both painfully conservative (with regards to adventures) in times of sickness hesitated about our plans.  Do we go ahead with our plans? Do we abandon our plans and head back home?  In the end, we decided to live dangerously and head over to the zoo, taking what comes and hoping that it didn't involve throw up in a rental car.  (I might have been chanting "please stay healthy please stay healthy please stay healthy" as well...)  Anna took the car ride as an opportunity to catch up on sleep so we deviated from the plan just a bit.  Charlie and I hiked around Papago Park while Anna snoozed in the car (don't worry, Mason hung out in there with her).

Charlie and I don't have much one-on-one time these days, so this hike was extra special for me, and something I can't imagine forgetting any time soon.  We chatted and hiked and felt very adventurous as we turned a ten minute hike into a 50 minute activity.  As we were heading down for the last time, we saw a family hiking to the top.  Charlie stopped and said, "Are you guys just coming up?"  They answered that yes, they were on their way to the top. To which Charlie replied, "Oh, it's pretty nice view up there!"

After we wrapped up our adventure, we checked on Mason and Anna and decided to forgo the zoo, hoping that the weather would cooperate well enough the following day for us to enjoy it with Kelly and Jay.  Then, we headed back to Fountain Hills to take a peek at the big fountain, which claims to shoot water 300 feet into the air.  As we arrived at the appropriately named Fountain Park, we noticed road closures and plenty of extra people milling about.  We wondered if there was a race of some kind but were pleasantly surprised to realize that a large art fair was taking place, complete with live music and plenty of food and beverage vendors.

Although the weather was perfect, Mason and I felt a toddler meltdown rising to the surface.  We took the cue and headed back 'home' for a a little downtime before heading out to dinner with Lisa. 

The next morning, we greeted the day with more morning swimming before gathering up our things and heading to the zoo.

And a little morning yoga...

As I was tidying up a few things, I overheard Charlie in the closet with Anna, "Here you go, Anna! Want some help with your swimming suit?  Here you go, right here, now put your foot in here..." These are the memories they will likely forget and the ones that I'll never get out of my mind.

The zoo is across the street from Papago Park, so we hiked to the top to get a picture we will consider using for our 2017 Christmas cards....

Anna was attached to her dad the entire time.... and never once did I hear him complain about it.

The cooler temperatures and overcast sky (not to mention the fact that it was a weekday morning) made for a great day at the zoo, definitely keeping the crowds at bay.  The bonus?  We were able to meet Kelly and Jay, who served as local tour guides and Kelly and I had a tiny opportunity to catch up in between animal sightings.

Anyone notice what the bears are doing?  We weren't sure which was more entertaining: the compromising position the bears had found themselves in or the many hilarious comments coming from the parents of excited young onlookers.

Oh, and we shelled out ten bucks to ride around on a camel named Dale.

My favorite part?  The fact that Charlie can read well enough to teach us the little bits of information near every exhibit.  He was especially interested in learning about these Golden Eagles, and pleased to find out that the zoo has rescued this pair, whose wings are injured and will never allow them to fly again.

I valiantly tried to capture a photo of the kids by one animal exhibit, but by this time Anna was not interested in anything other than being carried around on her daddy's shoulders.

And two minutes into the car ride back....

The next morning, were awakened on Charlie's birthday to the sound of gentle rain hitting the large floor to ceiling windows on Tuesday morning, and while we loved a little down time (aka: ipad time), we kept our fingers crossed that the skies would clear in time for the Cubs game at 1:00.

After a minor anxiety attack over the fact that we left our baseball tickets back in Iowa (who has printed tickets anymore?), Mason made everything alright by magically finding the tickets on his phone.  We ignored the light rain and headed over to Sloan Stadium, home away from home for our beloved Cubbies.  We also ignored the dark, ominous clouds and heavy winds heading directly for the stadium. 

But, the storm front passed and the sun came out-- giving us a great day at the ballpark (surrounded by plenty of retirees doing the same thing).

And the highlight of the day?  Charlie received a bat from Ben Rivera of the Angels!  While Anna and I were just returning from (another) walk around the stadium, Charlie was being handed a 'real life' bat from the Angels centerfielder.  Apparently, he walked up to the railing, got Charlie's attention, and asked him if he wanted a bat.  And that my friends, is how Charlie became an Angels fan for life.

We might put this one on our Christmas card too...

After leaving the stadium, we met Kelly & the boys for pizza and games and a little birthday celebration (only a little late after taking a wrong turn due to the fact that both of our phones were dead and apparently we don't know how to deal with life without our phones and google maps).  And can I just add here that I need to write a post about how much I love the fact that our boys are growing up with each other in their lives, despite the fact that they live a million miles apart.  

Then someone (of course, it was me) had the great idea to get a group photo and this is what it looked like for ten minutes...

And this is the best one we got-- which is my favorite too.

Our early morning flight out the next day meant getting to bed at a decent time (whatever that means when you're on vacation) but not before we celebrated Charlie's birthday (and Lisa's too!) with cake and ice cream.

And the next morning, we were blessed with a flight delay-- which meant we had time to give plenty of hugs and kisses to sweet Lisa, who made this whole amazing stay possible.  (And did I mention that Anna has not stopped talking about "my Weesa" since we returned?  Total love affair with that one...)

Our flight home was uneventful and gave me time to reflect on our trip.  It was busy and a lot more work than had it really been a grown-ups trip.  It involved car seats and kids menus and missed naps and mini-tantrums.  But it was also a little adventure, a deviation from the norm and something that our kids will remember (albeit in that foggy, hard to recall way) for years to come.  And while traveling with kids is a total hassle, it's something that is important to me and something I want my children to experience at all phases of their lives.  Plus, there is nothing cuter than a toddler snoozing away a plane ride....

As we drove back to Grundy, I glanced out the window and saw this sky.  Maybe I was feeling sappy and sentimental or maybe I was just exhausted, but as I looked at that sky, it reminded me of the beauty that always surrounds us.  It's wonderful to get away, to travel, to see different sights and sounds and environments. It's great to see different plants and trees and landscapes and to be around people who consider 40° winter coat weather, but it's great to come back home to this slower pace, traffic-free, overcast place we call home.  

Oh, and we stayed healthy until Friday night... when finally, we too, fell victim to the giant flu bug of 2017.

Video recap: