Posts Tagged ‘vacation’

Anniversary Lagniappe

Steven was scheduled to speak at the Louisiana non-profit association’s annual conference in Baton Rouge on the day after our 9th wedding anniversary, which was a great reason to have a fun weekend away. However, it was a destination with recent police shootings and a devastating 1,000-year flood. (Steven: “We sure know how to pick ’em.”)

We flew into New Orleans and drove one mile west to Baton Rouge. Along the way, we passed several closed exits off highway I-10, and there was standing water nearly all along the road, but we made it safely to the hotel and conference site. Most of the damage affected the eastern part of the city and surrounding parishes/counties. We had the unique opportunity to watch local news of families in the worst areas (Ascension Parish, namely) plow through the clean up process with adrenaline and hope. The area has Catholic roots, and it was encouraging to see trust in God in action. I spoke with several conference attendees about the community’s endurance after Katrina – but the need for and lack of mental health services.

Our anniversary dinner was at a cute, downtown oyster bar – Jolie Pearl. We had a stack of various charbroiled oysters and fried shrimp before another storm came through to flood the already-soaked ground.

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The next day’s weather was pleasant, but HOT. Louisiana humid and sticky hot. Steven had to work all day at the conference, so I spent my time doing independent things. It’s now become a tradition to get a massage, haircut or shop while Steven speaks. I scheduled a haircut at a local Aveda salon, found free wi-fi in the mall food court to catch up on some work, and then went to a see a movie.

By the way, you HAVE to see Florence Foster Jenkins. It made me laugh-snort and cry, which means it was superb.

Afterwards, I met up with Steven at the conference for a closing social reception. On our way to New Orleans, we stopped for local favorite beignets and coffee with chicory at Coffee Call. Fun Fact: chicory is a woody plant that is ground into coffee from a French tradition to stretch coffee beans supply. Beignets (ben-YAYs) are fluffy funnel cake-tasting fried dough with powdered sugar dumped on top. Everywhere I’ve seen, they are ordered in 3s, but the ones at Coffee Call are huge – like the size of donuts. By mistake we ordered “to go” and fought powdered sugar in the rental car.

We didn’t check into our French Quarter hotel until after 8 p.m., though in New Orleans, that’s considered early. French Quarter isn’t quite as busy on a Thursday night as the weekend, but Deanie’s Seafood at 9 p.m. is still packed with families and couples eating a fried seafood dinner. Another pile!

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Later we wandered some New Orleans streets and enjoyed a quiet(er) evening in the hotel courtyard. It was just as pretty in the morning for breakfast:

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…which fueled us up for a day of walking around the city. I was in NOLA in early 2014 for the Alzheimer’s Association national conference, but hardly saw the city. Steven had never been, so we had a few things on our bucket list: Cafe du Monde (famous coffee and beignet restaurant along the Mississippi River), French Market, Jackson Square, hurricanes and poboys and live jazz at Preservation Hall. Later we explored the World War 2 Museum, rode a streetcar and watched entertainers along Bourbon Street. It was a fun, packed day, and we were incredibly sweaty.

Before leaving for the airport, we visited a New Orleans historical museum and walked around a few streets the next morning, and GUESS WHAT WE FOUND?!

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Leah’s Pralines! Of course we bought some.

It was a quick but good trip – a lagniappe (pronounced LAN-yap, a New Orleans term for a bonus gift or “a little something extra”). It’s hard to believe we’ve been married nearly 10 years. Our relationship has changed over the years: we don’t have long conversations or look longingly into each others’ eyes. We don’t often hold hands or touch in public. But we do enjoy being in close proximity. I’ve found that when we’re together in a new place without Wes, we like to wander around and observe locations together – many times we’re deep in thought and subconsciously link arms or hands. We’re also more apt to jokingly tease in a way that doesn’t happen as often at home.

Occasionally getting away is great for us. View our photos from the trip here.

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Posted: August 21st, 2016
Categories: Leah
Tags: , , ,
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O Canada

Things the three of us have commented on regarding the differences between the U.S. and Canada:

  • Washrooms vs Restrooms or Bathrooms
  • “It’s a long, long way from our house.”
  • British spellings of words (centre, colour, realise, etc.)
  • Metric system (although much American radio and TV is available in Ontario, so you still get Fahrenheit and miles)
  • Inexpensive food and goods at museums and attractions (whereas it’s hiked up tremendously in the states!)
  • Poutine craze vs best local burger or pizza
  • Absence of billboards! Instead, there are many inspirational lines of advice along the road.
  • Lots of honking drivers
  • Cleanliness, even in public bathrooms
  • Labels and signs in both English and French vs Spanish (I was surprised at how much I could translate with my unused, limited knowledge!)

We’re home now, but the road trip to Ontario was entirely fun. I think we all needed a break, and we were in good spirits throughout the week. Nevermind a mild case of extensor tendonitis, there were lots of smiles, giggles and teasing.

IMG_3525Day 1 (Saturday) – We started on the road around 10 a.m. after packing up our pantry into coolers for snacks along the way. Wes did pretty good; he had very little concept of “a long way,” but he got the hang of it after I compared the timeframe to over a dozen episodes of Octonauts. We were nearly in Detroit when Siri/Google Maps took us on a wide goose chase. A bridge had gone out on our route, and we were redirected into a no trespassing zone within a metal factory. Apparently there is a small ferry nearby, but we didn’t stay to check it out. It was so weird. One minute we were on a residential street with houses all lined up in a row, the next we were surrounded by railroad tracks and barbed wire fences.

Once we finagled our way through the detour, we crossed into Canada and drove through Windsor on 401. Our phones lost signal, so we had to rely on our 2008 TomTom GPS, which we haven’t used in ages. (Sidenote, our TomTom was once stolen, and nearly 2 years after the incident, a police officer recovered it and drove it to our house. I still find this amusing.) It was fun to drive through Canadian countryside, watching the many windmills stretch across the landscape. We stopped at an uber-clean visitor center/rest area and got a map to direct us to Niagara Falls, since TomTom was only mildly trustworthy.

We stayed just north (west?) of the Falls at a shady Hampton Inn next to a giant Buddhist temple, but it was comfortable enough. Dinner that night was at a local bar & grill, where we had our first taste of Canadian fish and chips – a favorite Shattuck travel food. Downtown Niagara Falls, ON, though quaint and lined with lighted arches and a clean playground, is not very “happening.” We felt like the only people around, but it looks like it could be more frequented in the summer months.

Day 2 (Mother’s Day) – Wesley was so disappointed that we didn’t get to swim the night before, so I promised him we would swim in the hotel after breakfast and before heading to Niagara Falls. It was such a sweet morning; we had the pool all to ourselves, and it couldn’t have been more enjoyable to start the day. Wes was terribly excited about the water – it was the first time he’s been in a pool since last August! We packed a picnic lunch (that we didn’t end up eating/having), along with my Mother’s Day cards/gifts, then headed to the car for the Falls.

We parked in a free, off-season spot, which was great, but it was also 3 km (2 miles) away from the main strip. We thought it would be fine to walk because we’d been in the car for so long yesterday, and it was – on the hike down river. Wes took some great photos of our trek, and it was fun to see some the sights easily missed: a stranded boat from the early 1900s, an abandoned power plant, blooming cherry blossoms.

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27027175475_bf1a034c7d_zOf course the first stop was the boat ride into the mist on the Hornblower Cruise (Canada’s version of Maid of the Mist). We’d been talking about this upcoming experience for days, maybe weeks, and Wes was almost as excited as Steven was to get on board. The giddy boys threw on their ponchos and grabbed a spot at the front of the boat. Wes got a little overwhelmed by it all, but he still says it was the best thing about Niagara Falls.

His feet were beginning to ache at this point, and we entered cranky-pants phase. Cranky Wes has trouble listening and following directions, so the rest of the morning was a mix of frustration and elation. The original plan to head back to the car for lunch seemed daunting, so we grabbed a quick bite at Tim Horton’s before completing the Journey Behind the Falls tour – where you get extremely up close (and under and behind!) to the falls and extremely wet.

We did have reservations for dinner at one of the falls-view restaurants, but we opted to head back to the hotel to rest after an exhausting day. But first we had to walk 2 miles back to the car. And then it started to rain. Hahahahahahaha. You can imagine how grateful we were to see our car.

26291575214_e8e21c455e_zSince we were didn’t make it to our planned picnic, I opened up my sweet presents from Wesley in the hotel room before we all took a nap. He beamed with pride at the handmade card and bracelet he worked so hard on for me. So perfect.

Dinner was at a local BBQ place we spotted while in downtown Niagara Falls the night before. I had amazing poutine (a Canadian staple dish of french fries, gravy and cheese curds. It sounds gross, but it’s really good. I first became a fan when we visited family in upstate New York several years ago.), which I gobbled up after our fun, long day. Wes got a second wind of energy, so I suggested we drive by the falls at night to get a different perspective. It really was a Mother’s Day for the books. I love these guys.

Day 3 – Toronto day! It’s only a couple hours’ drive from Niagara Falls, and because the route hugs Lake Ontario, it was really fun to site watch: American businesses intermixed with names we’d never heard of, fruit trees of all sorts, street signs in both English and French. I could hear Wes taking a bunch of photos from the back seat of the car.

We had rented an Airbnb in the heart of downtown Toronto, but the instructions for checking in were vague. We ended up waiting an hour at a metered parking space before meeting with the condo owner/host, who then hopped into our car to direct us into the maze of her parking garage beneath the building. The process was strange and so was she, but the place was perfect for us. Giant windows overlooking Lake Ontario and the Toronto Islands allowed us to watch every kind of transportation go by: airplanes landing at the small island airport, sailboats racing each other, streetcars on cables, trains transporting thousands of commuters. Wes was stoked and asked to take our photos in front of the city with his camera.

BACKLIT ON A CHEAP CAMERAAA

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Later, we walked to the ferry dock. Wes complained about pain on the top of his feet from yesterday’s walking, but we thought we’d have a shorter amount of walking to do today – ferry (sitting) and bicycle (rented from island). It was a longer walk to the dock than expected, and we took turns carrying our 40 lb guy…whew.

26856931571_261746b2b4_zLots of locals bring their bikes on the ferry to explore the islands. We enjoyed the short ride and the view of the city from the water. During the summer, a children’s amusement park and petting zoo is open on Centre Island. We headed there first, knowing it would be closed, but we were able to find some roaming peacocks on the property. The island is basically a giant state park. It’s very clean and welcoming, with signs everywhere requesting people to “Please Walk on the Grass.”

On our hunt to find a bicycle (I was starting to give up at this point; poor Wes and his feet!), we discovered a pirate ship, multiple playgrounds and a long pier. The wind made it a chilly 50-ish degrees, but the sun was out, and the views were incredible.

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Back at the condo, I helped a wobbling little kid rest on the couch while I rubbed his sore foot muscles and Googled for tendonitis remedies. He thought it all very entertaining. We watched hockey before retiring for the night.

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The boys went on to bed, but I enjoyed a few minutes watching the downtown lights and reflecting on the past year before celebrating my birthday the next day.

Day 4 (Leah’s birthday) – I woke up to all kinds of nice words and hugs. “Mama, I’m so, so glad that you’re my mom. It’s your birthday!” After a thorough inspection of the sore feet, we determined that they had healed enough to endure a walking tour around the world through Toronto’s various neighborhoods. We started off in Chinatown and worked our way through Kensington Market, where we had yummy local food (and picked up a discounted Mother’s Day cake for my birthday dessert later), and on toward Little Italy for Wesley’s first cannoli. I think he liked it.

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I rubbed his tired little feet back at the condo before we crashed hard for the rest of the afternoon. We had a big night ahead to prepare for.

26875610721_597a6e41d5_z (1)Thankfully our walk to the CN Tower was only a few blocks away, and because it was a Tuesday evening, it wasn’t crowded at all. We rode a glass elevator to the “top” (the viewing area is actually toward the middle of its height, but the view is still impressive) of the country’s tallest building and sat down for a 3-course dinner in the tower’s revolving restaurant.

We had a great time pointing out sites seen and recognized – especially along the lake. After our dinner, we walked down a few flights to watch the sunset and experience Wesley’s favorite thing ever: the glass floor.

We came back well past bedtime to eat cake, because why not add more fun to an already fun day? And it ended the best way: with extra hugs and kisses from my loving family. “Mama, I’m so happy it’s your birthday.”

Day 5 – The reason why we picked Ontario for our vacation destination and at this time of year is because Steven’s business sponsored a 1-day donor retention conference held in Toronto. While he attended the conference, Wes and I ventured to the Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada.

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Yes, I know of his love of sea creatures and the Octonauts, but I’ve never seen him so mesmerized. He loved watching the fish and sea animals, and he equally loved playing in the indoor playspace built to knock out extra kid energy. We toured the museum twice and spend 3 solid hours there.

We found Nemo and Dory! We saw his favorites: several different types of jellyfish and sharks. Many of them.

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It’s another great venue for people watching. Toronto is the most ethnically diverse city I’ve ever visited, and it was most evident in the school groups on field trips that day. Kids of all different skin and hair colors, faiths and dress – playing together. I loved it.

Wes had expressed his interest in riding a streetcar for the last few days, so when Steven asked us to meet him later at the convention’s after party, we embarked on an adventure with the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC). First we walked to the streetcar station across the street from the condo, but there was no way to purchase a ticket or token there. Google told me that we had to purchase fares at Union Station, which was a 20-minute walk away, and Wes’ feet couldn’t possibly handle that. I finally found a convenience store within a large professional building that sold tokens. After trying to explain what we wanted to do to the clerk, who looked at us like total foreigners, we headed back the way we came. The tokens are smaller than dimes, and it ALMOST got lost within my wallet of change because Canadians like to give $1 and $2 CA coin change instead of dollars, but we managed to hop on.

The TTC stop by our condo is one of the first before heading north, and we quickly realized that our timing was terrible – it was the evening rush hour. People crammed into the car like sardines, and of course we got stuck in an area where someone had spewed their lunch of chicken noodle soup. After an unpleasant 15-minute ride, we made it to the restaurant. Wes still thinks the streetcar trip was worth it, even if it wasn’t quite the magical experience he dreamed about.

The three of us walked through University of Toronto campus and spotting a local pizza joint for a quick dinner.

Day 6 – The morning was a little crazy because, since we were living like locals with Airbnb, the condo management company didn’t exclude our car from mandatory evacuation for a garage floor powerwash. We had to move the car by 8 a.m. What luck, huh? It was even better when we got stuck in Toronto rush hour traffic for an hour. Lucky for us, there’s a Tim Horton’s donut and coffee shop in any direction you look, similar to Starbucks here, which does help to soften the blow a little.

We drove another few hours west and stopped in Sarnia and Port Edward, which is the southernmost point of Lake Huron on the I-69 Michigan/Ontario border. We stretched our legs and snapped some pics before cleverly using up the remaining Canadian cash on gas (to the exact cent!). We crossed back into the US and drove through rainy weather until home.

Screenshot 2016-05-15 at 10.49.48 PMThe guys did well this trip, but they both have bouts of homesickness, and they were so grateful to roll into our garage. Before bedtime, we played a round of Candy Land at the kitchen table while eating popcorn and listening to music.

“Mama, I really liked our vacation, but I love, love, love our house.”

Check out the full album of photos here, and Wesley’s unique camera shots here.

Posted: May 15th, 2016
Categories: Leah
Tags: , , ,
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Birthday Eve

I know I should be heading to bed right now, but perhaps I’m still awake because I’m sitting in a quiet living room in downtown Toronto, listening to my littlest snore peacefully and my handsomest ruffle the bedcovers, while I have this view:

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Or maybe it’s just because it’s the eve of my birthday, and I tend to reflect about the past year and the one ahead during the last few pre-birthday hours. Probably both.

It’s Year 33, the same age that Jesus died after 3 years of ministry. I remember vividly thinking/worrying about this during my 30th birthday: How can I live well for others in his honor and glory? And now: Did I accomplish much in 3 years?

I know I can’t change the world, but I can give time, kindness and love to others. Last year was difficult, and I soaked up wonderful time with my immediate family. Steven and Wes give me encouragement and strength to conquer anything. Their support gave me the desire to “pay-it-forward.” In January, I made a commitment to be more present for the people in my life. I’ve enjoyed going to recitals and birthday parties and regularly meeting up with friends. I’ve made an effort to carve out time to address even the smallest needs at work and at home, and it’s made me feel needed and valued.

And while I still struggle with occasional feelings of insecurity and self-doubt, they have developed into more consistent feelings of assurance, trust and faith.

I feel confident in my profession and career.
I am comfortable in my skin and appearance.
I dearly love my husband and son, and we’re close.
I trust God for the direction of our lives.

Yes, I can always be a better wife, parent, family member, friend or coworker. I know I still have much growth and life ahead of me, but today – in Toronto with my loved ones – I feel like I can take on the next year.

(These sillies are the best things.)

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Posted: May 9th, 2016
Categories: Leah
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Lost & Found

IMG_17791Traveling solo is not a good idea for me.

You know the book, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day? On Saturday, I felt like you could have plastered my face on the front of its book cover. The day started off wellproductive, in fact. I successfully got both dogs and their stuff to the boarding location with Wes in tow, packed both him AND I, stopped the mail, took out the trash, straightened up the house and washed my hair, to boot.

Mom came to pick up Wes and then I was off to the airport to meet Steven in Atlanta. He was in Florida for a company retreat for a few days, and we had decided to make a fun trip out of his next speaking gigs because of last fall’s adventure in Spokane, WA. I had planned to go to the PRSA International Conference in Atlanta, and it turned out that Steven was asked to speak at the same conference. (I ended up not getting a reservation to officially attend sessions, but I enjoyed it anyway.)

It’s not like I haven’t traveled by myself before. It’s not like I’m disorganized. But somehow between boarding the plane from Indianapolis and entering the Atlanta public transportation train, Marta, I realized with a sinking feeling that I had left my driver’s license in my back pocket, and it was not there anymore. Or my coat pocket. Or wallet. Or ANYWHERE.

I quickly got off the train and re-entered the airport. Keep in mind this is the nation’s BUSIEST AIRPORT. I approached the Southwest ticket counter and told them I thought I left my ID on the airplane. They called the gate in which I arrived and didn’t get a response.

“That’s a good sign. Maybe it means the airplane is still there.”

They handed me a faux boarding pass that said “CUSTOMER NEEDS ASSISTANCE” and wished me luck getting through security.

At 7 p.m. on a Saturday night, the airport was pretty quiet. Thankfully there was hardly a line at security. After several minutes of explaining my situation, the security guards decided it would be funny to crack jokes that I didn’t understand because my mind was everywhere and flustered and my heart was racing. “Steven’s going to be so mad at me.”

They let me through, so I took off my shoes, scarf, jacket AGAIN and took out my laptop and toiletries bag to be scanned. I quickly gathered my things and set off so that I could try to catch the airplane before it took off again.

The lady at the ticket counter had told me to check with staff at a different gate because they couldn’t reach anyone via phone. Thankfully the staff at the other gate was kind and went to search the airplane on my behalf. They came back empty-handed. Strike 1.

During this whole ordeal, I had been texting Steven, who was boarding a plane in Florida to arrive in Atlanta a few hours later. He probably felt helpless trying to problem-solve from afar. I felt terrible making him feel so out of control. I felt out of control!

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Somberly, I headed back to the Marta train and arrived at the hotel. While in the ridiculously long check-in line, my heart raced again as I began to dread what I knew happened…I LEFT MY LAPTOP AND TOLIETRIES AT SECURITY. Strike 2.

I called my parents in a blubbery mess because Steven was unavailable – flying. I just had to vent. This is so unlike me! What the heck is wrong?! How on Earth could I be this careless?! For a hot minute, I considered going back to the airport again, but stayed put. I needed to check into the room and cry. Lost and Found was closed for the next two days, so I filed a claim online. That was all I could do until Monday morning (which led to an 1.5 hour phone call). Strike 3.

Steven arrived an hour or so later, and I collapsed into him. Poor guy. I was a hot mess. He calmed me down and we decided to make the best of it. Everything I had lost was replaceable.
1) Driver’s license needs to be replaced anyway with our new address.
2) My Chromebook wasn’t that expensive, and it’s password protected. It’s easy to spot, though – lot of stickers on the top – so it probably can be retrieved.
3) I can buy contact lens solution and a case and a toothbrush and everything else needed for the next couple days.
4) Make up? Oh well. I can survive without it.

I love Steven. He’s so level-headed. And he invited me to join him because, well, I bring the fun and interesting to his life. 🙂

And we DID have fun. Following his morning speaking engagements each day, we went to the World of Coca-Cola Museum and tried flavors from around the world. We walked around various parks and streets, even though it was cold and rainy. We rode the downtown ferris wheel. We checked out CNN World Headquarters. We tried some local eating spots. We visited the world’s largest aquarium, which was likely the highlight of the trip. Touring the place made me miss Wes something terrible. He loves sea life and ocean creatures, and I could hear little kids shouting at something unique and cool and knew he’d be right there with them.

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I’m now sitting in the airport, ready for our journey home. I successfully collected my laptop and bag of “stuff” from Lost and Found this morning, and my umpteenth romp through security was rather uneventful. They’ve seen it all, these airport staff. And everyone has been so nice – I mean everyone. Atlanta, you’re good.

My driver’s license is still lost, but whatevs. I’ll spend my lunch break at the BMV tomorrow, and heck – it makes for a good story.

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Posted: November 10th, 2015
Categories: Leah
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Work + Play = Magic

We successfully made my work trip into a family excursion! Nervously, I left my boys to fend for themselves for a day and a half while I traveled with my coworkers. Steven sent me text messages while I was in breakout sessions for the Alzheimer’s Association Leadership Summit conference throughout the day, giving me updates about their airport experience.

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I was super bummed not to be able to witness his first airplane experience, but Steven caught the whole takeoff on video.

He’s the best.

My coworkers and I were at Epcot during the time they arrived. I don’t remember a thing about this park when I was last there at age 5. The place is amazing, and it’s spectacular to walk around at night. Our group ended up in “Italy” for some of the best Italian food I’ve ever had. Perhaps because that’s Disney magic, or maybe because it was just that good.

I was greeted by the guys in our hotel room, Wes excitedly telling me about his plane, train (shuttle) and bus rides over the last few hours – I mean, seriously, a little boy’s dream! We somehow slept that night and woke up to another beautiful, cloudless day in Orlando.

The pool at the Marriott World Center is breathtaking. I was able to join them outside in between my conference sessions, watching Wes wreck havoc on his knees and feet from playing so hard in the splash area. I loved knowing that my family was just a few yards away, even though my sessions were fun and encouraging. Basically I was on Cloud 9.

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While the rest of my coworkers hung out that evening, Steven needed to get away from the hotel and his babysitting duty. We headed to Downtown Disney (soon-to-be Disney Springs) for the LEGO store and street music and entertainment. I had gone for dinner there a few nights before, so I had scoped out areas that I thought Wes would enjoy.

IMG_8360 - EditedHe was busy building a car to race when I met up with long-time mentor, teacher and friend, Lisa Meharry. She has been living in Orlando for several years, and it’s been just about that long since I had seen her last. Lisa taught me how to read music and eventually how to play the clarinet. She helped me navigate some of the rough patches of adolescence and into college transition. She’s been a prayer warrior for me and many of my peers, and I know it’s because of the example she and two other women demonstrated during my “who am I?” phase of life that I have come out ahead. It was so refreshing to see her again.

The following morning was the day we had been waiting for…Magic Kingdom!

Wes woke up very excited, but not really knowing what to expect. Packing everything we could think of, we set off and took a taxi into the park. Hey, did you know that you can instead be dropped off at the Polynesian Resort and take the monorail, free of charge, directly into Magic Kingdom? It avoids the $17 gate fee as well as parking.

We walked right into a Main Street performance to the Muppet Movie’s “Life’s A Happy Song,” got Wes’ 1st visit button at City Hall and THEN

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MARY POPPINS stooped down and talked to him in a British accent for, like, 3 minutes. He was super shy, and I was super starstruck. It was great.

He ooh and ahhed at Cinderella’s castle and was quickly ready to move on. We headed directly to Fantasyland and hopped onto It’s A Small World instantly – no line. His expressions were priceless. He was amazed at the boat and the building and the characters and everything happening all at once.

We had FastPasses for Peter Pan’s Flight and Winnie the Pooh and saw/rode a few other things before the day turned into a chore. Partly because he was tired from the day before, partly because lunch plans weren’t until 2:30, Wes was done with Disney within the next hour. I’d say we had a solid, good 3 hours, but it wasn’t really what I had anticipated.

I did try to enter the day with low expectations, but going to Disney World with two homebodies who prefer the quiet comforts of home over swarming crowds, coupled with bouts of “hangriness” (even my packed crackers, fruit snacks and granola bars weren’t good enough) made the day a little bland.

Not to say we didn’t have any fun. After venturing around Adventureland and Frontierland, we showed up for our reservation at the Crystal Palace for a late buffet lunch with Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore and Piglet. I’m pretty sure I melted when I saw Wes’ eyes sparkle at the first sight of Tigger, his current favorite-of-all-characters.

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I mean, look at that face! Unfortunately, Tigger was busy hugging the other side of the restaurant, but we were able to converse with the other guys until we finally stalked him on our way out the door.

To see all of our photos from Magic Kingdom and beyond, click here.

By this point, we resigned ourselves to leaving the park well before any fun night parades; he just wouldn’t make it. And we probably couldn’t, either, with all the handling of cranky-kid and all. Before we left, however, we made sure to pay Mickey Mouse a visit, and it was perhaps the best part of the day.

2044578-719078_20130624_001DID YOU KNOW THAT MICKEY MOUSE TALKS TO YOU?! Wes, a fan of Nintendo’s Kingdom Hearts, had really wanted to run into Sora and, disappointed, couldn’t find him in the park (duh). Steven suggested he ask Mickey Mouse about it when we saw him. Though he was too shy to ask, we still stumped Mickey on that question, and it led into a slightly awkward “hey, let’s instead pretend we’re trains!”

 

Mickey said the right word and captured Wes’ heart. It was a terrific way to end our day, though short, at Disney World.

We headed back to the hotel before the sun went down. Wes was just as excited, if not more, to swim in the massive pool as he was to do anything Disney. At first I was irritated, but later realized he was happy to spend time with us in a quieter place. We stuck our legs in the heated pool and warmed up by the outdoor fireplace before ordering Giordano’s pizza and watching a movie. Despite our change in plans, it was a good day, and we were all ready to head home.

Waking up at 7:30 the next morning – this morning, Steven saw that we could bump our flight from 7 p.m. to 10 a.m. and be home before the worst of the predicted weather hit. I agreed and we were in a taxi within 30 minutes. We’ve spent today in our own home and with our own stuff. We weren’t due to land in Indianapolis until late tonight, but instead, I’m lounging on the couch with the dogs. It feels good to be home.

mickeymouseHere are the lessons I learned: there’s not much magic in Disney World with a cranky, testy preschooler. Sometimes the hotel pool provides the magic. For all you prepare in advance, the attitudes of your party are not in your control. (Save your money and wait until your child is at least 4, unless he or she shares your love of Disney or is a big fan of Disney princesses.)

AND probably the best lesson learned: Who cares where you are? To quote Mary Poppins, “You FIND the fun…and SNAP!” It can be anywhere. The trip itself – the plane ride, the hotel stay, having the guys nearby during my conference – was indescribably wonderful. We had an amazing opportunity to be together in an otherwise unlikely situation, and we even had a little Disney fun on the side. It wasn’t exactly what I had envisioned, but it was a good trip and it is good to be home.

Posted: February 1st, 2015
Categories: Leah
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Looking Forward, Looking Ahead

When you mourn for someone, there’s no telling how long it will ache. This month has been a rough start to the year; saying goodbye to my grandmother and mourning for my friend who lost her baby, I’ve been in a numbing, limbo state of mind over the last few weeks. I’m fine for a few days, and then waterworks.

When you mourn with someone, you usually feel helpless. There’s nothing you can do except pray and offer encouraging words. And just listen. Giving advice can come later when that person is seeking it.

When you mourn for some time, you need someone or something to pull you out of the rut. That person has been my dedicated husband. Steven has shown the most patience and comfort that I’ve ever known and has offered an equal amount of push toward healing.

Looking Forward

Once I finally managed to assemble myself together, I started a project. Research projects give me something to look forward to and feel accomplished. This project is rather exciting…

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In a few days I’m heading with my coworkers to Orlando for the annual Alzheimer’s Association Leadership Summit for breakout sessions and keynote speakers to address updates on Alzheimer’s disease, our organization’s strategic goals and how chapters can implement tactics. The conference will be held at the Marriott World Center, which just happens to be a stone’s throw from Lake Buena Vista, the home of Walt Disney World.

The boys are flying down to meet me there for a couple days. They’ll be on their own for a few hours at a time, but the hotel is a kid’s paradise. They won’t be bored with all the swimming pools and arcades. And heck, they could venture to Gaterland for an afternoon if they so choose. And then! Saturday is Magic Kingdom.

I’ve been able to spend the last week or so plotting where to reserve our FastPass selections at Magic Kingdom, managing to snag a lunch reservation at Crystal Palace, since Wes loves Tigger and Winnie the Pooh. Of course, we’ll have to meet Mickey (that’s one of the only things I remember about my trip to WDW as a 6-year-old), and I’ve already planned ahead for light-up toys to bring with us as night descends on the park.

Wes seems most excited about our lunch plans at T-Rex Cafe in Downtown Disney the day after. To him, this seems more thrilling than anything Magic Kingdom could offer, but he’s in for a big surprise.

There’s something wonderful about nostalgia and being able to share it with your own children. I’m looking forward a great, though short, trip, filled with magic and wonder and giggles.

Looking Ahead

Having a tentative plan in place for the remainder of the year helps me “deal” with spontaneity pretty well. Too much sporadic and hasty planning drives me nuts. Therefore, it’s usually up to me to get any summer or large plans in place.

Months ago, I had booked a stay at Pokagon State Park for the long Presidents’ Day weekend in February. The park has an amazing toboggan run for the winter months and beautiful grounds to explore. I’m looking forward to another mini vacation in the weeks ahead.

We like going away for a long summer vacation every year, and though expensive, WDW likely won’t stop us from taking one. (I would probably have cabin fever if we didn’t.) It might be a little less than what we had originally planned, but I’m still looking into options. Right now the winning bid is Gulf Shores, AL.

– – –

And. Though it gives me anxiety to think about, Wes is reaching an age where we need to think about schools before he reaches Kindergarten. My other non-vacation project has been to research our school choices and options for the next 3 years.

In fact, it goes a little deeper than that. We love our home on the near east side, but we have decided not to enroll Wes in the Indianapolis Public School district – even the charter school options. This means that we will either send him to a private school and/or move.

Moving…seems like a distant reality. We tried selling our house before and then thought about listing it again a few years later. It was never the right time. The time is now on the horizon. We’re looking at spring 2016 as our “moving target.” There’s a lot of planning to be done within the next 1.5 years, but with a date set, it’s becoming more real.

Call it distraction, sure, but having some things to look forward to help keep my day-to-day thoughts better organized. I’m able to move past the sorrow and mourning and see that life goes on. And that it can be filled with goodness and anticipation.

Posted: January 24th, 2015
Categories: Leah
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Oh Man, Spokane

View all of our trip photos here.

With Steven’s increased business travels, and our August anniversary getaway plans canceled last minute earlier this year, we turned his Washington business trip into an extended mini getaway. I’ll tell you what: I certainly bring the entertainment factor when it comes to planning business trips. Steven usually just wings it and “misses out” on so much by not planning ahead. Armed with my travel guide and Groupons, we headed out.

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Our honeymoon to London was Steven’s first airplane experience, and since then, he’s been on countless trips – far surpassing the number of flights I’ve been on. Even being the semi-frequent traveller that he is, he’s never had any issues with major delays, lost luggage or mechanical plane failures. Me, on the other hand, it seems like there’s always an issue. We decided I was bad luck because our flight from Indianapolis was delayed 45 minutes due to the fact the plane from Chicago had mechanical problems and had to be swapped out quickly.

We landed in Denver 10 minutes before our connecting flight was scheduled to take off. We knew we wouldn’t make it…we’d have to run the full length of the concourse, not counting the time it takes to taxi and unload. We decided to try, however, because the next flight to Spokane, our final destination, wasn’t for another 8 hours. By some gracious miracle, they held the plane for us as we clambered on, drenched in sweat.

Arriving in Spokane (pronounced Spo-can, pretend the E isn’t there) at 12:30 p.m. local time, it had been nearly 6 hours since we had last eaten and were desperate for food. Note: airlines don’t offer anything more than 6 oz of soda with looooots of ice for domestic flights. Remember the days of full meals and even peanuts and pretzels? Sorry boutcha.

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We were so tired and so hungry, but we gorged ourselves with super-yummy food at a local eatery called Scratch. I had carrot and fennel bisque soup. OMGeeeee. Good.

To walk off our bloated bellies, we toured the streets of downtown, including the beautiful and unique Riverfront Park, which was the site for the 1974 world’s fair expo. It looks like a happening summer destination with a mini amusement park, arena, train ride and gondola skyride over the Spokane Falls. I had a Groupon for the skyride, but alas, it was closed for maintenance. Strike 1.

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The weather apparently had been perfect for weeks leading up to this one, but we brought rain and chill with us from Indy. We headed back to Hotel Ruby, a former old run-down motel renovated into a hip, jazzy hotel with an after-hours public lounge. We decided it was a nice enough place, but we’re too old for the thin walls and neighboring train tracks and late night arrivals from young party-goers. Steven put it bluntly, “This place is for drunks.”

We spent the rest of the evening reading and studying for the next day’s conference presentation – the reason for the trip. It was only 6 p.m. local time, but that translated to 9 p.m. in our minds, and we were lights-out before people were heading to dinner.

The next day, Steven asked me what I would do to keep busy while he was working all day. Oh, did I have a plan!
FIRST: I had breakfast in the hotel lounge and caught up on local happenings.
THEN: I headed to a coffee shop we had found the day before, Atticus, and I enjoyed a latte and read more from my honkin trip book, We Are Not Ourselves (the thing nearly weighs 5 lbs).
AND THEN: I used one of my found Groupons for an hour-long massage. The ladies in the spa loved to hear that I was taking the day for myself.
THEN: I went to the downtown mall near the Falls. I had found a flyer online with a bunch of listed coupons for the shops in the mall and used them frequently. I tried on fancy clothes and ended up buying more than I should have. I had to stop while I was ahead because I had forgotten that I wasn’t in Indianapolis and had to bring everything back with me in a suitcase…

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ALSO: I had thought about going to see a movie, but nothing sparked my interest enough, so I instead popped my head into the mall hair salon and got a quick trim and style. While talking with all the local folks, I got a few recommendations for dinner that night, and was a little too excited about getting my hair done for a simple evening.

After my girlie rendezvous, I headed back to the hotel until Steven was finished. We met up and then walked to a very early dinner among white-haired people at a restaurant called Anthony’s. There’s a plus to eating before the crowds (I mean, keep in mind it was still 8 p.m. in our Eastern Time heads) – we snagged a table with a gorgeous view of Spokane Falls and were able to buy off the earlybird menu. A four-course seafood meal including dessert!

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On Friday, we rented a car to go exploring through Washington countryside and up Mt. Spokane. The landscape is full of valleys in between mountain ranges – lots of browns, dark greens and a few fall yellows mixed in. Everywhere you look, you’ve got a great view of Mt. Spokane and its sister hills.

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Up that high, it’s fun to enter a patch of fog, clear it, and then come across a pair of deer. The mountain was pretty quiet, since it’s just before winter ski season, but we marveled at the beauty of the state park.

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We decided to have lunch in nearby Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, which is a quaint and touristy lake resort town. Again, since we’re in between seasons, it was nice to explore without too many people around.

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We hiked around Tubbs Hill and got some wonderful views of lakes and mountains.

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Back in Spokane, we had a little time to kill before checking into our bed & breakfast for the night, so we headed into Manito Park, which is a giant park full of individual flower gardens. It would be easy to get lost in that park, but I honestly don’t think you’d mind. We’ll have to go back someday to see the lilac and rose gardens in full bloom.

Next, I whipped out my last Groupon (this one specifically for Steven), to check out a local craft brewery, River City Brewing Company. It started to fill up quickly, since it was just after the close of the business week. Young and old faces – and many of which brought cards and games to make an evening out of it. It was fun just to witness the community and camaraderie within the small, local hangout.

The Roberts Mansion was just a few blocks down the road, and we got there just before the sun disappeared for a few outdoor photos of the grounds. The innkeeper was chatty and answered all of our questions about Spokane, that particular neighborhood and the history of the families who had lived in the mansion.

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One particular room in the house was full of books and old, garish hats. Naturally, we tried some on.

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Washington is a lovely state and the people of Spokane were very hospitable to us. Indiana isn’t thought of much in the area, so it was entertaining to hear questions about the midwest life. “What’s the weather like in Indiana?” “Ball State? I’ve never heard of it.” “How do you spell Indianapolis?” (Really.)

Talking about home made me ready to come home – and were we ever so glad to see our sleeping son when we finally arrived late last night. Time away is fun, yes, but it also makes you excited and grateful for what you have waiting for you back at home.

Posted: October 26th, 2014
Categories: Leah
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Rubber Robots

Last winter I found two preschool cameras at Kohl’s on major clearance and snatched them up. I gave one to my nephew for his birthday and saved the other for Wes’ own birthday in July.

He was thrilled to receive his very own camera and snapped photos left and right. We brought it along when walking along the canal with friends and quickly filled up the memory card. We took it with us on vacation, knowing that we’d get some good shots, but I also took the USB cord and cables so that we could clean off the camera once we got to our “vacation house,” as Wes called it.

While driving to our vacation destination (Holland, Michigan), Steven and I thought it would be fun to start an Instagram account to display Wes’ photos. Since, you know, 3G makes car traveling so much less lame, I set it up right then and there. “Westagram” and other variations were all taken, so it launched a conversation about possible clever names.

Eventually we settled on @rubberrobots, in honor of Wes’ newest made-up song, which consists of only those two words sung over and over again while shifting weight back and forth on each leg. It’s quite annoying, actually, and it gets stuck in your head pretty easily. It seemed perfect.

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You might be thinking to yourself, “what parent allows her child to be on social media?” Well, I see what you’re saying there. But truly, Wes isn’t the only kid in his generation that has an uncontrollable presence online. We’ve probably ruined this Gen Z crop for good by constantly posting photos from birth. I know eventually we’ll have to figure out how to educate him on privacy and the like, and it might be a weird conversation since there will already be an online presence of nearly every kid in his class at that point. But at any rate, this Instagram account is just for fun, and if for any reason it becomes a concern, it will be re-evaluted.

By the time we arrived in Holland, enough of our own Instagram followers and friends had caught on to what we began and couldn’t wait to see the thread. But then! The stupid camera broke. FYI – don’t ever ever buy Discovery Kids Digital Camera. It will steal your photos and eat them and then quit working altogether. (To my nephew, I’m sorry. I owe you a new one!)

It hasn’t been until NOW that we got a replacement camera for Wes. So, without further ado, I present Wesley’s photography. You can obviously follow him on Instagram or periodically view photos on his Flickr album page.

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Posted: September 6th, 2014
Categories: Leah
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Mobbies

photo (21)Yesterday our fall intern started her semester with us at the Alzheimer’s Association. My coworker and I took her out to lunch, and because of the lengthy orientation dullness from that morning, we just talked “stuff” to get to know each other better. She asked me, “so, what are your hobbies? What do you like to do for fun?”

It’s a typical icebreaker question, right? I mean, I ask it all the time when conducting volunteer interviews and orientations. Usually I hear back things like gardening, running, some sport, etc etc. When I was asked the same question, it took me a minute to be able to answer.

I used to paint a lot. It was (and still is, when I find the time) a wonderful stress-reliever. I love to read, but it’s getting harder to do in one sitting these days. I’ve dabbled in a variety of things over the years – some weird: pilates, Dance Dance Revolution (I was GOOD), model rocketry, knitting, mountain biking, guitar. But it seems like I don’t really have a consistent personal hobby anymore. Almost everything I do is with Wes or Steven, or both. Something more like a mom-hobby, a “mobby.”

This summer has been so splendid that I haven’t stopped to capture it at all on this blog. We’ve been outside an awful lot doing silly things. In fact, a different coworker who hadn’t seen me in a while remarked how tan I was the other day! Wanna know some of my new mobbies?

Gardening
I’m not much of a green thumb, but I’ve enjoyed spending countless evenings in the front yard pruning, deadheading, weeding and trying to battle pests (grasshoppers, slugs, and my favorite – ‘shrooms) while Wes drives his Little Tykes car all over the driveway and sidewalk. Steven mows the yard while I water our petunias. Wes mows alongside him while I try to figure out how to revive my fungusified dead plants. I’m sure we look like a picture perfect family to neighbors walking by – until they see my hot mess of a garden.

photo (22)Fortmaking
There is an art to making a fort. We haven’t found it yet, but my cool-mom skills are improving. It really doesn’t matter what the fort looks like. In fact, it can just be a blanket over your head. BOOM. Insta-fort. But seriously, for a fun time – watch a Netflix movie under a blanket with a giggling 3-year-old and a couple of nosy dogs. Oh, and add some vanilla wafers slathered with strawberry icing.

Walking
I suppose our family has walked about 20 miles or so in the last couple weeks. It’s best done with another mom friend and her child so that you can vent about mobbies. Or, for a great workout, take two cabin feverish dogs with you. You’ll get yanked along pretty well. And you might discover a new Hawaiian ice food truck that brilliantly stuffs ice cream at the bottom of the bowl, dumps the flavored ice over it, and THEN puts condensed milk all over the top. Whew. It’s like a heavenly creamsicle.

Boating
This is the second summer of my parents’ pontoon, or best known as “Grandpa’s Boat.” Wes is fascinated with all things that go vroom and zoom, so the boat’s motor is the highlight of every trip to the lake. When we’re not taking a cruise around the small 100 acre lake, we’re sitting in the docked boat. Steven has been known to take naps on the back bench. Wes is usually in the drivers’ seat, turning the wheel to “take us to the library.” And I’m usually just sitting, soaking it all in. There’s also an art to docking the boat itself, which I’m still figuring out. Please don’t trust me to throw or secure the rope to bring the boat in. You’ll likely float away.

Swimming
Wes and I took mommy & me swim classes again this summer. He was the oldest kid in the class, which should have alerted me, but I had successfully dragged a few mom friends and their babies into the class, so I didn’t want to back out. I learned which swimsuits to avoid due to rather large splashes and clingy arms and legs. I think I dunked my head under water once the whole season. By the end of the summer, Wes was a little daredevil.

photo (23)Family dating
It’s a real mobbie! We’ve had so much fun visiting museums, experiencing parks & ballgames, testing out new toys and games, vacationing and relaxing as a family. I’m pretty sure that’s when we’re at our best. I feel whole and complete with I’m actively participating with both of my boys. We’ve also done well at getting together with family, neighbors and friends. Relationships matter to me more than ever, and I’m grateful for wonderful people in my life.

Reading
Okay, so it’s not the same thing as getting lost in a big, thick beach book, but I do enjoy my book time with Wes. Bedtime is usually my favorite part of each day because Wes looks forward to it. He gets special one-on-one time with Steven and I at different times. With me, we get ready for bed, read a handful of books, sing a few songs and pray together. He typically gets stuck in a similar book rotation, but over the summer months, he’s been excited for library books with new-to-him characters and storylines. (His favorites right now are Pete the Cat and His Brand New White Shoes, The Daddy Book, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt and, as always, Mike Mulligan and His Steamshovel.) With Steven, I’m not exactly sure what happens, but I hear an awful lot of giggles before lights out.

Summer evenings may be ending sooner, but they’ve been good to us. I feel refreshed and ready for busy fall season to begin.

Posted: August 21st, 2014
Categories: Leah
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What happened in June

photo (14)June turned into as crazy a month as May and October. Here’s a little recap of what’s been going on.

– Birthdays: mine came and went and so did Steven’s. Pretty uneventful celebrations, but since we both have birthdays around Mother’s Day (me) and Father’s Day (Steven), we found some clever ways to celebrate for several days, low-key style. Next up, Wes’ 3rd birthday later this month, which will also be low-key. In fact, we aren’t having a party for him, but he doesn’t know any different. I mean, we’ll still celebrate, but it will be conveniently conjoined with other existing family get-togethers. 🙂

– Potty training: Ugh. I took a long hiatus after feeling discouraged. We had great success back in the spring, and then it fizzled as we readjusted back into normal school day routine. We started it back up again over our long July 4th weekend, and even though we’ve been home here and there, we’ve had some positive success. I think I found the key to his determination: after 100 stickers (he gets one every time he uses the potty chair, 2 for #2 success), he gets his very own big boy bed. At each 10s level reached, he gets/helps pick out one item toward his bed – decorative pillows, sheets, etc. We’re at 6 stickers, so we’ve got a way to go, which I’m not too upset about…more on this later.

– Family time: We’ve been to Indianapolis Indians games, visited museums, grabbed ice cream on sporadic impulse, taken long walks (and worn out the dogs), played in the store-bought kiddie wading pool until we had to throw it away from its cheapness, visited my parents’ lakehouse, attended a niece’s play, walked along the downtown canal and enjoyed our little trio family very well during our summer beginnings. Wes is in swim lessons again this summer with a great group of friends and neighbors. We all look forward to Saturday mornings for donuts before the walk to the park, where we pick up friends along the way to the 45-minute class. Stroller brigade!

– Jobs: Because June is the end of the fiscal year, we have been busy with work-related events and meetings. I have a personal fundraising goal of $1,250 toward the Walk to End Alzheimer’s this October, and I’ve been trying to find creative ways to reach it. We had our first-ever garage sale a few weekends ago, which was surprisingly stressful, difficult and yet, highly rewarding and successful. Wes was a champ and very generous to “give away” his toys to other families. I’m still very proud. We also hosted YouTube Party 5 (the first since 2011!) last weekend, which was great fun, and it benefited the Alzheimer’s Association. Steven is scheduled to speak at several conventions in the coming months and will be traveling to fun destinations.

– VBS: Vacation Bible School came and went. I typically despise VBS for all the preparations and irritability it causes within our household leading up to the week. However, I’m always pleasantly surprised and blessed during its course, and I was given yet another eye-opener this year. This was Wes’ first year to attend VBS, and he really understood the lessons and learned songs. I still hear snippets of Bible verses and choruses sung around the house or whispered in bed during naptime. We had a record number of children attend, and many new adult volunteers. Of course it was worth it.

– Vacation: It’s fast approaching! We’re leaving for Holland, Michigan, following Wes’ birthday and large family reunion for a 5-day trip along Lake Michigan in Dutch country. In between all the above activities, I’ve been researching and planning out our possible activities; though, I really wouldn’t be surprised if we just lounged and rested most of the time. I’m terribly excited about where we will be staying – I scored a fab historic house on airbnb.com earlier this year, and it looks inviting and close to most things. I’ve also been gathering my book list, knowing that I will actually have TIME to read, given Wes’ summer nap habit. Yesss.

– Wes: Yikes, he’ll be 3! He’s busy, destructive, bossy and just wonderful. I love that guy. He talks a mile a minute, and it’s surprisingly clear, however, he does have some funky terms and phrases. We’ve had several allergy attacks, and I think it’s mostly from Lucy’s abundant shedding. I can’t keep the house free of her presence. Thankfully the asthma hasn’t been too much of a problem lately, but the hives, swelling and itchiness has been moderately bad. Benadryl is still our close friend, but we may need to address some more serious conversations and tests before something big happens.

We have a few things planned for August and September, but mostly, we’re just homebodies enjoying local “stuff” and being together and/or reading. Seems great to me!

Posted: July 6th, 2014
Categories: Leah
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