Monday, June 30, 2014

And then we ate ice cream for dinner...

Most nights I like to "re-set" the house before I go to bed. Toys stored away, dishes washed, couch pillows back in place. It seems silly, at times, to do this because I know that first thing tomorrow morning, I will stepping over toys, have a sink overflowing with dishes, and won't be able to find the missing couch pillows. But, I like order. And a nightly reset gives me the illusion (mirage?) that I still have a bit of it left in my life. 

Order is nice. Routines are helpful. As a rule, that is my preferred modus operandi. 

But every one like me needs a friend like her.

The text comes to me, "Hola Amiga! You want to go to the beach on Wednesday?" 

Why, yes, I think I do. 

My other friend, Dawn, (who, like me, is also a scheduler/planner/orderly type) decides to throw caution to the wind and join us.

No naptimes for the Littles. No laundry or cleaning or meals getting made that day. No Daddy's to help us carry our gear or supervise our seven children. But no worries. We've got this. (We wore our capes under our clothes.)

It took us 2 hours (instead of the predicted 45 minutes) to get from my house to sitting on a blanket by the beach. But we would not be swayed by the traffic jam or deterred by the long trek to the bathroom. Dawn & I both just brushed off our tattered mom-pride as we picked up our strollers that we accidentally flipped (with babies inside) because we loaded them with too much stuff. We would have our beach day no matter what. 

The hike from the sidewalk through the sand to the ocean was a long one. I dragged my big ol' BOB stroller loaded with a baby and all the fixin's. A beach umbrella. A portable exersaucer. Blankets, towels, sand toys, diapers... 

And then there was Dawn. As I trudged through the sand I kept looking back at my friend who had 22 month old Tyson to encourage along. She was so weighted down by their bags that she couldn't carry him. By the time they made it, she said, "I feel like we just spent 40 years wandering through the wilderness."

But somehow, the stress seems minimized when you're with friends. 

And in between yelling for the big boys not to go out too far and nursing Karis and comforting Dawn's Littles who were not huge fans of the beach, we talked. And laughed. And did life together. Because it's better that way.

After our shoulders had been kissed by the sun and all the children had as much sand on the inside of their swimsuits as the outside, we decided to go get a treat. A special treat at a special place I knew about. So we begin the long journey of rinsing sand toys, shaking out blankets, collapsing umbrellas and exersaucers, and hiking across the sand. Back through the wilderness.

On the other side of wilderness were showers. Cold showers. And I'm not quite sure what all the onlookers thought as I held my son under the water while he laughed and screamed and tried hard to run away. 

Once everyone was pottyed and dry clothed, we loaded our gear back into the car, buckling 7 kids into carseats. We drove to our long awaited treat spot, unloaded 7 kids, and walked up to the door to find it closed. They closed at 6:00. My phone said 6:01. 

Dawn's kids were too tired and young to be obsessed with the treat, but there was no way Lina and I were getting off the hook that easy. Thank goodness, Lina knew of another great ice cream shop.

So then we ate ice cream for dinner...

Eat up kids. This is dinner.

There were no high chairs at this joint so I held Karis in my lap while feeding her with one hand and eating an ice cream cone with the other. The thought ran through my mind, "Sometimes I impress myself." But then I had a flashback of the flipped stroller with Karis laying helplessly on her back. Ok, ok, not too impressed.

Lina said, "I'm glad we did this."

Me, "Yeah, it was such a fun day."

Lina laughed and said, "It's funny how so many things can go wrong and we still think it was such a great day."

Yep, and (cue Jack Johnson song), it's always better when we're together.

Laundry and dishes and couch pillows can wait for tomorrow. Some days you just gotta get to the beach.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Family Friendly Activities at Lake Tahoe

I've had several people ask me what we like to do when we visit Lake Tahoe in the summer time. So I decided to put a list together of some family-friendly activities that we've enjoyed. I would LOVE your suggestions as well because I know we have not found all of the secret treasures there!

1- Where to stay
We prefer North Lake Tahoe as opposed to South Lake Tahoe. North Lake Tahoe feels more natural and undeveloped whereas South Lake Tahoe is more commercial. They are both great and, in some ways, South Lake Tahoe may have more "to do", but we just really like the feel of Tahoe City. 

We love to lodge somewhere in/around Squaw Valley and hang out in Tahoe City (which is really no "city" at all). This past time we found a cabin on the Truckee River through AirBnB for a great price...less than what we would have paid for a hotel room for our family of 5. 

There are also tons of places to camp at Lake Tahoe. Every time I talk to someone who likes camping, I get so inspired to want to try. It really does sound like such a wonderful experience, especially for children. But, truth be told, Andy and I just aren't much for camping. We're more the "glamping" type, with hot showers, real beds, and a toilets that don't require a flashlight. :-/

The Truckee River where our cabin was located

2- Hit the Beach
Tahoe City has an awesome park called "Commons Beach". There's a free parking lot so loading/unloading is simple. There is a beach where the kids can play in the lake (it's super shallow for a long way), a grassy area perfect for soccer, baseball, and picnics, and a great playground complete with swings, a rock wall, and jungle gym. 

Commons Beach is pretty much our "Headquarters" whenever we go to Tahoe. We can literally stay there for 5 hours at a time without getting bored. There are typically other kids to play with and so much variety of activity that the kids are endlessly entertained. 

We take a picnic, blankets, sand toys, a bat & wiffle balls, a soccer ball, changes of clothes for the kids, and a book for me & Andy. 

3- Ice Cream at Gear & Grind Cafe
As a mid-afternoon treat, we will sometimes walk from Commons Beach up the path to Gear & Grind Cafe. It's just a small little coffee shop with a nice selection of ice cream and treats. There's a beautiful path along the lake to walk between the Cafe and Commons Beach.

4- Hike to Emerald Bay 
This is a family friendly trail that even fairly young kids can do. It's about a mile one way and you'll be breathing heavy on your way back up, but it's not too steep and the path is wide. (Our boys are 5 1/2 and 7 1/2 and they did much better this time than when they did the same hike 10 months ago.) There's a beautiful beach at the bottom with a few cool areas to explore. 

We also continued along the trail up to Eagle Falls which was less than a mile further. It's gorgeous. Andy & the boys ventured out beyond the guardrails right into the waterfall.

On the way back down from Eagle Falls, we stopped by the gift shop and got everyone an ice cream treat.

5- Rent a kayak 
Andy and the boys have done this the last 2 times we have visited Lake Tahoe. It's about $45 for one hour of fun. The boys feel like they've had a big adventure out there trying to steer and paddle around! There are some other fun, adventurous activities that we've seen but not yet tried such as a ropes course or rafting. Maybe we'll do those another time.

6- Take out instead of dine in
This past trip, we stumbled upon something great. We typically eat breakfast at the hotel/cabin (we always try to find a place with a kitchenette), pack a picnic to take with us, and then eat dinner out. But all the parents out there can testify that it is not the most relaxing experience to try to eat dinner at a restaurant with 3 tired children. So one night we thought, "Let's do take out."

Andy & I wanted Thai food and I knew the boys wouldn't. So we picked up some delicious food from Thai Kitchen in Tahoe City and a movie from Redbox. I made the boys a hot dog back where we were staying and we all enjoyed dinner and a movie in our PJs. SO much more relaxing than trying to eat out! Another great restaurant that we enjoy is Fireside Pizza in Squaw Valley.

Caedmon & Sammy, feeling like they just conquered the world

Here's to family vacations, making memories, and enjoying the beauty of God's creation! If you are familiar with Lake Tahoe, please leave a comment with some of your favorite things to do there or places to eat. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Vacation Bloopers & Gratitude

Family vacations always take on a unique personality that is impossible to forecast. Regardless of how thoroughly you plan, no vacation is 100% wrinkle-free. How we respond in those moments has the potential to enhance or ruin the memory. 

Last week our family enjoyed a getaway to Lake Tahoe...truly one of the most beautiful places on earth. It's a huge attraction in the winter for all those who love winter sports and a snowy wonderland. We have yet to get up there in the winter (which we hope to do someday), but we absolutely LOVE Tahoe in the summer! The lake is so blue it looks aqua, the natural landscape surrounding the lake is bursting with life, and the snow peaked mountains hover over as a physical barrier between us and the outside world. 

About an hour in to our drive to Tahoe, my eyes bugged out of my head and I said, "The Pack-N-Play!" Oh. My. Gosh. Kinda an important thing to remember when traveling with a 7 month old who already has major sleep issues. Andy suggested stopping at a Target to buy one, but I shot down that idea right away, informing him that those things are, like, $150. 

"I'll figure something out. We can make do." 

When I saw that little cubby hole under the desk, I naively thought, "Oh, this is perfect. I'll just make her a little pallet down here and she'll feel all cozy in a space just her size." Not so much. Our sweet Karis is not in the running for any awards associated with "Most Flexible Baby". After a nightmare of a first night, my hero-husband found a children's consignment store in town where we bought a pack-n-play for $32. Possibly the best $32 we spent all week. Although Karis wasn't completely keen on the pack-n-play either, it was much better.

After an awesome (albeit sleepy) first morning at the park, we ran by the grocery store and then headed back to our cabin only to get tail-ended pretty bad. It was the worst car wreck any of us had ever been in and it shook us up a bit. The guy behind us clipped our right bumper which pushed us in to oncoming traffic. Thankfully, we were able to get back over to our side of the road and avoid a head-on collision. With hands shaking, we thanked Jesus that there were no injuries.

That was a bit of a rough start to our family vacation...Very little sleep the first night followed by a car wreck. But I can't even count how many times that week that Andy and I mentioned how thankful we were that we were all okay. The car wreck reminded us of how fragile life is and it framed our whole vacation with gratitude.

The final day of our vacation, we lounged on a blanket at a beautiful park overlooking the lake. While I played with Karis and watched my boys climb rock walls and swing across monkey bars, a family walked by pushing an oversized stroller with their handicapped son. The child looked to be about Caedmon's age. In my heart I whispered a prayer for strength and endurance for those parents as they courageously love and raise their son. That child is a blessing to be sure, but their lives undoubtedly face difficulties that I know nothing of. Again, it helped me remember what a gift it is that my rambunctious and rowdy boys have healthy bodies. 

I said to our family this week, "You know, we are among the most blessed people on earth." There is always something for which to be thankful. Sometimes the blessings are as bright as neon flashing lights, and other times you have to look under rocks to find them. But they are there. Let's look around today and remember to give thanks. 

Every good and perfect gift is from above. James 1:17

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Family Time

We have been blessed with a ton of time with our extended family the past month and a half. 35 out of 49 days to be exact. That is always a huge gift to us since we live so far from all of our family. And, of course, any time you're with out of town family, that's the perfect time to eat a ton of desserts and experience all the fun things your city offers but we rarely take advantage of. 

We visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium and drove the Golden Gate Bridge. We played tag in front of Coit Tower and tried in vain to keep our food from flying away while we gobbled Gott's burgers at the ever-windy Ferry Building. We took more than one trip down Lombard Street and played "Papa-Pitch baseball" at Ortega Park. We hiked, swam, and had wrestling matches in our living room. We ate an obscene amount of ice cream because you have to try Cream when you come here. And at night, after the kids were asleep, we talked. 

Andy's mom, Marcy, came in January to meet Karis and then again in April to take care of the boys while Andy & I had a getaway (with Karis!). Two visits in 3 months. I told her I could get used to that!

Andy's brother, Josh, and his wife, Jamie, came in town at the beginning of May.

Andy's dad, Pete, and stepmom, Denise, came in town at the end of May.

We flew to Florida to spend time with my family at the beginning of June. Picture above are nine of the eleven grandchildren on that side of the family. 
Jonathan (8), Caedmon (7), Caleb (5), Sammy (5), Drew (4), Taylor (2), Daniel (18 months), Luke (18 months), Karis (7 months) 

Here's Karis with the other two grandkids from that side of the fam. Jacob & McCoy are my brother's 9 month old twins. They are posing as Karis' body guards in this picture!

Getting time with extended family (especially family that lives clear across the country) requires spending a little extra money, breaking normal rhythms, and some planning. But these times are the richness of life...what memories are made of and how relationships grow. I'm so thankful for the gift of this time together.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Summer Reading

I always get motivated to read in the summer. Maybe it's because I don't have to think about homeschool so my mind is a little more free. I think this year my motivation is due, at least in part, to pure desperation. I feel like we are reaching a new stage with our parenting and running into some barriers that we don't know how to handle. So, I feel very motivated to put some new tools in my parenting tool belt. Thus, I am devoting my whole summer reading program to parenting books this year! (Exciting, right?)

In case you are also in need of some good parenting books, these are the books that I'm considering reading. I'm sure I won't get to all of them, but I'm going to give it my best effort.

Watch out, kids! Your mom is about to be armed & dangerous!