Hilimires in France

We have been eagerly anticipating the time we could return to Europe ever since Covid derailed our plans to do another month away (We had a trip planned to Italy for July of 2020). Although older teenager’s schedules no longer afford us the time to take a month away, we were able to carve out two weeks that fit everyone’s schedules.

We first flew into Lyon, France. We luckily had no exciting airport anecdotes for me to share with you. We took off for our red eye flight completely exhausted with half our family returning from a church mission trip and the other fresh out of the extremely intense last week of swim team. We had not actually been ALL together as a family in multiple weeks, so it was the best feeling for me to look around and release a deep breath as I saw all of us together.

We had a flat right in the Old Town section of Lyon, where we could easily walk to stores for fresh bread, fresh cheese, and fresh produce.

We found a gorgeous park that had a large lake and even a small zoo with Kaitlyn’s favorite, giraffe’s, and Kai’s favorite, monkeys. We had good wine and crepes, and beautiful buildings at every turn.

We also found our favorite thing, a picturesque place to sit down with a picnic and books to read.

My favorite memory from this part of the trip is going to be a down the mountain walk with just Zac and I when we had no actual idea of where we were going. We laughed our way down the mountain as we took turn after turn, then explored the remains of an ancient theater, and continued wandering until we found the rest of our family.

We had a fantastic few days, with minor jet lag and lots of laughs. Looking forward to the next part of our adventure.

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Harry Potter World- Trip #3

One of our favorite traditions has been taking our kids on a one-on-one vacations with our kids to Harry Potter World at Universal Studios after they finished reading all seven Harry Potter books.

Zac and Drew finished the books in 5th and 6th grades, but Kaitlyn made a later start into the series and finished this past summer, right before 8th grade.

This trip has been such a treasure with each of the kids, but right now I am basking in the joy of our trip with Kaitlyn. We try to take opportunities to spend time alone with each of our kids, but having a few days focused on just one is so incredibly special.

I wish that I could take the feelings of being on that trip with her at this particular moment in time and put it in a bottle that I can revisit in the future. I just want to remember her unfettered joy. I want to remember how many time she said, “I’m SO happy!” I want to remember her beaming smile through every ride. I want to remember she and I riding the Hogwarts ride over and over again as we pretended to talk to the characters and be part of the story.

I don’t want to forget this precious time when she wanted me to braid her hair, have a matching backpack, and hold my hand as we walked. Time moves all too quickly. I will hold on to the treasure of these memories for as long as I can.

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School is Back and My Heart is Tender

Well, it happened once again. The calendar turned to August and somehow my kids are another year older and we have to go back to school.

I sure haven’t been looking forward to this one. The first of the lasts. It is Zac’s last first day of school with us, and my heart can just hardly take it.

This is every first day of school since he was in the 1 1/2 year old preschool class. I can remember each and every one of these pictures, and the feelings that went along with it.

This week Jen Hatmaker sent her fourth child off to college, and she said,

“God. Where does it all go? The time. The years. It is so weird, because just a few days ago, you were going to their 2nd grade Field Day and picking them up from church camp and buying them their first deodorant. Everything felt permanent: Mom, kid, house, backyard, school, friends, lunchboxes, football practice, sleepovers.

It isn’t. None of it keeps. Their sweet round faces become lean and angular and they grow right up and move out, no matter what you say or do.”

Oh my heart, that is where it stings the most. For some glorious years it did feel permanent. As much as I wanted to hold on, the time just kept slipping through my fingers.

First first day and last first day.

I’m so thankful that these brothers have always had each other. And this week has reminded me that I am not the only one with tender feelings about the start of Z’s senior year. Drew is feeling it too.

Drew is such a sweet and sensitive soul. He doesn’t want life to change anymore than I do.

He started his sophomore year this year, which is hard to wrap my head around. He loves his family, he loves his friends, and he loves causing chaos with his younger siblings. He is talented at debate, loving learning how to drive, and just took up karate. He is boisterous and energetic, and brings us so much joy.

These two are back at the same school campus together now, and Hannah is starting seventh grade and Kai is starting fourth. Hannah is so excited to see her friends again; a crazy crew that must make her teachers at least a little bit nervous.

Kai has been a bit apprehensive because several of his closest friends have changed schools this year. He can be pretty shy in social situations, so he is nervous without those friends at school to count on. Personally, I think that with his overall adorableness that friends will be flocking to him quickly.

They both continue to impress me with their Mandarin. At our open house the teachers jumped right in speaking to them in Mandarin and they jumped into conversations like they hadn’t missed a beat. I only wish I knew everything that they were saying, but I’m so thankful they are part of a community where they have this opportunity.

Kaitlyn also has a big year. She is already accusing Zac of always trying to “steal her thunder.” She is entering 8th grade, her final year at the loving school she has been at since the 1st grade. She is afraid that no one will notice this big moment for her because Zac is starting his senior year, but I have tried to remind her that parents have eyes and hearts that take it ALL in, and we are capable of feeling all the things at once.

She loves her school with a passion, and the idea of leaving it and all of her friends scattering to different high schools is enough to bring tears to her eyes every single time she thinks about it.

The final chapter of our time at this school after twelve years is hard to swallow. It is another piece of our life that has felt permanent, when in fact it was always fleeting. I love Cliff Valley, and will be forever thankful for the foundation it has given my children with an emphasis on being a kind and thoughtful person. I can’t think of anything more important than that.

So, we begin this year of lasts. It is going to be emotional ride, but I don’t want to miss a thing.

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Summer Adventures 2022

Well, my annual back to school sob post is coming, but I didn’t want to post that without acknowledging the fantastic summer that we have had.

I know most everyone around me is getting excited to pull out the sweaters, the pumpkin spice, the orange and browns, but I just want more summer. Summer time is just so much slower in a very welcome way. I got to be with my kids without yelling that we have to “hurry up!” It is just a much more peaceful and joyful time of year for me that I always wish I could hold onto it a bit longer.

For us, May-June means swim team. Zac coached for his second year, Drew helped run the computer, and the other kids swam. Since I am there everyday anyway, I love being one of our swim team presidents. It is a world I know and love, and I love this team as much as I loved the teams that I coached myself and the teams that I swam on. We have fantastic coaches, wonderful friends, and lots of fun that makes me feel energized and happy.

Davidson College provided and amazing experience for children of alumni. They brought us in for 2 days of priceless information about the college application process. It was not Davidson specific, but was a broad outline for the process with lots of helpful hints that could be applied to any school application. It was a great way for us to start our thinking process as we head into Senior Year!

We also had the chance to go to the beach with dear friends. These guys have been our friends through thick and thin since our first day of playgroup, when Zac was just 8 weeks old. Our 4 oldest are bound tightly together, and the first of our “babies” is heading to college next week. I just can’t with that.

It was a wonderful gift of time and togetherness before the next transition as our kids start to venture out. Gulp.

The end of June meant that all the big guys in the family were going to head to a church mission trip to Black Mesa, Arizona to work on a Navajo Reservation. Unfortunately, the day before they were supposed to fly out, I got the dreaded positive.

Unfortunately, that meant that only Drew was able to attend the trip because he had just recently had Covid. I ended up quarantined in one bedroom and was completely miserable for over a week. (Emotionally as well as physically because I unknowingly passed it on to both of my parents and two of my good friends!). So many people have had worse experiences that I did, so I don’t want to complain very much, but I do NOT want to have it again.

Fortunately, no one else in my household got it, and Drew had a fantastic experience on the trip (double outhouse and all!).

I was able to come out of quarantine just in time for our big trip this year, to Bar Harbor, Maine. We spent 12 days in Maine, and absolutely fell in love!

We hiked and hiked and loved Acadia National Park. Beautiful vistas at every turn.

We celebrated the 4th of July by watching the Bar Harbor parade and fireworks.

Desert Island has an amazing free bus system that we were able to utilize to take us all over the island.

A highlight for sure for the kids was leaping off of these ledges into the cold lake water. Drew declared it his favorite part of the entire trip. Not to be discussed again is the mile and a half walk we had to take, carrying a huge load of picnic supplies and assorted items and belongings for 7 people, on the side of a highway, thanks to a mistake that I made with a bus. Notice there is one child not jumping into the water. That is because he was still angry at me. Don’t try to discuss it with him. It is still too soon.

I lost count of how many times we did this dragon puzzle. Each wooden piece was unique with many of them in the shapes of various animals. We loved it!

We joined a yoga group many mornings that we found. What an amazing way to start our days!

A family football game and amazing playground.

We got to have lots of fun boating experiences. We took a nature boat, a whale watching cruise, a sunset sailboat, and a MAIL boat to the canary islands. Each were unique experiences, but what they had in common was that on the water it is COLD! At some point we got smart and bought fleeces for the kids for extra layers and just brought bags of blankets with us.

Speaking of cold…

We also watched the sun rise on top of Cadillac Mountain. I had to wake the kids at 3:30am in order to get up there, and getting tickets to go to the top of the mountain was about the equivalent of getting Hamilton tickets, but I would highly recommend. It is beautiful from every angle, even if a bit cloudy!

For the first two nights we stayed in a hotel. Kaitlyn always amuses us with her sleepwalking antics. This was a recreation of her trying to pull the headboard off of the wall in the middle of the night. She was incredibly angry at me for making her lie back down in the bed.

For the rest of our trip we stayed in a VRBO that we LOVED!! It was centrally located, a couple of blocks from the water, walking distance to the grocery store, and a fantastic bakery across the street. We walked almost everywhere, unless we were taking the bus. It was a great way to live.

We had a goal to spend some time of every day at the big hill in Agamont Park, which is overlooking the harbor. It was by far our favorite place in Bar Harbor. We brought blankets, snacks, and books, and read, watched the boats, and played every day, When I think of this trip, this will be where my memories naturally go. Even the teenagers ran around and played with the others. It was magical.

We got to visit with one of Kaitlyn’s best friends and had fun looking for sea glass and roasting s’mores while the sun set.

The sunrises and sunsets were absolutely gorgeous. We were lucky to get to witness them from several different locations.

I loved this trip so much. We just really enjoyed each other’s company and appreciated all of the beauty around us. I am so thankful for these memories!

After Bar Harbor we had 36 hours at home and left for one of our very favorite places, Montreat, NC.

The big guys were with the church youth group attending a youth conference, so we were just there to spend time in the mountains. The plan was for the other kids to attend the day camp in Montreat, but the counselors had a Covid outbreak, so Kaitlyn was the only one able to attend. We had our own camp with one of our favorite cousins.

As soon as we got home we had a broken A.C. to deal with. That resulted in us needing two new units at our house, so that was fun.

Bonus was building a fort under the dining room table where the kids could sleep since their bedrooms were temporarily uninhabitable.

Around this same time we had two more cases of Covid. Zac caught it at the youth conference, and Jeff caught it when he drove the van of teenagers home from the youth conference.

We missed those guys for a very long 10 days!

We stayed busy while they were gone though. We introduced a new driver in the house, did two weeks of tennis lessons, and had fun days with cousins.

I always like to have one last adventure during the last week of summer, so this year we went to a drive though safari park. It did not disappoint. Zac was already off to school rehearsing for his fall musical, but the rest of us had a fantastic time!

Summer of 2022 in the books. I’m so thankful for the precious memories that we made, and I’m already counting down until next year!

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Willy Wonka the Backyard Musical

Last week we celebrated an event that will go down as an epic night at our house. It will be remembered as the night that our backyard became a theater.

Starting at the beginning of summer 2020, these two girls started spending a lot of time together through virtual sleepovers while our family was still shut down pretty tightly due to COVID. They formed a precious friendship. During these sleepovers they began talking about putting on a play.

They spent MONTHS adapting a script for Willy Wonka. After finishing the script they made fliers and placed them in the mailboxes of our neighbors, as well as recruiting friends.

They were able to get enough interested kids, so they conducted virtual auditions and began having rehearsals every weekend through Zoom.

After an entire YEAR, they were vaccinated, the world looked a little brighter, and we began hosting rehearsals in our backyard, while still masked initially.

It was almost like starting over when in person, but the kids quickly got into the swing of being together, and worked diligently on putting this production together.

It was such a coordination of talents with shirts being made, dances being choreographed, and songs being written.

They played theater games, they ran lines with each other, and they created the sets (with some background support from some siblings).

It was a tough final week, with multiple rehearsals and lots of experimenting.

Finally, it was time. We turned our back deck into the stage, complete with stage lighting.

The kids decided to charge $5 per ticket, and voted on the charity that they wanted to donate the proceeds to. They decided they wanted to donate to a charity that befitted families and children who were experiencing homelessness. They decided on Nicholas House in Atlanta. https://nicholashouse.org/

The show went on, and it was FANTASTIC!

My dad made a good point that someday their kids will ask them what they did during COVID. These kids will be able to have such a great answer! I hope they will be able to tell this story with a great feeling of pride and accomplishment. I know my heart was full to bursting. It was a night to treasure for sure.

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