Growing Up

I know we all get a little older every day. With the kids, I mostly celebrate their growing. It’s fun when they take joy in a new skill, or get a new privilege that comes with being older. Sometimes it just hits me like a punch in the gut, though. I’ll look at them and just wonder where the time has gone.

Elias

Elias lost his first tooth the “normal” way today. He had to get his first one pulled by the dentist a couple of months ago. This tooth has been hanging on by a thread for quite a while, and I was really ready for it to come out. But when he came running in with his toothbrush in his mouth, and his tooth in his hand, I have to admit I was both happy and sad. Soon he’ll have a big honkin’ tooth in the front of his face and every time I look at him I’ll be reminded that his childhood is slipping away a bit each day. He does look pretty cute with a hole in his smile.

Simon

Simon is really enjoying his pre-kindergarten year at Prince of Peace. Each month they have a shape theme, a color theme, letters of focus, a science theme, a Bible theme, and of course, a color theme. One day each month they have a special day to celebrate their color, and they are supposed to wear as much of that color as they can. I always take a picture of him on those days for his end of the year school memory book. Last week he had “happy blue day.” I took his picture as usual, and later that day when I was going back to actually look at the pictures I was just hit with how big he looks. He’s lost a lot of his baby fat, and really has more of a boy build now.

Caleb

Caleb, my baby, is now two. He wants to be super independent. He, of course, wants to do everything his brothers do. Physically, his motor skills are shooting off the charts these days. And finally, he is starting to put some words together when he speaks. I was really hit by how much he is growing up, though, yesterday when we were playing outside after school. He wanted to use the big boy swings instead of the baby swings, and he could do it! He was thrilled with himself, and giggled with joy in the beginning. Then, I could see his pride take over and he was practically beaming. He’s growing so fast!

I know in five years I’ll be reading this post and think about how they all were just babies. It’s all a matter of perspective. I’m trying to enjoy as many minutes as possible (because we all know enjoying every single minute is not). They are such amazing human beings.

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Piano Lessons and the Family Band

Elias began taking piano lessons this summer just before he started 1st grade. I contacted his teacher in August to see if she had any spots open for the fall, and she asked if I wanted to start right away. Why not? He was interested and I wanted to capitalize on that interest. I probably could have taught him myself. While I am no professional musician, I have to say that I’m quite an accomplished pianist. However, sometimes it is just better to have a different person teach your child if you can spare the cash. The clash of personalities is sometimes too great. Now, I get to practice with him almost every day and share in the joy of his growing love for piano, and instead of arguing with him myself, I can say, “remember when your teacher said…x?” It’s quite wonderful.

In his 5 months of piano, Elias has really taken off. He wants to practice every day, and enjoys himself, and it shows. He had his first recital in mid December. He played an English folk song called Oranges and Lemons. The audience was filled with all of the students in his teacher’s studio as well as their families. Elias even got to have all four of his grandparents there along with his parents and brothers. I was amazed that he didn’t seem nervous at all. He even played his song memorized. Great job, Elias!

Here he is before the recital. He was excited!

After the recital I made him sit at the piano again so we could take some posed pictures.

And we got some with his grandparents as well. (Of course I forgot to get one of the five of us. Oh well).

Now that Elias can read music, and has a basic understanding of how things work for piano, he has also showed interest in other instruments. Nathan and I got him a ukulele for Christmas. It came with an electronic tuner, a carrying case, and small booklets with a few instructions for how to play basic chords. He was thrilled, and has gotten it out every day to tune and strum.

A few nights ago, Elias made Nathan’s dreams come true when he asked if I would play the piano while he played his ukulele. Then he asked Nathan to play a guitar. For as long as I can remember Nathan has joked (except he’s kind of not joking) about wanting to form a family band some day when the boys are big enough. Elias knows a minor and c major chords pretty well on the ukulele so we mostly used those to play around. When I got up to take the picture, Simon and Caleb hurriedly took their place tapping away on the piano, and Nathan’s dreams were fulfilled…for one night anyway. So you saw it here first: The Smith Family Band.

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Christmas Memories

I’ve been thinking a lot this advent season (and now into the Christmas season) about what my boys will remember. When they reach my age, what will still be sticking in their minds? If I had to guess, I’d say that they won’t remember specific gifts. They won’t remember that we had the perfect tree in 2017. They may not remember being angels in the church Christmas pageant. They certainly won’t remember the delicious meal Nathan and I cooked since they hardly ate any of it! Rather than creating perfect details, perfect gifts, or joy-filled frenzies of wrapping paper ripping, I wanted to create lasting traditions. Because while they may not remember our perfect tree, I’m hoping they remember that every year we went to the farm together to choose our tree. And while they may not remember a delicious meal, I’m hoping they do remember that each year we gathered with family and extended family to give thanks to God and enjoy each other’s company. While they may not remember ever even having those perfect presents, I hope they learn the true gift given us in the incarnation.

After seven years, you’d think I’d have learned a thing or two about parenting. But every year I still hope for a magical Christmas for myself and for my children. Christmas is never magical. There are lots of tears. The routine is upset. Everything is overwhelming. But Christmas is always joyful in the aggregate. There is a big difference between magical and joyful!

So here are some family memories from our advent/Christmas 2017 season:

We drove out into the country to find our Christmas tree. We stomped around in the mud looking for the tree that was right for us. We found a lot of huge trees, and a lot of tiny trees, and it took awhile to find our just right tree. My parents came along and helped us. Caleb mostly liked stomping in mud puddles. Simon was mostly interested in the chocolates that Ama brought as a treat for him. Elias found something wonderful about every tree. Here we are posed in front of the tree we eventually chose (Caleb with chocolate staining his mouth).

And a close up of the boys:

I think the boys would go anywhere as long as Ama and Baba were there. They are so lucky to be Ama and Baba’s grandchildren.

We’ve been a part of the St. Bartholomew’s Christmas pageant for seven years now. The kids get together, dress up, and tell the Christmas story with the help of some musicians, and a singing congregation. Every year there is one rehearsal, and then it’s the real deal. The fact that it comes off well every year is its own Christmas miracle. This year, Elias wanted to be the donkey, and Simon and Caleb were angels.

Caleb was not too thrilled about the angel business. But we are thankful for our friend and awesome fellow church-attender, Nick, who took charge of the little cherubs so that Nathan and I could watch the cuteness. Caleb eventually warmed up to Nick. While Caleb didn’t sing, do his motions, or even walk up himself, he sat in front and looked cute. Simon sang and participated like a champ.

Auntie Erin, Uncle Jared, cousins Audrey and Sonya, and Nana were able to join us at the pageant and Eucharist on Christmas eve. We took our annual family Christmas photo with them after the service.

On Christmas Eve we went to my parents’ house, and were joined by my brother and his family. We even had snow! We let the boys take a  break from planned activities to go outside and play. They were overjoyed at the fresh air and the spontaneity.

Uncle Scott even got in on the snowball fight, which thrilled Elias and Simon who promptly pelted him with as many snowballs as they could. Scott is such a sport considering he was in a lot of pain at the time from a stone in his saliva gland.

And this…this may be my favorite picture of all time. Just the sheer realness of it. And it just fits each of their personalities to a “T.” I hope they recreate it for me some day when they are in their twenties or thirties. This is what Christmas is really like, people. The highs. The lows. All of it.

We got to spend Christmas Day at our house with Nathan’s side of the family as our guests. The boys are thrilled to be able to play with their cousins. It’s good for them to be able to play with some girls, too. I can’t count on my hands the number of times Elias has said “I love you” to his cousins. It’s really touching. This year, Caleb is even entering the fray a bit. It’s fun to watch their relationships grow and change.

This year Grandpa and Great Grandma got to come as well. Audrey, Sonya, and Elias, who are all studying piano, got to play some songs for great grandma. Today, Grandpa bravely involved himself in their nerf gun fight, and I suspect, really enjoyed shooting darts and getting shot. Here is our four generations picture:

So in the end, I’m not sure what they will remember from Christmas 2017. But I hope they take away the feeling of being loved.

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Here We Go, Hops!

Each summer since 2013 when the Hops came to Hillsboro, we’ve enjoyed at least a few games as a family. Sometimes with friends too! This year is no different. We’ve been to three games this summer so far. Elias was thrilled to be on the big screen at one of the games, and the boys got to run the bases after the game one evening.

This year we were lucky enough to be there for Star Wars Night. Simon had fallen asleep on the way to the stadium and missed out on the first few pictures while waking up in my arms, but when he saw Darth Vader it was like the “awake” switch flipped on in his brain and he wouldn’t miss meeting him for anything.

Caleb, unfortunately, was scared of the characters, and hugged Daddy with a death grip. He recovered just fine, though, and tried his first ice cream cone. We had tried feeding him ice cream in a dish many times and he never seemed to be into it. However, when he saw the cone he was more than excited. He said “mmmmm” after every single lick.

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Caleb Time

Last week I sent the older two boys off to Vacation Bible School at our church to have a blast. This week they both went to zoo camp. Both of them have had the time of their lives at the two camps and want to go back. Having them away has given me a lot of one on one time with Caleb the past two weeks. It has been a lot of fun! I’ve been reminded of the times when it was just me and Elias all the time. I wish I could go back with all of the wisdom I’ve picked up. I just feel so much more relaxed now that I have some perspective.

So what have Caleb and I been up to? Some days we just stayed home and played. Caleb helped me in the garden a bunch. I dragged him to the grocery store a couple of times. Mostly, though, we’ve been out and about having fun.

We went to the park.

We played in the fountains.

We went to the Rose Garden. Caleb ran around from bush to bush smelling all of the flowers he could find at his height.

Here is a particularly pretty rose we found.

We went to the zoo a bunch of times where a nice lady gave us free train ride tickets. We got to see the hippos really active as well as the polar bears, monkeys and more.

Today I took Caleb to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. He enjoyed the fountain and walking around the spiral path. It was so peaceful there.

Having just reached 20 months, Caleb is really getting big. He amazes me every day and I’m glad we got this time together.

This morning I was trying to take a picture of all three boys in front of my hydrangea bush. Getting a good picture of all three is no small feat. I tried about 10 pictures. This was the best one. I think Elias was trying to get Caleb to look at the camera, and I’m not sure what is going on with the figurine named “Beachy” in Simon’s hands. Apparently he is important enough to make it into the zoo camp commemoration picture.

I love these boys. We are lucky to be able to send them to fun camps and spend time together. On to the rest of summer!

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A Big Bed

Simon has reached another milestone this week. He has been growing and growing, and has outgrown the toddler bed. The poor little guy has been complaining about his feet touching the wood.

We took some time this past weekend to get him a twin sized bed. He was super happy to have a bed big enough for him, and to have a bed similar to his big brother.

We said goodbye to the boat bed. We purchased it for Elias 4 and a half years ago, and either Elias or Simon has slept in it ever since. Nathan and I really loved that toddler bed, but Caleb is not ready for it and if we are going to keep either the crib or the boat bed we decided on the crib because it can be converted to a toddler bed with the front off and it is more versatile in the long run. We were happy to send it to a good home, though, and hope cousin James enjoys it as much as we have!

Nathan the iron heart never understands why I get sad at moments like this. I am happy to watch the boys grow and learn, but feel sad that time seems to be slipping away through my fingers. As Daniel Tiger says, “Sometimes you feel two feelings at the same time. And that’s ok.”

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Cousin Time

There are few things better than some good old fashioned cousin time. The boys have had the privilege of seeing their cousins most of the days the last week and a half or so. Today we had a water balloon fight and some sprinkler time in the backyard, followed by popsicles. What fun!

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Family Vacation 2017: Crater Lake Edition

Our final leg of the vacation had finally arrived. None of us wanted it to end, but to be honest I was exhausted and kind of felt like I needed a vacation to recover from the vacation. (First world problems).

We left the Oregon Caves National Monument and headed toward Crater Lake. Unfortunately, a forest fire blocked our path and lengthened our drive quite a bit. We arrived at Crater Lake National Park later than we had hoped, but we were still able to get in some stunning views.

The boys’ favorite part of our time that afternoon, though, was not looking at the lake. They were thrilled to find snow still on the ground. As soon as we were out of the car they were jumping around asking to go in the snow. We made them at least look at the lake first. Then we headed across the road for their first snowball fight in 80 degree weather!

We stayed the night in the Mazama Cabins. They were rustic, and not as clean as I would have hoped, but it was perfect for what we needed. We woke up on our last morning and ate breakfast at the Crater Lake Lodge. Elias was thrilled because he ordered off the adult menu for the first time.

After breakfast we took a few more looks at the lake at a few different viewpoints.

The last time Nathan and I were at Crater Lake was 2007. We were married barely over a year and had no kids. We had to take a selfie to remember the good old days when life was so relaxed and carefree, but definitely not as exciting. 10 years later we’re still in love.

We knew it was time to start the journey home when the boys became more interested in watching an ant on the stone wall rather than looking at the lake.

The drive home was long, and it was made even longer by horrible traffic. We survived it, though, and were happy to have made so many good memories.

The day after we got home I put the boys to work washing the van. It got filthy on all those unpaved roads!

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Family Vacation 2017: The Caves Edition

On Day 10 of our vacation we woke up early and packed up to head toward Cave Junction, OR. We were headed to the Oregon Caves. It was one of our longer drive days, and we decided to stop for a picnic at Hiouchi Visitor Center in Jedidiah Smith State Park. We had been there a few days earlier and we knew it was a good spot for a picnic not far off the road. The boys got good at picnicking during this trip.

The road from Cave Junction to the Oregon Caves National Monument is steep and very windy. We made it up the hill and to the Chateau in plenty of time for our cave tour. We checked in at the Chateau, which was very charming. The building is old and has the original wooden desks, bed frames, and other furniture from the 1920’s. Each bed has a hand made quilt. The boys had fun relaxing in our room.

Unfortunately, you have to be 42 inches tall to go on the cave tour, so Caleb could not go. My parents stayed back with him while Nathan and I took Elias and Simon into the caves. We had an excellent tour guide who made it fun and interesting. Neither of the boys had really had an experience like this before, and we were hoping they would enjoy it. Simon got a bit nervous when they turned out all of the lights and we stood in the pitch black of the cave to see what it was like. Both boys enjoyed walking through the cave and up and down all of the steps. We saw many really cool formations.

After about 90 minutes inside the cave we came out the exit thrilled with our experience, but ready for dinner.

We woke up the next morning, and it was my parents’ turn to go on their cave tour. Both Elias and Simon had the opportunity to go with them, but only Elias took it. Simon decided he had had enough on the first time through. Elias, Ama, and Baba departed for their cave tour, and the rest of us went on a short hike while we waited.

After they finished, we got back in the car to head for our final destination: Crater Lake. You can read more about that in the final episode – Family Vacation 2017: Crater Lake Edition.

 

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Family Vacation 2017: The Redwoods Edition

Day Six: Jedidiah Smith State Park

On day six we woke up in Gold Beach and climbed in the car for a shorter drive into California to set our eyes on the Redwoods. We arrived at Jedidiah Smith State Park in the late morning and feasted on the sights. There really is nothing quite like being dwarfed by those huge trees. I expected tall trees, but even more amazing was the width of the trees.

As with most things in nature, you just can’t really capture the true beauty with a photograph. I still took tons of pictures…I’ve picked out just a few to share in this post. But mostly I just wanted to stand and stare, and let it all soak in through my skin to my soul so I could take it home with me forever.

With three little ones, we weren’t sure how trail walks/hikes would go, and how long they would stay interested in the trees. While initial excitement was almost a sure thing, developmentally, little kids just aren’t able to appreciate scenery in the same way adults can. We decided to keep hikes short and move around to see as much as we could.

We started at the Simpson-Reed Grove in Jedidiah Smith State Park because there was an easy one mile trail loop. As it turns out, the Redwoods are a little boys paradise. They were thrilled with all the sticks, rocks, logs, and other interesting places there were to explore.

We got a family picture next to a particularly large tree. It’s the classic Redwoods photo that makes you look like tiny ants.

Caleb and I had fun trying to get a picture to show just how tall the trees were, and how we pretty much had to bend over backwards looking up to see the tops of the trees.

Another way to tell how large the trees are is from the fallen logs. Sometimes it felt like walking through Jurassic Park.

We all had fun on this mile loop. We got our excitement and wiggles out, and then headed over the visitors center in Hiouchi to eat a picnic lunch and pick up some junior ranger booklets for the boys.

After lunch we decided to head down the highway for a bit, and we stopped at the Trees of Mystery. It’s not part of the National Park, and is a bit of a tourist trap, but they have a really fun gondola ride which takes you through the forest.

To get up to the gondola ride, there was another easy to moderate trail through the trees. We saw many more interesting and very large trees. There was a giant cathedral tree where people have actually gotten married. We saw octopus trees and “upside down” trees. Here, they are looking at the “lightening tree.”

On the ride, we gained over 500 feet in elevation and ended up on top of a small mountain where we had views of the forest and even saw the ocean in the distance. We had to wait over an hour to get on the gondola, but in the end, the boys thought it was worth the wait.

Here we are riding up the mountain in the gondola:

We stopped at the top to take in the views.

And then we rode back down:

Down at the bottom of the hill we stopped for some ice cream and smashed pennies. Then, the boys got to play outside on Paul Bunyan’s boot. There was someone somewhere who was watching and talked to the kids playing out in the courtyard. Simon was so tickled when Mr. Bunyan answered his questions and held a conversation with him.

Thus ended our first day viewing the Redwoods. We headed down south to our hotel, and awaited more fun the next day.

Day Seven: Avenue of the Giants

On day seven, we decided to go explore the Avenue of the Giants. It runs parallel to 101 in Humbolt Redwoods State Park. Our first stop on the avenue was at the Eternal Tree House. It was a large room which was burned/carved out of a living redwood tree. In the past, people used it for shelter both for themselves and for livestock.

While in the room, Elias signed us in the guestbook.

Outside, the boys got started on their junior ranger booklet activities.

And Caleb was just excited to be out running around.

After the Eternal Tree house and some junior ranger activities, we headed out to the Big Tree area. It was down a long mostly unpaved road, and there were a number of different trails leading off from the area. We chose one that would lead us to “giant tree.” It was also a relatively easy loop. This hike was one of my favorites of the trip, other than the fact that I pretty much got eaten alive by mosquitos.

Here are the boys next to “giant tree.”

And Nathan hugging the same tree.

We took our time and enjoyed just being in the forest. There were many interesting trees to see, but mostly it was just amazing how grand everything was.

After we finished the hike in the big tree area, we headed back a ways up the road to a nice picnic area. After lunch, we let the boys play in a nearby stream. Caleb wanted to throw rocks into the water. Elias and Simon built a rock bridge in the stream.

Our next stop was Founders Grove. I don’t know much about it because Caleb had fallen asleep and so I stayed back in the van with him while everyone else went on another short hike. They returned happy. The boys had been particularly happy because they got to climb in an alligator log and see a particularly large fallen tree.

Our final stop on the avenue of the giants was the Shrine Drive through tree. We were a bit nervous taking our van through. According to our owner’s manual, we would have three inches of clearance on each side if everything went well. My parents went through first and I took some photos of them going through and after safely making it.

Our van also made it safely through with no dings, dents, or scratches. I never questioned Nathan’s driving skills anyway.

After the drive through tree, we headed back to our hotel for some swimming. It had been a full day!

Day Eight: The Rest Day

After so many fun filled days, we knew we needed a day with a bit of an easier pace. Plus we needed laundry done, and we had to go to the store to restock on fruit and other such groceries. Our day began by checking out a local park in Eureka. They had these really cool slides coming out of a tree house that the boys liked.

After an hour or so at the playground, we checked out the Sequoia Park Zoo. It is a small zoo, but there are many interesting exhibits, and many animals that we don’t normally get to see at our zoo. There were a couple of animals I had never even heard of before! We even got in at half price because they are members of the reciprocal zoo program. The boys enjoyed a river otter tunnel, the eagles nest, the aviary, and the petting zoo. Their favorite animal was the red panda.

After the zoo we went home to rest, went shopping and swimming, and prepared for our last day at the redwoods.

Day Nine: Trees, Ferns and Birthdays

Day nine of our trip was my birthday. The boys, who had mostly been choosing to ride with Ama and Baba declared that they would ride in the van with me once since it was my birthday.

We drove to Prarie Creek Redwoods state park. Our first stop was fern canyon. I had read amazing reviews of the place, and was really looking forward to it. The road to fern canyon is mostly unpaved and very dusty. All of the trees and plants look almost fossilized because they are so caked in mud. It was a long, windy road, and in the end we had to ford the van across a stream a few times. Nathan drove like a pro again and we arrived safely at the trailhead.

At first, the trail seemed no different from the others. But then, we crossed a stream on foot and turned the corner into a canyon. It was amazing! Fern canyon is…well…a canyon filled with ferns. It is like a vertical garden. Pictures can’t really do it justice, but I tried.

Along the canyon floor there were a lot of downed trees, over which we helped each other climb.

It really was a little boy’s paradise. And the adults had a lot of fun too!

After awhile, we reached a place where the vegetation was much thicker on the canyon floor, and there were a ton of mosquitos. We decided that was a good point to turn around and go see something else! Fern canyon may be my favorite hike of the trip.

After fern canyon, we crossed the van back over all of the streams, and headed to Gold Bluffs Beach for a picnic. We let the boys play for the last beach time of the trip.

Eventually it was time to move on and we hiked back to the car.

From there, we headed to the Prarie Creek visitors center where we saw some elk, and went on one last short hike in the trees.

The boys also earned their junior ranger badges, and very proudly said the pledge.

Afterward, Elias took his duty very seriously, and decided he wanted to learn as much as possible about ferns so that he could write a nonfiction book about them and help other people learn.

After this, we sadly had to say goodbye to the trees for now. We’ll have to go back again some day!

When we returned to the hotel, we went out to eat for my birthday dinner. Then, we went out for a birthday ice cream treat on the bay. The hotel conveniently had a complimentary limo so I got to take my first limo ride on my 33rd birthday. What fun!

In these few days at the Redwoods we made memories I’ll (hopefully) never forget. While the main part of our trip was over, we still had a few fun days and amazing sights planned. Stay tuned for the next episode – Family Vacation 2017: Caves Edition.

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