Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Destroying the play set

For over a year, I've gazed out my kitchen window and stared down an eyesore.  Our wooden Costco play set, once the centerpiece and highlight of the backyard, had fallen into disrepair.  It was in need of a good facelift in the form of a power wash and re-staining.  When we evaluated the time and money it would take to revive the play set with the fact our children have outgrown the swings and slides, we decided to give away the play set.

I put a listing on a local sellers' Facebook page offering the play set for free.  The catch:  the lucky recipient had to disassemble and haul away the play set.  Within minutes, numerous people responded to my post.  I notified the first person.  She came out once to look over the play set.  Then, her and her husband returned with tools to slowly take the play set apart for transport.

About an hour into the process, they had second thoughts.  As they pried nails from boards, alarming things were discovered.  Poison Oak wound itself around lower planks.  Carpenter bees had feasted on the play set rafters.  And, many of the wood planks collapsed due to rot during transport.  The would-be owner turned down the play set.  Her response, "It's not worth it, even if it is free."

Can't blame her.

What was left in our yard was a wood pile and a half-disassembled play set.  It looked like a lumber autopsy gone wrong.  I sat in my kitchen and glanced at the disarray in the backyard with dismay.

But, my boys looked at the backyard differently.  They saw it as an opportunity to be helpful and to flex their manly muscles.  They requested to be helpers in the demolition.  And in a moment of questionable parenting, I agreed.

Within seconds, four boys rushed out of the house and charged the play set.  They clutched all sorts of "tools" for demolition, things like snow shovels, gardening shovels, and baseball bats.

Within minutes of my boys engaging in their "project," the news of the demolition swirled throughout the neighborhood and every adolescent boy within a five mile radius descending on our backyard carrying his own tool of choice.

I supervised and ensured a modicum of safety was enforced.

I watched my boys and the neighbor kids have a ball.  This was their chance to destroy, and they relished every single moment.  

If you want to know how to make a boy happy, give him a baseball bat (or snow shovel or gardening tool) and a piece of wood to destroy.  Smiles are guaranteed to follow.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Smoky Mountain National Park Half Marathon

Mid-commute from Indiana to Tennessee, we stopped for a hike in Berea, Kentucky.

Followed by a dinner stop in Powell, Tennessee at the Front Porch Restaurant.

Simply charming.

Highlight of the trip was when this fella crossed our path.  Mr. Brown Bear seemed not the least bit rattled about holding up traffic or creating quite a stir among park guests.

The bear didn't stop us from enjoying our first hike in the Smoky Mountains.

We dove right into celebrating the national parks and a race close to its borders.

Love this sign!

First day hike with falls as a beautiful backdrop.

Smiles.  Pre-run.  With sunshine about to peak over the mountains.

Smiles still there with post-run glow.

Claudia earned a 3rd place overall finisher's award. Woo hoo!

Her prize:  a national park pass!

I claimed the 3rd master's winner award.

And scored a national park pass too!

Basking in our 3rd place awards!

And because running is just not enough exercise (sarcasm), we hiked later that day.

On the first hike, we attempted to reach the Appalachian Trail.  But when the trail seemingly disappeared and daylight was dwindling, we nixed those plans.

The beauty about the Smoky Mountain National Park is that the trails are everywhere!

My dear friend Claudia decided it wasn't enough to run a race in every state.  She also needed to compete in all the national park runs.  When she spotted the Smoky Mountain National Park race and suggested we attend the race, I could think of not one single good reason to say no.

On Thursday, Claudia, Sarah and I hopped into our rented sedan.  We took the six hour trek down to Townsend, Tennessee (the self-proclaimed quieter side of the Smoky Mountain National Park).

Townsend is a sleepy Appalachian town who is happy to host the onslaught of park tourists, but in a more understated way than its flasher counterpart: Gatlinburg.  In Townsend, one bypasses the go-carts in favor of a comfy rocking chair with a clear view of the mountains.  Dining in Townsend is down-home fare with prices that even the stingiest of patrons will relish.  Those who work and live in Townsend dip their words in southern charm and hospitality.

If I would use one word to describe this weekend it would be active.  My backside only made contact with a seat while in the car to and from Indiana.  The rest of the time, we were hiking or running.  (And as the cruelest injustice, I did not shed one single pound!)  

The day before the race, we took the Cade's Cove loop; an 11-mile course that lapped Smoky Mountain Meadows and historic structures from original park settlers.  During this loop, we stumbled upon a bear.  He shot out of the bushes and wandered onto the road directly in front of our car.  The park is plastered with signs warning about the dangers of bears, and I've seen enough "Animal Attack" commercials to have a healthy fear of the damages inflicted by menacing bears.  But this bear seemed more domesticated and playful than the nasty images in my mind.  This bear sighting was the highlight of our trip.

The next day, we awoke before daylight and jumped onto the crowded shuttle that carried runners to the start.  In a typical Claudia/Becky/Sarah race fashion, we arrived at the start with minutes to spare.  When the race started, we joined 2,000 other runners along a course that ascended 500 feet for 13.1 miles.

What the course lacked in dramatic inclines, it made up for in rolling hills.  We raced along Tennessee country roads where charming cabins, bubbling rivers, and friendly locals formed our backdrop.  I had a hard time concentrating on important racing things, like pacing and breathing, because the beautiful scenery demanded all my attention.

The last mile, the sun broke through the trees and the course grew steeper.  The beating sun and hills made the finishing line look more appealing.  When I crossed the finishing line, a relief washed over my body and a gratefulness for experiencing something both so beautiful and wonderful simultaneously.

Our legs had little time to rest from the race before we were working them again. This time, we were exploring the numerous Smoky Mountain trails and gazing across gorgeous mountain vistas.  As much as I wanted to go back and sit on a rocking chair, these views and this park drew me deeper into the woods and along the mountains.

This weekend in the Smoky Mountains was active.  But really, that's the best way to experience something that begs to be explored.

Monday, September 5, 2016

50th Anniversary Toast

Spent the weekend in Brown County celebrating my parents' 50th wedding anniversary with family.

First two pictures are snapped from an early (hilly) morning run.

They renewed their vows at Indiana University.  To commemorate the occasion, we made a donation in their names to IU and secured a personalized brick outside the stadium. 

 Before the vows, we took a few family pictures on campus.  This is proof the boys actually can wear ties and smile at the same time!

No easy task to get ten grandchildren dressed, smiling, and posed.  But, it was a fairly successful photo shoot!

I pushed my luck and requested one more photo.  Can you guess which son was not pleased?

My parents renewed their vows on Beck Chapel on the IU campus.  At the conclusion of the ceremony, the organist played the IU anthem as our entire family joined in the singing.  It was one of those moments that won't easily drift from my memory.

After vows, the family traveled to the University Club in the Union.  Dinner was served with this yummy cake as the highlight.

Only complaint of the whole day is that the cake portion size was the size of my pinkie.  I wanted to cry:)

My favorite photo of the weekend.  After all these years, still laughing and hugging siblings and parents alike.

My nephew Parker exhibits a zest for life without an ounce of fear (Cooper's match).  He was always the life of the party.

But the star of the show was baby Amelia.  She didn't lack for companionship with a handful of eager relatives happy to pull her into a snuggle.

The entire weekend we spent celebrating my parents' 50th wedding anniversary.  We commemorated the occasion with special festivities and a lot of time spent with family in southern Indiana.

This afternoon, we packed up the cars to head back home.  Caleb noticed my mom carrying a package to her car.  He asked if the box contained a gift for him.

"No," I replied.  "It's an anniversary gift for her and Papa."

He paused and began, "I don't see why they get gifts for being married for 50 years.  Really, they just endured another person for that long."

I burst out laughing.

For some, staying together may be enduring a spouse.  But as one who has insider observations of my parents' marriage, their union has been more than an endurance race.  It's been five decades of two people truly loving and investing each other.

And so, I gave the following toast at their anniversary dinner (on behalf of my siblings too).

When we reflect on our childhood and our parents, we're filled with lots of little memories.  We think about homemade red velvet cakes that made appearances at every special occasion.  We recall photographs, pens, books, and glasses that adorned our house and come from every state and country around the globe.  We remember IU soccer games, Indiana small town foot races, Perry Meridian sporting events, Southport Presbyterian Church services, holidays at the farm, and trips down to Florida.

We're left with a collection of little such memories that have gelled together in our minds and left us with the following conclusions from our childhood, our family, and specifically our parents.

We've concluded that our parents loved us deeply.  They loved us enough to sacrifice things like time and money on our behalf.  They loved us enough to ensure many of the moments in our lives have been filled with joy, love, meaning, and companionship.  They’ve loved us enough to ensure they always modeled a life well lived.  And a life well lived included staying together, loving each other, and being intentionally invested in each other for five decades.  And when we think about all the gifts they’ve offered to us, those are perhaps the greatest and most lasting.

Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad!  We’ve grateful for the years we’ve witnessed your marriage and proud of you for 50 year together.

And we look forward to seeing them together for many more.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Bedtime with Cooper

We had the honor of meeting our new niece Amelia.

I didn't feel the least bit guilty about hogging time with the baby.

During nap time for my nephew, the boys hopscotched along rocks in a Cincinnati river.

When we were under our first tornado warning last week, the boys and I moved dinner to the basement.  They found the whole concept of a "tornado dinner party" to be fun.

The TV meteorologist recommended going to the basement and wearing a bicycle helmet during our second round of tornado warnings.  We hate to be insensitive, but Chris found humor in the situation.

Bedtime is my favorite part of the day.

That's a statement I never imagined writing without having my nose grow like Pinocchio. 

For years, I dreaded bedtime.  Bedtime was like the final six miles in a marathon.  It was the portion of the day when I was already exhausted, and then required to put on a final sprint (with lots of additional hurdles).

I loathed evening bath time.  Our baths were a bit more active than those vintage Calgon commercials.  By the end of bathing four boys, the bathroom looked like a soggy aquatic center.  My sons would emerge from the soapy water with more energy and vigor than before they stepped foot in the tub.  Oftentimes, they would sprint out of the bathroom and frolic around in their wet birthday suits.  I was forced to race after them with a towel big enough to wrestle them to the ground.

When I finally tucked them into their beds and turned off the lights, I braced myself for the second leg of the race.  It was the unexpected extra mileage that crept up when boys would reemerge from their darkended rooms with cries for water, hugs, snacks, and extra books.

My boys are older now.  They shower independently.  In fact, they would be mortified if I was any part of their bathing or changing process.  They all know how to read.  And, several sons routinely pick comic books in those final minutes of the day before sleep takes hold.   

A few months ago, I asked Cooper if we could read a book together before bed.  Surprisingly, he agreed.  We both traveled down to the local library and scanned the stacks.  He pulled out Bridge to Terabithia.  It was a unique selection, but something that seemed appealing to both of us.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I looked forward to reading that book together.  It was a story that captivated us both and tugged at our heart strings.  And when a death occurred in the book (sorry...hope not to ruin it:)), Cooper stopped me mid-sentence and asked, "Wait...so she died?"  It was a possibility neither one of us wanted to acknowledge.  When I nodded, we both tried to hold back tears.  And when the book finally ended, we both seemed to be a little lost.

Now, we are reading the kids version of Boys in a Boat.  It's been timely to read about the struggles to secure an Olympic spot in the 1930s while the Rio games were being held.  

I'm jealous and protective of this time with Cooper. Unwilling to even allow Chris to take a turn.  While I'm loving the storylines, the time nestled with Cooper in his bed while clutching a book is the most precious part of the experience.  

One day he'll be too old for this time, but every evening we have together is a beautiful part of our story.  

Friday, August 12, 2016

Starting The School Year Off With a Bang

Our new 6th grader!

8th grader!

4th grade!

Ready for a new school year!

They can only hold it together for so long!

I'll admit, I've been less than humble the last few days.  I keep telling Chris, "I'm nailing it."  Then, I point out the twelve things I've done right that very day.

"I packed the kids' lunches the night before.  When they awoke, I had a hot breakfast sitting on their placements.  They all went to school with clean clothes and well brushed teeth," I gushed.

"And then," I exclaimed and paused for a dramatic effect.  "I had dinner completely ready when they arrived home from school."

Chris, my sweet husband, smiles and silently indulges me in my (misguided) notions that I can keep this up until the end of the school year.

This is how I roll.  I always start out the school year with a bang.  In August, I'm ready to start routines.  I believe all past mom-mistakes can be wiped away with the start of a new school year.  This year, I vow, my kids will brush their hair....every day.  This year, I promise, we will never be late for the first period.  This year, I exclaim, dinners with always include vegetables, lunch boxes will include handwritten notes scribbled on a napkin, playdates will be secured, carpools will be orchestrated, volunteer work will be performed, homework will be checked, practice time will be performed, and .......

But if history is any indicator, with the flip of the calendar my mom steam runs out.

This year, I hope things work out differently.

Nonetheless, I'm enjoying the few days where we're all on track.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Imagination Takes a Neighborhood

I ran by this scene on a recent morning jog.  I just couldn't just pass by it without snapping a photo.

Grandma and Grandpa Wood came by for a visit.  We took Grandma on her very first canoe ride!

We had to celebrate her birthday too!

Cooper sprawled out on the living room floor clutching a pen and a white sheet of paper.  I watched as he vigorously scribbled on the page.  Curious, I peeked over his shoulder.  He inscribed "laws" on the top of the page.  Under this heading, he outlined half a dozen rules.  Immediately, I knew the meaning of his document.

Cooper is the co-President and founder of the Dinosaur Club.  Currently, there are four active members (three neighbor kids who happened to be related to each other).  As one in the leadership position of the club, he takes his job seriously.  Rules and bylaws must be drafted.  Meetings and excursions must be organized.  It's a lot of responsibility for anyone, let alone a nine year old who is also creating a town.

Yes, when Cooper's not leading the Dinosaur club, he and the other club members are active members of a town (name only disclosed between members).  Cooper told me he's the busy doctor/pet shop owner/sheriff while upholding his civic duties to be active in town planning/governance/regulations.

But there's more. 

When the club's not running and the town is quiet,  there are dragons to be slain in mythical kingdoms.  Holes need to be dug in the backyard to escape to China.  Treasure hunters must be captured before they escape with our "finds."  Treehouses must be created with whatever materials are found within the backyard.  Fortunately for Cooper, he has companions on all these adventures who live just feet away from our home.  

When I call him in for bedtime at the end of the night, he's sad to leave the town/club/village/kingdom.  But, I remind him that the next morning he'll arrive at a new location and, fortunately, with the same group of friends.