Monday, March 26, 2012

What We've Been Up To (Road-Trip Edition)

Sometimes, it feels like the last three months have been one giant road-trip. It hasn't, of course. We have been traveling a lot, but it's been more like several shorter trips interspersed with time in Michigan. I can't tell you how wonderful it is to have my parents' house as our haven during this in-between time! We walk in the door after being on the road for awhile, and I just breathe a big sigh of relief. I know it's not always easy on my parents to have 5 extra people around cluttering up their home, especially right now while my mom is going through her cancer treatments, but they are so gracious and they never complain.

As a way of catching up, then, I thought I would just do one huge post about all the places we've been. I should probably mention that we haven't been the greatest about taking pictures during our travels. We take pictures of the "fun" things we do, but we forget to take pictures of people and other activities. I plan to intersperse pictures with commentary here, lest you get the wrong idea about us and think that we've just been gallivanting around the country and playing the whole time. Actually, all of our traveling has been "work-related" -- we just try to do fun things with the kids every once in awhile, otherwise they would drive both of us completely bonkers!

Kids asleep in the car
And there's the other one!
Our first trip was in mid-December. We traveled to Nashville to meet with the missions committee at Hillsboro, our sponsoring church. We also went to Huntsville for a couple of days to see some of Rusty's family -- his uncle and aunt, and his cousin and her family, who are dear friends and also personal supporters. Rick and Marinda Trull, team coaches for the Angola Team, drove up to Huntsville for the day and we spent a morning having coffee and a very good visit with them. On the way back to Michigan, we stopped in Cave City, KY and took the boys to the big dinosaur park there. It was really fun -- if you have a kid who's totally into dinosaurs as Alex is right now, I highly recommend it!

Dinosaur World -- Cave City, KY
In mid-January, we began a three-week long trip. First stop: Somerset, Pennsylvania, to visit the church there that supports us, as well as our friends the Hintons (Jimmy is the preacher at the church). We were there over a Sunday, so Rusty did a presentation during Bible Class and also preached.

Sunday lunch at the Eat 'n Park in Somerset, PA
From Pennsylvania, we began the long drive to Manson, Manitoba. We stopped along the way in Hudson, Wisconsin (just across the river from Minneapolis St. Paul) and stayed two nights with Dale and Vicki Hawley. Dale is a missionary counselor who did some work with the Angola Team in the past when we were doing our training with Missions Resource Network. We really enjoyed our time with the Hawleys. On the day we left, we took the boys to the Mall of America. We played a round of mini-golf, ate lunch in the food court, went to the Lego store, and rode a couple of rides at the indoor amusement park.

Mini-golf at the Mall of America -- Bloomington, MN

We left Hudson and drove to Fargo, North Dakota, where we stayed the night with some friends of the Hawleys, who graciously opened their home to complete strangers! What a gift it is to be a part of God's family and to have brothers and sisters literally everywhere in the world! Then, it was on to Manson, Manitoba to visit Rusty's Uncle Ken and Aunt Rae and the church there that has started supporting us. We spent almost a week with them, and it was lovely to just be in one place for a few days! Aunt Rae spoiled us with all sorts of yummy treats like her homemade Cinnamon Buns; Uncle Ken loaded us up with a few things for our future home, including Rusty's grandma's old oak dining table; the boys got to play in the snow; we saw Kemmy and Christina, two of Rusty's canuck cousins; and Rusty did a presentation and also preached at the church on Sunday.

With Uncle Ken and Aunt Rae -- Manson, Manitoba
Snow angels -- Manson, Manitoba
Leaving Manson, we drove to Winnipeg to do a presentation at the Central Church of Christ, a possible future supporter. Then we drove back to Michigan, but we took several days to get there and stopped in Wisconsin Dells for two nights on the way. It was a nice way to end the trip. We stayed in a hotel with a nice little pool with kiddie slides and fountains. And one day, we bought day passes to one of the bigger resorts and spent all day playing in their big water park and indoor amusement park.

Bumper cars -- Wisconsin Dells, WI
Mt. Olympus Indoor Water Park -- Wisconsin Dells, WI
After a couple of weeks in Michigan, we hit the road again, this time heading south. Our first stop was Nashville, TN, where we spent two weeks with our sponsoring church, the Hillsboro Church of Christ. It was wonderful to reconnect with all our friends there and make some new ones! I wish that we had taken more pictures of our time there, but we were literally so busy running hither and thither that we just never thought about it. We had dinner with folks from church nearly every night, and the days were taken up with doctor and dentist appointments (Rusty even had his wisdom teeth out!), errands, meetings, and playdates for the boys. I met up with my dear childhood friend Rebekah one morning, and we enjoyed catching up on each others' lives. We had lunch with Rusty's Uncle Dennis in Clarksville one day. The church had a lovely send-off for us on our last Sunday there. They showed a video of our family where we shared some of our plans, interspersed with some of the footage Rusty shot on his survey trip in November. Then they said a prayer of blessing over us, followed by singing "Surround Us Lord," all of this while huge flakes of snow were falling softly outside the windows. It's a memory that will stay with me for a long time.
Stephen getting his teeth cleaned -- Nashville, TN
With Uncle Dennis -- Clarksville, TN
From Nashville, we drove to Memphis and spent a few days reconnecting with friends there. We visited the Park Avenue church on Sunday morning and Rusty gave a short update on us at the end of the service. Then we drove down to the Thyatira church for their evening service where Rusty preached and shared about our plans. Afterwards, we had dinner with several of the young families, our good friends when we lived there. On Monday, we met up with the Gearsons and Jin and Gina, friends from our grad school days. We went to the park and then had dinner at Chick Fil-A. Alex was so excited to spend time with Mackenzie and Esther again. I couldn't believe how much they have all grown up in the last few years.

Mackenzie and Alex -- Memphis, TN
Unfortunately, the evening did not end well as Alex fell while climbing on the outside of the play structure and busted his head open! He was bleeding pretty profusely (I am told head wounds do that), and 911 was called, so the firetrucks and EMT's showed up at Chick-Fil-A. They checked him over, bandaged up his head, and then we drove ourselves down the road to the closest hospital. Several hours and 10 stitches later, Alex hopefully has a better understanding of why it's not a good idea to climb on the outside of the play structure! This all happened the day before he turned 6, so it was definitely a memorable birthday. On his actual birthday, we went to the fire station that had responded to the 911 call, and the boys got the grand tour and got to sit in all the trucks. They thought that was fun.

Alex with Evertt Huffard, who shares his birthday -- Memphis, TN
At the fire station -- Germantown, TN
From Memphis, we drove to Oklahoma City and spent almost a week there. We so enjoyed seeing all our dear friends from our time in Japan as AET's (I wish we had taken more pictures!), as well as Robbie, Rusty's nephew, who is a student at OC this year. In addition, Rusty did a presentation at a church in the Oklahoma City area on Sunday morning and was able to connect with many missions-minded folks on campus at OC.

Lunch at Pops with Robbie and Cat -- Edmond, OK
All the kids at the "Japan Peeps" get-together at the Lj's - Edmond, OK
From Oklahoma City, we drove back to Michigan, and upon our arrival, discovered that the final piece of paperwork we needed in order to apply for our Ecuadorian visas had finally arrived. So, 10 days later, we were packing our bags again, this time to make the trip to Chicago to the Ecuadorian consulate. We stayed with our friends the Mearses in Naperville and so enjoyed our time with them. On Monday, we trekked in to downtown Chicago, dropped off the paperwork and the payment at the consulate, went to Gino's and had Chicago deep-dish pizza, then went back and picked up our passports with Ecuadorian visas stamped inside them. It was ridiculously easy!

 Walking the streets of downtown Chicago -- Chicago, IL

So, the fact that we have visas now means that The Great Road-Trip is coming to an end at last. We are aiming to be in Ecuador by mid-April. Rusty is in Nashville this week getting all of our stuff ready for shipment. I stayed in Michigan with the kids and am working on a hundred other little details, like plane tickets. It's hard to believe after all this time that we are just a few short weeks away from actually leaving!

There are lots more pictures of all our travels on Facebook. Click here to view the entire album.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Sixth Month

Well, after I publish this post, I will be caught up on Benjamin's monthly milestones... for the next 3 days anyway! (Sigh.) It's hard to believe that he's almost 7 months old. And then I look at Alex, my SIX-year old (How is that even possible?), and I think, He's a third of the way to 18! And then I freak out just a little.

But, I digress. Benjamin's 6th month was again spent on the road (road trip post coming soon, promise). He is a great little traveler -- all our kids are -- but he does get tired of being in his carseat so much! Towards the end of our trips, when we have been in the car for days on end, he starts crying every time I put him in. The poor kid probably wonders if we know how to do anything other than schlep him around all over creation.

In the 6th month, we continued with solid foods, introducing rice cereal, peaches, plums, prunes, peas, carrots, and sweet potato. Ben visited our pediatrician in Nashville for a check-up and 6 shots! (We are trying to get him caught up, since we missed the 4-month check-up... I know, I know, bad mom.) He weighed in at 15 pounds, 8.5 ounces, more than double his birth weight, and measured 27 inches long. He also met his Great Uncle Dennis while in Nashville.

The big milestone during month 6 was, of course, learning to sit up on his own. I am always so glad when my babies learn to sit alone! They seem to stay content longer when they can sit up and play and observe everything that's going on around them. And the bald spot on the back of the head starts disappearing when they aren't laying on their backs so much! Being able to sit up also changes the bathtime routine -- Benjamin can sit up and splash in the water, which he thinks is great fun, and he now takes baths with his big brothers more frequently.

Benjamin's 6-month birthday was pretty memorable, as it was the day that Alex fell while climbing on the playplace at Chick-Fil-A and busted his head open. More details coming when I blog about our road-trip, but suffice it to say that we spent several hours in the ER, and Alex ended up with 10 stitches! Life with boys is never dull!

 6 months old!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Fifth Month

A large part of Benjamin's fifth month was spent on the road. (Look for a future post about all our recent travels). In fact, we celebrated his fifth-month birthday at the end of January in Wisconsin Dells, but the pictures below were taken a few days later after we got back to my parents' house in Michigan.

Ben celebrated his first New Year during this month, although he actually slept right through the big moment! He met his Uncle Ken and Aunt Rae, actually his great-uncle and great-aunt, and other relatives while we were in Canada. We finally had to retire the cradle, as he was just getting too big and wiggly for it, and moved him back into a pack-n-play. The other major milestone this month included the introduction of solid foods. I held him off as long as possible, but when your baby starts watching you eat with rapt fascination and actually trying to grab food out of your hand, then it's just time! He actually had his first taste of mashed banana on his fifth-month birthday.

During Ben's fifth month, I noticed a gradual decrease in his spitting up (yay!), followed by an increase in drooling. However, if he is anything like my other two, the first tooth is still months away from making an appearance. That's okay by me -- nursing is not nearly as comfortable for me once the teeth come through! He loves to chew on his hands and feet and is getting better and better at using his hands to pick up toys and get them into his mouth.

There were so many great pictures from our photo shoot this month that is was hard to choose just two. He was in a good mood when I took these, plus he had his older brother standing nearby acting crazy and making him laugh!