Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Pre-Halloweening

Halloween isn't even until tomorrow and we're already laden with candy and have gone out in our costumes three times!

The first time out in our costumes was Saturday night. We went—rather late—to our neighbourhood Halloween party. The flyer said it would go until 8 PM so we went out to dinner with a couple in our ward (who are aching for grandchildren and felt sorry for me being left alone with sick kids all weekend) before donning our costumes and heading over to the clubhouse. But when we got there we found the party was over. Everyone was cleaning up and heading home. And it was only seven o'clock!



No rest for the weary

I can't wait for Andrew to come back so I can get a good night's sleep. Let me tell you about Friday night:

I was up with Benjamin until 11:00.

I cleaned the kitchen and chatted with Andrew before going to bed around midnight, leaving my closet light and the kitchen light on because I'm a scaredy cat.

At around 12:30 AM I wake up because the motion sensor light in our backyard went off. That always, always creeps me out. I chatted to Andrew again (because he was still awake on the other side of the country, trying to finish up a paper) who tried to convince me it was just a deer. Our house backs onto the woods so that's not out of the realm of possibility and in fact is the logical conclusion. But...I'm a scaredy cat. Did I mention that?

I went back to bed around 1:00 AM.

Benjamin woke up screaming at 1:30 AM. I took him into bed with me and nursed him back to sleep. He's sick and teething and miserable but we finally manage to fall asleep.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Boo from Benjamin

Since today is Miriam's birthday it only makes sense that I should blog about Benjamin, right? Of course right. After all it's just nine days before he's seventeen months old (what?! (but only 15 months, adjusted)).

He's still not much of a talker, though we're really working on remedying this. His most consistent word is still "MOM!" which he yells whenever he needs me, if he thinks to talk at all (otherwise he just yells to be loud/noticed).

Since he doesn't seem to be interested in talking, we've been working on signing. The girls have been happily (re-)learning signs in order to help Benjamin communicate. He can now sign his own personal version of dog, bird, all done, more, potty, and fan. There are probably a few others I'm forgetting.

Mostly signing is going great except that the girls are constantly mixing up the signs for 'mother' and 'pig.' I'm not so sure how I feel about that.

Oh, 'shower' is another sign Benjamin knows. Benjamin lives for the shower. He can open the door to the shower by himself and will escape there any chance he gets. He's even asked for "wa-wa" a couple of times after climbing in the shower.



This morning I asked him if he wanted to shower with me and he could hardly contain his excitement. He gasped and looked up at me with bright eyes and a big smile before running into the bathroom and hopping into the shower (fully clothed). He was upset when I pulled him back out but calmed down when I told him that he just had to take off his clothes. He lacks the dexterity to do so (unless you count socks...and diapers) but pulled at his clothes with all his might.

During story time tonight we caught a video of Benjamin saying 'boo!' All three of my kids have enjoyed this Halloween Countdown book. I don't know what we'll do if it ever falls apart!

Clarification

Miriam's speeding through Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. In Lesson 13, the book introduced the concept of "stories," however, the story that was part of the lesson was three words long: see me eat. Miriam was not impressed.

"That's not even a story!" she pouted.

We're on Lesson 45 now and our stories are a lot more complicated and story-like. Yesterday we did Lesson 41 and the story we read went like this:
A fish ate a rock. The fish said, "I ate a rock." A cow ate the fish. The cow said, "I ate a fish. And now I feel sick."
This prompted a rather lengthy discussion at the dinner table where many unsolvable questions were posed, not the least of which were why a fish would eat a rock and why a cow would eat a fish.*

While Rachel and I were waiting for the bus this morning (for a half hour) she said, "Oh, Mom, I finished writing that story we were talking about at dinner last night. I just wanted to kind of make the story make sense—you know, clarify it—because it was kind of a silly story. It took like a page and a half to make it good. It's in my journal if you want to read it."
Ther was onese a fish who ate a rock. A cow ate the fish who ate the rock. The cow ate a hors who ate the fish who ate the rock. The cow ate a bee and a fla. The bee ate the fla. The cow ate a pig and a wig. The pig ate the wig. The wow cow ate a bee and a tree! I do know why the cow ate the fish. Do you? The bee ate the tree. The cow ate a cat and a dog. The dog ate the cat. A persan ate the big fat cow. 
The end.
Clarification. Nailed it.

* perhaps the fish was a parrot fish, who eats rocks and poops sand. And perhaps the cow in the story was among the 15% of cows this guy claims eat ground up fish.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Working on costumes

As I mentioned in Miriam's birthday post, we spent all of yesterday afternoon working on Halloween costumes. Miriam's dressing up as Queen Lucy of Narnia. Benjamin's dressing up as a penguin.

Miriam was trying to explain to him about waddling but he just wasn't getting it so she stole his hat so she could demonstrate this skill. He still didn't get it. I told her that toddling is similar enough to waddling that Benjamin would make a fine penguin.


Miriam's (almost) four!

Due to extenuating circumstances we celebrated Miriam's birthday a day early, which meant that I spent the entire day scrambling to get things ready. Miriam and I started on the cake right after breakfast, while Benjamin sat on his chair and watched.


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Grandma Sharon

We were sitting in sacrament meeting this morning when Andrew passed me his phone. It was a message from his dad, sent just after we'd finished the sacrament (and received while Andrew was in the hall helping Rachel with her nose): "Sharon has been hospitalized with a serious case of septic shock and will likely die in the next few hours, if not sooner. We will keep you all posted. She was fine up until Thursday. Hospitalized late Friday night and will die today, They are only keeping her alive for Judy to arrive at 1:00."

At the beginning of the month Grandma Sharon had called the family together to tell them she'd been diagnosed with lung cancer, but that the tumour was thought to be contained, and that she'd be having surgery to have it removed. She asked all the Heiss boys to give her a blessing, and they did so. She went through with the surgery and it went wonderfully. Doctors were able to remove the entire tumour and after a few tests concluded that she would have no need of any follow-up therapy (no chemo, no radiation). It was a breeze, all things considered.

She came home on October 11th and spent the next little while recovering. This weekend, I guess, she was feeling well enough to head out to Park City, where she and Grandpa Frank often go to get away from it all, for a post-operation vacation. But Friday night she took a turn for the worse and by last night her bodily systems were shutting down one by one.

Her daughter lives in Louisiana, and had only just gone home after flying out to Utah for the lung cancer operation. We were all feeling so blessed that she'd had such an easy surgery and recovery. And then...this. It was quite the surprise.

I was thinking about her while the choir was singing More Holiness Give Me. I think Sharon embodied this song well. She spent her life striving for more. At seventy-two years of age, she was one of the busiest people I knew!

Frank and Sharon served a mission in Lebanon about ten years ago; they left for their second mission to Germany in 2006 and were terribly disappointed to miss the birth of their first great-grandchild but charmed us with stories of their travels through the region they were over (they were in charge of training Senior Missionary Couples serving in Albania, Croatia, Moldova, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria—in fact, they became so well-known in the region that we could hardly attend church anywhere without people asking us if we knew them; even our pediatrician in Egypt (who was a muslim-partner with the church's neonatal resuscitation program) knew who they were). They came home in May of 2008 and we met them at the airport.

Even after traveling for a full day, Sharon was so excited to see her family:

Rachel's giving a talk today

What's really embarrassing is that I'm in charge of scheduling talks for primary as well as sending out reminders and I completely forgot to do so for this week until last night at 11:30 so this morning I was scrambling with my own child to write a talk for primary today. Rachel's topic was how sharing your testimony can strengthen it. This is what we came up with:
In a talk in general conference, President Cecil O. Samuelson said, “teaching someone else what we know [about the gospel] strengthens our own testimony as we build that of another.” If you have two cookies and you share one of the cookies you will only have one cookie left, but if you share the recipe for the cookies then everyone can have more cookies. Like sharing a recipe, sharing your testimony doesn’t make your testimony smaller. It makes it get bigger!
 President Samuelson explained that we gain a testimony when we listen, read, study, or ponder about the gospel and then ask if it is true. When we try to share the gospel by bearing our testimony that makes us think about the gospel and what it means to us, which can help strengthen our testimony.
 In Doctrine & Covenants 1:20–21, it says, “that every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world; that faith might increase on the earth.”
 I hope that we can have the courage and faith it takes to share the recipe of the gospel—our testimonies—with others so that faith can increase on the earth.
 I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
President Samuelson's talk can be found here. D&C 1:20–21 is here. And we also thought about using D&C 50:22 (but thought D&C 1 went along with our cookie analogy a little better).

Let this be a lesson to me to be better about sending out reminders earlier in the week.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Paint, Popcorn, Mantises, and other things

Rachel brought home some beautiful pieces of artwork this week. If there's one thing I'm loving about this school year (and I'm not loving one thing about this school year—I'm loving many things) it's that the flow of papers coming home has slowed to a trickle. It's glorious. I mean, we're still drowning in paper over here just not anything like we were before. Those pieces of artwork, however, inspired Miriam to paint.

I let her nag me about it for a couple of days before getting everything set up for her. That way she felt like it was really special, right? Painting is just so messy that I tend to put it off until my children act like I'm ruining their childhood. And perhaps I am.

Miriam and Benjamin had such fun painting together...


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Sunday: Church and Beech Mountain

On Sunday morning we woke up, scrambled to disassemble camp, ate breakfast, prettied up, and made it to church on time. This is huge for us considering we're usually rushing out the door on an ordinary Sunday and church was a full hour earlier than the time our home ward meets at!


The second speaker of the meeting was Brother Boone, a convert of twenty-seven years. He joked about how nervous he was (and I believe his nervousness was genuine) to speak in such a "large ward," saying that he had always been in small branches previously, so standing in front of so many people to speak was terrifying, though he admitted it had its perks (such as not having to speak as often since there were more people to take turns).

Andrew and I looked at each other in astonishment. This church building is a "mini" building. The chapel was about the size of our nursery (which we only use for half our kids (the other half are in the cultural hall because there's so darn many of them)). Andrew counted up the chairs (they didn't even have proper pews, just folding chairs) and there were 122 chairs in the room (and not all of them were filled, either).


He gave a wonderful talk, though, about temples and the sanctification found therein. He told about when their family was preparing to be sealed together for time and eternity. At the time the nearest temple was the DC temple (at any rate, that was their destination), which meant several hours of travel time. He took a half day from work on Friday so that they could travel, but as he was driving home through the canyon his car broke down. He had to walk over a mile to find a place with a pay phone so that he could call his wife to tell her the situation. She asked what they were going to do and he asked her to just pack up the kids and pick him up on the side of the road; they'd leave the car there and call a tow truck. He said that he couldn't care less about the car at that moment because he so strongly desired the blessings of the temple and the privilege of being sealed to his family.

That particular car of his is likely long gone (though he didn't ever tell us what happened to the car) but his sweet family was sitting right there listening to him. I was impressed with how much he was willing to sacrifice in order to attend the temple. And to think that I've bemoaned how far the temple is from where we live now (less than an hour) and how difficult it is to find a babysitter (when I've had multiple offers from people to take our kids so we can go).

It was a good meeting. Benjamin wandered around climbing onto strangers' laps (which is unusual behavior for him) and stealing everyone's programs. I think the whole room was smitten with him. And if not, well, they were sure obliging him well.

We didn't head straight home from church; we went on a picnic first with the hope that we could just fill up our tummies, tucker the children out, and drive straight home. At the suggestion of a friend (hi, Suzanne!) we headed up Beech Mountain. Our GPS, once again, wasn't quite sure how to get us where we wanted to go but after winding our way along a gravel road we were eventually spat out in the correct location.


Destination: Buckeye Recreation Center in Beech Mountain. Beech Mountain is the "highest incorporated community east of the Mississippi" (at 5,506 feet above sea level).

They have a nice park up there in the boonies, with a beautiful hiking trail, and an amazing recreation center. I asked Andrew how such a small community ever managed to build something like that. His answer was, "Long term municipal bond."

My answer to that was, "Yeah, I suppose I'd be willing to be taxed for thirty years so that I could have something for my kids to do out here!"

In truth, they did some fundraising and they have user fees as well, but we're pretty sure their funds included a municipal bond as well.

Before the girls changed into play clothes we snapped a few pictures of them in their Sunday clothes (Benjamin napped through all of this):









Once they'd changed, we set them loose on the playground, which was really pretty cool...


...not to mention picturesque. We just couldn't get over our surroundings! Rachel asked if we could just stay there forever (and I don't blame her). I joked with Andrew that he could get a job at AppState but it was only a joke because I'm rather fond of straight roads, street lights, and having a grocery store less than ten minutes away. Also, I'm a fan of sunshine and hot summers...so...




Look who woke up from his nap!


The kids had so much fun playing that they had a hard time eating their lunch (especially Rachel).



They had a treehouse in the middle of the play structure (which Rachel loved because it was "just like Jack and Annie's," aka The Magic Treehouse) with a long slide as an exit. Benjamin loved the slide so much! He probably went down it twenty times, if not more!





Miriam was only brave enough to climb the ladder once and it probably took her a good ten minutes to make it to the top. Once she was up she chirped, "And now I can finally go down the slide!" She had a lot of fun swinging on the various rope apparatuses at the playground and, we learned, actually knows how to pump on the swing fairly well.



Here are Andrew and Rachel playing together:



Here's Benjamin in one of the swings:


And Miriam and Rachel playing chicken:


There was a hammock swing that all the kids thought was a blast. Rachel and Miriam took turn after turn but Benjamin, though he wasn't impressed with the swing when he had to share it with Miriam, took more turns than anybody.


He loved it!




I think Rachel had almost as much fun pushing Benjamin as she did swinging herself:



Eventually I insisted we get going on that hike we wanted to take. We didn't actually know where it led or how long it was, but we started on it, anyway. Andrew even wore his Sunday shoes because, he insisted, it was a city trail so it should be well maintained.


It wasn't. I mean, it's not like it was a horrible trail. It's just that it was a trail...in the mountains...so, it was a little rugged, municipality or not. The hike was beautiful.


Picking an activity to do on the Sabbath was difficult because although we weren't quite ready to go home (we didn't want to drive in the dark on Saturday because the roads aren't as well lit as we'd like) until Sunday we also wanted to honour the Lord's day. For us this meant that we couldn't go any place where we paid for a service (thus the picnic rather than a restaurant and a free hike rather than a touristy hike). In my house going to the park as a family was always a perfectly acceptable sabbath day activity and nature walks weren't entirely uncommon either. My mom has always said that appreciating nature isn't a sin (perhaps not in those words). Of course, these things always happened in conjunction with our church meetings because we believe church attendance is important.

I guess Andrew and I are still finding that balance of what keeping the sabbath day holy means in our house, merging what he was taught in his home with what I was taught in my home with what we're currently learning from church leaders, the spirit, and the Lord, as Elder Faust said, "the divine mandate of Sabbath day observance in our day is now more of a manifestation of individual devotion and commitment rather than a requirement of civil law," so throw no stones.*

Anyway, my point is that we went to church, same as always, and then enjoyed the mountains for a while longer before we went home (not unlike a couple years ago in Grover). We even got home in time to skype with our families (which is our usual Sabbath activity but was a lot of fun this particular Sunday because my sister Kelli and her boys were at my parents house to celebrate her birthday and because Karen was in Colorado visiting Aunt Linda and Uncle Trevor (who is still in the hospital; we got to see his new wheelchair and he got to tell silly jokes to the girls)).


Rachel, Andrew, and Benjamin were often so far ahead of me and Miriam on the trail that it seemed we were playing one long game of Marco-Polo, though we did manage to catch up with them a couple of times.





This is how Miriam chose to walk when I reminded her that we needed to be on the lookout for poison ivy:



Her little hands were glued to her sides (and notice those cute jeans? My friend C. (who is all about clothing kids for cheap) mailed them to us after she saw that picture of Miriam holding up her pants from a couple of weeks ago (she has a daughter around Miriam's age whose pants drawer was overflowing (and she's one of the most thoughtful people alive))).

The kids needed many reminders to not touch foliage until they'd ensured it wasn't poisonous. They couldn't get enough of the leaves!



At one point they both were running down the trail flapping a set of leaves like they had wings. Rachel gave up on that game much sooner than Miriam, who was spinning and flapping through the forest, singing a song about how she was a fairy princess until she had another brilliant idea.


She could transform herself into an Indian Princess! She stuffed leaves in all of her pockets (for decorative feathers) and was sure she was pretty cute stuff.



At one point I set the camera up at the top of some stairs so that we could get a family shot:


You can see that by this time Rachel had joined in Miriam's Indian Princess game.

We soon came to our first waterfall (which, I suppose, is why this is called Falls Trail). Rachel decided it should be called Fairy Falls (I don't actually know if it has a name). It sure was beautiful!







We hiked a little farther until we got to another waterfall. Andrew was already standing out on the slippery rocks by the time the girls and I reached the footbridge.


Rachel climbed farther out into the falls (which was really just a stream running down a rock than an actual waterfall) and found the rocks to be incredibly slippery.


"Whoa, whoa, whoa! Be careful, Dad!" she warned Andrew. "It's slippery!"


I'm not sure why she chose to warn him about this since he wasn't even in the same area she was but as soon as this warning escaped her lips...Andrew slipped. And, yes, Benjamin was on his shoulders. And, yes, the world suddenly stopped spinning and we were all thrown into the weird slow-motion dimension that accidents seem to take on.

Andrew knew he was going down and managed to catch his fall with his elbows (while still holding Benjamin's ankles). After he hit the ground (hard) he let go of Benjamin and Benjamin fell off Andrew's shoulders and landed on the rock beside him.

Andrew had picked Benjamin up and was cuddling him into his chest by the time I reached them, just a split second later.

"Give me the baby," I said.

"No!" Andrew said, very defensively. "I've got him! He's fine!"

"I know he's fine," I soothed. "But you're kneeling in a puddle of water and need to get up. Hand him to me."

I was on dry rock and didn't want either of us carrying the baby on the slick rock anymore. We were very fortunate, however. Other than a couple of sore elbows for Andrew and a wee bump on Benjamin's noggin, everyone was fine. I gave Benjamin back to Andrew after Andrew got onto dry ground again because he needed to see that Benjamin was fine.


He was a little upset about life, but he was just fine. Andrew miraculously took the brunt of the fall on his elbows. 

"I was imagining brains spilled all over the rock before I looked up!" Andrew said, breathing a sigh of relief.

I've been reassuring him for the past couple of days that Benjamin is just fine. He didn't even get a bruise from his little tumble. Just yesterday he tripped in the kitchen and knocked his head on the windowsill. That left a bruise (and caused a whole lot more crying).

Andrew showed me this video today. We both thought it was funny:



Anyway, after that fall, Andrew decided it was time to head home. We didn't know how far we'd come or how much longer the trail went on for (turns out it's between 1 and 1.5 miles long and I don't think we even made it halfway) and wanted to be sure to hit the road with plenty of time to get home before dark (and the sun is setting by 6:30 nowadays).

Miriam was tired, so I carried her while Andrew carried Benjamin. It was quite the workout, going up the mountain carrying a three-year-old (as opposed to how it had been walking down the mountain carrying nobody).


Benjamin decided he wanted to walk the last little bit of the trail:


And with that we said goodbye to the beautiful mountains and set the course for home!


Unfortunately, our GPS doesn't quite know what to do with these small Appalachian roads and we got hopelessly lost. Andrew once again handed me the map (on his iPhone...so we still had a GPS dot telling me where we were) and asked me to get us off the blasted mountain. Our GPS simply couldn't discern between private (and gated closed) roads and public roads so we kept finding ourselves at dead ends. Beech Mountain is like a corn maze—only it's a city. Good luck navigating that:


I finally got us to 184, which is a main road (because it's a highway) and we were able to follow it out of Beech Mountain and onto the highway we needed to be on. Along the way, though, we got a lovely tour of the mountain homes in Beech Mountain (which are all much swankier than the homes we saw in Tennessee), some deer, and most exciting of all...


...we got to drive through a cloud. Rachel was on cloud nine (pardon my pun) and asked that I take a picture.

"Of what? Of you?" I asked.

"No! Of us in the cloud!" she said.

So here she is, driving through a cloud:


Of course, you can't really tell that she's in a cloud but she'll know she was in a cloud. And she'll know it was awesome.

We had a pretty decent drive home. Both Benjamin and Miriam fell asleep (I think; though I can't be positive about Miriam anymore) for a while but when Benjamin woke up he was not happy. After he cried for about and hour straight, Andrew stopped somewhere and demanded that everyone get out of the car to go potty. He took the girls in and I attempted to nurse Benjamin (because that usually makes him happy) but instead of nursing he stubbornly communicated that what he actually needed was a romp outside. So we walked around the parking lot until the rest of the family returned from the toilets and Benjamin—though unwilling to get back in his car seat—was a much happier boy for the rest of the trip (meaning that he didn't scream bloody murder the whole way home and only loudly complained).

And that was it—the end of fall break. 

I think I did about nine loads of laundry on Monday and I still have a lot of work to do to put away all the camping gear. Andrew helped last night with a lot of stuff but he's been so busy paying the piper for our little adventure that we've hardly seen him since Sunday night. He was completely shut up in his office all day Monday and all day Tuesday (like, seriously all day—as in 8 AM until midnight, only emerging for meals) and yesterday I didn't even see him until 5:30 PM when the kids and I got home from the library. We had dinner together and then he left for campus (with the girls) for a review session for stats while I went to a primary meeting (with Benjamin). Neither party got home until just before 10 PM and then Andrew did homework until midnight and I saw him for about five minutes this morning. So...while camping was worth it, the catch up from camping has been a little bit of a shock to our well-vacationed systems.

* I suppose I'm riled up about the observance of the Sabbath by a comment made to me by someone (about someone else) that I thought amounted to stone-throwing. We are all sinners: "slide over and make some room" at the table.