Monday, October 28, 2013

The Pumpkin Patch Express

It was another busy weekend at our house.  Brian and I were talking yesterday and realized that we have some major event or outing almost every weekend between now and New Years.  It's going to be a tough stretch until January in our house.  The up side is that our kids are having lots of new experiances and fun in the process. 
This weekend's activities included tagging along with Daddy to Birmingham for the weekend.  Brian had to do his drill weekend for the National Guard, and when Grammers asked if the kids and I would come down too so that she and Papa Garo could take them to the Heart of Dixie Railroad's Pumpkin Patch Express we gladly accepted the invitation.  The railroad museum in Calera, Alabama does a 6 mile train ride out to a small pumpkin patch area they have set up for the kids.  While it wasn't a pumpkin farm like we have near our house, the train aspect made it equally fun.  In some ways it was even better for little ones because there weren't a bunch of vines to trip over when you were looking for your pumpkin.  Friday afternoon we packed up what felt like half our house (traveling with 2 small kiddos takes massive ammounts of equipment), loaded the car, and drove down for the weekend. 
Saturday morning we got up and headed over to ride the train.  Eli was in love from the beginning.  When we got to the rail yard Eli pointed at all the trains and said "Big Truck".  Well, not exactly, Little Buddy, but you're close.  We talked about the fact that it was a Choo Choo not a truck and pretty soon, Eli was Choo Choo-ing all over the place.  When we got on the train, Eli kept asking to see "more Choo Choo".  I don't think he understood that we were inside the train. 
It was still cool out so we sat inside a car on the way out to the Pumpkin Patch.  This was pretty much the view of Eli the entire ride out.  
When one of the workers offered to take a picture, we couldn't get Eli to turn around.  He was still looking for more Choo Choos. 

 I finally managed to get a picture of Eli's face, but I had to use a pretty wild camera angle to get it.  He loved looking out the window at the trees and things going by. 

When we got out to the pumpkin patch, they had all kinds of free activities set up for the kids.  The only thing you had to pay extra for was food or picking your pumpkin to take home.  Eli got off the train and spotted the bubbles.  Bubbles are probably his second favorite thing in the whole world (they fall right behind chocolate chip cookies).  So we went over to the bubble table and played for a few minutes. 

After the bubbles we found some haybails and corn stalks to sit by for a quick picture or two.  Ava was all about sitting here and taking pictures while she investigated the pumpkin.  Eli took a little more convincing, but we finally got one or two really good pictures. 

Pretty soon, Eli spotted the "BIIIIIIGGG Pumpkin" and we had to go investigate it. 

In typical Eli fashion, he wanted to look but not touch.  So it wasn't long before we headed off to do the hayride.  It was just about a 5 minute ride through a little wooded area, but it was pulled by a tractor, so Eli was game for riding.

In addition to the hayride and the bubble station they had a pumpkin coloring page station, a bouncy house, and bean bag toss.  We skipped those things because the kids weren't quite big enough for those yet so we just settled into a sunny spot on the grass to enjoy the warm day while Eli decided which one he wanted to take home.  I think the lack of vines to fall over helped him to enjoy this pumpkin patch more.  He was ready to pick them up, sit on them, and roll them around so that he could find just the right pumpkin. Ava enjoyed the pretty day and watching her big brother play with the pumpkins. 

Eventually, Eli found just the pumkin he wanted.  It was almost time for the train to leave, so we bagged it up to take home. 

 As we were leaving, Sally the Scarecrow stopped to take a picture with us.  Eli wasn't sure about Sally holding our baby, but Ava loved Sally's funny hair and big grin. 

On the way back to the train station, we rode in an outside car.  Eli loved it even more than an inside car and wanted to stand up like Papa Garo and the big boys sitting next to us.  So I let him stand in front of me while he held onto the railing and I held onto him.  The outside car was loud.  You could hear the breaks squeeling and the train clicking and everything was loud enough that it was hard to talk to someone sitting right next to you.  Well all that noise didn't bother Ava one bit.  I looked up and saw her sleeping away as if nothing in the world could bother her. 

Before we could get back to Grammers and Papa Garo's house, we had two kiddos who had come very close to being asleep.  Once we got in the house, everyone perked back up and was ready for lunch.  We had a great rest of the day including a big family supper, playtime with our cousin Harley, and some football to watch.  We stayed the night again Saturday night and Sunday afternoon headed home.  By bedtime, all four of us were exhausted.  Ava was asleep by 7pm, Eli was fast asleep by 7:45, and Brian turned out the light around 9.  I had some work to do before I could get to sleep, but I in the bed and asleep by 9:30.  None of us were really happy about getting up this morning, but we did get up and out of the house.  I hope that the kiddos are having a good day at daycare today and aren't too cranky after a super busy weekend.  It wouldn't surprise me if they were a little irritable, but maybe they'll save all that for Mom and Dad instead of inflicting it on people who had nothing to do with the reason they are tired. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Dear Ava, Mommy doesn't really do it all...

I've been reading a lot lately about what we mothers want to teach our daughters.  How we can encourage them to grow into strong independent young women who understand how to strike that delicate balance between home, work, and self.  I've yet to master it, but I'm trying.

Since someday my children may look back on this blog (or I hope someday I'll scrapbook most of the posts), I feel it is necessary to remove the veil of the internet and show a little bit of what our life is really like right this minute. 

So with that preface, I wish to write an open letter to my daughter. 

Dear Ava,

Right now I realize that you are just 6 months old and you are unaware of all the pressures that exist in life.  That is such a blessing for you and I promise to work to keep it that way as long as possible.  But some day you will learn how busy life can be and someday when you are a young wife and mother you will undoubtably feel the pressure to build a perfect life for your family. 

I hope that you are as blessed as I am to have the opportunity to find a career you love, a wonderful home, a loving husband, and beautiful children who bring laughter into your days.  All these things have their merits but all are extremely time consuming.  Balance can be difficult to find and, at times, balance is impossible.  There will be days where you have to put one thing before the others out of necessity.  But most days, you will work to find time for all of them.  Set your priorities and then tackle as many things as possible.  The rest can wait until another day. 

I'm afraid that as you look through the pictures Daddy and I have taken of your childhood, you may get the impression that our house was always neat and clean, you kiddos were always happy, and we spent hours every day playing and rolling in the floor together.  Well, sometimes those things are true, ususally only part of those things are ture, and sometimes none of it is true.  Life is just like that.  I don't really like for others to see our home when it looks messy or to see pictures of you and Eli playing in the floor next to the 3 mushed up crackers that have been ground into the carpet.  Those things are definately there; I just don't let them show up in pictures if I can help it. 

I always try to put you kiddos first.  That means that frequently, the laundry goes unfolded, the carpets unvacuumed, and the dust is an inch thick.  But  you and Eli are always clean, fed, and as happy as we can make you. After the two of you go to bed, I try to do the other not-fun things around the house.  Sometimes I still have energy and get lots done, and othertimes I'm dead tired so I just fall in the bed myself.  The day to day survival is tough, little girl.  I know this and remember this because it is my existance at this moment, but someday all that will be left are the memories of my smiling happy children who enjoyed their playtime with Mom and Dad more than they would have enjoyed a clean floor to play in.  When you reach this hectic, crazy, wild, and stressful state of life, know that you will survive and that all those chores will be there another day.  Your children (like you and your brother) will grow very quickly.  Those precious days where you are looked upon as the best most wonderful playmate in the world are numbered.  So when you worry that you need to do all the laundry, vacuum the floor, and dust the furniture, stop worrying and go enjoy your children.  Then when they go to bed get really good at using photoshop so that you can share pictures of those precious early years with family and friends.   Delete the originals.  In time you won't remember the dirty house.  All you'll see are the beautiful memories of playtime with those who bring joy to your heart.


In the spirit of honesty about how I live my life, I'm going to show you something that I work very hard to hide: my dirty house.  I'm doing this in hopes of encouraging all the other mommies that I know who are in the same boat that I'm in.  None of us are perfect, none of us can do everything, and most of us have homes that probably look like this more often than we care to admit.  These are some of the before/after examples of the types of photo-shopped pictures that I share on this blog. 

I do this editing mostly for me... I don't want to look back and remember my dirty house, I just want to remember my wonderful children.  This way, I don't have to. To find the unedited pictures I had to go all the way back to the memory card on my camera (which I never delete).  I have a copy of all my finished pictures on my hard drive that I carry with me almost all the time.  Those are the ones I pull up to share and look at when I'm in a picture mood.

I call these tricks digially cleaning my house! It's amazing what you can achieve with the right photo-editing software.

Lesson 1: Cropping can solve a multitude of problems.  It's usually where I start.
Before - Cluttered House, Cute Kid!
Cropping and digitally removing the shoes under the cofee table. Couldn't get rid of the folded clothes on the table, but it's much, much better.

More cropping and a tired unhappy whiney little boy = a picture that never made it to the blog.

After: Simple cropping helped but couldn't put a smile on Eli's face.
Lesson 2: The healing brush tool is your friend!  That is a tool that basically covers up things you don't want with an image similar to the surrounding area.. I use this after I crop away as much as possible.
Before: The makings of a great picture if only it had been taken in a clean house
After:  Cropping and digitally covering the clutter with carpet.


After: Cropped just a little and then digitally edited out the cracker crumbs and mess.

This is probably the most digital cleaning I've ever had to do.  It was a couple days before the consignment sale, and I was way behind on laundry.  After Eli went to bed I actually (not digitally) cleaned up the mess.  But to get that week's picture I had to take it when the mess was still there. 
Before: There is no way that I would have even opened the door if someone showed up.  We'd have hidden in the bedroom until they gave up and left.
After:  A digitally cleaned home.  Cropping and then digitally removing the clutter.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Eli - 1 year, 40 weeks & Ava - 25 weeks

Last weekend Brian and I had to make a one night trip to Chattanooga for the wedding of a beautiful friend.  The wedding was fun as well as gorgeous and we really enjoyed a night without the kids.  While we were off celebrating the marriage of our friends, Eli and Ava stayed home with Brian's Mom and Granny.  We are so blessed to have family who are willing to drive 2 hours just to babysit for us for a night. 
We had a beautiful drive back on Sunday morning and fully expected to get home and spend the rest of the day playing with our kiddos.  But it doesn't really pay us to plan at all.  The weather forecast was calling for our first frost late this week so that meant that we had to go to my Mom's to help get all the plants in the greenhouse for the winter. 
So our wild weekend got a little bit crazier as we spent Sunday afternoon trying to wrangle two kiddos while we helped get plants in the greenhouse.  After Ava's nap, we dressed the kiddos for being outside including putting Eli in his overalls.  We couldn't get Eli to nap before we left, so we drove slow on the way over so that he could get in about a 30 minute nap.  At one point I looked into the back seat and found this... I loved looking back and seeing a cute little boy in his overalls and baseball cap asleep in the car. 

After we had the greenhouse up and running, we ate supper and then came home to get everyone ready for bed.  The rest of the week was less eventful than our weekend, but as I've said before, Eli is entering the terrible twos a few months early.  We learn lessons nightly about doing what Mom and Dad say, not throwing our food when we're mad, not pitching a fit, etc.  It's a challenging time and we are frequently called "Mean Mama" and "Mean Daddy".  I hope that means that we are doing something right, but it is so tough.  It isn't that Eli is bad, he is just a toddler with as fierce a temper as well as a large independent streak. If he can learn to control the temper the independent streak will serve him well. 
Ava rolls with the flow a little better than Eli so I'm greatful to have one lower mainenance child.  She is still in that incredibly adorable age where she is all giggles and exploration.  I hope that as she grows she keeps her easy going personality, but I'm afraid she may outgrow it.  She is beginning to express her opinion about things like Mom leaving her with Dad to go cook supper.  She loves Daddy, but when we get home she believes that it is time for her Mommy to hold her.  That can be tough sometimes when both kiddos want Mom, but we work it out.  Sometimes Ava helps me cook by sitting in the Bumbo seat while I cook supper and Eli and Daddy play.  Those are really good nights but those only tend to happen when we get home really early or when Ava has just eaten when we pick her up from daycare.  Other nights are slightly more challenging. 

The Pumpkin Patch

A week or two ago, we took Eli and Ava to the Pumpkin Patch.  Right now, neither are really big enough to appreciate it, but Eli loves to look at the plastic pumpkins outside his daycare, so we thought we'd go anyway. 

When we first got there, we went through the petting zoo.  Eli loved to look at the animals (especially the pigs) but definately didn't want to pet them.  What he did want to touch and explore was the giant Thomas the Train painting outside the barn.  Eli is suddenly developing a love for the "choo choo".  He loves his train book and train toy. 

After the train, Eli wanted to swing and slide (both things that we have in the back yard at home).  We did that for a really long time.  But it was what Eli wanted to do, so we went with it.

While Eli was swinging and sliding and exploring the playground, Ava was having fun watching from the stroller.  I think she enjoyed watching all the other kiddos playing on a beautiful Saturday afternoon.  

After the swing and the slide, Eli found the duck races.  Eli loves rubber ducks so this was a HUGE hit.  We stayed there a while too and even came back once after we walked away for a few minutes.  But this was covered up in kids wanted to pump the handles to race the ducks and Eli wasn't tall enough to see it without being held.  At 32 lbs, it isn't long before Mom and Dad wear out from holding him so we decided it was time to go see the pumpkins. 

We went and got in line to take a "hayride" (no hay but benches to sit on) out to the pumkin field.  Ava finally got a chance to get out of the stroller and she was having a blast stretching and laughing and playing.   Then she realiized that we were moving and she started looking around.

Eli loved watching the tractor pull us and looking out the side to see all the pumpkins going by.  He was so interested that we couldn't even get him to look at Daddy for a picture with Mama.

Eli found good and bad things about the pumpkin patch.  The good thing was that he could touch as many pumpkins as he wanted.  The bad thing was the he kept tripping over the vines as he tried to run from one to the next. 

Ava enjoyed watching Eli run and looking at all of the people.  It was a really beautiful day and she enjoyed every second of being outside on the last really warm day of the year.

We asked Eli if he wanted to pick out a pumpking and he tought about it and even picked out a couple of rotten ones.  But eventually, we were all tired from our big afternoon out.  When I asked Eli if he wanted to leave the pumpkins there and go home he said, "Bye Punkins!" so we got back on the hayride and rode back to the main area. 

We walked through the petting zoo one last time and then headed to the car. Eli was tired and Ava was ready for a bottle. Before we could get home (a 15 minute ride), Ava was screaming for food and Eli had wiped out the last of the juice we had with us. So it was good that we left when we did. It was a fun afternoon, but it was definatley time to go home. We had just enough time left in the day to have supper and watch some Mickey Mouse before bed. 

Eli - 1 year, 39 weeks & Ava - 24 weeks

I'm almost 2 weeks behind in sharing pictures.  To say that things have been hectic would be an understatement.  Work has been insane and Eli is working is way into the terrible twos early.  To top it all off we had a wedding last weekend so Brian and I spent the night in Chattanooga while Eli and Ava stayed home with Grammers and Granny Reba.  The wedding was beautiful and the night away was definately good for us, but in our already crazy world the added chaos of an unusual weekend can throw things into a bit of a tailspin.  We all survived none-the-less. 

Even as he enters the terrible twos, Eli is still just about the sweetest big brother I could ever hope for.  When he gets up in the morning if Ava is with me, he'll say "Baby!" and rub her head.  If Ava is still sleeping when he gets up, he asks "Baby?" and when I tell him that she is still sleeping he says "giid er" (tranlsation: get her).  I ususally try to put him off until I'm ready and when I finally tell him that we can go get Ava he runs excitedly to her cradle in our room and peers over to see her.  We are still unable to convince Eli that Ava has a name other than "Baby".  He knows who we mean when we say "Ava" but he won't even attempt to say it. 

The other day we had another occurance of Eli deciding that he wanted to hold "Baby".  So I took the opportunity to snap a few photos of them together.  I think Ava loves Eli almost as much as he loves her.  She watches him and laughs at him when he is being silly.  She also tollerates him rolling all over her and bumping into her as he crawls around in circles around her.  I'm sometimes convinced that he is hurting her but she just giggles and enjoys the contact with her big brother. 

So while Eli is busy running and playing and being everywhere at once, Ava has begun to really explore her world.  She can now roll completely across the living room (though I don't know yet if it is on purpose or not) and she is constantly reaching for things which almost immediately enter her mouth.   Yes, things are about to get really interesting with two on the move and into things.  I'm not certain right now how we'll keep up, but I know that we'll figure it out. 

I would love to say that Ava can't make Eli mad either.... but I can't say that.  Eli is somewhat possessive of his toys and food and things.  Sometimes, in her effort to explore, Ava will grab a toy that Eli left nearby (not that he is actively playing with it).  This causes Eli great distress and usually results in whining and grumbling and an attempted lesson in sharing.  Eli sometimes even says "NO, Baby!" and wants to snatch his toy back.  In our house that isn't acceptable behavior so Ava usually gets the toy back and Eli has to find another toy to play with. That doesn't always satisfy Eli as an answer so we sometimes also get to learn a lesson about not pitching fits when we don't get our way. Sweet Ava takes all this in stride and rarely seems to have a complaint about any of it.  Toy or no toy, it doesn't matter to her.  And she watches Eli's fit with a look as if to say, "What is his problem?"  Let's hope that she keeps that attitude.