Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Washington State Trip Days 1-4

In October, we took a family trip to Washington state. We went on the amtrak train which was quite the adventure.

Day 1 - Thursday, Oct. 20th, 2011
We got on the train late on the night of the 20th. I think our departure time was supposed to be 11:15 pm, but we didn't pull out of the station until 11:45 or so. We rented the family sleeper suite. Suite is an exaggeration. The room measured 5'2" by 9'5" and that was with the beds up. With the beds (two lower and two upper berths) down there was enough room for one person to be standing. It was small and old, but we had chosen this method of traveling for the experience. As soon as we got on the train, we tried to get settled and to sleep. The boys were excited so going to sleep wasn't the easiest thing to do. The first few hours were spent shivering as our car was super cold (and blowing right on my head) and we couldn't get the heat to work or anyone attend to it (shout out to having an old train car). Finally they seemed to figure it out and we got some sleep.

Day 2 - Friday, Oct. 21, 2011
We got up fairly early which was expected with children and the fact that they started announcing stops again sometime around 6:30 a.m. Since we purchased a sleeping car fare (which was essentially the same cost as flying or the cost of driving - with meals, gas, hotels, wear and tear on the vehicle, etc.), all of our meals were included, so we headed up to the dining car early. We were able to order whatever we wanted off the menu and breakfast was a good meal to eat on the train.

We were in the western part of North Dakota by then, I think and while the scenery wasn't thrilling, Paul and the boys did see a female moose. After breakfast, Paul and I took showers, which was an interesting experience - it was actually not as bad as I anticipated and cleaner than the toilets. (FYI - there is one shower in each sleeping car and about 4 bathrooms. The sleeping car can hold approximately 20-25 people, I think.) We spent most of the day in our sleeping car. We had brought the dvd player for the boys and in between meals, naps, getting off the train at a couple of stops to walk around, and dealing with my motion sickness, the day went fairly quickly and we were all ready for bed early after such an late night the night previous.

Day 3
We woke up while it was still dark and we were in the mountains. At breakfast we were in a long tunnel and when we finally got out, we were in the Cascade Mountain range. It was overcast and rainy so we couldn't see much. We were scheduled to be in Seattle at 1o:15. Soon after getting out of the moutains, the train track was right along Puget Sound. This was everyone's first view of the Pacific Ocean (except Paul who is more well-traveled than the rest of us) and there were some cool sights. With our impending arrival, we were getting VERY anxious to be off the train.

Seattle's train station is interesting. There is NO parking other than a few spaces for loading and unloading. With four large bags, three car seats, plus backpacks and such, we were full loaded. We hoped the car rental place would pick us up with a van so we could all go get our rental car, but that was not the case. So Paul went as much luggage as he could, while the boys and I and the rest of our stuff hung out at the train station. Once Paul got back with the rental car, we were off. It was lunch (Jack in the Box - nothing to get excited about) in the car so Caleb could nap. We headed towards Kelso where our first night's hotel was. The plan was to spend the rest of day getting to the hotel with maybe some sightseeing. The following day we would visit Mount St. Helens.

On the way to Kelso, we stopped to get me some coffee and saw a sign for a Mt. St. Helen's visitors center. Coming from MN, visitor's centers in state parks and such are nice and usually free. This visitor's center was nice, but not free and was not really catering to the ages of our children, so after using the (free) restrooms, we took the trail there which gave us a nice view of Silver Lake. It was an overcast day so there was no view of Mt. St. Helens. (The volcano itself was 30 miles away), but the trail was nice and it felt wonderful to walk after being cooped up on the train for so long.

Caleb - 21 months old today!

After that it was not much farther to our hotel. It was a Guesthouse Inn and Suites, a place we have never stayed at before and it was nice. When we book hotel rooms, we always try for a king size bed since Caleb sleeps with us and a sofa sleeper for Ethan and Elijah. This room actually had a king size bed and a separate bedroom with bunk beds for the boys. I personally enjoyed sleeping on the train (I had the biggest bed on the train too, since I shared with Caleb), but it was nice to be able to sleep in a real bed again. (Side note: we ALWAYS check for bed bugs at hotels before we bring our luggage in. While we've never found any, we have relatives who have experienced them and know that we do not want to go through what they've been through.)

After getting settled (read boys running, jumping, and generally being wild), we went to supper at Bonanza (a restaurant we used to have in MN). We bought a GPS especially for our trip and it was nice to have it in order to find things like restaurants and such, but it's hard to know if you're going to like what you choose. Bonanza wasn't bad, per say, but it wasn't good enough for what we paid.

Day 4 - Sunday, October 23, 2011

Who doesn't love a free continental breakfast - certainly not us! After breakfast, we packed up (we stayed in different locales every night, so each morning, there was lots of packing to do!) and headed out. Mt. St. Helen's was only 30 miles away, but there were many sights around it to see. It was another really cloudy day, but we were still hoping to see a lot. First we drove up to Ape Cave. We only had one quick view of the mountain on the way there, but it was not the eruption side and we only saw it for a moment as we were driving. Ape Cave is the longest lava tube known in North America. It was formed after the eruption of Mt. St. Helen's 2,500 years ago. It is basically a pitch black cave that dead ends after about 3/4 of a mile. (Oh, and it is VERY wet!) Armed with only a few small flashlights, we braved the blackness.

I attempted to get a photo after we climbed down the steps and peered into the entrance, but it was too dark. You literally go from daylight to pitch blackness.

Here is a view right looking back up the stairs that we came down.

There are two cave walking options to choose from: easy or hard. Easy is still fairly difficult, but at least we didn't have to scale any 8ft tall lava boulders. (Paul would've tried it!) It was hard enough walking through the easy part, but it was still quite the experience. We didn't even go all the way to the end. At some parts the ceiling was only 8-10 feet high and in other parts it had to have been 30-40 ft.

Here's Paul and Caleb coming back out after our hike through the cave and back. (There wasn't anything telling us why the cave is called Ape Cave, but I looked it up online when we got home and what I found out was quite interesting.)

Afterwards, we ate sandwiches in the car before heading to lava canyon. There's a state park that you can drive through and see various areas that were impacted by the recent eruption 20 years ago. Hiking through Lava Canyon was one of our favorite parts of the trip. It was beautiful, even as cloudy as it was. And walking the suspension bridge was so cool!

lava flow

The beginning of the Lava Canyon Hike.

It was a great day, with an unfortunate ending. After leaving Lava Canyon Park, we were going to head up to an observation area about 20 miles away, hoping to still get closer to the volcano and to see the eruption side. The roads there were twisting and winding and up and down and Caleb was trying to fall asleep for a late nap, when he woke up, started fussing, and then projectile vomited all over.

We all handled it quite well. We were able to pull over right away and get him and his car seat out and somewhat cleaned up (as most parents know, vomit requires a great deal of clean up and still things will smell). A park service ranger even pulled over, but failed to even get out of his vehicle when we mentioned vomit. It was late already - past 4 and we still had to drive over 100 miles to get to Ocean Shores, where we had a reservation for that night. So we skipped any further site seeing and drove to Ocean Shores. We arrived late, past 8 and everyone was exhausted. Thankfully that was Caleb's only vomit incident and it was obviously a car sick thing, not illness. Paul put the whole car seat in the shower, took it all apart, and then washed it in the on-site laundry at the hotel. We had brought an old car seat because of traveling on the train and such and it was a blessing. The pullover part had kept the vomit from going all over the car. We were so glad to be out of the car after a long day and our hotel was AMAZING!


Sunday, December 18, 2011

Merry Christmas 2011

Merry Christmas! We are so thankful for another year of health and happiness! We hope and pray that you and yours are healthy and happy also. Life may be hard at times, but God is always good!

It’s been another busy year for us. We continue to make improvements and additions to “the farm.” This year we added 2 hives of honeybees, about 20,000 bees. They are currently doing okay. Other than a taste (YUM!), we were not able to harvest any honey this year, which is standard for first year hives. It was a tough year for bees in general because of our very wet spring. Honey costs have gone up because of that, so we’re hoping for a decent harvest in 2012. Paul and my dad built a lean-to to protect the hives from the wind and weather. We also purchased a new batch of chickens this year, all about 10 weeks old each. We thought we were getting 9 hens and 1 rooster, but the summer would hold some surprises for us as one of our hens turned out to be a rooster. We quickly found out that 2 roosters is too many, especially when one becomes the “attack rooster.” He was butchered in October and provided enough meat for a couple of pots of stew. We lost two of our hens after a storm overturned the chicken coop in early August, but acquired a stray hen this fall. So we’ve currently got 7 hens and 1 rooster.

Caleb is 22 months old and a bundle of energy and enthusiasm. His vocabulary is increasing daily and I’m often surprised by what comes out of his mouth. He has learned to climb and run and get into trouble much quicker than his brothers did at this age. We are so thankful for all the joy he has brought to our lives.

Elijah turned 5 in August and began homeschool kindergarten. He is quickly learning to read and shows quite an aptitude for math especially. He loves to follow Paul around and help him with tasks. His sense of humor is quite entertaining and he is constantly telling everyone that he loves them. We appreciate his affection and desire to help.

Ethan turned 9 in July and started 4th grade. We continue to homeschool him and it has been such a blessing for us all. He’s becoming a very independent learner and has developed interests in iron ore boats, shipwrecks, and drama. With Paul’s help designing and building his car, he won 1st place at the AWANA grand prix in March, even setting a new track record for speed. He also spent lots of time this spring catching minnows in our ditch. Due to the benevolence of my aunt, Ethan started piano lessons in May and is doing very well. Both boys are involved in a homeschool co-op and are able to participate in more individualized classes. They also were able to spend 5 days with my parents in Copper Harbor, MI. Both boys have developed some archery skills this year thanks to my dad and Paul.

In October, we traveled to Washington state on the train. It was quite the adventure with all three boys. We spent two nights and a day getting there (in a sleeping car). While there we visited Mount St. Helen’s, walked through Ape Cave - North America’s longest lava tube, hiked through Lava Canyon, played at a couple of beaches on the Pacific Ocean, drove through the Cascade Mountains, hiked in a rainforest, and made a lot of memories before taking the train back home a week later. It was a great trip and we hope the boys remember it for a long time.

When Paul’s not working hard at Honeywell, he’s working hard at home. Not many days go by without me thanking God for him and his skills. He spent a day this fall moving ~6,000 lbs. of a mill and lathe (from work that were “scrap”) into our garage to set up in order to build things with the boys. He is such a good dad and husband. I retired from La Leche League this summer after almost 5 years of being a leader. There was a dwindling need for it in this area, though I continue to use what I’ve learned to help friends in a casual way. In October, both Paul and I stepped down from our positions at our church in order to start a new venture….starting a house church. This is something we’d been feeling God’s leading towards for quite some time. We really feel the need to have a truly family-integrated worship. We are starting slowly, but have already felt the blessings of doing this. We would appreciate prayers as we figure out how God would have us proceed.

Praying Jesus is at the center of your Christmas this year,
Paul, Rachel, Ethan , Elijah, and Caleb

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Day In the Life: Felicity's 3rd Birthday 10/6/11

HURRAY FOR ME FINALLY FINISHING AND POSTING THIS! (written to encourage myself to be a better blogger.)

6:31 a.m. - I find myself awake with Caleb (20 months) still snoozing next to me (he co-sleeps with us). I usually don't wake up this early unless he's awake already, but then I realize what time it is and I'm transported back to three years earlier. I would've just been about to enter the birthing tub with Felicity being born just 10 minutes later. I continue to lay in bed thinking about her and that traumatic day. It's difficult to reconcile the beauty of my only daughter with the shock and sadness that was her birth.

***On a side note, I just want to state that I continue to support moms and midwives in homebirth. For the majority of moms and babies it continues to be the safest place for babies to be born. I know that my daughter did not die because she was born at home.

6:40 a.m. - I get up, start some coffee, and reflect on the quiet that is my home. It truly is a rare occurence to wake up before any of the boys. I glance out my kitchen window to see the beginning of a beautiful sunrise. I process in my own thoughts that while I still miss and long for Felicity, it's rather impossible to feel grief anymore when I'm surrounded by such hope. (Remember that sadness and grief are different, with grief being much more intense.)

7:00 a.m. - Caleb walks into the kitchen and I immediately note (after thinking how cute he is) that he has obviously had a diaper issue. His whole belly area is wet. I grab him, change him, and go to assess the damage to our bed. The sheets and mattress pad are soaked. I strip the bed of everything and go downstairs to start washing the mattress pad. While this busyness in going on, I pray and thank God that I have a toddler to pee all over my sheets. He is such a joy to our family. I truly can't imagine fully processing the death of a baby without having another baby soon in your arms.

7:15 a.m. - We begin the breakfast process. As we are a non-cereal eating family (there are some exceptions!), breakfast is usually homemade granola for Ethan (9), peanut butter homemade toast for Elijah (5, with an additional side of fruit or yogurt some days), and whatever I think Caleb might eat well that morning (usually being something he hasn't eaten much of in the last 24 hours.) He is an interesting kid when it comes to food. One meal he will love what we eat and then if I offer it to him again the next day, he will totally refuse it.

7:30 a.m. - I shower while the boys eat. My mom is coming over to join us for a day of fun to celebrate Felicity. I'm not sure what time she'll be arriving, but I'd like to get an early start on the day.

8:45 a.m. - Everyone is dressed and pretty much ready to go. Boys are doing a few minimal chores and watching Caleb, while I go assess the laundry situation. I discover that somehow our mattress pad has shredded sometime during the washing/drying process. I'm quite confounded. I go upstairs to do a quick search on amazon for mattress covers. If we get to a Target or Walmart, I want to be prepared to compare prices and quality with what's on amazon. (Side note: I love amazon.com - I purchase many things through their subscribe and save program especially.)

9:15 a.m. - Gramma arrives to the delight of all the children. (Another sidenote: I love my mom and her devotion to my children. They are her only grandchildren and she thoroughly immerses herself in grandparenting them.)

9:30 a.m. - We head out the door. We're going to Stillwater. It's a great MN town, full of fun and quaintness. Our first stop is Aamodt's Apple Orchard.

10:30 a.m. - We arrive after a beautiful drive, despite Caleb's fussiness at times. As we pulled into the apple orchard, both my mom and I recognize it as a place we went cross-country skiing at when I was a preteen. While there we eat donuts and turnovers, walk around, and check out all the kiddy things to do: lame hay maze, swingset, and tractor bikes. It was packed, by the way. (Note the attempt to get a cute picture of all three boys together in the hay - totally an exercise in futility!)

11:45 a.m. Decide to head out for lunch. Never am I more thankful for our GPS than when there's a need to find food. Leeann Chin's was just a few miles away. Lunch was enjoyed by all.

12:45 p.m. Despite Caleb's impending naptime, we head for Teddy Bear Park. Fun was had by all for about an hour. Due to it being a school day, Ethan was the oldest child there and quickly organized a group of kids to play with. Elijah went off with a three and a half year old girl to play restaurant in the sand. And Caleb was just happy playing with a bucket and shovel in the sand.

2:00 p.m. - We head downtown to do a bit of walkingaround with the hopes that Caleb will fall asleep in his stroller. Ethan wants to find a toy store that we had gone to at least a couple of years ago. We can't find it unfortunately and after about 30 minutes, Caleb is still awake so we decide to head to our final stop, The River Market - a natural, whole foods co-op.

3:15 p.m. - Shopping is done, we're in the van and Caleb falls asleep almost immediately. We are home by 4:15 p.m., which means Caleb only gets an hour nap at best.

And by supper time, he is ready for bed....

Happy 3rd Heaven Day, sweet Felicity! We love and miss you always! (Caleb is at a stage where he is obsessed with babies and so he's noticed the pictures of Felicity around the house, so we've begun to talk to him about her and that she's in Heaven.)