Bigs’ Week in California

Back when I made my posts about our 4th of July trip to California, I mentioned that Amanda and I came back to Colorado with just Addison, and left the big kids with Amanda’s parents for about a week.

When Ivan brought the kids back here at the end of that week, I made sure to download all of the photos that he took while he had the kids (many of which he e-mailed or texted to us during the week anyhow, which is incredibly fun).  It took a while to sort through all of Ivan’s photos in addition to my usual complement, but I’m now ready to write about the time that Adria and Austin spent with Amanda’s parents in northern California…

The trip started with the drive home from Tahoe.  We said goodbye to the kids at the lake house…Amanda and I went to the Sacramento airport in the rental car, and Ivan and Dianne drove the kids back to their place.  The drive itself was already an adventure…

Roadside stop to admire the sunflowers
Roadside stop to admire the sunflowers

Amanda had actually signed the kids up for swimming lessons in Calistoga, as a starting point for something summery to do each day.  Ivan sent us pictures every morning.  It’s a small town, so the kids frequently had private lessons, or classes of just 2 or 3.

Austin in a class of two
Austin in a class of two
Adria in an accidental private lesson
Adria in an accidental private lesson

One running theme of the visit with Grandma and Campa was the kids’ tendency to fall asleep in the afternoon after a hard morning of play (indeed, this has become a theme of the summer, but more on that later).  Here’s an example of Adria putting herself to sleep during ‘quiet time’ one afternoon:

It does look cozy...
It does look cozy…

One afternoon they headed over to Santa Rosa, where they found a cool park to play in, and also a craft store to stock up on some art supplies for the rest of the week.

Together in the park!
Together in the park!
Ivan's comment on this one was: "teamwork!"
Ivan’s comment on this one was: “teamwork!”
Austin browsing the scrapbook aisle
Austin browsing the scrapbook aisle
Picking out stickers and jewels for later
Picking out stickers and jewels for later

Naturally, there was plenty of down time at home, too.   Adria is still into the computer games, and Austin has gotten rather adept at Minecraft on the tablet lately.

Adria using the computer...
Adria using the computer…
...and Austin on the tablet.
…and Austin on the tablet.
Austin being silly out in the garage
Austin being silly out in the garage

Near the end of the week (once swim lessons were over!), the crew took a trip to the Austin Creek State Recreational Area to see some giant redwoods.  This was interesting for a number of reasons.  First of all, obviously the redwoods are awesome and the kids had a ton of fun exploring the park.  But second, the kids did a lot of walking in what could reasonably be called a “hike” around the park.

The kids (especially Adria) continue to tell us that they want to go hiking, but based on their performance in malls, zoos, botanical gardens, etc…we remain skeptical.  There are three kids and only two of us.  Addison is pushing 25 lbs by now, and clearly still needs to be carried for any kind of significant distance.  At over 37 lbs, Austin is a very heavy pack, and string-bean Adria is not practical to carry in any meaningful way at almost 50 lbs.  All of which is to say…the big kids have to be able to walk.  If we get 2 miles into a loop and one or both of them poop out…we could really be in trouble.  So when they beg us to go hiking, we take it under advisement…but Campa reported that the kids did quite well on their little hike, so that is very encouraging.

I'm pretty sure they don't understand what "1300 years" means...
I’m pretty sure they don’t understand what “1300 years” means…
Austin could be motivated to be "the leader"
Austin could be motivated to be “the leader”
A hidden squirrel...
A hidden squirrel…
...and a chipmunk.
…and a chipmunk.
My little tree-huggers!
My little tree-huggers!
The bigs and their grandparents!
The bigs and their grandparents!
Looking mighty small
Looking mighty small
Sibling love
Sibling love
Adria's heart-shaped leaf
Adria’s heart-shaped leaf

Eventually, it was time to come home.  After a week in California with us there, and then another week with the grandparents, the kids acted ready to be back.  Ivan seemed nervous to travel alone with the kids, which we found amusing.  It’s not easy to travel with small kids, but at this point our expectations are so low — and our maximum level of difficulty so high — that a 2-hour flight with just Adria and Austin seems perfectly natural and easy to us.  Anyhow, Ivan and the kids did just fine.

Tablet babysitters
Tablet babysitters

And the kids were happy to be home!  Ivan stayed through the weekend before flying further east to visit Amanda’s brother.  While he was here, the kids delighted in showing him all of their stuff…particularly the playroom down in the basement.  We always love having an extra grandparent or two in the house…it’s amazing how much easier it makes things like cooking dinner, to have an extra adult running interference while we cook or clean, etc.

But eventually, Ivan had to leave…and it was back to the routine –such as it is for these kids during the summer.  And, it was only two weeks between the end of this grandparent visit and the start of the next!  But more on their visit with my parents, next. smile

Austin’s 5th Birthday Party

We had Austin’s 5th birthday party on July 30th, the last Saturday before his actual birthday (and the last weekend before he went to Virginia for 2 weeks).  We hosted his party at the house, and in the morning to avoid the late July heat and afternoon storms.

Austin’s party was “rainbow” themed this year.  Again.  Hey, that kid loves rainbows, and I can hardly blame him…they are colorful and beautiful, and I’d pick a rainbow over a superhero any day. cool

It took us over a week to prepare for the party (not counting supplies that Amanda ordered weeks in advance).  Life was busy, we were still recovering from getting the bigs back from California, and it’s just not easy to prep a house for a big party while living in it with 3 small children.  Amanda and I cleaned continuously every night after the kids went to bed, for most of the week…it’s the only time we had.  Amanda cleaned bathrooms, I worked on the yard…we tidied up, cleared counters, vacuumed, raided the basement for coolers and slip’n’slides and party platters, arranged furniture for a crowd, bought and borrowed supplies, baked cupcakes…

Right up until the morning of the party we still had all three kids in the house, and we were continuously snapping at them to leave the cushions on the sofa and not dump Legos all over the carpet.  They spent most of Saturday morning in front of the TV so that we could do all of the last-minute preparations. smile

Hosting a party at home may be a little cheaper than paying per head at Chuck E Cheese’s or similar venue, but it’s a lot of work.  We knew this, but it was Austin’s party…he wanted to have his friends over, play in the sprinklers, show off his room and his toys, etc.  And in the end, it looked great.

Snack table preparations in progress
Snack table preparations in progress
Cupcake spread
Cupcake spread
$30 worth of fruit in an amazing rainbow platter
$30 worth of fruit in an amazing rainbow platter

The main activities for the party were in the back yard, and mostly involved water.  We had a splash table, water guns, water balloons, a sprinkler, a slip’n’slide, and two inflatable pools.  Everyone stayed nice and cool. smile

Addison testing out the baby pool on the deck
Addison testing out the baby pool on the deck

I always enjoy making use of our giant backyard.  We had 15 or more kids at the house, but it certainly never looked crowded out there…

There are 7 kids in this photo...one small contingent
There are 7 kids in this photo…one small contingent

Like last year, we had Pizza Hut deliver lunch around 11:30am, and there was no shortage of pizza.  The kids were hungry after playing outside all morning, but we made sure that we weren’t going to run out…

Nine of them working on lunch...
Nine of them working on lunch…

Austin had a good time at his party.  He also cried no fewer than 3 times, for various reasons.  Austin is so sensitive, and he had been excited about his birthday for a good month…those kind of expectations can never be satisfied.  He still had a great day…

Finally the center of the Happy Birthday song...
Finally the center of the Happy Birthday song…
Blowing out his candles
Blowing out his candles
Tired and mopey, but enjoying his cupcake
Tired and mopey, but enjoying his cupcake
Taking first swing at the pinata
Taking first swing at the pinata

And after the pinata, it was pretty much a wrap.  Some of our closer friends stuck around and the kids continued to play for a while, and the adults chatted and I cleaned up quite a bit.  Just like it took days to prepare for the party, it took days to recover from it, too.  In the end, I think that we came out ahead…we did more cleaning than the party did damage.  But not by much. wink

Happy birthday little dude…start working on the theme for next year!

Austin is 5 Years Old!

Austin is 5 years old!  My goodness, how did my bright-eyed baby boy get so big?

Keep smiling, little man...
Keep smiling, little man…

I’m late on this post, which is a shame.  I have a lot of excuses, but none of them are adequate…I should be able to get the birthday posts up on time (no, checkup posts don’t count). mindblown-alt

One of the distractions this year was the fact that Austin wasn’t actually here when he turned 5 years old…he was in Virginia, spending time with my parents.  We had a video chat with him first thing in the morning on his birthday and sang him “Happy Birthday,” but he didn’t really seem to miss us all that much. Here’s how that conversation went (quoting Amanda’s recollection as she described it in an e-mail that afternoon):

Drew and Amanda: (Austin is playing with Lego Helicopter)

Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday dear Austin
Happy birthday to you

Gamma:

Austin, do you want say anything to your parents?

Austin: (looks up)

Bye!

(goes back to playing with helicopter)

So that’s about how we rate compared to Gamma and all of the distractions at her house.  It was a short call. cool

Gamma sent some photos.  They talked about his birthday on the big day, and Gamma kept grilling him about his new age:

He never slips up...being 5 is important!
He never slips up…being 5 is important!

They also did some cupcakes.  Judging by the time stamp, it looks like they had cupcakes for breakfast the following morning, which is clearly awesome:

Cupcake for breakfast? Yes, please...
Cupcake for breakfast? Yes, please…

We obviously did some private things with Austin before he left for Gamma’s house, knowing that he would be gone.  We had his birthday party on July 30th, and I’ll post some photos from that next.  He opened his gifts from the party, including a small gift from us (a rather awesome rainbow nightlight that Amanda found on Amazon).  But his big gift was a Big Boy Bed, which Amanda and I spent a couple of hours assembling on the evening of July 30th:

It already looks like a bed, how can there be so many little sticks left??
It already looks like a bed, how can there be so many little sticks left??
Ah, because it's a *trundle*!
Ah, because it’s a *trundle*!

Amanda made this happen, sourcing components from the Internet and Target and Costco…trundle bed frame, two twin mattresses, several sets of linens and blankets…  It’s a nice bed, too!  Now Austin can host a sleepover in his room.  Unlike Adria’s bunk beds, this trundle setup would be perfectly comfortable for two adults…an option we’ll probably take advantage of this year when hosting family for the holidays.

Here’s the big reveal the following morning…we had him sleeping in Adria’s bunk bed that night so that we could sneakily put everything together.  Naturally, Austin loved (loves) it:

Surprise!
Surprise!

There was one tiny gotcha about the arrangement above.  The only vent in Austin’s room for the heat and air conditioning is directly under the window.  Normally, it wouldn’t be a huge deal to put a piece of furniture over top of it…bed, dresser, table…all have a path for the air to enter the room.  But because this is a trundle, it sits pretty snugly on the carpet with trim all the way around.  It blocked his vent quite effectively.  So, a little later, Amanda re-arranged Austin’s room:

Now with 100% more ventilation!
Now with 100% more ventilation!

In order to actually use the trundle, you have to move his toy rack somewhere else.  That’s fine…it has easy handles, and we don’t pull the bed out that often.

So happy birthday, little buddy!  Sorry I’m late with this one.  Stay tuned for party pictures!

6 Minutes of Addison

Here is an unusually long video of Addison playing in our dining room play room while the big kids were not in the house. I don’t usually post videos this long — I don’t usually take videos this long — but she was hamming it up and I thought it would be fun for people to see where she’s at these days.

If you want to see a few playful moments, skip ahead to around 2:45. Trust me, she knows that her risky balance up on the chair gets a rise out of us. She recognizes that she’s getting a response by teasing us about turning on the light. She’s a little turkey…but an adorable one. smile

July 4th Trip, 2016 – Tahoe Play

Obviously, we didn’t just play in the house all week.  The Tahoe/Truckee area is beautiful, and we made daily excursions to various attractions.  We went to two lakes…Lake Truckee and Lake Tahoe.  We also went to the cute Truckee downtown, and a local Truckee park that was pretty great.

Our first major outing was to Lake Truckee.  We drove around to the east end of the lake to what looked like — on the map, at least — a promising beach/park.  The setting was fine, but apparently that part of the lake gets some major wind funneling, so in addition to the freezing water we also had a pretty bitter wind.  Austin braved the water to his ankles, but that was about the best anyone could do:

Windy and cold on the east end...
Windy and cold on the east end…

So we headed back around to the west end, where there was a paid beach and park, and coughed up some dough for a better environment.  Very little wind, a bigger beach, and lifeguards.  Same lake, so the water was still freezing…but Austin seems to be mostly immune to cold water, like his mom:

My little fish...
My little fish…
I wasn't even willing to put my feet in.
I wasn’t even willing to put my feet in.

One of Amanda’s cousins had brought a little inflatable boat.  Amanda drew the short straw and took both kids out for a little paddle.  It is quite a scenic area:

Amanda and Adria out on the boat...
Amanda and Adria out on the boat…
Austin's turn!
Austin’s turn!

The next day, we skipped the water and found a local park instead.  This was actually a really cool park.  They had a narrow-gauge train that ran around the park (unfortunately, not running at the time), tons of play equipment, ball fields, picnic areas, and more.

Austin and Van walking on the railroad tracks, because of course they were.
Austin and Van walking on the railroad tracks, because of course they were.
Adria climbing tree (stumps)
Adria climbing tree (stumps)
Nine kids, but not 9 faces
Nine kids, but not 9 faces
Campa wanted Addy to join him on the dinosaur...
Campa wanted Addy to join him on the dinosaur…

The following day, we finally made it all the way down to Lake Tahoe.  Tahoe is stunning, and this day was no exception.  Every photo looks like some kind of travel brochure:

#nofilter
#nofilter

We were at Commons Beach in Tahoe city, which is a public area with a playground, grass, and an actual sandy beach that is clearly trucked in.  Addison mostly liked the sand. smile

But you had to watch out for goose droppings...
But you had to watch out for goose droppings…

Austin, again, was happy to swim in the glacial water.  No kidding, this water was cold…he turns blue but never complains.

Sitting in the muck, making splashes
Sitting in the muck, making splashes

We had a great time in Tahoe!  It was fun to catch up with a segment of Amanda’s family that we don’t see nearly often enough.  Unfortunately, this was a long trip for all of us, and I expect that it’s not something we can make an annual tradition out of…but we certainly hope that we can do something like this periodically.  Maybe a mountain house in the Rockies? cool

July 4th Trip, 2016 – Tahoe House

Ok, technically we stayed in Truckee.  Which is  near Tahoe, and that’s the name people know. cool

After playing in Calistoga for half a week, we drove about 3 hours to Lake Tahoe to meet up with Amanda’s family.  Amanda’s cousin Jill did a ton of work getting everything organized…she found the house, paid up front and collected money from us, orchestrated a meal schedule, and more.  And ‘cousins’ were the theme of this trip…the unifying family ‘plane’ was at the level of cousins on Amanda’s mom’s side.  More — demanding — though, was the plane of second cousins that was present in the house.

This isn't even all of them...
This is only 2/3 of them…

There were 9 second cousins in all.  Adria was the oldest, and Austin was nearly the second-oldest…so Adria was more than 2 years older than the other kids in the house.  There were two babies, Addison and another little girl.  Even though the girl kids outnumbered the boys 5-4, if you remove the outliers (Adria, Addison, and the other toddler)…suddenly you have 4 boys and 2 girls in the preschool range.  That’s a lot of pent-up energy. cool

Somehow, we got all of them in one frame
Somehow, we got all of them in one frame

The picture above is a little out of sequence (obviously not from the house), but I wanted to show all of these guys in one place.  The house in Truckee was…lively. smile

One side-effect of all of that energy was that the kids played hard and slept hard.  Here are a couple of shots of the kids at their cutest…asleep. wink

Austin sacked out after playing hard
Austin sacked out after playing hard
Addison napped soundly every day
Addison napped soundly every day

Fixing food for 9 kids and 14 adults was quite the undertaking.  As I mentioned, Amanda’s cousin Jill had us organized, and we had a loose meal plan and a rotating ‘cook’ schedule.  But it sort of ended up being all-hands-on-deck, as we struggled to watch 9 hungry kids and also prepare the food.  At least there was some economy of scale:

Amanda making dinner (for the kids)
Amanda making dinner (for the kids)

Obviously, dessert was had.  On our night, we got some brownies from Safeway and a can of whipped cream.  A simple arrangement, but the kids loved it.

Austin enjoying dessert
Austin enjoying dessert
Who cares about the brownie, she wanted more cream...
Who cares about the brownie, she wanted more cream…
Having a leftover cupcake for breakfast...
Having a leftover cupcake for breakfast…
Give me a kiss!
Give me a kiss!

I should mention that the house was located in some really beautiful country (obviously).  Here is a picture I took with my cell phone, just before heading out for a (hilly) evening run.  Pretty spectacular.

Beautiful sunset from the cabin
Beautiful sunset from the cabin

So while actually in the house, we mostly bided our time.  The cabin had a game closet, which the kids raided.  I don’t know if we ever actually played any games, but dominoes are good for many things, as are die and pretend money and chess pieces.  The kids had a good time with that sort of thing.  Adria was a bit isolated, and spent a fair amount of time alone, playing Minecraft or some other game on the tablet…I kept her engaged some of the time, but I couldn’t really begrudge her wanting some peace and quiet from the roving band of preschoolers.

And naturally, we used the house as a base for excursions to the nearby lakes and parks.  More on that, next!

July 4th Trip, 2016 – Calistoga

We spent the first four days of our vacation with Amanda’s parents.  Those were full days!  I pulled out a bunch of my favorite photos, and I’ll let them tell the story:

Around the House
Obviously we spent a bunch of time just playing around the house.  The kids love Amanda’s childhood home.  Aside from the good company, they also love to explore the yard, the nearby fields, the hammock, the gardens, and the various nooks and crannies inside the house.

Ivan and Dianne had some pinwheels for the kids to assemble and play with, and we did that the very first day:

Austin playing with his pinwheel, still wearing his crown from Burger King (and travel PJs)
Austin playing with his pinwheel, still wearing his crown from Burger King (and travel PJs)
Addison loved these harmless spinning things
Addison loved these harmless spinning things

There was also a new kiddie pool this year.  This got a lot of use, and I think that Austin found it more entertaining than a slip’n’slide:

Fully airborne...
Fully airborne…

Addison didn’t love the pool, but that didn’t stop her from wanting to copy the big kids a little bit…

Addison can wear goggles too...
Addison can wear goggles too…
...and play on tablets too.
…and play on tablets too.

Now, what other summery things could we get into, around the house?  Ah, right…frozen treats!

Addison sharing a moment with Campa
Addison sharing a moment with Campa

 

Parks
Obviously, we spent plenty of time in the public parks.  Here are two cute examples:

Very independent...she didn't want *any* help riding this
Very independent…she didn’t want *any* help riding this
Campa enlisted to push all three swings
Campa enlisted to push all three swings

One of the best parts of having a bunch of family help with the kids is being able to stand back and take pictures like the one above, while someone else does all of the pushing. cool

 

Naps
Play hard, sleep hard!  Austin has a reputation for insisting that he is not tired, and then crashing out for 3 hours in some adorably awkward position.  This happened a couple of times at the Millers’:

Fell asleep watching his little glow ball...
Fell asleep watching his little glow ball…
...and while playing Legos and hugging a giant stuffed animal.
…and while playing Legos and hugging a giant stuffed animal.

 

County Fair
The Napa County Fairgrounds are just a short ways from Amanda’s parents’ house, so we always make our way over there on the 4th of July for corn dogs and ferris wheel rides.

Last year, Adria was really stressed out about the Ferris Wheel…this year it was no big deal.  We left Addy with the Millers and the rest of us went up in one car, which was fun:

The girls' side...
The girls’ side…
...and the boys' side.
…and the boys’ side.

We rode the carousel a few times, which made everyone happy.  I love how you can tell that Austin is grinning from ear to ear, even from the back:

Pure joy...
Pure joy…
Addison was allowed to ride with her mommy's help.
Addison was allowed to ride with her mommy’s help.

Obviously, the fair and the 4th of July are all about getting hot and sticky, so we fed the kids ice cream, too.  Addison still makes the most…visible…show of her enjoyment. smile

Doing it right.
Doing it right.

The fairgrounds also had the “Make & Take Art Center” open, and free with admission to the fair.  They were letting people paint on the easels, which is something my kids always love to do.  Adria made a wonderful piece of artwork that was 100% painted, including the sky…but we were most touched by Austin’s piece:

Rainbow fireworks!
Rainbow fireworks!

Nobody told Austin what to paint, or even suggested anything.  He just combined his love of rainbows with the theme of the holiday, and made this adorable painting.  We love it.

We also watched the parade in downtown Calistoga, but not only was I too busy watching the show and gabbing with friends to take photos, but I was also rather cut off from the kids the entire time (they had front-row seats, we were standing in the back).  But this covers the gist of our time in Amanda’s hometown….next up, Tahoe!

July 4th Trip, 2016 – Travel

This year for the 4th of July holiday, we traveled to California to spend a week with Amanda’s parents (just like 2 years ago).  Obviously, this was a full month ago now, and I have already posted a sampling of photos in the July highlight album.  I didn’t take nearly as many photos as I did on our beach trip, but I still wanted to make a handful of posts about this eventful vacation.

We traveled to Amanda’s parents’ place on Saturday, July 2nd, by way of the Sacramento airport.  This time, we got there before the rental car agency closed.  In fact, since we had reserved our car really early and it was a very busy weekend, we lucked out…they were out of sedans, and upgraded us to a nice Jeep Grand Cherokee (for free).  Yay for something breaking our way!

PlayDoh makes a surprisingly good airplane toy
PlayDoh makes a surprisingly good airplane toy
Addy slept for much of the flight.
Addy slept for much of the flight.

The kids were obviously happy to make it to Grandma and Campa’s house, after traveling for half a day…even uneventful travel.  They all mobbed their grandparents (and Luna), and naturally headed straight for the hammock.

Happy to be out of tin cans
Happy to be out of tin cans

As it turns out, July 2nd 2016 was our 10-year anniversary!  We spent it glamorously slogging our way halfway across the country with our three beautiful children.  But as a consolation prize, I had worked with Ivan and Dianne to plan out a nice date for that evening.  After seeing us for maybe 3 hours, Amanda’s parents took charge of the kids, while Amanda and I went to the Francis Ford Coppola winery restaurant…where I had arranged for a patio table with a view.

Not bad at all...happy 10 years, Amanda!
Not bad at all…happy 10 years, Amanda!

Afterwards, we went to a play in Healdsburg — the town we got married in — courtesy of Amanda’s parents.  It was a very nice evening. smile

I’ll make further posts about how we spent the week, but let me outline the trip here…

We played in Calistoga for a few days…we saw friends, went for jogs and bike rides, watched fireworks and the 4th of July parade, and went to the fair.  On July 6th, we piled into the car(s) and headed up to Tahoe, where we stayed in a rental house for the rest of the week with some of Amanda’s family (an interesting slice, really: the ‘anchor’ family members were Amanda’s cousins on her mom’s side).  At the end of the week, we took Addison back to the Sacramento airport and flew home, while Amanda’s parents took the bigs back to their house for another week of spoiling.

Addison enjoying my full attention at the airport
Addison enjoying my full attention at the airport
The Sacramento airport is actually very clean and nice
The Sacramento airport is actually very clean and nice

Our flight home was uneventful.  It still takes forever…the drive to Sacramento, rental car return, security, train to the terminal, the actual flight, train to baggage claim, satellite parking lot shuttle, and a 45-minute drive home.  We were all tired, but at least there were no major snags.

Stay tuned for more details of the trip!

Highlight Album for July, 2016

Doh!  I totally made this album on time, published it, and forgot to make an announcement about it here.  Ah, well…here it is.

July was a busy month.  We spent a third of it in California, visiting with Amanda’s parents and cousins.  We spoiled Addison while Amanda’s parents kept the big kids for another whole week.  We went to parks, climbed trees, and even threw Austin’s birthday party in July.  Lots of great photos here…go check it out!

Playing in the fountains at Union Station in downtown Denver
Playing in the fountains at Union Station in downtown Denver
Rainbow fruit platter for Austin's birthday party
Rainbow fruit platter for Austin’s birthday party
One of several epic sunsets in July
One of several epic sunsets in July