The rest of the summer

(This post is pretty heavy on photos. Just a reminder that if you want to see larger versions of them, to click on a photo and you’ll then be able to view the slideshow of that particular group of photos.)

Trying to catch up here with the backlog of stuff I have to share, I’m going to try to condense the rest of our summer activities into one post. Here goes!

In July, a few days after we got back from our roadtrip, our cousin Eva came for a visit. Her time overlapped with Bryan and Alexia and their kids who also came to stay for a few days. It was great to have them and to have the (younger) cousins have time to play together and just hang out (the older ones). There were trips into NYC for sightseeing, swimming at a friend’s pool, and a clothes shopping trip for me and Alexia. One evening Bryan and Alexia made an amazing dinner for us. I forget what it was called, but it was wonderful. Thanks for stopping by, guys!

(A bunch of these photos were taken by Bryan. Thanks for letting me pilfer them, Bry.)

We were also happy to host our friends, the Roses, for a night on their travels from Canada back home. It was a short visit, but lovely!

Ben had a pretty low-key 35th birthday, with the usual gift giving in the morning. He and I went to see a movie as my present to him, which is a pretty rare occurence for us, and as a result a pretty special treat!

The next few weeks were taken up doing proper summery things like swimming, bubble blowing, running through the sprinkler, eating watermelon, having playdates, playing games, and doing generally silly stuff (like catching a fly and putting it in a lego maze).

One funny thing: sometimes when the older girls set the table, they like to write names on napkins, which takes the whole meal up a couple of notches on the fancy scale. One time Esther took this a step further even, and came up with descriptions too. Esther’s description of Marica had me in the kind of laughter that’s uncontrollable but that you’re not allowed to show. Boy, these kids!

The kids also took part in  some sort of summer ‘camp’ each: Marica went to 3-night camp with her friend, Willow; Esther went to a week-long art camp in the mornings, and Laurelin went to the summer program at her preschool to get her used to the new environment. They also did a VBS (Vacation Bible School) at a sister church about 20 minutes drive from here, which they really enjoyed.

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Laurelin’s first day of preschool!

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VBS

In August we traveled down to Tennessee again, this time for cousin Hannah’s wedding to Peter Weston. It was a beautiful affair, and a delight to spend even just a little time with so many great family members. Hannah looked amazing in a dress that reminded me of Kate Middleton’s wedding dress. (Peter cleaned up pretty well too.) I was glad that I could be helpful with the flowers and with some last-minute stepping in to help with the cake decorating. We were especially glad to be able to spend some time with Aunt Marti, and thankful that God was gracious upheld her throughout all the busyness and festivities of the weekend.

The Monday after the wedding, our lovely hosts, Mike and Paige, took us out on their boat for some fun. It was great getting pulled behind the boat in the tube, going crazy fast! Talking about Mike and Paige… man, these guys are fantastic. They were incredibly generous, kind and hospitable with their time, their home and much more. What a great example they are. I wish we lived closer to them!

After our tubing fun, we had one last visit with Aunt Marti and other family members. It was a precious time together, but not without some silliness too. See those amazing arm muscles that Eva has? Well, I got cocky and challenged her to an arm wrestle. I’m proud to say that we were a match — neither of us could get the other one down. All to say, I felt a little chuffed about that. :-)

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The day we got back the klutz in me misjudged a step at our friend’s house (the one with the pool) and I sprained my ankle really badly. The doctor reckoned I partially tore 3 ligaments — thankfully nothing was broken! — which meant that I had to be on crutches for the next 6 weeks, wearing one of those sexy black boots. I never realized just how painful a sprain is, and how insanely difficult it is for a mother to try and do just a few basic things around the home while hobbling around on crutches. Man! I’m so thankful for great friends who brought meals and helped out in other ways. I couldn’t have made it through without them! I was also thankful that I sprained my ankle at the end of summer rather than earlier — not that it’s ever really a good time, but hey.

Phew, if you got this far, you’ve done really well! Now just to catch up on autumn…

Roadtrip ’16: Six Flags

For the last leg of our roadtrip home, we made a stop at Six Flags in the south of New Jersey. They have a program called Read To Succeed where the kids have to read a total of 600 hours in the year to get free tickets to Six Flags. Just kidding, not 600. Not even 60… SIX. Yes, for a mere 6 hours of reading the kids (and their teacher!) could get free entry to the park. I made them do those 6 hours as out loud reading because heck, they read more than 6 hours in a week!

It was a beautiful but HOT day. We split up according to our abilities to handle thrill — Ben and Marica went off and hit the crazy roller coasters, while I did the tame kiddie rides with the two little ones. Our most exciting ride was the Log Flume, and that was about as much as I can handle. I’m such a wuss!

Esther, Laurelin and I took a sort of animal safari tour (so gimmicky, but then it’s an amusement park, isn’t it?) and got to see many interesting animals.

After lunch we were disappointed to find out that all the tall rides had been closed because there was a thunderstorm within 30 miles (dumb protocols) and so we hung around a bit doing not much — you know, eating funnel cake, looking at people on stilts and attempting to do an inside ride that ended up way too scary for the kids — and were about to leave when we found out the rides had been opened again. That was nice, because that’s when I got my chance on that Log Flume Ride of Death, ha. We were glad the high rides opened because we wanted to finish off the day with a cable car ride, which we got to do. It was neat to see the park from the air!

And then it was time for dinner, which we decided to have outside the park to not pay through our noses for blah food. We went to Cracker Barrel, where we paid next to nothing for blah food.

On the way home we spotted an alien space ship cloud over Newark airport. They’re coming to get us!

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Roadtrip ’16: Hoyt Reunion

After our great camping experience, we drove down to Columbia, SC, to spend the night and visit Ben’s parents’ old church where we got to meet people who knew them 40 years ago, which was pretty neat. Apparently Dad was a bit of a rebel back then, growing long hair. I’d love to see a photo of that! We drove past their old house, which was brand new when they bought it and looks a little bit different now.

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After church and a lovely lunch put on by some of the church folks for Mum and Dad, we drove west to Georgia for the long-awaited Hoyt reunion.

People came and went as they could; we were thankful we could be there a full week. Somewhere in the middle of the week we had around 70 people there! What a wonderful time visiting, talking, playing, eating Aunt Nora’s great food, swimming, dancing, and just generally loving being together. Pretty much everyone I talked to wished we could hang out longer and spend more time together. This reunion we had loads of little kiddies, which can make it tricky to visit in the evenings and which is probably why a bunch of us felt like it was all over too quickly.

Disclaimer: some of the photos on here are pilfered from Bryan, who managed to get shots of some things I didn’t.

During the day we met at Uncle Stan and Aunt Nora’s church hall for activities, meals, games, and more.

We went out for trips to a nature reserve one time, played baseball another day, and went swimming most days.

In the evenings we did a bit of a house-hop for visiting and endless games of Mafia. We also had people over to our cabin one night for a bonfire and s’mores, which was one of the highlights of the week for me, but somehow I didn’t get any photos of that.

We had the traditional evening of folk dancing, which is always riotous fun, twirling and hoping like crazy you remember the right steps and don’t break someone’s toes or something.

We got to do some swing dancing on the Friday night, which was great — another highlight for me.

And of course, it wouldn’t be a Hoyt reunion without a talent show! We ended up having two of them — one more casual one on the Thursday afternoon and a more formal one at a beautiful church in the evening. So much amazing talent in one family is almost criminal.

It was great to see all the different licence plates from all over the States in the church parking lot. People traveled long distances!

There were a couple of trips to a nice restaurant in town called Grits (which, being the south, sounds like ‘gree-uhts’. Had it been the deep south it would have graduated to ‘guh-ree-uhts’). This was delightfully a kids-free event for me and Ben thanks to some kind cousins and grandma who babysat.

Our next few butterflies hatched while at the reunion. Man, they were pretty.

We were hosted by friends of Uncle Stan and Aunt Nora in a cabin on their beautiful tree-filled property that they use for guests and an office. Dan and Beth were such gracious and kind hosts. Beth has done a fantastic job of decorating in a really neat country-folk-meets-artsy style. That, coupled with the beautiful wood in the cabin, gave the cabin a really nice homey feel.

 

 

With our hosts and their grandson on the cabin porch.

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So, as wonderful and fun as these events are, there is a huge downside to them… they only happen once every 3 or 4 years. So, as a solution, I propose lots of little mini-reunions in the in between times! Not the same, but it helps with the withdraw symptoms. Come on round!

 

Roadtrip ’16: Camping in TN

After our visit to Monticello we started the drive down to Cherokee National Forest in east Tennessee where we planned on camping for a couple of nights. We started off in the rain and the rain just got heavier and heavier, and there were predictions for a huge storm to pass over where we were going to camp that night. So on the drive down I’m frantically searching for an Airbnb place or something similar and nothing affordable pops up. I’m texting Lillian and she just takes it in her stride and says we’ll be okay, and all I can think is that I don’t want to set up camp in the rain. Well, Lillian won, because when we got to our campsite it was dry and sunny (the storm was on its way, but not there yet) and I got to cook dinner and the tent got all set up, and we even managed to get all the clean up done and kids in bed before the storm broke loose. Moral of the story: always listen to Lillian. :-)

The campsite was beautiful. Lots of big trees and the most beautiful and calm (and warm!) lake, perfect for swimming. Other than it being really muggy when we first arrived, and then the storm that first night, we had near perfect weather too. I wish we could have stayed there longer. We spent our time taking walks, swimming (lots), playing with fire, collecting firewood, roasting marshmallows, and all those wonderful camping things. We also kept an ear out for local accents — quite a treat to our East Coast ears, heh!

(The kids usually swim in their swimsuits, it’s just that on the first morning when they went to check out the lake with Ben, it was so irresistible that they just had to get in!)

Before we left home, we found some black swallowtail caterpillars on the dill in our veggie garden, so being typical homeschoolers, we decided to bring them inside in a jar and study them. Except that when it came time to leave on our roadtip, we weren’t going to just leave them at home, or give them to friends to look after, so we took them along! The first one hatched while we were camping and everyone was fascinated. They are so beautiful!

Random thoughts

The last couple of months have looked a little different to our usual routines. I’ve had a relapse of the Epstein-Barr virus which wiped me out but I seem to be feeling a fair bit better the last week or so; Ben’s been looking at different job options and has had multiple interviews with several different companies (no decision yet, though). Summer is upon us (hooray!) and I’m getting less and less inclined to do anything that resembles regular duties around here. The combination of the above three things have made for a rather unusual and unpredictable spring.

The girls are all doing well — in good health and spirits (most of the time), for which we’re thankful. Marica and Esther are now both voracious readers, and Laurelin, like a typical youngest sibling, wants to do everything they do. I wouldn’t be surprised if she starts reading at 3 — and not because I’m pushing her!

We’ve got 1 more week of homeschooling before we stop for the summer. Marica and I are looking forward to the break. Esther would like to do school all the way through! I’ve enrolled Laurelin in a preschool for 3 mornings a week starting in July. I’m hoping this will help the two older girls and me get some more focused schoolwork done.

I planted a veggie garden in the spring. It’s been really satisfying to see things sprout and grow. I keep going out there and thinking I should go get my camera to document it… but I haven’t. Gardening is such a nice chore, especially when you get to eat the fruit of your labor. We’ve had quite a few nice salads and herbs already, and look forward to a good crop of tomatoes, beans and more.

Politics is of course one of those topics that you can’t get away from these days. The general sentiment among the people I mix with is one of despondency — having to choose between bad and worse does not fill one with warm fuzzies. My main thought through all this has been: “How did it get to this?!” Ben and I have really appreciated this article written by Andrew Sullivan for New York Magazine that basically answers that question. It’s long, but well worth the read.

This summer is promising to be a lovely one. We’re looking forward to another Hoyt reunion in Georgia; a trip to Tennessee for cousin Hannah’s wedding; a trip to Vermont; several visitors — Ben’s parents, his brother and family, cousins, and some friends; the girls are all doing some sort of ‘summer camp’ — Marica to an overnight one, Esther to a daytime art camp, and Laurelin is doing a special programme at her new preschool. Add to that a plan to have many relaxing days at our friends’ pool, playdates with friends, picnics, ice pops, an abundance of summer fruit and sprinkler fun, and we’ve got ourselves a great summer to look forward to!

And on that note, if the posting on here becomes a little sporadic over the next few months, just imagine I’m trying to learn what ‘relax’ means again after a busy year. (Truth is I’ll probably be trying to get all the things done that don’t get done during the year like clearing out trash drawers and mending clothes and planning school for next year. But those things, when done, bring a certain kind of satisfaction that helps the whole relaxing thing!)

Visit to New Zealand, part 3

I know this isn’t technically part of our trip to New Zealand, but I didn’t really want to make a whole separate post for these photos I took before we left. December was unseasonably warm, so one evening while Ben worked late, I took the kids on a post-dinner walk around the neighborhood to enjoy the lights on people’s houses. I love our new neighborhood — lots of friendly people, and people really seem to take pride in keeping their properties looking nice and tidy (or decorating for the season!).

Marica took part in our homeschool co-op’s Entrepreneurial Fair again last year, expanding a bit on our inventory from the previous year, and made about double the amount of money we made last year. Well done, girl!

Back to New Zealand, now. :-)

It was really great to be able to spend Christmas with family. As is my family’s custom, we did our gift-giving celebrations on Christmas Eve, after going to church with my parents. Marica and Esther shared the handing out of gifts, and it was a joy to see people open their gifts, especially the kids’ eager excitement.

On Christmas Day we went to church in the morning and after that to Ben’s parents’ place along with a whole bunch of other family to celebrate. The weather was nice and warm, so the barbecue and salad lunch and the water balloon volleyball in the park after lunch worked well! (Everyone here in the States who I told about our Christmas just couldn’t believe that you could have a barbecue for Christmas!)

Again, it was such a delight to be able to spend the day with people we love.

Next week will be the last post on our trip to NZ. I know you’re all waiting with bated breath. :-)

Visit to New Zealand, part 2

A couple of days after we arrived, we headed out of town to Mt Hutt in the Southern Alps for a Hoyt reunion. I think it had been the first time in almost 6 years that everyone were together again — Mum & Dad, all 8 siblings, plus spouses and kids — and it was fantastic.

Because it was cold and rainy most of the time (there were about 2 nice warm days, though), a lot more time was spent indoors than was anticipated, so even though it got a little noisy at times, it was nice to get time to talk, play board games and drink copious cups of tea.

Here’s a little photographic sampling of our time together.

The drive there and back was beautiful. Some photos have a bit of window glare, sorry!

 

Inside, we had gift givings (Secret Santa for the kids; white elephant for the adults), games, naps in front of the fireplace, food preparation, a talent show, a programming competition between Ben, Bryan, Berwyn and Ed, ASL classes by Lillian, some really good devotions from Berwyn, and of course it wouldn’t be a Hoyt reunion without some very long theological debates on some minute point!

And all sorts of fun was had outside when the weather was nice: littlies on the playground, team building games, archery, an epic water slide, water balloon fights (and other fun stuff like swimming in the river, and abseiling that I didn’t get photos of).

Christmas photos will be in Part 3, next week!