st louis family vacation, days 4 and 5

These are the last two days of our family vacation. My Uncle Mark emailed after seeing my first posts and said, "I saw your make-my-friends-jealous-blog posts..." I thought that was so funny, because it is true, these are the very best pictures of the SEVEN HUNDRED AND FORTY TWO that we took! Ivar and Elsie are really into taking pictures so I literally had 300 pictures from the zoo to weed through! Naturally, there are some great pics to choose from! Plus, it was that great of a time. :)
Our final morning began with Aunt Jane's oatmeal with blueberries and strawberries on top. And Aunt Jemima, which we would find out soon would turn our children into crazy-people. We packed up the car (our stuff was everywhere in the house...I worked hard this morning!) and set out for Waterloo, Iowa. We decided to make the trip home in two days. That was a great decision as Alden make his frustration known about the car ride the last hour to Waterloo. But then we got to the hotel! And we stayed put from 3pm until 10am the next morning.
We went for luggage cart rides, went swimming...
And ate a really great dinner of roast chicken, bagels and cream cheese, cuties and bananas while watching two solid hours of Diners, Drive-In's and Dives (always a hotel favorite in our family).
Oh, and Rory bought a red gatorade for Ivar when he went out to Hy-Vee. That was a goal of Ivar's for this trip: to get to taste red gatorade. :)
The next morning we ate a great breakfast at the hotel, the big kids went swimming one more time, the little kids helped me pack up all of our stuff while watching Pioneer Woman and then we loaded back up. And before we left, Rory turned Alden's carseat to forward facing! What a big day! And a big boy! And a happy boy!
On the way home, we drove through Waverly, Iowa. My Grandma and Grandpa Harrington lived in Waverly my whole life...and this town and Bartels Lutheran Home were a HUGE part of my first 25 years of life. We drove to Waverly many times each year for every major holiday and a few summer trips too...but it had been a decade since I'd been back...since Grandma died. I was filled with emotion. It is strange to see a chapter of your life so vividly and just to know that the chapter is passed. I was so glad we stopped and drove around a bit. It also meant I got to tell my kids a few stories that I want them to know.
And then we high-tailed it home. We pulled up our lane at 2pm on Saturday and that is a very nice time to get home. The little ones went down for naps, I unpacked and started laundry and then I took a two hour nap myself. I like a Saturday arrival home though. It made for a really gentle re-entry to our everyday.
So that was our trip! Family vacations are so important! I thought of this many times. Memory making is a really important part of family-togetherness, and we made a lot of great memories on this trip. I also was reminded that you don't have to fly or go very far or go away for very long. It all counts. So we decided to be more intentional about day trips (leaving a farm full of animals is no small thing...), even if it requires a few hours of driving. It's fun to get off the farm. And it's wonderful to come back home!

st louis family vacation, day 3

This sign is right in front of my aunt and uncles house, and when I saw it I wondered if maybe my uncle had it put up before we arrived! So I had my kids make funny faces, to prove what we should all be cautious with these crazy children around.
Our next day in St. Louis was blissful. I spent the morning in the parkway with the girls picking purple flowers and listening to Elsie tell me the elaborate storyline of what we were pretending...and even though she was talking non-stop, I apparently wasn't actually listening because I don't remember any of it. At some point a mother has to think her own thoughts for a while...
Then Uncle Mark told the kids that he would give them a penny for every gumball they picked up and put in a bucket. These are really sharp seed things that take over their boulevard. My big kids were thrilled with this challenge and in no time had picked up 500 gumballs each. Uncle Mark was a bit taken aback, but he did pay up. And then said the challenge was over. Ha!

Also, does your family have your own special words for things? In our family, since the kids were little, anything sharp or pointy and round has been called a Bomby Knocker. This is so matter-of-fact around here I never really stopped to consider how funny it is that we call prickly things bomby knockers. But while the kids were excitedly telling Uncle Mark how many Bomby Knockers they had found I finally snapped out of it and asked, "where did that word come from?" And Ivar reminded me that when they were really little we read a book in the doctor's office waiting room about a giant who had a big weapon called a Bomby Knocker and that I had encouraged the use of this funny word.

So now I encourage you to use it too...
This day was magical. We went to The Jewel Box in Forest Park where the tulips were positively spectacular. I couldn't get enough. It was like my body was starving for color like this, and all of the sudden I got a feast.
After walking around The Jewel Box we drove over to The St Louis Zoo, also in Forest Park. Honestly, this whole trip we never left a two mile radius (oh, except Lulu's). Everything was so easy and convenient. And we LOVED the zoo. First, it was free, which was amazing. Second, the animals there were really exciting...I had never seen a hippopotamus up close, and we got to see them very, very up close.

We walked and walked all over the zoo and made a really special family memory. 

And then we came back home and Yang Yang and Nui Nui had brought pizza and salad for supper. Yang Yang is my Aunt Jane's nephew who has lived in St. Louis for the last 25 years...so he is very much my cousin, and my only one on that side of the family! His wife is out of the country for work, and his daughter Nui Nui is adored by my kids. She slept over this night and they passed notes back and forth via Uncle Mark bringing the notes up and down the stairs. I only heard about this in the morning...I was sound asleep.
And hilariously, this is the only picture from this day of Nui Nui. (There is one tomorrow!) Rory took this pic while they were praying over the food.
We had Family Worship with everyone that night in the room where Ivar and Elsie slept and as we prayed a huge thunderstorm came through and filled the room with booms and bangs. Then Rory played Hobby Farmer with the big kids and after this big day of bomby knockers, stunning tulips, rhinoceroses and pizza parties the little kids and I fell fast asleep. While the big kids passed notes back and forth...

st louis family vacation, day 2

The night we arrived we stayed up late with Uncle Mark and Aunt Jane talking at their kitchen table. And when we woke up in the morning (quite early for me, thanks to Hattie and Alden) we met up at the table again. Good stuff happens around that table. Rory and Uncle Mark sat and drank their coffee there for hours each morning, basically until lunch each day.
And I had the kids outside soaking up the sunshine. It just felt so good to be warm and outside! At one point Elsie and I were standing in the driveway and the neighbors tree was snowing white flower petals all around us in the wind. Elsie kept saying, "it's snowing! it's snowing!" And I knew that in that moment there really was a blizzard in Minnesota, but here in Missouri we were in a blizzard of good smelling tree blossoms. That moment sort of sums up my joyful and glad attitude on this trip. I was just so happy to be out of winter! My mood was as bright as the sunshine, so grateful to be dropped into peak spring!
Before lunch we went for a walk up and down their street. Uncle Mark and Aunt Jane live in a really stunning neighborhood, with houses built right before the Worlds Fair in 1904. Uncle Mark explained a bit to me how St. Louis was one of the major cities of the world at that time, with the second largest and busiest rail yard in the world. In 1904, St. Louis was very much an epicenter of our country. It would quickly be passed by Chicago, but at this time the city was bustling with industry and business. And doing quite well, as you can see by these lovely houses! Many of the houses have a matching small house behind them that served as the carriage house for horses.
Then we came in for lunch and Aunt Jane had chicken salad on croissants with kettle chips. At the end of the trip we asked the kids what their favorite parts were and Elsie said, "Aunt Jane's cooking!" Everything was so good.
Then Hattie went down for her nap and we all had quiet time. The pace of this first day was so wonderful. I thought many times, "this really does feel like a true vacation." In the late afternoon we drove to Forest Park to find the playground. This next picture is a new favorite. Ivar jumped off a little too quickly, it seems.
And then we flew a kite. I always have these romantic images in my mind of flying a kite with the family. But to be 100% truthful, all of our kids took a turn crying in frustration while trying to get this dollar tree kite up in the air!

Finally we went out to supper at Lulu's, a favorite Chinese restaurant where we ordered very authentic things for our kids like pot stickers and orange chicken with fried rice. Last time we were here without kids and Aunt Jane ordered an incredible spread of food she loves from China. But this time with the kids we ordered everything that was familiar. Uncle Mark and our cousins came to join us this night, but the camera battery died, so you'll have to wait until day 3 to see pics of the rest of the family. :)
Special thanks to Ivar for taking this awesome picture. We'll get Hattie's chin next time. :)

st louis family vacation, day 1

Last week we loaded up the minivan for a trip to St. Louis. At the last minute we decided to leave a day early, as there was winter weather in the forecast. Thankfully we did or I think we would have been stranded on our farm. A whole blizzard hit Minnesota. But just 8 1/2 hours south in St. Louis it was 78 and sunny with trees in full blossom and tulips and daffodils at their peak. I mention this just so that you, too, can file this fact away: that when it is still full blown winter in Minnesota, you could get to much warmer weather in just one day of driving. It's sort of amazing to me!
 We packed a picnic for our first lunch and found a fantastic small town playground and picnic area (with bathrooms!) in New Hampton, Iowa. This is a new family favorite destination. We had a blast, ran around for an hour, could be as loud as everyone needed to be, used the bathrooms many times, ate ham and cheese roll ups and basically marveled that we were not wearing winter coats.
Ivar was in full-boy-glory, teasing me that he might fall in the water, exploring how close he could get, watching a frog swim by and then he found the treasure of all treasures: laying in the bottom of the stream was an abandoned play gun.
Could there be anything more thrilling for an 8-year-old boy?!! Rory helped him fish it out with a long stick and then they hung it in a tree so that it's rightful owner might find it again and wonder how it got up there.
Oh, and then they found half of a crayfish. Clearly this rest stop was epic and full of adventure and excitement. We were glad we hadn't stopped at McDonalds. That would have lacked so much!
Then we got back in the car for the long haul. It took us 11 hours to travel the 8 1/2 hours we had to drive. Which isn't terrible! 2 1/2 hours of stops was pretty impressive to me. I kept saying, "we're making terrible time, but we're having a great time!" Though in the last 30 minutes Alden had had enough and let us know his frustration until he fell fast asleep. We got to Uncle Mark and Aunt Jane's house around 8:45 and transferred the little two into bed while the big two explored the house and where we would spend the next two days...

Knocka Knocka, it's Hattie Joy

Hattie is 3 1/2 and is a pure delight. Many nights I will wake in the middle of the night to a quiet knocking on our door (that is not completely closed anyway) with her speaking, "knocka- knocka, Mama. Knocka knocka" And when I get up to open the door she'll tell me she doesn't want the tornado to get her, while climbing into our bed squishing her pillow in between our pillows. I'll collapse next to her and if I open my eyes, her bright eyes will be staring at me, her whole face smiling. It's sort of a highlight of my life right now. And after a while she will get carried back into her own bed because she moves around too much.

Hattie loves to be a helper. Ivar and Elsie have morning chores and she will always ask me, "what's my job?!!" And then no matter what I say she'll protest, "At's too Ard!" And I tell her, "no, that's not too hard, and Hattie, you can do hard things. So go and pick up the crayons in the livingroom and put them back in their tupperware..."

Most of the time she calls Elsie Mary, and refers to herself as Laura.

When I tell the girls to go and put on something nice for church, Elsie will come down in a lovely dress with tights and jewelry and Hattie will run down holding her favorite overalls, "these nice!" She has worn her overalls the last three Sunday's in a row. I keep meaning to get a picture because she and Elsie contrast each other in such a comical way to me. But she does tend to get a lot of compliments on her overalls. :)

When I think about Hattie I always just feel so glad that she is ours. I feel so grateful to be her mom. Her bi-annual big appointments continue to go really well and they continue to watch her as an interesting and special case who hasn't needed cranio surgery yet. We meet with a speech teacher to work on certain sounds that are hard because her pallet is so, so high and her tongue can't reach behind her teeth. So we are working on that, but boy she is one very active, outgoing, friendly, enthusiastic, passionate three year old. And the joy of our home.