Sunday, July 24, 2011


Wow, once again it's early in the AM and I'm wide awake. I've got the washer cranking, but that's the only task I can do without waking someone up. Since the crating company came, the number of beds we have has become even more scarce, and we have folks sleeping all over my parent's house. This leaves me an excuse to blog, even though my to-do list is enormous.

In a little over 24 hours, we hope to be in our temporary home. We're ready. Not physically, that will take until late into tonight. But we're ready to move on with this thing. We've said most of our goodbyes, some of them several times. We're ready to have our own space again, even if this spot will only be ours for 8 weeks. It will be nice for everyone to have their own bed and dresser drawers again. We're ready to be equipped for the task ahead.

The last several months have been both a joy and a burden, a vacation and a chore. We've loved the traveling and visiting that we've been able to experience during this down time. There have been some great memories made with some fabulous conversations along the way. But, through all of it, there has been this underlying theme of grief. Little things will sneak up on us, on me, and there are these overwhelming moments of grief.

Some of them are little things, the realization that snow cones and swimming pools will probably not be the theme of our summers in the coming years. The awareness that Chick Fil A fries will soon be a thing of the past. Michael's and AC Moore will be no more. Silly, but true, we've had these conversations. I don't know if it's the familiarity that I'm grieving or the convenience, or what, but sometimes I'm struck by sadness over these sort of things.

Things like climbing in the Suburban and driving out of the cul-de-sac can bring tears to my eyes as I wonder if I'll ever get the hang of driving in our new city. Or, when I start a load of laundry any time, day or night, and I know that the electricity will last until the end of the load, I can find myself overwhelmed with the realities of our impending power issues. I dread that part of our new life.

I won't even get into the people. Honestly, it's so very hard to say goodbye and even harder to lead my children in saying goodbye. This is all they know, this is all they want to know on some days, and it can be a hard, hard thing to navigate. This week has been especially brutal and I have a couple of children who are very fragile right now. That brings me grief. I know, because moving is not new to me, that there will always be new friendships and adventures awaiting, but they're not all buying that just yet.

This morning, we will go and face one of the things I've been grieving a lot, my church. There are so many things that I dread about leaving. Because of what Ryan did, we usually got the opportunity to work with MKs who were visiting. We tried to be active in helping them find the right spot and checking in on them regularly. I think because we've always had a heart for missions, we've always had a special love and compassion for MKs. Several years ago, we had a family who was attending our church while they were home on stateside assignment. A few weeks into their time with us, the mom stopped me in the hall and, with tears streaming down her face, thanked me for always calling their children by name. She explained to me that their children were so far out of their comfort zones and that every night the oldest one asked if they could please just go home (home meaning their host country on the other side of the world.) She confessed to me how good it was to know that we cared enough to learn her children's names and to welcome them personally each week. The American church sunday school concept was so foreign to her preschoolers and she desperately wanted it to be a positive thing for her children, because she and her husband desperately needed to have a season of corporate worship and refreshing.

That made a real impact on me. From then on, when I went to "big church" and heard a song that wasn't my favorite or an announcement that irritated me and I was tempted to be ugly, I would remember my friends on the mission field. I would think about how they were meeting as families or in small groups, when maybe they would have loved to have one service in my comfy chair. I began to see corporate worship more as a treasure or a privilege and not as much as a task.

Now, it's my turn to go. I know that we will find beautiful ways to worship on the other side of the world. I know that we will find those with sincere hearts to sing praises with. I know that worship in a mud structure alongside of someone who is a new believer will be sweet and precious to us. But, I also know that there will be weeks that I will long for the familiar choruses of Faith Baptist Church in Youngsville, NC. I will desire to hear the words from the lips of my precious pastor. I will miss the hugs of those who know me and with whom I have shared my life.

I am so thankful that my grief has given me opportunities to see God's goodness in my life. In so many ways, His mercies have washed over me. He has been my comforter and He has been faithful to remind me of His promises. And, while the changes are sometimes hard to face and difficult to process, I am thankful that I have the opportunity to go, even in the midst of my grief.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Crating Madness

I shared a little bit about our last minute decision to crate. Let's just say, it's resulted in all sorts of madness. Literally, every time we would go to the store and think we were done, something else would come to mind and we'd start a new list. Needless to say, it's been a very expensive month and while we don't feel like we've been excessive, we still can't believe how much money we've spent. Then, we remind ourselves that we don't normally buy 18 months of Zyrtec at one time or $200 in rechargeable batteries. Nor do we normally try to stock up on a wide range of Christmas and birthday gifts all in one trip to Walmart. Not to mention, 3 years worth of socks and underwear for 5 children in one stop- that can add up quickly. Surely, we will have less expenditures in the years ahead because we've made so many advanced purchases.

Because of our family size, we were allowed a pretty large crate. Our company allows a set amount per couple and then adds on a smaller amount for each child. Then, if a family can't or doesn't elect to crate, the unused portion is paid to them as a $ per square foot amount. This money is then used to purchase items that can't be crated. Since we had sold most everything, our strategy was to crate only what would be unavailable or very expensive in our host country. It didn't make sense to purchase things here that would take up our crating allowance if we could just purchase them there. Our goal was to use about 1/2 of our crating allowance- leaving the other half available in cash.

Our country has proved to be a bit challenging with shipments the last few years, which is why we initially were told no on a crate. However, our company has decided to ship our things via ocean freight, which they haven't tried for a while. The containers that the moving company has successfully gotten in recently are these pre-fabed boxes called "lift vans", which are 207 cubic feet each. Our initial goal was to use only 2 of those boxes, but in the end, we decided we'd be happy if it all fit into 3. This allowed about 1/3 of our cubic allowance to go unused, for later purchases.

We spent three weeks shopping, packing, and sorting. Unlike the old days, where folks could pack their crates at home and stuff things in every nook and cranny, all of our stuff had to be packed in a box, or at least wrapped in packing paper. We packed much of what we had ahead of time and the contents of any one box were totally random. It might start out as a box of toys, but we filled in every nook and cranny with little items. So, one box might have a Playmobil pyramid, a 6 pack of socks, 2 tubes of Neosporin, 2 bottles of flintstone vitamins, a pair of children's shoes, 72 pencils, 20 packs of jello (removed from the boxes), and 15 cheese packets that we'd pulled from the blue box mac and cheese- after we'd dumped the noodles out. CrAzY! Needless to say, Ryan and I had to throw our administrative/label maker tendencies out the window and remind ourselves that the goal was simply to get it there.

Anyway, here are a few pictures of our day yesterday, when the men actually came to take our stuff away. It was terribly hot, like 107 degrees. They were kind and polite, but they weren't fully on board with the "get as much as you can get in there" mentality that we'd developed. However, they responded well with our help and lots of cheerleading. Before we started loading the 3rd crate, the man in charge told me that it was time for me to make some decisions about which of the remaining items I would be willing to leave behind. Ryan explained to him very politely that he was confident it would all fit- we weren't leaving any of them. He reluctantly agreed to try. Ryan had to actually get on the truck and explain to the men that we were going to rearrange the sofa and loveseat because they had left too much open space behind them. They decided to try his idea and voila! Anyway, when it was all said and done, we got all the items on and had a few holes to spare. I thought the men were going to club me as I grabbed a dollhouse, a shopping bag full of hangers, and 2 dozen paper towels and began wrapping them in brown paper. We did it all politely, with lots of "thank yous," "bravos," and "yes sirs," but the bottom line was, I refused to send that much air to Africa!

The piling begins

Ready to be loaded into the lift vans

This is Ryan and Abby, encouraging the men to find a hole for this "little box."

Nailing on the final door! We were in celebration mode at this point!

In the end, we parted as friends. One of the men commented that all of that stuff fitting was about like Moses parting the Red Sea. Heaven knows, the prayers were going up during that last 30 minutes! We are thankful that it's done and now we pray that it all gets there safely and without a hitch and that we find favor with the fine folks in customs once it reaches our host country.

Goodbye Gary, Ed, John, and Brian. Thanks for a memorable afternoon! Now, go drink some Gatorade!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Isaac's Day

I started sharing last week about our special day with each of the children. I only got as far as Abe when other things started clamoring for my attention. Isaac went next, after Abe. We took him out on a Sunday, right after church, and he was so excited. We started out by grabbing a snack at Sheetz. My kids always love getting to pick their own snacks out like that, because it doesn't happen very often in our world. He also got himself a big Sheetz cup, filled with Cheerwine, which is another rare treat!

From there, we headed down to Adventure Landing. Ryan and I had never been there, except to drop a child off at a birthday party or two. Isaac had some previous experience, so he showed us the ropes. We had a really fun time playing together. We started off with miniature golf and all three of us managed to get at least on hole in one. Then, we headed inside for some laser tag. We were the only 3 in there, so Isaac and I teamed up on daddy. The sad thing was, he still won!

Full concentration!

Pausing for a quick pic, too hot to lounge around.

From there, we tried the go-carts. Isaac loved them, Ryan and I , not so much. If I could have been on the track by myself, I would have been fine, but all of those 10 year olds whizzing past me were a little unnerving! I guess I'm just not a daredevil, or maybe I'm scarred for life after my sledding accident this winter, but all I could think was, "I hope I get out of this without a head injury!" That's one of those things I'll just be the photographer for next time.

Finally, we headed back into the AC and used our arcade tokens. Isaac tried to find the games that would pay a good amount of tickets so that he could get lots of treasures at the prize counter. He was a bargain shopper in the arcade and ended up with 4 or 5 little treasures to carry home.

Next, we headed up the street to his favorite restaurant, the Outback. He and daddy had a good time hiding the bread while I went to wash my hands. He thought it was funny when I came back and fussed at them for not leaving me any. That boy is just like his daddy, he loves a good practical joke! His favorite part about the meal was that we ordered cheese fries and we only had to split them 3 ways, not 7! He decided he could get used to that!

Next, we stopped off at Ed McKay's used bookstore where he picked out a couple of books to read. I can't seem to supply him with books fast enough these days, which is a good problem to have. He also helped us choose a few used dvds and wii games to add to our collection before we head overseas.

As we headed north towards home, Isaac said, "I don't want this day to end." He expressed that he thinks he might like to be the only child. We talked about what that would look like, and he decided he'd like to be an only child sometimes.

Finally, we ended our afternoon with a stop at Palsie's popcorn. The heat of the day made our shaved ice treats even yummier. We were soft and let him carry home a mini bag of cornfetti popcorn too. Fortunately, that flavor provides no temptation for me, but the kids just love it.

It was a great afternoon together. We had lots of laughs and enjoyed spending time with our little guy. He is so sensitive and loving, but yet he likes to have a good time. We're proud to have such a great kid on our hands!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


It's 4:01 AM. I've been up for the past 45 minutes, making a failing effort to go back to sleep. I suppose that's what happens when you let yourself collapse into bed at 9:00. That wasn't my plan. I still had a ridiculously optimistic list of things to accomplish. But, when I snuck into the room where Abe was supposed to be sleeping and I heard the words, "Mommy, I'm 'cared. Will you way with me for just a wittle minute?" I grew weak. I collapsed into bed and let his precious 3 years old lips kiss my eyelids and declare his unending love for me. It was worth it, even though my to-do list lies half completed on the nightstand. I know his 3 year old kisses will soon be a thing of the past. That's the sad reality of life.

The reality of life has been overwhelming me lately. Yesterday, my mom saw me struggling with my tasks and she asked me if she could help somehow. I replied that if she could just wiggle her nose and make all of the stuff go into the right piles, that'd be great. She answered back with the words, "Honey, if is could wiggle my nose and make what I want happen, you'd all be back in the beautiful house with all of your stuff on the other side of town." And I know that she wasn't being ugly, she was just telling the truth. She's been so brave through this whole thing, putting on her best face and trying to be strong. But I know that the truth is, seven gynormous pieces of her heart are about to relocate, and it's brutally hard on her. That's a tough reality to face every day.

It's tough because, if the truth be told, I would like to wiggle my nose and be back in my big beautiful house on the other side of town. I'd like all of my stuff to be neatly organized in my ridiculously large closets and stored in our beautiful furniture. I'd like my walk in attic full of homeschooling resources which would be neatly reorganized just in time to kick off my perfectly planned school year. I'd like my weekly meal plan to be hanging on the side of the fridge, just waiting for daddy to come home from work and for us to enjoy our normal family dinner prepared on my granite countertops. That's the truth. Well, some of the time it is.

Then, there are these moments where I remember why we're doing this. These moments when I take myself back to the call and the scripture that came with that call. These times when I remind myself that while those are all good things, and they were mine for a season, they are not the things to which God has for me now. I remember that He desires good things for me and that while I may never have "stuff" as nice as what I once owned, or a schedule as predictable and orderly as what I once had, He's going to give me things that are even richer. And, if that doesn't work, I go to the internet and look at pictures of the people, especially the children who are living without hope and that always does it.

Then the reality of the present comes again, the tears of a child who has had to say another goodbye or the decisions about which books or toys make the cut and I simply do the next thing, pushing my way through the madness. I think what is making this final sort so hard is the fact that what is left is the stuff that we really love. The easy stuff has all been long gone at this point. What's left is the stuff that's really dear to us, for one reason or another.

The worst this week was definitely the dress-up clothes box. It's been taunting me from the corner for weeks. I knew it had to be dealt with, but I've been putting it off. Finally, this week, I decided I couldn't wait any longer. Here's the thing, most of what was left in that box at this point are items that have been made by my mother, so there's the first reason why they are so dear. Most all of them were made for some special occasion, which is filled with memories of simpler times, leading us to reason number two. Finally, my kids have outgrown or nearly outgrown about 1/2 of the clothes in the box but still attempt to pour their bodies into them when they need just the right dress to play "civil war refugees" or "knights and princesses" in the backyard. This hammers home the reality that times are changing and my kids are growing up too fast. In the end I laundered them all, put the one that was torn aside, and space bagged the rest of them. Cop out? Maybe. Sanity saver? Definitely. I feel confident some little girl in West Africa will be delighted when they need to borrow a beautiful size 5 Dorothy costume or a perfectly detailed colonial dress. Hey, I've gotta deal with reality somehow, right?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Pros and Cons

From the time that I was a little girl, I knew I wanted a big family. I had no idea what I was biting off, but I'm sure glad I stuck to my guns. The controlled (sometimes) chaos that is my life brings me so much joy. And while I sometimes long for just a little bit of free time, I can't think of any better way to invest my life than in these 5 precious children that the Lord has entrusted to me. I love it.
I love the way that, by it's very nature, a larger family helps kids to learn to work as part of a team, to be considerate of others, and to die to themselves on a regular basis. I really enjoy seeing my kids interact with one another-most of the time. Their love for one another is priceless. I could talk for a long time about the benefits of our family size.
But the reality is, that like anything, I could also make a lengthy list of drawbacks. One of the things that I struggle with the most is the concern that they're all getting what they need. We've been blessed to the point that we don't necessarily have to worry about their physical needs like food, shoes, and clothing. But, the emotional needs are another thing. There are two of us and five of them and sometimes, it can get overwhelming. I worry that I may not be dialoguing or interacting with them enough as individuals.
I once heard a woman from a big family talk about her relationship with her mother. She said that her mother was always so busy that she only remembered talking to the back of her head and that she always wished that she could have a chance to see the whites of her eyes when she talked with her. That bothered me and I've thought of it many times over the last few years. I hope and pray that my children know that they're loved as individuals and that they feel like we value their words, thoughts, and ideas.
I guess that's one of the reasons why we've always made birthdays a big deal at our house. We don't always do something fancy, but we do try to make sure that each child is celebrated and that we recognize the special person that God created them to be. We are always trying to remind them that God has a purpose for THEIR life.
The emotions of the last few months have brought their own set of issues and the burden of helping each child process and dialogue about the changes we're facing has been weighty. I worry that we've messed this up somehow. Then I remember that God is writing their testimonies, even as He's writing mine, and I take comfort in that. Still, I know I have a responsibility in shepherding them through this overwhelming time.
We have friends who are also getting ready to move their family to a new place of ministry, and they had a great idea. They decided to take each of their children out for a special day before they headed out of town. We had talked about doing something similar and after reading her blog, I decided to just do it! Our calendar is packed pretty tight, so we've had to do it in short spurts, but it's given us a chance to talk with each child one on one as well as express to them how very loved they are. So far, we've had our day with the youngest three, and it's been fun for everyone!
The first day out was with Abe. He was quite funny when I told him that we were going out together. He first asked if he could take his bike. We explained that we were going somewhere special, where he couldn't take his bike. He asked several other questions and then concluded that he'd just stay with the kids at grandma's house and let daddy and I go. Uhh, not the reaction I was looking for! After talking it up for a day or two, he finally decided he'd go, though the idea was so foreign to him, he still wasn't sure. The fact that the other kids were so excited for him helped to convince him that it was worth a try.
We decided to take him downtown to the Marbles Museum, which is a really nice children's museum. When my oldest 3 were young, we went to these sort of establishments all of the time. Abe has never been to one. I know, that's awful isn't it? I could choose to feel really guilty about that, and it's tempting. But I've been to developing nations and I've seen the conditions that many of the world's children live in. I've also seen the pile of toys the boy has at his disposal, so I refuse to let Satan attack me on that one.
Anyway, he had a great time. You could tell that he was a little out of his element at first. We would invite him to play with us and it was almost awkward for him. He's so used to playing with his brother and sisters that he wasn't sure how to engage in that sort of play with us. Typically, when he and I have one on one time, I read with him or do puzzles or something that has more "educational value" because he gets a ton of pretend play with his siblings. However, I didn't realize this until we were asking him to cook for us at the Marbles kitchen and he was so obviously shy about doing it.
With time he warmed up and we ended up having a great time. He and I raced cars, which was fun. However, I think sawing with daddy was definitely his favorite! He sawed and sawed until the wood was too small to saw anymore.
After our time at Marbles, we took him to McDonald's, which was his pick. We let him play in the playplace, something we rarely do anymore. He thought that was big fun, but he was ready to go home and see the "kids" when it was all over.
By the time we got home, he was exhausted and so were we. We didn't realize how far removed we were from the "sippy cup" crowd. Ryan and I laughed that we felt like senior citizens as we looked around at most of the parents beside us at the museum. I guess that we so rarely go to those "preschool friendly" places because the ebb and flow of our lives is geared more toward our homeschooling schedule. I definitely was able to see in very obvious ways that Abe's preschool years look very different than those of my older kids. And again, I had to remind myself that God made no mistake by placing Abe as the 5th child in our family. He has a purpose for Abe, even in that and I can't beat myself up over the things that he isn't getting, but rather focus on the things that I can provide for him in the context of our family.

Abe enjoyed the big foam blocks.

On your mark, get set, go!

Sawing away!

Totally wiped out! I caught this glimpse of him at the McDonald's playplace.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Answers, All at Once!

Uncertainty. I hate it. I'm not good at it. It brings out the ugly in me. I thrive with a set schedule, routine, calendar, and of course, my beloved to-do lists. That's who I am. And sometimes, it's my greatest strength. But, sometimes it can become a sin issue for me. Because sometimes I love neat and orderly more than I love people. And sometimes I have a tendency to rely on my well-laid plans more than Christ. It can be a real idol to me and I am constantly seeking balance.

Of course, the Lord knows this about me. It seems like He's always calling me into situations where I have to die to myself in this area and learn to trust in Him. This last 18 months of paperwork and process has certainly been no exception. You know, I keep saying that the Lord has been so personal to me through this whole process and I truly believe He has continued to put me in situation after situation where I could continue to be challenged to trust in Him and not in self.

The last few months have been frustrating to me because our friends who are going through the process have been getting all sorts of answers about the where's and how's of their future. They've known details about their language learning, their visas, their dates of departure, their living arrangements when they get to the field, and a variety of other things which have been totally up in the air for us. We, instead, had been told that we would be able to freight a crate, then no, then yes, then no, then maybe, then yes. We've been told that we were going to an additional training for the months of Oct.-Jan., then no, then maybe, then yes. The process for procuring our visas has been a little iffy. The kid's schooling, because of the iffy timeline, has also been extremely uncertain. And the list goes on.

The thing is, it's not anyone's fault. It's been a variety of variables with each little issue that have made for a whole lot of uncertainty. And, as I already mentioned, I. don't. like. uncertainty.

Finally, after months of trying to imagine all of the possibilities and figure all of the variables, I just sort of gave up. I came to the point where I'd just laugh as each "maybe" phone call or e-mail came. Ryan and I would exchange looks and remind each other that we obviously didn't need to know the details yet. We'd signed up to go and that's what we were going to do, trusting God with the particulars.

So, in the middle of our time in Lancaster, the answers started coming. In the matter of about 48 hours, we got many answers that we had been waiting months for. It was confirmed that we were going to be able to crate, something we'd given up on several months ago. We also found out that our additional training in Canada had been approved, meaning we wouldn't depart for Africa until late January. It was confirmed that next year would be a homeschooling year for us, after all. And, we even found out for sure where we'd be living when we got there- with pictures even!

Needless to say, it's been head-spinning few days. All of this information sent us into a flurry of planning, organizing, and list-making (finally!) A crate meant that there were many purchases to be made. So, we shifted our remaining Lancaster days away from our original plans and instead, we purchased 3 years worth of socks, underwear, sheets, and shoes for 7 people at the outlet malls beside our hotel.

In the past 10 days we've ordered appliances, homeschool curriculum, a trampoline pit cover, and a variety of household goods. It's been crazy. A good crazy, but still, CrAzY.

Here's the thing. While it's been great to get so many answers and be able to make plans, we know that we must continue to hold them loosely. We know that our country assignment could change if there were to be security, safety, or visa issues. The possibilities are always there. But, for now, I think I'll just pretend they aren't.

Before I go, and return to the chaos that is ruling these days, let me share with you a few of the pictures of our house. I wish I could have recorded the moment when we opened the photos in the e-mail. Honestly, you would have thought that it was Christmas morning. After months of not having a "home," the kids were giddy. It probably could have been a mud hut and they would have been so excited that it was "our" mud hut. Anyway, here they are, I bet they're better than what you had imagined!

Here's the front of the house.

The backyard. This is rainy season, so the grass won't be green like this when we get there.

This is the trampoline pit. The kids have prayed specifically that we could find the right cover for it. Ryan ordered one today and we're hopeful that it will come in before our crate leaves next Friday and that we will be able to make it work when it gets there.

This is the kitchen, which I'm currently considering a "blank slate."

The living room

The dining room

Country Roads

The farmlands of Lancaster were a welcome sight after 10 days of subways and concrete. I hadn't spent as much time researching our options for that part of the trip and so we really didn't have an agenda. We just found some backroads and made our way to the little shopping area known as Kitchen Kettle Village. We spent the morning exploring the shops, feeding animals at the little petting zoos that are everywhere there, and watching some Amish women who were canning some sort of salsa at the jam kitchen. We ended up eating hot pretzels for lunch while sitting next to two Amish children who had a little stand made out of a red wagon, and some scrap wood. Their product offering was a variety of previously used horseshoes which they had spray painted. We chatted with them while we ate and our topics ranged from school to dog breeds to their typical summer day. It was a great way to start off our week.

Dinner that night was an epic flop. We ate at the Good N Plenty restaurant, which serves a variety of PA dutch offerings, family style. The chicken, mashed potatoes, and homemade bread were a hit, but beyond that the kids were disenchanted. They tried several of the offerings, like cracker pudding and apple butter, but we didn't push them as far as chow chow and beef stew. I know, we're headed to West Africa. I know, we're in trouble. Trust me, it's a matter of prayer.

This picture makes me laugh. This is who I am. Chunky bracelet, sequined shirt, holding 2 pocketbooks with a third in the bag. I am feeding a llama and I am about to move to West Africa. What in the world?

The Kitchen Kettle village mascot. If you look carefully, you can see one of our lunch buddies in the left rear portion of the photo. She and Lizzy were excited to find out they were the same age.

The next day, we headed to the Herr Factory, which was a big hit. It was free, informative, and fun. Not to mention, yummy! Hot potato chips, right off the line are delicious. We got to see them make pretzels, nacho chips, popcorn, and of course potato chips. The kids picked out a huge shopping bag full of various bags of "oops" chips to take home and the entire thing cost of $6.00. I found a new favorite flavor, salt and pepper, and Ryan fell for the dill pickle.

That evening, we went to the Sight and Sound theater. This, my friends, was incredible. We saw the story of Joseph and it was so neat. We all sat riveted the entire 2 hours. We've been listening to the soundtrack ever since and it's a new favorite.

Outside the Sight and Sound

The final "fun" thing we did while there was a trip to the Hershey Chocolate World. I have to say, this wasn't my favorite. Don't get me wrong- I love chocolate and all things Hershey. I appreciate the life of Milton Hershey and the humanitarian contributions that he made. What I didn't like was that there were non-stop opportunities to spend money from the minute you walked in the door. Wanna make your own candy bar? It's really cool, and it can be yours for $14.95. Wanna watch a 3-d movie about chocolate? Great, it's only $7 each. I suppose that's to be expected and I knew it going in, but I still don't have to like it.

We did have fun riding the free chocolate ride, practicing packing Hershey kisses, and even letting everyone choose their own $1 candy bar from the gift shop. We did pay to ride the singing trolley tour which took us all around town and explained the life of Milton Hershey. They showed us the Hershey factory, mansion, hotel, park, and school. The two actors who were our tour guides made it fun and the kids loved that they got free candy every few minutes. We did it once, we'll check the box, next time we'll go somewhere else. I guess I'm more of a National Parks kinda girl.

The anticipation is building...

About to practice "packing" kisses

Waiting for our trolley to take off.

This was the first souvenir that Isaac selected. Needless to say, we redirected him to the $1 rack.

At this point, the trip headed in a different direction and we spent the rest of our week in the outlet malls. But that, my friends is a different post for a different day.

Sunday, July 10, 2011


First of all, let me just say that I don't understand why they call Boston, Beantown. Never once did we experience the opportunity to order stellar beans on any menu we encountered. Which was fine with me, as I'm going to be getting my fair share of beans soon enough. But, Ryan would have liked to have some of those famous Boston Baked Beans. Apparently it's a historical reference.
Now that we have that out of the way... I can say, Boston was a neat city. I'd like to go so far as to say it's beautiful. But, we spent 4 days experiencing the city through the hoods of our raincoats, so I wouldn't know. Neat? Yes. Beautiful? Maybe, the jury's still out. Anyway, we had a great time and I definitely want to go back once more before I die. There was too much to see in a few days.

Here's a bit about what we did do. We stayed the night somewhere in Connecticut on our way up to DC, so we made our way into the city midday. We decided we'd try navigating the Suburban all the way into the city since it was the middle of the work day. Going in was fine, coming out, not so much. We tried it once, it was fun, we used the "T" for the rest of the trip. Bostonians apparently get the terms "freeway" and "parking lot" confused.

That first afternoon found us at the Charlestown Navy Yard exploring the USS Constitution, the USS Cassian Young, and the Maritime Museum. They were all really cool. We would have stayed longer, but we wanted to beat the traffic out of the city (or so we thought.)

It was here that I cemented my understanding of the fact that the kids are significantly more interested in things that they just studied, not things they were excited about 2 years ago. There are 2 ships in the yard- one was "Old Ironsides" from the war of 1812 and the other was a WWII vessel. I just knew the former would be of greater interest, but I was wrong. They were totally captivated by the Cassian Young and they were able to access information that we had just read with our 20th century history studies this year. That ended up being the pattern for the whole trip. The things we had just studied were definitely the bigger hits. The Maritime museum had one of the best displays for kids that I have ever been to (and I've been to a few museums.) They took what I thought would be a pretty dull and narrow topic and presented it in some very engaging ways. The best part was, it was free! When we finished our time there, we all concurred that we do not, under any circumstances, want to experience the life of a sailor in 1812.

Boys and their cannons, what more can I say?

This "sailor" interacted with the kids really well, explaining to Isaac that he was old enough to be a powder monkey aboard the USS Constitution. Obviously, whatever he's saying at this moment has Abby aghast!

Here's Abby at the maritime museum, loading a goat onto the deck of the ship.

The next day we road the subway into the city and got off at the Boston Common. We knew that our first priority in Boston was to see the duck statues and ride the swan boats. If you're a mom, you know what I'm talking about, the Make Way for Ducklings gang. My kids have loved Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack, and Quack since they were little bitties. I can't tell you how many times I've read that book, and we have the audio book too! We quickly found the duckling statues in the Public Gardens and took our pictures there. But, when we got to the swan boats, they were closed because of the yucky weather. We were so sad!

There they are, the ducklings immortalized in bronze forever. Abe claimed Mrs. Mallard and wouldn't move, so the others are simply smashing those cute little ducklings.

The rest of the day found us walking the Freedom Trail. This is really something that you should do. Seriously. In a few hours, you can cover a ton of Revolutionary history. We started at the Boston Common and ended at the Old North Church (you know it... one if by land two if by sea.) It was really neat seeing those amazing places. Of course, it's been 2 years since we read all about it, but the big things like Paul Revere, the Boston Tea Party, and the Boston Massacre were still on the kid's radar, so that was good. I'm hopeful that the next time we study it, they'll have the memories of the actual places to make it even more alive to them.

One of the MANY neat graves we saw during our Freedom Trail walk.

Apparently, Teddy Roosevelt also visited the Old North Church.

Paul Revere's house. Did you know that he had 16 children?

I'm going to be totally honest here and say that while the Freedom Trail was totally cool, the fact that we got off at the North End and made a purchase at Mike's pastries, made it extra special. Amazing pastries, incredible cannolis, and macaroons that melt in your mouth. Need I say more?

After taking a bit to decide, then working up the nerve to get aggressive enough to push to the front of the line, we finally scored some yummy goodness!

On day 3 we headed out to Lexington and Concord. There, we rode a little trolley tour that took us all around the area. It was a good choice for us. They did a great job of covering the events that occurred there and helped us understand all about the "shot heard 'round the world." Again, there was too much to see. We wanted to explore Concord more, but by the time we saw all there was to see in Lexington, it was too late. The girls and I really wanted to see Orchard House, where Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women. But, alas, it didn't happen. However, we did get to go into the house where John Hancock and Samuel Adams met Paul Revere during his Midnight Ride. We also went into the Tavern where the minutemen were hanging out while they waited for the redcoats to march into Lexington. Both have been amazingly preserved.

The Minute Man statue in Concord.

We headed back into Boston the next day, stopping by Harvard Yard along the way. The kids were totally unimpressed by all things Harvard. Which is honestly fine with me (buncha liberals ;). We did all concur that the burgers we ate at the famous Mr. Bartley's Burger Cottage were darn good. What can I say, when you're eating a Joe Biden burger, wondering if you should have ordered the Sarah Palin instead, it can be little overwhelming. However, the cake batter frappe that we all shared was what really made the place yummo!

The famous John Harvard statue. Notice the shiny toe. We didn't have any exams to take that day, so we didn't rub it.

Mr. Bartley's Burger Cottage.

From there, we headed to the Public Gardens, where we finally got to ride the much anticipated swan boats. They were all that an iconic experience should be and we especially enjoyed watching the animals as we rode. After that, we walked from the Public Gardens to the Prudential Center where we boarded a Duck Boat tour so that they could show us all of the things we hadn't seen yet. The kids have begged us to take one of these puppies in several cities we've been to. We said no in Philly last year. We've said no in DC multiple times. We caved in Boston. What can I say, we're weak. Honestly, when it became painfully obvious that we couldn't see all of it and that the sun was not going to cooperate, it seemed like a great idea. And it was. We had fun riding in an amphibious vehicle, seeing the city partly by land and partly by water. We learned things we wouldn't have learned otherwise, and Isaac even got a chance to drive the boat on the Charles River. We did not, however, buy the children those annoying quacking duck bills (unfortunately, a couple of them did use their own money to purchase them!)

Here's a shot taken from our swan boat. The driver's actually pedal those things like a bicycle.

This, my friends is a photo taken inside the Boston Library. Be careful not to confuse it with any one of our Franklin County, NC branches. The resemblance is remarkable.

Isaac driving the duck boat.

On our way out of the city on Sunday, we drove a little ways up to Lowell, MA. This was a great national park that perked our interest because the kids had read all about the Lowell Mills this year in school. There, we got to explore the weaving room at one of the old mills and see and hear the looms in action. We got to walk through a typical boarding house for the mill girls and hear about the tenement life that came with the influx of immigrant workers. We walked along the canals that were built in the city. It was a neat experience and once again, Ryan and I learned as much as the kids! Unfortunately, we forgot the camera, so we have no photos to prove we were there.

We headed out of Lowell and made our way down to Lancaster, PA. And that my friends is another post, for another day.