{Ruthie- 15 months}

Today was Ruthie’s 15-month checkup. Thankfully she is a healthy, happy baby, and today’s visit only confirmed that! She weighed in at 21.2 pounds (9th percentile) and is 29 inches long (10th percentile). She has dropped significantly in her percentile rankings for both height and weight since birth, but the doctor is not concerned considering the fact that she is following the trend of her sisters (petite and small-framed).

Ruthie is a great eater despite not having any molars; she eats just about anything we feed her! Her favorite foods are cheese puffs, peanut butter and jelly, Gogurt, pizza, and grapes. Anytime anyone is eating one of those foods, Ruthie cries until someone shares with her.

Ruthie is still not walking independently, but she will push toys or cruise along the furniture. It is only a matter of time before she takes those first steps and builds her confidence!

She says a few words: baby, mama, dada, Belle (her word for dog-it’s our dog’s name), ball, and paci. Although not all of them are clear, they’re the beginnings of communication with us. She points, and of course cries, to also communicate her wants, but as her vocabulary grows that will diminish.

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This photo says it all: Ruthie is a sweet addition to our family!

Our Ohio Trip

The kids and I were able to visit my family in Ohio for almost 2 weeks after leaving Northland.  First we stopped at my dad’s place for a few days.  He lives in a suburb of Columbus, in a small town called Groveport. There are many parks surrounding the area, and he happens to live across the street from one. There are walking trails, fields, and playgrounds. My dad and his friend live in a condo, so the park was a blessing! The kids were able to ride their scooters and get out of the house a bit.

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Taryn on the playground

Teagan at the park

Teagan at the park

Our first full day with my dad we spent swimming at a local YMCA. Since we have a membership, we were able to swim for free. It was a beautiful facility with a large outdoor pool and baby pool. The weather was overcast so the water was a little cold. The kids swam for about an hour before we moved to the indoor pool.  We swam inside for another 3 hours or so. It was fun (and free)!

Tristin-Grace at the park

Tristin-Grace at the park

The next day we went to the park in the morning and then after lunch we loaded up and went to Chuck E. Cheese’s. The kids played on the indoor play set and enjoyed the arcade games. They all earned enough tickets to redeem them for candy and other prizes so everyone left happy. Our last full day was spent visiting my aunt who lives about 45 minutes away from my dad. We got there just before lunch time and grilled out. The kids rode their scooters, played a lawn bowling game, blew bubbles, played with the dog, and just enjoyed being outside. I had a nice time catching up with my aunt and just being with family. My aunt had so much food that we all left stuffed to the brim, but it was a very nice day.

Tanner at the park

Tanner at the park

The last day, my dad helped the boys and I pack up the roof topper. We enjoyed lunch and got on the road to drive to my mom’s shortly after. My parents live about 2 hours away from each other. When I arrived at my mom’s, my grandpa pulled into the driveway right behind me. My sister and her family arrived shortly after him.

The kids swam (my mom has a pool) while my mom, my grandpa, my sister, my brother-in-law, and I all chatted. I haven’t seen my grandpa in about a year so it was nice to visit with him. He travels extensively and was leaving the next day to tour various parts of Canada for a week. I’m glad our schedules aligned so that I could see him.

The next day, my mom and I took the kids to a park along Lake Erie to picnic and swim. It was so nice! It truly was like the beach at the ocean with sand everywhere. The only difference was the smaller waves. The sun was hot, the water was refreshing, and the beach was busy! After swimming and picnicking for a few hours, we showered and changed (so nice when there are places to rinse off the sand!) and headed back to my mom’s.

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The beach on Lake Erie

We enjoyed a quiet weekend at my mom’s, with my sister and her girls visiting and the kids just enjoying the company and the pool. Sunday we attended church with my mom. It was not a traditional preaching service but instead an opportunity for the youth mission team to give an update on their recent trip to Florida. It was so nice! I thoroughly enjoyed the testimonies, watching the update video, and just seeing how God is working to build His kingdom all over the country! At the end of the service the pastor challenged the congregation to pray every day for one of the youth team members. The boys and I were able to acquaint ourselves with a young lady, a rising senior at a local high school, named Morgan. As she spoke, I saw myself as a high school senior in much of what she said.  That worship service is one I will never forget!

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Annie & my niece Ellie ready for church

Along with swimming and hanging out at my mom’s, we also drove 2 hours to Pittsburgh, PA to visit my brother. He is attending culinary school at the Art Institute. I had never been to Pittsburgh before and I was pleasantly surprised. The city is very clean and easy to navigate. I was able to reserve a parking spot online the day before, so that really alleviated many of my fears (remember Chicago?).  I found the parking lot, a valet came and parked the car, and we were on our way. He (the valet) was so nice! He allowed us to use his bathroom (inside a locked office building that required a key code) and happily provided directions to the subway entrance. I felt totally comfortable giving him my car keys.

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Waiting for the subway train

The kids were so excited to be in a big city, and the fact that we were taking the subway to meet my brother was even more exciting! We found the station, descended to the platform, and found our stop on the map. Once the train arrived, we boarded without a hitch. It was so fun watching the excitement on their little faces! I’m so glad they got to experience riding the subway as it is not a common occurrence for us.

We met up with my brother and he gave us a tour of his apartment. We then walked a few blocks to see his school building, and then a little further to picnic in the city square. There happened to be a downtown celebration going on that day so there were games set up for the kids to enjoy. Disney Junior was also there playing music and offering prizes to the kids. It was really fun to just experience life in the city, surrounded by people and city noise and tall buildings!

Playing Jenga in downtown Pittsburgh

Playing Jenga in downtown Pittsburgh

From there, we walked a few more blocks to another park to see the water. Pittsburgh is surrounded by 3 rivers. We watched the barges and saw the trains coming and going into the city. There are old, steel bridges, a mix of new and old buildings, and trolley cars on cables that go up and down the mountainside. From where we stood, we could see everything at once. We also saw Heinz Stadium (where the Steelers play) and the Carnegie Science Center. All in all it was an excellent day!

Across the river from Heinz Stadium

Across the river from Heinz Stadium

Another day was spent doing what I love: treasure hunting at the flea market! My sister lives in a small town characterized by Mennonite families. They own most of the businesses in town, and have successfully operated a flea market for many, many years. I remember going to this same flea market (only smaller and at a different location) when I was a child. The new location is both an indoor and outdoor facility.

Inside is full of Amish and Mennonite shops. My absolute favorite is the deli. They sell local cheeses of all varieties, but the Swiss is the best! They also sell their “cheese ends,” which are the rounded ends of the cheese that are difficult to slice. They package a small variety together and sell them really cheap. I always buy whatever cheese ends are available for that reason.  Along with the cheese, the kids love a locally made summer sausage called “Trail Bologna.” It is made in nearby Trail, Ohio and can be found only in select stores near there. It is soooo good!

The outdoor part is where the really good deals can be found. Local (and not so local) residents rent a space and sell everything from kitchen sinks to fresh produce, old coins to old razors. Every visit means the possibility of finding something new. I just love looking for a great find, and my kids have learned to love it, too!

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Cow Appreciation Day at Chick-Fil-A

We also spent some time at my sister’s house. My long-time friend Chelsea brought her boys over and we spent the afternoon catching up. Later we all went to a local candy store and let the kids pick out a treat before heading to the park to play. It was so nice to see her as it had been a year since our last visit together.

Thomas and my friend Chelsea's son, Nicholas

Thomas and my friend Chelsea’s son, Nicholas

All the kids outside The Hartville Chocolate Factory

My mom, my sister, and some of the kids outside The Hartville Chocolate Factory

My time in Ohio was enjoyable, yet very busy. I miss my family so much, and it’s so hard to leave. The kids cry every time because they miss their grandparents, cousins, and friends so much! But, as sad as we were to leave, we were all very ready to come home. We had been gone for 20 days and hadn’t seen TJ for almost 2 weeks. We have been home now almost a week and are slowly returning to our normal routine.

One thing is certain, this summer has flown by!

Here I Am!

The past few weeks have been B-U-S-Y, to say the least. For starters, my sister, Erin, and her 3 girls (ages 6, 4, & 2) came to visit for a week during my church’s Vacation Bible School. While the kids had fun in their classes, Erin and I helped serve lunch to the missionaries each day. It was a great way for us to spend time together, as well as get to know the missionaries better.

VBS ended Friday at noon, and Erin was on her way home by 2p the same day. We were sad for a few minutes, but then the realization hit that we were leaving the next morning and would be gone for 3 weeks– I had LOTS of packing to do!!

Saturday at 7a we headed out and began a 2-day trip up to Wisconsin. Our destination was Northland Camp and Conference in Dunbar. We went to Family Camp with two other families from our church. A hotel in Indianapolis, Indiana was our stop the first day. Due to some unforeseen circumstances (traffic, shopping at Kohl’s, and misreading a GPS, among others), we didn’t arrive at the hotel until about 10:30p.

We were up early and on the road again on Sunday by 9a. Sunday’s travels involved a driving tour of Chicago, complete with a few U-turns and illegal parking. But, the Lord provided a nice relief to an otherwise stressful time in the form of chocolate milk. Let me explain….

We couldn’t check into camp until after 8p. Travel time from Indy to camp was about 7.5 hours. Since we left at 9a, that meant that we would arrive about 5p. Once we subtracted an hour for the changing time zones, we had about 4 hours to fill in some way. We decided to picnic at a park in downtown Chicago. It was a great plan, it really was. The problem- there was a marathon going on so access to parking was limited. Further, all the vehicles had roof-top carriers making them too tall to fit in a parking garage.

As previously mentioned, we circled around the city a few times, and we were even separated from the other cars in our caravan for a little bit. We “happened” to pull up alongside a curb and as I looked up the road, I saw the other two families also parked along the same curb. Praise the Lord! Chicago is a BIG city and the fact that we were able to find each other by “chance” is nothing short of the intervention of God. As we stood on the sidewalk discussing our plan, we all realized we were illegally parked: we were in a handicapped parking zone and the other families were in a loading zone. Because of the marathon, the towing companies were in full swing, ready to pounce on any unsuspecting vehicle.

We loaded up some very disappointed kids (who were ready to get out of the car and walk the city a bit) and decided to travel farther north into Wisconsin to a park along the shores of Lake Michigan. The kids were really upset and at the moment of sheer breakdown, the Nestle bunny walked over to the window and knocked. It not only surprised us, but it stopped the crying instantly! He gave all of us a free bottle of chocolate milk and thankfully the mood inside the truck was better. I am convinced this, too, was another intervention of God.

We drove another couple of hours north and made our way into Wisconsin.  We stopped in a town north of Green Bay for KFC to pack for our supper that night upon our arrival at camp. Although we hadn’t eaten lunch yet, this was our last opportunity at finding a place to eat before nearing the camp. The camp is a good 45 minutes away from any type of real civilization.

After leaving KFC, we drove a few miles east and enjoyed a picnic lunch on the shore of Lake Michigan.  The water was surprisingly cold, so cold that we actually had a contest to see who could keep their feet in the water the longest. I didn’t win… 😉 The weather was just gorgeous, along with the sites! The air was warm, there was no humidity, the sun was shining, and we were able to see a couple of deer and a red fox while we picnicked. We enjoyed playing ball, running around the grass, and just simply being with one another. The kids played, the adults conversed, and life was great!

After our 2-hour or so picnic, we loaded up and made our way farther north and a little west to camp. We arrived shortly after 8p and checked in. The camp was AMAZING!! I was a little skeptical at first glance, but after being there a few hours, I was hooked. The camp is smaller than the camp I am accustomed to going, and I really didn’t know how Northland would measure up. But, I quickly learned that bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better.

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The layout of Northland is wonderful! All of the cabins are situated so that they form a perimeter around the main “green”, and the chapel and dining hall form the perimeters on the other sides. In the center of camp is a small playground with a swing and slide, and that is surrounded by green grass. The lake was on the opposite side of our cabin building (our room faced the lake), and near the lake was a sand volleyball court and mini-golf course. On the opposite side of the camp was the giant swing, climbing wall, and zip line. The coffee shop, comparable to Starbucks, and the craft shop were both attached to our cabin building. At the end of our cabin building was the rec hall which housed the game room, snack shop, and gift shop. There was also a basketball court (which I didn’t play, but the boys did). IMG_3806

Our cabin was furnished with a private bath and 4 sets of bunk beds. We also had a mini-fridge and crib. Because there are so many of us, space was tight, but it was okay. My kids were responsible for keeping their own areas clean and picked up so that their stuff didn’t get mixed up with another’s. For the most part they did a good job. 🙂 Thankfully there was a laundry facility so I was able to do laundry 4 out of the 6 days we were there. I did have to pay, but I expected that. IMG_3809

The food was amazing all week! I brought snacks with us thinking the kids might be hungry before they went to bed because supper was around 5p each night, and with all the evening activities, we weren’t in bed until almost 11 all week. However, we never even opened them. The food was a nice variety and all-you-could-eat. If my kids left hungry, it was their fault!

Along with the above mentioned activities, there was also swimming, fishing, kayaking/peddle boats, archery, and hiking. We did a little of everything every day. There was never a moment where the kids said, “I’m bored!” We actually made them stop each afternoon and take a rest from 2-3p just to get some down time. IMG_3812

Out of everything that was at camp, the PEOPLE are who made it such a memorable experience. Not just the families we traveled with, but the staff and counselors at Northland. Because of the smaller size, there simply isn’t space for thousands of people to come to camp each week. It is more realistically like 100 or less. Family camp is larger than the junior or teen camps, but still, a smaller camp means a smaller staff. The staff made it a point to get to know the families they were serving. They knew our names, they spent time with us, including the children, and they took a genuine interest in our lives. They helped us at meal times with making plates for the kids, they played games with us in the rec hall, and they hung out with us as we did the various land activities. Simply put- they were a HUGE blessing!IMG_3815

We also thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the other families in our group. One family we knew well, but the other family we didn’t know that well. Our time traveling and at camp afforded us the opportunity to become closer to them as couples. We realized we have a lot in common, and our friendship was ultimately strengthened. Another blessing was the time TJ and I were able to spend alone as a couple while there. Northland gave us plenty of time each day to learn more about the Lord and reflect on those teachings together. TJ and I were able to connect in a way that we haven’t been able to do in a long, long time. We laughed together, we talked together, we played games together, we just spent time together in a way that didn’t revolve around the kids, or the house, or the job, or life. It was different. It was refreshing. It was wonderful.

At the end of the week, we packed up and headed back south. We again spent the night in Indianapolis, only this time we arrived with enough time to swim in the pool. The kids had fun (and so did the adult men). We ate pizza, swam, and laughed and laughed (and laughed some more). The realization that our amazing week together was coming to an end was a little sad, but truly the memories will last forever. The next morning, the kids and I packed up and headed to Ohio to visit my family while TJ hitched a ride home with one of the families in our group.

More about Ohio later….