I like to joke that, by now, the stuff that makes up our “house” is sort of like a pop-up tent. Usually, within a week of getting our boxes of stuff, we’ve got everything unloaded and pictures up on the wall. I think seven moves since I started with the Air Force and five since we’ve been married means that we’ve learned to do this move thing fast. So, it makes sense that, upon arrival in Dayton, we painted every wall in the house within the first 36 hours, set up a new playset, pulled out giant bushes from the front garden bed, and cleaned up the yard all before our boxes had even arrived! Gotta get done moving before you can get on with living!
Thank goodness Grammie & Granddad were along to help. I’m not sure we’d have gotten nearly so much done without Granddad’s expert painting and carpentry advice and Grammie’s superior child-wrangling skills. By the end of the fourth day in Dayton, we were all ready to cut loose and enjoy some down time.
Then, five days after we arrived and put together a newly clean house, freshly painted walls, and clean carpets, it started raining just in time for the moving truck to show up. Figures.
By the end of that night, we were all able to eat on clean plates at the dining room table and sleep in real beds with clean sheets. Not too shabby. By the next night, we had made a home-cooked meal and the kids’ rooms had pictures on the walls. We were exhausted, but starting to feel settled.
Grammie and Granddad had to go back home after a couple more days, but we got so much done while they were here to help. In fact, we cleared out all but two boxes before they left. It sure put us in a good spot to be able to start working on the projects that make a house a home. So, we dug out the toys…
…and hung up the pictures…
…put away the books…
…then mowed the lawn.
And, on the tenth day, we decided the rest could wait and we’d probably better think about living a little. So we did.
Ahhh. Home Sweet Home.
We drove away from Las Vegas on July 14. The trip to Dayton is not a short one, especially when you’re hauling two fidgety kids and a dog. Luckily, our route looked like this:
Turns out there’s a great little spot along I-70 to stop just in the middle of the trip. It looks like this…
Magical right? After four long years in the desert, McPherson was a green oasis and a welcome respite from the crazy-ness of moving. We were unsure of how long we would be able to stay before our truck driver showed up, but ended up being able to spend two whole days there. We had no trouble filling them up.
My birthday was on the 15th, so we celebrated with ice cream cake the night we arrived. It was fabulous…until I was sick out of my mind that night. Miserable way to turn 32. But, stress and lack of sleep tends to do that to me and I was feeling much better by noon the next day.
Feeling better was good because we had cousins coming to visit! In this military life, photos and moments like these don’t happen very often. We’re thrilled when they do!
After two nights in Kansas, it was time to get back on the road and finally get to Dayton. We made room in all the junk in the trunk for a suitcase for Grammie and she was able to come along on the ride.
At this point, it was Dayton or bust!
One of the realities of military life is that, when your family arrives in a new town, you know that the end of that place is just over a few horizons. You live your life in a sort of temporary way – nothing so precious that it’s not possible to walk away from it. But, we spent four years in Vegas and, while many things about it drove us crazy (heat and wind, anyone?), I think we all found that we were surprised by the depth of roots there when it was time to leave.
After a low-key, use-up-the-leftover-pyrotechnics Fourth of July, it was time to really get ready for the movers. Even though someone else packed up all our stuff and did the heavy lifting, we still had to do quite a bit of work to be ready for that process. Pictures, shelves, & curtains had to come down. Holes in walls had to be spackled and touched up. Suitcases had to be packed for the week-long roadtrip looming before us and boxes of essentials readied for arrival at a new home in Dayton. Luckily, I was done with work by this point, so could spend days while the kids were in school getting the house ready. In fact, they were at school while the movers were packing us out, so they arrived home to lots of boxes one day.
Turns out, an obstacle course of boxes was a pretty great way to spend an afternoon on the plasma car.
Although, I will admit that an obstacle course of boxes is a less-than-restful way to find your way to bed at night.
And, since there wasn’t much to do in the house in the evenings with no stuff and all that time to work during the day, we made sure to get a few Las Vegas highlights checked off our list. We didn’t spend much time on the strip in our four years, so the kids had never seen the Bellagio fountains or the flowers there, so we went to visit one afternoon before dinner.
Surely the rainbow in the fountains that day was a sign of good things to come?
After three days of packing and truck loading (and a final job interview for me…talk about a stress-filled week!), it was time for the final load of boxes to drive away. This was our first move where we had kids who would know what was going on. When we left Edwards, Ava was six months old and her source of stability was, simply, us. Both kids were leaving the only home they’d ever known and that had the potential to be pretty disruptive. So, we talked about it a lot and talked about what would happen with our stuff and how it would get to our new house. That’s all pretty abstract, though, so we thought it might help to watch the truck drive away.
That day was a day of big goodbyes. It was the kids’ last day at school – a place that they both loved and full of people who loved them. Thankfully, the kids did fine, but the teachers and I were sort of a blubbering mess. It took me so long to feel comfortable leaving my kids in daycare. Bright Horizons was truly a blessing of love and comfort for all of us.
With Ms. Nettie, the only teacher who had them both and was still there when we left.
Last day of school cupcakes to share with her class.
We got home just in time to watch the last few boxes go on the truck and see it all drive away. But, like with all military moves, the departing family never does it alone. Of course, the Hoffmans were there to help us crazy-wave to our truck as it drove around the corner.
Just four Air Force kiddos, taking it all in stride.
I can’t even begin to describe the grody bums and feet we cleaned because of their perch. Some things about Vegas are NOT missed.
And, because there’s been no major moment in the last six years for which the Hoffmans have not been present, they were even there for our last meal in our house – even though it was only in the generous spirit of the meal they provided.
The next morning was Matt’s final out appointment at work, so the kids and I took it kind of easy first thing in the morning and camped out in our now-empty home. (Thank goodness for wi-fi!! Never, ever disconnect that until the day after you’ve left a house.)
Then, to make it painfully obvious how much we would miss them, Sarah came over to deliver a vacuum cleaner and take my kids for the day. And, for her effort, Noah randomly threw up on her while they snuggled after nap. She didn’t even bat an eye. Seriously. Is there anything that says friendship better than that?
We shared one last awesome Caspers/Hoffman family night with some take-out PF Changs and fun and then it was time for one last crazy-wave to say good bye.
In spite of all it’s challenges (and maybe my best effort to the contrary), Vegas has forever become a place that will feel like home when we visit. And, as always, the people were the hardest to let go. It’s such a strange and wonderful life we lead. Off to the next great adventure!
Our 4th of July was decidedly more low-key this year as were mere days away from a PCS. So, we traded in a day of fixing food and exciting desserts for a day in the pool and some sparklers. Worked just fine for us.
We did do a little celebrating in the form of a parade at the kids’ school, though, and that was definitely a highlight.
We did have a few sparklers hoarded from years past that we had to get rid of before the movers came, so we made sure to light them all.
When in Hendertucky, right?
Turns out sparklers and poppers are the perfect fireworks for little kids, so we had a great time.
While we watched the neighbor’s larger fireworks display, the idea settled in that this would be our last Las Vegas 4th of July and was the last holiday before our move. A big adventure was looming and it was time to start getting ready!
Even though we’d lived within 400 miles of a natural wonder for four years, we didn’t get around to visiting until a month before our PCS. (That’s the way it goes, right?) We were so fortunate to make our first trip to the Grand Canyon with Grammie & Grandad, who were also on their first trip. We all met at a McDonalds in Williams, AZ, and then drove into the park together. Of course, when we got to the sign to make it official, we had to stop for a photo opportunity!
From there, we headed straight to the visitor’s center to pick up some maps (Whoozers was demanding one since we wouldn’t give up the one we were navigating the car with) and to get our first view of that big hole in the ground. Let’s just say…it definitely delivered a “wow” moment. They weren’t kidding when it was named “Grand.”
We were fortunate to be staying in one of the in-park lodges with an adjoining room to Grammie & Grandad. Oh, the luxury of adjoining rooms! Easy access to hand kids off one direction or the other so everyone has a chance to shower, a place to hang out after bedtime and, most importantly, double the space for kids to run amuck during the short time we spend inside on this trip. Such a great thing!
After we got the lay of the land from the visitor center, we watched a short movie about the history of the canyon and then went to check in at our room. We got settled, grabbed some dinner and then headed out to watch our first sunset. Because we had heard a few horror stories and were extremely paranoid, Ava spent her visit to the Grand Canyon on a leash. We wouldn’t normally go for something like that but we figured better safe than sorry. Whoozers was mostly cooperative when we explained that we just wanted to keep her safe. But, when we got out of the van to head to the lookout point, she cracked us all up by saying, “OK, who’s going to walk me like a dog?”
The next morning, Grammie and Grandad went to watch the sunrise while the rest of us caught up on some sleep. Then, we headed for a wonderful breakfast at a historic lodge before our big hike down Angel Trail.
Let’s be honest, there’s not a bad view of the Canyon. Even the little spot right outside of the restaurant was a scenic vista!
Since our bellies were full and we were full of energy, we geared up and struck out down the Bright Angel trail. This is one of the trails folks who are hiking the whole Canyon would use to reach the bottom. We only intended to go a little ways down before turning around and heading back out. We were carrying a baby on one back, had a pre-schooler on a leash, and a woman deathly afraid of heights along for the ride. Needless to say, we took our trip pretty slowly and were careful not to push too far.
This was about as far as Grammie got before she turned back to go enjoy the Canyon from the safe space of a large window. Grandad walked her back and we kept on moving downhill for a ways. Then, we found this….
It’s a very valid warning about the dangers of hiking the canyon unprepared. However, signs like that are just begging to be mocked. Exhibit A…
Eventually, Grandad caught up to us on the trail and we climbed down a bit more before turning around. The path back up was more of a mental journey than a physical one, as we had a very tired preschooler on our hands. But, she was able to press through and make it back to the top.
Do you see Grandad in that photo? Look at the clearing in the middle…he’s wearing a yellow shirt. Didn’t seem like that far, but photos don’t lie!
Of course, when we were done, we all felt a little like this…
We grabbed some well-earned lunch back at the top of the canyon and then spent the rest of the afternoon attending the necessary lectures to earn Ava her Junior Ranger badge. We learned about California Condors and did a few activities in here Junior Ranger book. The swearing in ceremony was so cute!
And then, it was time for another sunset at yet another lookout point.
The next morning, Matt and I went to check out the sunrise while the kids slept safely in the room (hooray for adjoining rooms!). It was gorgeous and I think there are some photos somewhere, but I don’t have them ready for this post. Because we’d exerted ourselves so much the day before, we were all running a little low on energy and decided to take a bus tour out to one of the edges of the Canyon. We got off the bus at several stops to take a ton of photos and look for Condors (we actually saw three on this trip!).
Even though this was a bus tour, we still ended up doing quite a bit of walking. First, we felt like this…
And then, we ended up feeling like this…
So, it was time to take a break and just sit and look out at the very edge of the world.
The bus ride back to civilization was crowded and we had a couple of squirrly kids on our hands.
So when we got back to the hotel, we figured a little “off leash” time was in order. And, by, did they ever love that. Some previous resident of the hotel had set up an amazing fallen-log fort and it was just what these safety-confined children needed.
After that, it was one more sunset, one more breakfast and then a last look at a piece of majestic American terrain.
We piled back into the van and headed for home. We were so glad to share this experience with Grammie and Grandad and don’t know how we would have managed without them. Now we can consider that major item on our American West bucket list checked!
In November, on the first Sunday of Advent, we attended our first church service at St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church in Boulder City, Nevada. It’s probably no coincidence that we would find our church home (after a long search) at a place named after the patron saint of travelers. The congregation there welcomed us with open arms and a tolerance for noise during service and we’ve been going ever since.
We’d been attending for a couple months when Father Jim came to us during coffee hour after the service and asked, “Well, what are we going to do about baptizing these kids?” That was all the invitation we needed to get the ball rolling on just such an effort. Finally, on April 29, 2012, both kids were baptized in the presence of many family & friends, and welcomed by a church family that has shown them wonderful love.
All dressed up and ready to head to church.
We named our siblings and Brooke as godparents, but were lucky enough to include special friends in the ceremony also.
Thanks to John, Liz, Ricardo & Brooke for joining us for the service.
Grama Sue & Grampa Steve made the trip for this special event also.
Rev. Shirley always serves as deacon for baptisms at St. Christophers. Such a lovely lady.
Noah didn’t like the first bowl full of water, but calmed right down for the second and third.
He had decided that John was his “person” that day and wouldn’t give him up for anything.
Ava was so ready to be baptized. She answered all the questions in the service herself and then hung her head over the bowl like she couldn’t wait. She even took out her headband before they started so she could really get wet!
Both kids were anointed with oil after baptism. It smelled really nice!
In the Episcopal tradition, all one must do to receive communion is be baptized. That means that Ava’s first communion was immediately following this ceremony. While Father Jim said the liturgy, Ava was hanging over the railing begging him to hurry up! He could hardly get through it because she was cracking him up so much. When it was time, she practically leapt over the railing to take communion. She was so excited!
Following the service, the congregation hosted a lunch and cake to celebrate the kids. They also gifted them with beautiful crosses which now hang right over their light switches (because for some weird reason, that’s just where they go in our house).
Rev. Shirley always provides the cake for baptisms. Such sweet people here.
The fam with Father Jim in front of church.
These kids are so loved and St. Christopher’s has been a blessing for our family. What a wonderful day!
We love the kids’ school here and one of the reasons is that they truly go above and beyond to help our kids grow and then share their learning with the families. They routinely welcome families into the center to celebrate the kids’ efforts and we so enjoy getting to visit for something more special than drop-off and pick-up.
At the end of April, school hosted an Art Expo to showcase all the artwork the kids have worked on this Spring. It’s astounding to me the level of effort put forth by the kids’ teachers to set this up so wonderfully (and to get the projects done in the first place!). Even though both of our kids had been out off and on for a couple weeks (vacation and illness) beforehand, they both had something to share for each of the exhibits put on by their class. Amazing.
So, first, here’s Ava’s artwork.
A flower, painted during their week-long focus on plants.
Water color painting. Not sure what it’s supposed to be, but it’s pretty!
Family portrait. From left to right, Ava, Daddy, Noah, Mommy.
Decorated picture frame.
Class group project – tissue paper heart.
And, Noah’s artwork.
3-D paint art.
Tissue paper collage art.
Salad Spinner Paint art.
Painting on an easel.
This event was so special – not only because we got to see the kids’ work, but also because of the pride everyone there was feeling. The kids did all of this themselves, which made them feel good, and the teachers are genuinely proud of their efforts. I just love that they are all so thrilled to share with us. All the art is still hanging on the walls and displayed on tables in the hallways and Noah runs around saying “Art! Art!” every day. Thanks so much to the wonderful teachers and staff at the school…you all are truly amazing!
Even though our house had been turned topsy-turvy with illness for the week preceding, we had tickets to go see Thomas the Train and we weren’t about to let a little flu bug keep us away. (Truthfully, we thought we’d beaten the illness only to come home and find that Noah’s temperature was 102 after he cooled off.)
No matter how one is feeling, a day with trains is always counted as a good one in our house. And a day with Thomas the Train? Well, that’s pretty spectacular.
The whole thing is set up with crafts and games and, of course, a Thomas Toy tent, and it’s basically a commercialization-phobe’s worst nightmare. But, we didn’t do too bad with that stuff and only walked away with a commemorative train car for Noah and an “Emily” engine for Ava to add to our growing train car stash. Gotta love easy-to-please kids.
We had time to kill before our train ride, so we poked around in the display trains in the rail yard.
Dude wanted nothing to do with wearing the engineer’s hat I had gotten for him. Oh, the lost photo op!
So, what they do for the Thomas Day Out is put the Thomas “engine” at the front of the regular train and put the real engine at the back to push. It was pretty cute and just the right length of train ride for us.
When the ride was over, we got to see Sir Topham Hatt. Ava was thrilled to wait in line, but wanted nothing to do with him when he showed up. Doozers seemed like he was going to be really friendly, but then bailed and wanted to be held by Mommy to get his photo taken. (Add train characters to the Santa Claus, Easter bunny phobias!)
The Southern Nevada Railroad group was running a garden steam train for folks to ride for free also. So, Matt and the kids took a whirl.
We finished up our visit watching Thomas come back into the station with the last run of the day.
We ended the outing (the first over 100 degree day this spring) with a trip to DQ to cool off.
But, lest you think our time with trains ended when we left Boulder City, think again. We went right home and put our new toys to work.
We ended the night with a cheese & crackers dinner while we watched a Thomas show. A great day and a fun time exploring one of Noah’s favorite things!
Believe it or not, we managed to cram even more fun into our San Diego trip than just the zoo and the beach.
Since we had a rainy day that wasn’t very outdoor activity friendly, we met up with some old friends at the fabulous Balboa Park to check out a train museum and grab some lunch.
It’s no secret that Noah (and his daddy) love trains. So, when Matt discovered that Balboa Park plays host to the San Diego Model Railroad Museum, we knew we had to make a visit. It truly did not disappoint. Boasting 28,000 square feet of layout, it’s a train-lover’s dream come true!
Matt and the kids at the first viewing stage. Kevin Conner is Matt’s boss from Tyndall.
“Noah, what does a train say?” I think he hooted the whole time we were in the building.
A carnival on the layout. The detail on these models was amazing.
There was a whole layout of toy trains too. This part had a kid-friendly button that made a Thomas train go around a loop.
Noah pushed it several thousand times.
On our last full day, we visited the Birch Aquarium at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. It was a fairly small aquarium, but perfect for a windy, chilly day.
The kelp garden was cool.
This child has never met a stranger.
The view from the aquarium balcony.
Those were the last of our outings. We spent the rest of our visit playing the sand and, in my case, nursing a migraine. So glad we took the opportunity to visit the Pacific coast while we are still so close. Three cheers for husbands who call for a vacation in the middle of the day! Let’s do it again soon!
Can’t forget to add that, on the way to San Diego, we passed the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile! Totally random and very fun!
First exhibit of the day were some monkeys (chimps?). Our little monkeys loved it!
It would have been insane to go to San Diego and not visit the world’s best zoo. And, since we’re not really crazy, we went. Rain was in the forecast for most of the days we were visiting, so we took advantage of the sunny weather on our first day in town and went to see some animals. The truly lovely thing about San Diego was that it wasn’t hot or cold, just pleasant, so the animals were out and about doing their thing. So much more fun to visit them when they’re playing than when they’re scrambling for shade because it’s a bajillion degrees outside.
We got to the park right when it opened at 9am and stayed until about 2pm. I think we saw everything but the tigers. The kids did great with all the walking and the no-nap day and Matt and I were in vacation mode (i.e., give them whatever they want so that they’re happy and we all enjoy this). We had so many pictures from the day, it was hard to choose just a few. So, will share a bunch with captions to tell this story.
Taking the double jogger was key. Ava needed a place to sit by the end of the day!
These statues were all over the zoo and the kids loved climbing on them.
Early morning outing for the male gorilla, so that he can “take care of business.” This was pretty hilarious.
He walked right over in front of us, turned his back and got to work.
When he was done, he walked right over to the glass and got nose to nose with Ava.
Guess he wanted some privacy.
More playing/posing with the statues.
Totally her idea.
On Ava’s insistence we rode the gondola before lunch, from the top of the hill. Turns out she’s brilliant. No line, and we got a roundtrip ride with no wait because our stroller didn’t fit. Awesome!
Noah loved this ride. I was a nervous Nelly and had a pretty tight hold of him.
The kid has no fear and is a total thrill junkie.
More gorillas out to play as we coasted overhead.
The polar bears put on quite a show! They played a little water polo together and were very entertaining!
Can’t go to the San Diego Zoo and not see the pandas, right? We waited in line for about forty minutes, but the kids were pretty patient. I will say that I’ve not seen pandas this close before. The ones in DC are far from the fence and usually hiding. These guys were cute!
Noah LOVED the giraffes. They were pretty busy and very near the fence, so he had a great view of them.
At the end of the day, we wound up at the petting zoo. The kids brushed the goats and Noah played with their dirt.
Gross, but they had a great time.
This about sums it up. One last pose with a statue and, yes, we were all wiped out!
Passed out snuggling his new giraffe buddy on the ride back to the hotel.
Thanks for the memories, zoo friends!