Friday, June 23, 2017

A Trip to Milwaukee

So, Coraline had this thing on the side of her neck for several months. At first, I thought it was just a bruise. Then it actually turned more red than purple. I wondered if it was some sort of ear drainage from all her ear issues. It didn't seem to bother her, so I didn't really worry about it.

For the first several weeks it looked kind of like that bottom photo and seemed to be getting better. Then out of nowhere it turned bright red (like the top photo). That's when I started to think maybe we should go to a Doctor. But I'm cheap and didn't want to pay for it, and I knew we'd be seeing my brother, a Family Physician, in a couple of weeks. I could ask him, right? (I'm sure Doctors are super annoyed by this attitude, but oh-well). 

When he checked her over within the first hour of us seeing him (it'd been almost two years since I last saw him ... priorities, right?), he just shrugged and said not to worry about it. By the time he saw it, it was more like the second top photo but without the long stretch at the bottom -- it was just the two dots on her jawline. 

Then one day she was eating a Pizza lunchable and it grew. Strangest thing. The two dots that had been there for almost two months expanded, connected, and grew the line down her neck. I figured I'd ask our Pediatrician about it -- but I'd wait till Mara's six month check up. 

Well, our Pediatrician asked a couple of questions that made it pretty clear she was trying to rule out cancer. Wow! Let me tell you how great that felt. I did let her order blood work just so we could safely rule out anything dangerous.  When the results came back clear she sent us a referral to a Pediatric Dermatologist. Pretty specialized right there, huh? I figured for sure we'd get our answers and the 90 minute drive to Milwaukee Children's Hospital would be worth it. 

Nope. We stumped the Pediatric Dermatologist and all her colleagues she consulted with at the Medical College. 

And now ... on the day of this write up ... it's basically gone. What a mystery!

But all that isn't even what this post is suppose to be about. No, the point of this post is to share the joy and chaos of my day trip with four small children to downtown Milwaukee. It was a fun little getaway, a lot of work, and a day I felt so alive. Big cities make me feel so alive (ironically; open, empty desert landscapes have the same effect).

The hospital is located in the space right between city and suburb, but we hit the heart of downtown for lunch in the park and a trip to the Children's Museum. I was hoping the park would be right along Lake Michigan. Though technically it was, our view was blocked by concrete slabs of parking lots and boat docks. So we settled for that view of a little retention pond instead. 

And while it was fun to see the Milwaukee skyline smashed up against the lake from afar, it wasn't so fun getting lost and having to turn around a couple times. I swear, parking is such a hidden headache. How was it not better marked? Anyway, we had loads of fun once we finally made it inside the museum. 

I loved how they worked together in the news room. If you check out the computer screen where Lou was working on the lighting, you can see that they even used a firetruck on the green screen and Nell had Reid placed really well in the shot. It was all so adorable.

I think the kid's favorite spot was the outdoor bugs on the roof play area. The last time we visited this museum it was cold and rainy, so they hadn't played with the bugs before. If you look closely in that shot you'll see how close we really were to Lake Michigan. It was a beautiful background.

We did eventually have to make it over to Coraline's appointment. She was the cutest little patient. I loved how that tiny little robe drowned her sweet body. I'm so glad she's healthy. Between this, infant reflux, constant ear infections and her tubes -- she has definitely been our most expensive child! But she's well worth the moula. 

In the end, I guess this post really was more about her medical mystery than our fun day to the city. But ... I'm not changing the title anyway. I loved my little weekday getaway with these four kids of mine!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A Garage Sale

We held our first garage sale over one of the weekends between our two weekends in Illinois (you following me?), back here. Every year the people on the front end of our street hold a garage sale in late Spring. Last year I begged them to let me in on it next time. I was pregnant with Mara then, and I was already so excited to get rid of all our baby stuff! I've been hoarding away junk for the garage sale for about a year now. Sheesh!

I stored it all in bins in the basement. I tried to keep things organized as best I could -- toys in one bin, clothes in another, etc. I didn't price anything until the night before. As I put stuff away I did contemplate how much I might list it for, but by the time I had it all out I was running on Walmart's business model. "There's so much crap here! Just sell it as cheap as you can!"

People got awesome deals, I tell ya. And we made out pretty well ourselves. Ben predicted we'd make $200, but my goal was $400. We brought in $450, but we paid out $20 to a babysitter Friday morning and the kids each made a little haul off some of their toys and the lemonade stand. Plus, we spent about $10 on signs and lemonade and treat supplies.

The main reason I'm posting about this though, is because I want to give myself a little advice for next time. Yes, I plan on doing it again sometime in the next two years (maybe one, maybe two -- we'll see how I'm feeling next spring). This advice is directed straight at me. If you're looking for a true "how to" I recommend googling it.

1. PUT OUT A CHAIR! I'd read about this on all the "how to" sites I researched, but come crunch time I completely forgot about it. I spent all day Friday on my feet. Not only did it hurt, I think it was awkward for some people (see #2).

2. Try harder not to socialize. I've worked retail in the past (and I'm good at it), so it was natural for me to greet people, refold clothes, straighten out things after people looked at them, etc. But garage sales aren't The Buckle and I think most the people who frequent garage sales have little desire to interact with the seller. Plus, when I got chatty (several people I knew -- be it well or casually -- showed up) I made more mistakes with my money totaling. There were two women who I know through a mutual friend and I'm pretty sure their kids walked away with things they thought they had paid for but I hadn't noticed. Oh well.

3. Don't negotiate in the first few hours. I hate bartering and rarely do it myself. But ... I know bartering is part of the whole garage sale experience. I prepared myself by creating my own deals that would try to dissuade people from asking for their own bargain. For example, the clothes folded up on the tables were .50 each or 5 for $2. I also prepared myself by having a bottom number in my mind for most our big ticket items. But when people tried to take a dollar or two off mid-priced items I usually agreed, and in hindsight I wish I'd had a "no dropping prices till noon" policy when I first opened Friday morning.

4. You'll need more tables than you think. I had Ben get three to start with, then he went back for two more, and then even more. We ended up using 7 or 8, plus we had stuff on bins and other things out on the driveway. It was packed!

5. We did borrow a clothing rack from a friend, and we made our own rack with a broomstick and two ladders. But next time I think I'll just use our ladder, since it opens up flat. If I prop it up on storage bins or something it could cover up the whole back length of the garage.  Speaking of clothing racks: I grabbed a couple bags full of kid's hangers from my favorite stores and it was awesome to have everything appropriately marked as far as size goes! I just need to do this sooner next time (see #6)

6. Get everything (change, tables, clothing props, sale items) set up two nights before opening. This leaves one full day for pricing and photo advertising. Pricing really wasn't too difficult, but I think I listed a lot of stuff super low because I was just tired of it by the time pricing rolled around. Plus, I wasn't able to advertise with photos until bedtime the night before, but I did have several people stop by because they'd seen my photos ... so it works!

7. Put a sign on a fence post at the edge of our lot. The people at the beginning of our street attract a lot of shoppers, but I think a lot of people left after stopping there.

8. Some of the best advice I used from other's (and I might forget) was to wear an apron instead of having a cash box. Put any tools or other "man magnets" closest to the street. Remember people typically shop from right to left. To hep guide the flow of traffic, have big ticket items on the right and high traffic items in the back middle.

I think that covers just about everything I want to remember for next time. Ben may be questioning my sanity if he hears me say I want to do it again. It certainly is a lot of work and if I break up the hourly wage it is hardly worth it ... but I think I'm more motivated to get rid of stuff if I sell it myself than if I give it to Goodwill (that may be selfish, but at least I recognize it). I do feel lighter now that all that stuff is out of my house, and I'm glad we've got some extra spending money to tune my new piano!

Two of my little helpers keeping me company Saturday morning

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Two Weekends in Illinois

Mother's Day Weekend
I can't believe I am this far behind in my blogging. No, actually I can believe it. Obviously I am very aware of the minimal amount of blogging that's been happening since Mara entered my life. Sorry family journal/public ramblings ... I've had a sweet baby to hold!

Anyway, I do want to document our fabulous Mother's Day weekend at Rick and Carol's place last month. The kids were in heaven the whole time. They loved snoozing in sleeping bags in an empty upstairs bedroom (it's empty because of the move). They spent hours digging in the giant sandbox also known as the fire pit. Carol hides jewels in there and the kids love finding those little treasures. They may even love it almost as much as the smore's!

Isn't that the most gorgeous fire pit you've ever seen? It was such a beautiful evening to sit in the shade of those pine trees and enjoy (what we thought was) one last summer night at Grandma and Grandpa's.

Reid could hardly sleep that (Saturday) night because he'd been counting down all week to the day he'd get to give me his mother's day present. I've never seen him so proud or excited. It was nice to know he finds more joy in giving than receiving. And that says a lot, because this little boy loves to get new toys.

Perhaps the sweetest part about the necklace is that my own mother wore a clay bead necklace every mother's day. My brother Jon made it for her when I was Reid's age, so having one of my own felt like I'd really made it into motherhood hall of fame.

Of course, about twenty minutes before this picture was taken I was upset with Ben and the kids and we all just about packed up and went home ... but it was mother's day weekend so we are only recapping the perfect moments, right?

When the primary children in the Beloit ward were called up to sing the song they'd been practicing, my own kids joined them. I'd read Reid the words right before so he played along well. But Nell just stood front and center with her lips closed into a small but tight smile the whole time. They'd missed singing their Easter song because we were in Utah, so they weren't about to miss another one!

For dinner we headed over to Julee's house for a BBQ. As always, Reid was in heaven playing with Jackson and Nell and Allie had a ball. In fact, all four of them played outside together for most of the hour or so that we were there. I love watching them enjoy their cousins, and we are going to make a special point of seeing them regularly still. The kids were pretty sad as we drove away. They sure are going to miss staying at Grandma and Grandpa's house.

Last Weekend
The title for this section serves two purposes. Our second trip to Illinois occurred this last weekend, and it actually was the last weekend trip we will ever spend with the Szilagyi's at the Rockton house. Pretty crazy!

Sam, Bizzie (and the twins), and Lauren all came for a quick weekend. There was a good mix of seeing friends, playing with cousins, and packing up. We didn't arrive until after 8 pm Friday and we were on the road again by 4 pm Saturday, so it was a quick trip.

Since we'd said our goodbyes over Mother's Day weekend, the purpose of this trip was to pick up the piano Rick and Carol had so kindly offered me a while ago. Ben wasn't keen on the idea (and he still isn't), but we are now the proud new owner's of a used piano! I can't wait to get Reid into lessons this fall. We came home with other little treasures as well. The kids were over the moon excited to inherit Grandma's fairy garden collection. We had to use two pots to fit it all! And we had to go to the garden center first thing Monday morning, so they could have them all planted by noon. Getting it done that soon was still a trial of their patience.

Before we left Rockton Saturday afternoon we did squeeze in an hour at the pool with just about everyone (Bizzie, Sam and the twins stayed home for naps). Nell and Reid both went off the high dive. It was so fun to watch them. It was Mara's first time in the pool and she loved it. Lauren held her most the time because Coraline was clinging to me like a leech. We need to start throwing that girl in a pool more often.

It was a quick trip that had a few chaotic hiccups (ugh -- U-haul), but we were so glad we could make it down to see Grandma and Grandpa (and some Aunts and cousins) one last time. 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Photos of My Girls

Here are some totally random pictures of my girls. Are you ready for these? Cause really, this will go down in history as the most random post I've ever written.
Here we go.

April 24
Mara's first solids. I mashed up some banana for her and she was not feeling it. 
April 25

 Magically, the very next day the EXACT same mashed banana was absolutely delicious!

May 1
 Nell was the most wonderful police officer Oshkosh Public Library has ever seen! She stopped robber from getting away with loads of cash and she also (for real life) found a missing toy and returned it to the rightful owner. She was in imagination heaven and I couldn't help but snag a photo.

May 1
That very same day, Mara fell asleep while we were grocery shopping at Festival, so I took some time to admire. I figure if all the old ladies want a peek at her, I better take time to enjoy her sweetness as well.
May 5
She actually had a pretty hard time adjusting to life after our Utah vacation, so I got some extra snuggles in during nap time. I think she may have had a bit of an ear ache, but nothing too severe.

May 5
Coraline on the other hand, has this mystery going on. More on that later.

Look at those three girls? Are they not the cutest? Words can't even describe how much I love each of them. 

Sunday, May 28, 2017

A Moment of Perfection

Our family experienced a moment of perfection this afternoon. It wasn't planned; it wasn't painstakingly created. But it was perfection.

Ben and I rounded everyone up for neighborhood nature walk when the two littlest girls woke up from their Sunday naps. We made it to the school's nature center by about 3:30. Lou was on her own two feet, so none of us were in a hurry. We took time to observe all the seeds the various trees have shed. We stopped at the creek to race pine cones and poke at a dead fish. We enjoyed the wild flowers. 

Honestly, I was surprised by how pleasant it was to walk through the nature center at a toddler's pace. Mara was riding in a pack on Ben's back. She'd occasionally sing out for attention. She'd quickly smile when I glanced her way. I can only think of one instance of whining throughout our entire hike. The kids were so curious and content. We picked up trash, identified various fungi, and watched the clouds roll on above our heads. 

Ben and Coraline found a snake on the rocks near the pond. Reid, Nell and I listened to the bullfrogs moan as we tried to spot them in their hiding places among the reeds and lily pads. As we stood on the floating bridge small sprinkles began to splatter on the water. Ben scooped a tiny baby turtle out from under a lily pad, and Reid and Nell each took turns holding it. The exciment of the whole hike was nearly impossible to contain. "This is so fun seeing so much nature!" Reid kept exclaiming.

As Ben put the turtle back into the pond (right near a bullfrog who would likely eat him for dinner), he pointed ahead at the classroom shelter area and told the kids we'd stop there for our snack. The rain started to pick up as we hiked the small hill out of the pond area. By the time we were all settled down with our water cups and trail mix the drops were really coming down. We had no idea that the little rain cloud we'd identified earlier would pick up so much steam so quickly. The down pour was intense for a full 60 seconds or so. The Earth felt so fresh and smelt so new.

By the time we all finished and each picked up another piece of trash, the sky was bright blue and filled with the suns beaming rays. As that light beat down on us I could nearly touch the perfection of this beautiful afternoon. I'd say my heart nearly burst -- but that is not an accurate description of my emotions. My heart was calm. My joy was full. And I knew that having this sweet little family of mine was the greatest adventure I could have ever dreamed up. 

When bigger storms inevitably come, I hope I always remember the simple peace of afternoon walks like this one. They are an anchor for my soul. 

Friday, May 26, 2017

Utah Vacation in Quick Takes

I've been sitting on my posts about our Utah vacation and haven't drafted up anything substantial yet. So, I need a new approach. I'm going to quick take our Utah vacation! Just so you're in the know, a quick take is a mini post that doesn't really seem sufficient on it's own, so I publish it in a group with seven other mini posts -- making the total post really looooooooong (the name can be misleading). Brace yourself.

I already wrote all about our travel to and from Utah and gave a quick overview of our various adventures back here. I also drafted a post for our Bassett family reunion. So today I'll mention the other odds and ends of our trip that I would like to remember.

1.  Bassett Family Easter Egg Hunt
On Saturday my mom hosted an Easter Egg Hunt for all her kids who could attend (Jon's family wasn't able). We also had our big yummy Easter dinner. The kids had a lot of fun playing with cousins again. But if I'm being completely honest, I've forgotten most the details from our afternoon. I remember Isaac found the money egg in the garbage can (luckily Reid thought his 25 cents had a bigger value than Isaac's 20 dollars, ha!). I also remember my mom's traeger grilled turkey roast was amazing. So those are the important memories you get for the egg hunt.

2. Meet up with Friends
Earlier Saturday morning Ben and I walked the kids down to the grocery store for it's anniversary sale. They have 25 cent hot dogs and cotton candy. Nell had been dying for that cotton candy for weeks, weeks! We waited in line for what felt like forever, and then she didn't even dare taste it. Seriously. I was so mad. But ... I did see a couple of old friends while I waited in line. It was funny, Reid was trying to figure out how I knew people in Delta if we didn't live there. "So you're friends, but you just met her?"

One friend I ran into was actually someone I was planning on meeting up with later that night. Two of my best friends from HS, Ali (Nickle) Hughes and Carolyn (Gardner) Jenks, were both in town for the weekend. They came over to my parent's place once all the kids were in bed and we chatted away for about two hours. It was so fun to catch up and see where they are in life. I just love the memories we share together and how much we still connect after all the growing and changing we've experienced in adulthood.

3. Easter in SLC with the Szilagyi's
Sunday morning we loaded the kids up in my parent's minivan and headed to Salt Lake City for another fun Easter Egg hunt and dinner with their Szilagyi cousins. They loved playing with Henry and Jazella, and Coraline and Mason got along marginally better than they had the week prior when Katie and Mason visited us here in Wisconsin. Two-year-olds are such interesting social creatures. It's like, "hey, I like you and want to be your friend" one minute and then "I'm mad at you and am going to plow you down for no apparent reason" the next.

After the hunt the kids each found an Easter basket from Grandma and Grandpa Szilagyi, and it's a good thing because we had absolutely no Easter bunny this year. And you know what, the kids didn't even notice his absence. It was perfect. Reid couldn't wait to build his new Lego plane, Nell quickly switched her and Coraline's My Little Pony's (Nell wanted Pinky Pie and Lou loves Rainbow Dash -- so it was a great trade), and I couldn't wait to watch Moana.

We walked to Church with Bizzie and Steve shortly after the hunt. As we settled into our pew Ben leaned over and commented that the median age of our group was four. To make things worse, the mode was zero! We had three babies, and then a pair each of two, four and six year olds. They were easy enough for five of us adults to handle. Ben and Lauren took the two-year-olds home for nap after sacrament meeting. The others all stuck around for primary (or naps in their parents arms).

After Church we headed back to Bizzie and Steve's house for a yummy, yummy Easter dinner.  It was so fun to spend some time with each of our families over the Easter weekend. We had originally planned to stay the night in SLC, but I was so tired of traveling and having new sleeping arrangements every other night that we decided to just head back to Delta that evening. The kids were such troopers through all our many travels in this first leg of our vacation.

(for a quick recap: Tue -- travel from Oshkosh to Delta, Wed -- from Delta to Hatch, Fri -- through Bryce Canyon and then back to Delta, Sun -- from Delta to SLC and then back to Delta, WHEW!!!)

4. Exploring the Wild, Wild West
On Monday Ben took Reid out to the dump to look for scorpions (we'd read a big scorpion book from the library earlier in the month) and Reid said "I think we're in the wild west dad!" He was pretty excited to be part of the real deal. Even as Ben tried to explain that it wasn't so much a place as a time period, Reid insisted that the outskirts of Delta were in fact, the really real Wild West.

Scorpion Hunting near the dump.

Trilobite hunting at U-dig
They had even bigger adventures when they went to U-dig fossils with Nell on Wednesday. At U-dig they were able to search for trilobites and they brought back a whole bucket full! Ben said they also saw even more scorpions than when they went scorpion hunting.

Those two big kids of mine are super in to Dinosaurs, and Nell has always really loved rocks. So the fossil dig was perfect for them. Though they are young, I hope it was a fun day with dad that they'll always remember. When they got back to town he took them to the gas station for lunch -- a slice of pizza and a soda. They were beaming from ear to ear when they arrived home.

5. BBQ and sleepover at the Bassetts
On Monday night my brother Matt invited us over for a BBQ. The weather was perfect for it and the food was delicious. It was such a wonderful evening. Reid and Isaac learned of each others love for Minecraft and quickly ran to the basement to play it on the Xbox.

The kids were not happy about having to head back to Grandmas at bedtime. Reid wanted to play Minecraft all night, and Nell certainly didn't want to leave if Reid didn't have too. Ironically though, Reid was pretty anxious about actually staying the whole night at Isaac's house for a sleepover. He didn't quite grasp that staying all night meant not sleeping in a room right next to his mom and dad. In the end Reid came home around 9:30, but Nell stayed the whole night through. She was in heaven; I'm sure. Zoey and Sofia were both such sweet cousins to her. They really helped her feel like one of the big girls, and I know she valued her play time with each them.

6. Picture Night
We made plans to have one last get together with all the Bassett's (we hadn't all been together since the reunion) on Tuesday night. Our main motive was to snap a picture of the entire family, but I think the delicious Chinese takeout and cousin play time were more exciting for most the group. The weather had been hot and sunny all day, but about a half hour before picture time we saw the storm coming. Those clouds roll in pretty heavy and pretty dark when storms brew in from the West. It was a complete down pour by the time we were all gathered at my parents place. Their basement -- with it's golden 70s carpet and limited lighting -- would have to do.

Ideal picture or not, it was a fabulous evening to top off a great day. Most the cousins had been over to play for a bit around lunchtime, so my kids were really starting to feel at home with everyone. It's pretty awesome to have so many built in friends to grow and laugh with when you're part of a big extended family.

7. Final Day for Cousin Time 
They had one more day of good cousin play on Thursday. We met Kristina and her kids at the park for lunch. I seriously loved that Hudson was still calling Reid "Buddy" after a full week together. My mom tells me that since we've left he's asked her where his buddy is. I think they'll be quite the match for years to come.

Playing at the "old mine entrance" (it's cosmetic) in the park. 
After the park we headed to McDonald's for some lunch. Matthew and his family came over for goodbyes around dinner time and soon after Phil and his crew came too. My mom ordered pizza and we all watched the kids run around the backyard one last time. Well, I was upstairs trying to contain Coraline's throw ups, but I had a pretty good view of all the action out the back window. Poor Lou.
Fun in Grandma's Backyard

Here's two more photos of things that happened while we were in Delta.

Jumping on the tramp with sprinklers just moments after we arrived home form Bryce.

Reid went to Lance's Barber Shop for a (much needed) haircut.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Bassett Family Reunion

I began drafting this post ages ago, but it's finally here! And now I'm motivated to wrap up our entire Utah vacation as quickly as I can. I mean, it all took place over a month ago ... sheesh!

My mom put so much thought, care, and love into all the details of our stay in Hatch, Utah. She booked a huge, gorgeous home with a beautiful view of Red Canyon (state park). She had treat boxes (and movies) for the car ride to Hatch. She packed goody bags for a boy (game) and girl (spa) party on Thursday evening. And she took care to plan each and every meal from lunchtime Wednesday through lunchtime Friday. I can only imagine how much work it must have been. I'm not sure she'll want to plan another one anytime soon, so it's time for my brother's and I to take over (if she'll let us, ha!).

The reunion started when we all met up at Cluff's drive-in over in Fillmore. The kids got busy playing right away. Reid had a blast with Hudson and Noelan from the get go, and he wasn't super happy to crawl back in the car without any cousins. He was very concerned that we see them all again soon. We tried our best to explain that we were quite literally a caravan of two minivans and two SUVs chuck full of cousins!

Our first group stop was in the town of Bryce. We played around a bit at the shops, but they were all closed since we were there before the season officially kicked off. That seems kind of crazy, because the Park sure was busy for midweek off season!

Nell, Jack, Sofia, Zoey, Reid, and Coraline

Ava and Nell
After playing around a bit in the jail and salon, we drove over to the "Granny Hike." I'm not sure how granny friendly it really was, but the kids enjoyed it. The initial climb was slow and steady, right along a full flowing creek. The last bit of the hike had a steep incline before hitting a fork where you could head toward either mossy cave or a little waterfall. We ended up spending some time at both, of course.

Noelan, Jaedon, Reid, and Hudson

Front: Noelan and Nell. Standing: Max, Ava, and Phil. Crouching:  Zoey, Livy, Sofia, Reid, and Jon.
Ben and I definitely had the slowest kiddos. Nell is NOT a hiker (she whined to be carried the whole way) and Coraline did not want to be carried (and her two-year-old pace isn't exactly fast). At some point Coraline decided she only wanted to be carried by my brother Jon. She preferred him to both Ben and I. It was a nice break, but I also felt a sting of guilt over the whole thing. He carried her almost the whole way to the cave. And when he didn't have Coraline, he ended up with Nell (but her whining stopped the moment she was with him). When we were just about back to the car we heard some hollering from the top of the mountainside. When we looked up we found Nell with Jon and Jaedon in a little cave. Reid and the twins immediately wanted to join them.

Lou being carried by her buddy, Uncle Jon

All the cousins age 2+

Jack and Jaedon in the cave with Hudson, Noelan, Nell and Reid hanging out at the entry. Uncle Phil also included.

Uncle Jon helping Nell and Jack down from the cave.

After our hike we headed to Ruby Inn for dinner. Then we were off to the house for check-in. The house fit us all perfectly and kids quickly started scrambling for rooms and hidden closets to sleep in. We put Mara in a closet (no kidding), and I'm pretty sure Phil put one or two of his kids in a closet. Ava and Livy found a perfect spot under the stairs. There was sleeping room everywhere we looked! The room Ben and I took had a pull out bed for Lou and the huge closet for Mara. Nell and Reid wanted to sleep in the basement with cousins, but by bedtime Reid decided he'd prefer a couch in the Loft, close to mom and dad. Nell had no problems sleeping away from us and was happy to share a room with Zoey, Sofia and Uncle Matt and Aunt Laura.

The basement had a pool table and three bedrooms (plus the under stairs sleeping quarters) that were divied up between my two oldest brothers and their families (plus Nell). My mom and Dad took a room parallel to mine and Ben's. And Phil and his family took the master suite on the main level.

The main level had an amazing view. We loved sitting in the main room and just gazing out the huge two-story windows. When we first arrived the kids spent almost an hour chasing each other around the back deck, which ran the full length of the house. There was also a river to explore at the end of the property. It was so nice that they had so much room to roam since we were stuck with 16 of them in one house!
View of the river from the gazebo, and view from the back deck of the house

Of course the big kids wanted to stay up late, which kept the little kids up. But the little kids still woke up super early, which got the big kids up. But overall, we all slept well enough and had lots of fun together. The adults (minus mom and dad) stayed up chatting till nearly midnight that first evening.

Most of us headed to Bryce canyon for a big hike the next morning. Phil brought his whole family for the first stretch of it. Reid was pretty heartbroken when they took off with Zoey to explore another part of the canyon. But those of us remaining (all of Jon's family, my dad, Matthew and his two boys, and Ben and I with Reid and Mara) were headed on a three mile hike down into the heart of the canyon. It was such a beautiful hike and all the kids did awesome! Jack and Sof were a little scared getting started and then Reid was super tired and slow coming out (in his defense, so were Grandpa and I!), but overall I was so impressed with all those kids!

Hands in for group cheer before take off!

This is the view from the take off point, you can see the trail on the left side.
It goes all the way down into the heart of the canyon and back up the other side of the rim.

Grandpa with all the Grandkids who hiked. Jaedon, Sof, Liv, Jack, Max, Isaac, and Reid. 
Matt, Sofia, and I beginning the ascend out the other side. 
You can see just a couple of the more than twenty switchbacks we hiked up to get out of the canyon.
The look on Reid's face and his need to be propped up by Ben tell it all!

One passerby even commented on how amazed they were that Sof had enough breathe to carry on a conversation with me as we were started a steep ascend. I loved asking her and Livi all about their favorite books and other school activities. I also loved feeding Mara as we walked through the forest in the middle (flat) part of the hike. I don't believe I've ever fed a kid while walking before, but she did awesome the whole hike and didn't even stop us for a feeding. Such a sweet baby!

We met up with everyone (we'd left Nell and Coraline back at the house with my mom, Laura, and Ava) at Subway for a much needed lunch. Phil and his group had gone and explored an off road reservoir while we were hiking. After lunch we split up again for some separate exploration before meeting back at the house for dinner and party time.

Nell and Lou felt so spoiled and so grown up with their gift bags. They had fingernail polish just like their big girl cousins! Thankfully grandma painted their toes while I took care of Mara. Reid was excited to have his own candy bar and soda. He must have shown them to me a half dozen times, and then he didn't even open up his soda to drink it, ha!

Livy, Ava, and Sof lounging with their masks. Nell and Coraline's feet are the top left corner

Once all the kids were all mingled together again (Zoey, Reid, Hudson and Nell had a hard time staying split by gender, they just wanted to chase each other up and down the stairs), Uncle Jon told them to get ready for scary stories by the river. Oh man, those youngest kids were so excited! Luckily Reid took Ben and Nell stayed behind. She and Zoey put on a dance show for us adult women. It was pretty fun watching them beam with joy while entertaining us.

The next morning we all cleaned up and headed our own ways. Jon and Mel went home to get ready for another road trip. Matthew and Laura (with Grandpa) headed home because they weren't feeling great. We (plus Grandma) drove back to tour the main road through Bryce Canyon. Phil and his family went fishing and exploring on another reservoir.

It was so fun to all be together as an extended family unit, and it was also fun to see each of the individual families function in their own stages of parenthood. Mostly, I hope my parents enjoyed having all their kids and grandkids together in a house they didn't have to worry about deep cleaning themselves! It was a wonderful reunion and I can't wait for another one a year or two down the road. 
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