July 27, 2012

A-camping we will go!

A couple of years ago, when James and I discussed some things we wanted for our family, we talked about camping. It was something I did occasionally with my family and with my youth group at church. James didn't do much camping at all. We thought it sounded like something that would be good and fun for us and our two boys and really liked the idea of getting good at it.

That first summer we went camping once. It was before S was born, it was cool for August, it rained, the campground was great and had a private beach on Lake Michigan, and we borrowed my sister's tent. We all had fun, despite some of the downsides and the fact that I was just starting my "all day sickness" at the beginning of my pregnancy so the campfire smell (which I usually love) got turned into a nausea inducing smell that I'm just now coming out of. Amazing how those things linger. It was a decent beginning to our camping career.

Last year, we borrowed our friends' tent and camped near Niagara Falls on our way to Maine. We planned to camp more of the time, but a few different problems interfered so it was only the one day. We had fun again, and learned a little more about the process. Namely, have some food ready to eat when you get to the campground because it is hard to set up a tent, start a fire and cook your food while wrangling little boys!

This year, we made the jump and bought our own tent. Target had a sale on a six person Coleman tent: $69 down from $101. With our Target card we saved 5%, with my Mypoints membership we got free shipping so the total was only $69 and some change with tax! Since it had good reviews and it was such a good sale, we bought it and it was at our door within two days! I set it up before we used it to make sure it was all there and working before we needed it to provide shelter. The boys helped me test it by running around inside and around the outside.

Our first camping trip of this year was to the place we went on our first camping trip three years ago, to Covert Park and Campground in Michigan. We were planning a beach day with my family on Monday, so we decided to camp Sunday night and meet at the beach on Monday. Then I convinced (without too much work) my family to stay at the campground too. The place has these two campsites up on a big dune hill that are secluded from the rest of the sites. There are a lot of stairs to get up there:
Not fun for hauling up all our stuff, but very cool otherwise.

My sisters, nephew and my family had those two sites on the hill. My parents declared that they were too old to sleep on the ground, so they rented one of the cabins available. It had beds with mattresses, a table and chairs and electricity. Plus it was closer to the bathrooms.

The benefit of staying overnight was that we got to swim until the sun set, then wake up and go to the beach for the sunrise! As soon as the kids woke up, we headed down. 

The sun rose on the opposite side of the lake, but that didn't make it any less beautiful!

James is the photographer of the family, so I try to take his picture to make sure we have evidence that he does come with us on these adventures!

Cousins hanging out on the beach in their pj's.

My handsome boy.

After morning beaching, we went back up for a campfire breakfast. Then it was more beach! We were too busy swimming for pictures. When S wanted a snack break, we broke out the granola bars and juice boxes.

He was so tired from a late night and early morning, that he actually fell asleep in my arms on the beach. He hasn't done that in a while, so it was nice to get those moments with him.

Meanwhile, James started helping K with a sand castle, then got really into it. K wandered to a different place, but James kept working.

It was a great mini vacation, and the only negatives were a bunch of bug bites (for James), and sunburns (for K and James). Not too shabby.

Back with our second camping adventure soon!

July 11, 2012

Book Review: Riven

I am a Christian, yet most categorically "Christian" things annoy me. Christian fiction definitely included. I usually avoid most of the stuff at the Christian bookstore (in the rare occasions I've actually even gone into that store). The way people pander to a demographic just to sell things like books and music is SO frustrating. And usually false. Reading a book that supposedly reflects my views, but with a shiny cover and oddly phrased language makes me want to burn books. And I LOVE books. Needless to say, I don't read very much so-called Christian fiction.

That said, I was excited when our church came out with a recommended reading list for the summer. Not required, just some books that some of the leaders are familiar with and knew would be encouraging and interesting reads. I love my church and the fact that they don't often fall into the stereotypes of what most of the world thinks of when they hear the word Christian. I trust our leaders and learn a lot there, which is why we make a forty-five minute drive every week to attend!

The first book I got from the list was Riven by Jerry B. Jenkins. I read all 500+ pages over about three days and was completely blown away. This is a wonderful book that I'm now going to recommend to everyone I know!

The story follows two characters and switches back and forth between them throughout the book. One is a middle aged pastor who hasn't been treated very well by the different small churches he has pastored and ends up working as the chaplain in a supermax prison. As a result of years of struggle and obstacles (family drama, work disappointments, the depressing nature of the prison, watching a death row inmate die) he's not feeling very loved or taken care of by God. He keeps his faith, but has to face his doubts and fears. The other character is a boy from the trailer park, literally. He grew up rough and though he gets a few chances from a few sympathetic people over the years, he's constantly fighting against poverty, addiction and his own poor choices until he ultimately ends up on death row himself. Then the two characters encounter each other and God and miraculous things happen.

Though very entertaining, Riven is also very real, encouraging, and convicting. Never did I feel the Christian characters were one dimensional or over simplified. The view of poverty, crime, addiction, and sin wasn't heavy handed or didactic. The whole thing was just right. I've met these people before. I've faced some similar situations (though this book wasn't much about relating for me). I cried through the last couple of chapters (and I'm not much of a crier) and when I finished reading, I was different because of it.

I can't say enough about this book. It was more than worth the read and I'm really looking forward to more similarly impacting reads!

July 10, 2012

Lego/Angry Birds Birthday

After a loooong procrastination on my part, here is the info on K's 6th birthday party. I didn't take any photos that day (too busy!) and put off getting them from James's phone so I could post them. And, I forgot to ask him to take specific pictures of some of the stuff we did to decorate with the theme. Oh, well.

K decided on a Lego theme a few months before his birthday. However, we didn't find a lot of good stuff for decorating for that, and he saw some Angry Birds plates and napkins that he liked, so we merged the two ideas into a Lego/Angry Birds party! He does love both. And a lot of aspects merge together, as you will see in some of the pictures.

Once again, I got a lot of ideas from Pinterest. Thus, the day before the party I was making a Lego piñata in the dining room! (Note the open laptop next to me for reference.) Got the idea here and here.

And, once again, I was very grateful for an artistic husband who was willing and able to make these cool gift bags.

One thing that is really hard with kids, and in this case parties for kids, is that they want to help. K gets into helping get ready, which is great. I want him to help and be involved in his own day. However, us adults have to try not to get mad at the kids for messing stuff up when we are trying so  hard to make it look good! James made these great bags and then K wanted to add his own art and write the names on the bags. You can see some of K's additions here, but before the party he had completely covered some of the bags with scribbles. We didn't get angry at him, but man is it is hard to bite your tongue after you've worked so hard to make it cool and then it ends up just looking messy!

This is almost the entire group of kids at present time. They were very good and no one tried to open any of K's presents! I love it when kids grow up! (And a look through most of our photos reveals this scene over and over: me surrounded by children!)

The merging of Lego and Angry Birds was best seen here, in our live action Angry Birds game.

My sister had this big set of plastic Legos. They open up to put things in and stack together with the little holes and dents, just like real Legos. So I came up with the idea to stack the plastic Legos, put K's one Angry Bird pig toy into the stack and have the kids throw his Angry Bird stuffed toys (and some other stuffed birds we have) at the whole thing. (For those not acquainted with the AB game, that is the basic idea. Pigs try to hide in "castles" made different materials and then the birds get tossed at the structures until all the pigs are knocked down.) They loved it! Other than some squabbles over position in line, it was great! (The original idea was to do this but this way I got to use Legos too.)

The day was very hot, about 95 degrees, so we were inside and outside the whole time, so there were times to cool off. This next picture shows one of the few shots of the decorative stuff. K and I made utensil and napkin holders out of his Legos. (Look at the front of the picnic table.)

We didn't get any shots of the balloons, though. My sister has helium at her work, so she blew up a bunch of green balloons that James then drew Angry Birds' pigs on and Lego faces. I filled Mason jars with assorted Legos and tied the balloon to them. It was windy that day, so it wasn't too successful outside, but still a good idea!

The finished piñata, I made it pull string because we had a mix of little kids (2-3 year-olds) and bigger kids (6-7 year-olds). It actually worked out that the last string was the one that opened the piñata, so everyone got a turn!

Since the fake tattoos were so popular for S's party, when I found a package of 200 Angry Birds tattoos at Target, I snapped it up! Most of the kids had full tattoo sleeves by the end of the party. :)

I also made another foray into a theme cake. I made two cakes in bread loaf pans, put half a large marshmallow on a toothpick and frosted. My sister was big into Legos years ago and had this big Lego board I was able to use as a platter. Perfect! The colors got a bit blown out in this photo, but I was able to get pretty close to the primary colors of Lego bricks. These were the colors K chose. (The idea for the marshmallows was from a friend, but I came up with the rest myself.)

A little easier to see here. I had to keep the candles in the doorway so the wind didn't blow them out before K could!

Other party fun: 
I spy the Lego Guy. James made a few Lego guy heads out of cardboard that I taped around the house and had the kids run around to find. 
Guess how many Legos in a jar.
We were going to do a Lego building contest, but ran out of time and energy.

Another party note, for anyone else looking for ideas-since we did a piñata, at K's request, we made the goody bags for the kids to fill with piñata goodies and didn't try to get extra stuff. I put goody bag stuff in the piñata, like Lego erasers, candy from the Dollar Store (but the chocolate melted in the heat!), bouncy balls and other little gifts from the Dollar Store and dollar section of Target.

This party was fun, but I think I tried too many ideas at once. The 7th birthday might need to be toned down a bit!