Monday, October 30, 2017

Fireside Chats

I saw no less than six Facebook photos and/or videos of crackling fires Friday night.

{My husband included.}

Arkansas decided to jump from summer to winter this weekend, so we marked Friday night as a good time to break in the fire pit. The weather was perfect and the kids were excited to bundle up and enjoy the crisp air {except for when that crisp air shifted and blew smoke into their faces}. Still, they persevered.

Once we finished our supper, Jonathan took the kids outside to gather sticks and teach fire safety to the chickens. The sun was setting and an eerie warm glow covered everything. I was watching the colors dance on my family through the kitchen window when Jonathan sent me a rather urgent "come here" signal. I went to see why they would possibly need my help, but I was stopped in my tracks by the sunset. Streaks of pink and blue created an alien sky and my children danced beneath it. I stared for a minute, then did my best to catch it:

The pink faded to night in a matter of minutes, so we loaded our marshmallow sticks. Although my family is very into the idea of s'mores, Nathan and I are the only ones who will actually consume them. That doesn't stop everyone from making them, though... and we dined like kings. Once we had our fill, we settled in for spooky stories. It was Hallo-Weekend, after all.

The moon peered through the dark clouds and the kids were quick to scan both sky and ground with every rustling noise. Although each story started once upon a time and ended happily every after, the distance between kids and parents shortened with every tale. After a particularly harrowing story that Nora herself told about sleeping in beds that came to life, she was ready to close up shop. We assured her the stories she knows she made up aren't real and we put the s'more ingredients away until next time.

We had a very busy weekend, but I'm so glad we kicked it off with a little family time. I love the traditions I see forming among our party of five. Even if we set up camp just ten steps behind our house and we don't all appreciate the gooey goodness of outside dessert, I wouldn't trade that night for the world. It was all about slowing down, enjoying each other, and welcoming the new season.

I'm looking forward to more of that as our seasons continue to turn.

{Three kids. Three marshmallows. Guess which one's on fire and win a prize!}

Happy Monday, y'all. What did you do this weekend?

Friday, October 27, 2017

Carver's Delight

I have to let y'all in on a little fall-time secret, so gather 'round.

If you don't buy the biggest carving pumpkins you can pull out of the pile, the carving process is enjoyable! Each year we've snagged three huge pumpkins for our kids, and each year they're done when they learn it takes hours to move from food to decoration. Last night we just let the kids carve the mini versions we picked up at the farm, and we were done before dark. And I don't have a case of carver's wrist today!

Perhaps the Jack-O-Lanterns' stature makes them less menacing, but the kids had time to pose for a picture, then chase each other around the backyard in costume. Common sense? Perhaps. Still a success. Pro tip: Get tiny pumpkins, get tiny orange saws, get a small bowl for the minimal pumpkin guts, and spend your evening with pizza and a movie.

Everyone designed their own: Nathan thought imitation was the sincerest form of flattery, Owen wanted his as goofy as possible, and Nora went with the old stand-by. Owen was the only one brave enough to touch the stringy guts, but everyone attempted a bit of the carving. This just meant Nora stabbing the pumpkin lid while I did the work, but she beamed with pride. We sat the jacks on the porch and gave the cat a stern lecture. To my surprise, they were in the same place this morning.

Our fall family merriment will continue into the weekend when we embrace the dropping temperatures in our backyard tonight, then send Nathan to his first costume party tomorrow {I won't make a big deal of it, promise}. After all that we'll be ready for a Trick-or-Treat Tuesday. You can see that two-thirds of my kids are ready, but Owen is still up in the air. He wouldn't commit to anything at the costume store, so he's going to make do with what we have. He could be anything from a cop to a skeleton to the ball player pictured above. Stay tuned!

Are you ready for Halloween or are you planning a last-minute scramble like Owen? Whatever you do, be careful. You never know what's lurking on the other side of the door...

{Please disregard the dirty windows and permanently glued Easter stickers. Yeah, mostly the Easter stickers.}

Happy Weekend, friends!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Behind the Grins

Warning: I'm going to do a bit of oversharing on today's blog post.

{Yes, even more than normal.}

For the second year in a row, Mandy with Bright Images corralled our bunch in a rustic setting and attempted to capture memories. We loved our family pictures last year, and we think this year's set is even better. Mandy is great with the kids and she can turn even the whiniest session into something you are proud to splatter across Facebook. Please reach out to her if you're in the southwest Arkansas area and tell her I sent you.

This particular "fall" photo shoot took place on a day that hit 90 degrees. Thankfully I knew this ahead of time so there was no sweater nor flannel involved. We also later learned that my poor daughter had a fever during the shoot, so if she looks a bit uncomfortable in the photos, there's a reason for it. Mom of the Year right here, folks.

Today's post does include a few sneaks from the completed session Mandy sent me the other day, but I thought I'd add an entertaining twist. I'm captioning a handful of photos with what we may have been thinking. Some of them were spoken word-for-word. I'll let you guess which.

Me: "Owen, stop trying to drag us down the path and try harder to pretend like you're full of joy!"
Jonathan: "I hope this is really the last one."
Nora: "I hate picture day."
Nathan: "I succeed at most things, including taking direction from photographers."

Boys: "Now, we're talking! Let's throw things!"
Nora: "I will not participate, but there's a very slight chance that I might think this is a little fun."
Arkansas: "The leaves sure are lovely fall shades of brown, dead, and crunchy this year."

Owen: "Is it time to play in the leaves yet?"

Nora: "I'll give you eyes, but you'll have to work a lot harder for smile."

Me: "I'm trying not to throw up and maintain an expression of marital bliss."
Jonathan: "Here, I'll spin you the other way to balance it."
Me: "Um... can we take some where I'm sitting now??"

Nathan: "We are hot."
Owen: "We are sweaty."
Jonathan: "And we still make it look good."


Happy Hump Day, y'all.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Hashtag Fall Goals

Roll up your flannel sleeves and settle in with your pumpkin spice latte, I'm about to recap the Saturday morning of your dreams.

Jonathan and I have been propping babies against pumpkins for years. We used to make it a point to stop by local piles of gourds that were just asking for the perfect pose. However, we'd never visited a real life, grown-on-site pumpkin patch. Miracle Farms Market is located in Bodcaw, about 20 minutes outside of Hope. I'd heard it associated with authentic farm fun and it seemed right up my autumnal alley, but their "fall fun days" are limited to October Saturday mornings. I simply did not make time for it in years past, but we had it scribbled into the 2017 planner.

It was a bit of a drive from our house, so we left in the stillness of the early weekend. The kids were excited to see a farm, and I was excited about quality time in the fresh air. When the highway turned to a winding country road and eventually a dirt trail, I knew we were close. We were greeted by the kindest owners and employees, who treated us like family and seemed genuinely excited that we were interested in their farm. The kids loved what was dubbed the country playground, darting in and out of round bales and making corn angels. They kicked up the dusty ground with every move and went from clean to dirty in record time.

They didn't think twice about it, though, and I loved watching them run wild and free.

The farm tour started with us climbing up a hay-lined trailer attached to an old John Deere. We rode past the huge chicken coop and picked out the breeds we recognized, and watched Nora's brain figure out how the cute sheep were "used for meat." Outside of our small-time operation, the kids had never seen a farm of this scale. They paid close attention and looked closely at every detail.

We enjoyed some locally grown and processed burgers, then made our way through the corn maze. It was a bit short because it hasn't rained in months, but we still managed to get lost. There were plenty of dead ends... and Nora was navigating. Finally each kid picked a small pumpkin with plans of painting it at home, and we loaded up in the car, covered in dust and completely satisfied.

We learned the market is open Saturday mornings from May to October and I'm already eager to see what it looks like stocked full of peak season produce.

I couldn't wipe the smile off my face the whole time I was there. It was all of my lifestyle dreams wrapped up in acreage that's been passed down for generations. It was as self-sufficient as it gets with a market boasting everything from homemade soap to raw milk. Do yourself a favor and head that way Saturday morning if you live close to me. This will be the final event of the year, and you don't want to miss it. Admission is just five bucks per person and that gets you on all the activities, plus the tour.

This has been Jessica's Stamp of Approval {tm} in helping you meet all your fall Instagram goals. You are welcome.

Happy Monday, y'all!

Friday, October 20, 2017

Preschoolers on Parade

Dressed as fun-sized cheerleader, my daughter took her place on a hay bale with a fistful of candy.

Her preschool teacher's first rule was "Don't eat all the candy before the parade starts!" but Nora didn't mind. She had a mission, and her mission was to wave and throw the candy as hard as possible. She was a bit worried when she realized being on a float in the homecoming parade meant actually riding on a trailer, but tensions eased when her friends filled in around her.

During a short break from posing and cheesing for moms holding cameras {yes, me}, Nora took note of all the decorations. She was thrilled to find her four favorite letters! "My name's on a bell, Mom!" I didn't explain the intricacies of a megaphone, but perhaps she'll figure it out one day. Once I realized there were enough moms on the float to keep the kids secure, I left with the boys to find the best spot.

{Not before asking Nora to stay put so we could park on her side. Obviously, she was going to throw us the good stuff.}

Owen and Nathan bobbed around in front of our courthouse parking spot, watching for the telltale police lights. We knew it was time when we could feel the bass drum's vibrations in the pavement. Both boys made sure to free up their pockets before taking their place street-side.

We positioned ourselves at the start of the parade route, so every cheerleader, football player, and crown-wearing queen was free with the candy. We racked up, basically. When Nora's class came by, I jumped up to loudly proclaim their cuteness. Maybe the boys said it was embarrassing, but that's the name of the game.

Once the five-minute parade passed by, we did our part to clean candy from the street and went to find the youngest member of our crew. When Nora unloaded, she regretted to inform us they ran out of candy before the parade ended. Luckily for her, we gave her a share of the stash covering my floorboards.

That's one round of hometown fun checked off our weekend list. Tonight we're going to sit under the Friday night lights at my own alma mater, and tomorrow bright and early we're pumpkin patch bound.

Weekend, here we come! Happy Friday, friends.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Halloween This or That?

I've been in a bit of a funk this week.

It has nothing to do with Friday the 13th or the fact that I don't look nearly as cool as I did in 1992. No, it's a much whinier reason. Remember my upcoming trip to wine country? Remember that a lot of California is on fire? The resort we booked remains unaffected, but many of the areas around it have been evacuated and the air quality is poor. We have officially cancelled and I've rewritten it on my bucket list. I absolutely know this is trivial compared to the lives and homes and livelihoods lost, but in the interest of being honest, I'm bummed.

However, my husband made a smaller scale Plan B, and we're celebrating some fantastic work news that came out of our last trip {when I went to the ER}. Things are looking up. Therefore, in celebration of Halloween creeping up, I've answered 13 spooky questions for your entertainment. Happy Weekend!

1. Chocolate candy or fruity?
The fact that all the bite-sized Snickers and Milky Ways are missing from the work bowl should answer that.

2. Witches or Vampires?
You may think I'll say vampires since I watched all the Twilight movies on their release weekends {let's keep that between us}, but I'm going to go with witches on this one. I spent many hours of my youth cackling.

3. Trick or Treat?
Treat. I'm not the biggest fan of tricks, unless the trick is something like: "Just kidding, California isn't really on fire."

4. Halloween Party or Scary Movie?
This is an odd post for me to write, because I'm not the biggest fan of scary things. I love the cutesy ghosts and goblins and the fun aspects of the holiday, but you'll never catch me watching a movie character get disemboweled. That's a long way of answering Halloween party, hands down.

5. Skeletons or Zombies?
All I can think of here is Minecraft, which tells you something about my home life. I like the fact that Skeletons can be attacked by dogs because they are made of bones. And when Nora notices a pixelated skeleton wandering in the dark, she yells "Ahh!! A skele-TONE!" Thus, my answer is skele-tones.

6. Trick-or-Treat or Hand Out Candy?
After my brother and cousin and I collected buckets of candy from grandma's neighborhood, we raced back to her house. We would dump our candy onto the big wooden table and start sorting as the parents tried to sneak their share. When the doorbell rang, though, we sprang into action. Now I prefer the actual trick-or-treating. I'd rather leave the door answering to my kids.

7. Hay Ride or Corn Maze?
Never been to a corn maze, but I once face-kicked a person dressed as Jason while on a hay ride. That doesn't really answer the question, does it?

8. Scary Costume or Funny Costume?
While my oldest is set on being someone dead or someone who leaves others that way, I'm steadily trying to get Owen to dress up as a stabbed box of Fruit Loops {serial killer's victim}.

9. Pumpkin Seeds or Pumpkin Pie?
I don't know that I've ever met another person whose family roasted pumpkin seeds after carving. Tell me I'm not alone here! My husband had never heard of this, so in recent years we've just given them to the chickens. So, seeds. Pumpkin pie is smelly orange goop.

10. Bottle Feed A Baby Zombie or Walk Alone Through A Dark Forest?
What even is this question? I don't want to see a baby zombie. I'll take on the dark forest at my full-force mall walk.

11. Bats or Black Cats?
While I only lay claim to one cat, there are four who pretty much live on our property full-time. Two of them are black and if Louis likes them, so do I.

12. Pumpkin Spice or Hot Chocolate?
The most basic of all questions! Hot chocolate, for sure, it reminds me that Christmas and Polar Express are right around the corner.

13. Celebrate in Your Neighborhood or at the Mall?
We did the neighborhood thing when I was young, but my kids have options. We either go to the trick-or-treat trail at our local city park or travel to Hope to hit up the grandparents' neighborhood. We live in the middle of nowhere and don't have a neighborhood to speak of, so that's our best bet. Last year we did the trail and the kids had a blast seeing friends from school all dressed up, but there's something special about ringing a doorbell, not knowing what's on the other side. We'll see where Halloween night takes us...

Monday, October 9, 2017

Ball is Life

Before this school year, Nora had never been part of organized anything {chaos withheld}.

With the start of preschool, however, came the proof of her ability to listen carefully and take direction. Who knew? Four is the golden age for extracurricular activities around here, and we like our kids to try them one at a time to learn what they like. I'm sure hamming it up at a dance recital is in Nora's future, but this year she wanted to be a baller. We signed her up for soccer, she picked out the pinkest cleats, and the rest is adorable history.

The season started in September and it's been a fun one. Yes, it's hot and involves more running than my daughter is accustomed to, but she tries hard. Her kicks are strong and she hustles like a pro. She listens carefully to her coach's instructions and takes her time to do it right. Nora will gladly reveal that her favorite part is the pregame hands in and "Team McDonald's!" followed by the multiple rounds of high-five and "Good game!" afterward. I'd say that earns her some sportsmanship notoriety?

She doesn't care if she and her fellow McDonald's nuggets win,
as long as there's a cold Gatorade waiting beside somebody's mom.

Before this season began, we thought Owen and Nora would get to wear the same jerseys, but the park shook things up this year. Nora's team consists of only four- and five-year-olds. As you could guess, it's basically them running in groups, wildly kicking and hoping to make contact. Owen has moved up a league where things get a little more serious {and they actually keep score!}. My son has even gotten to play goalie for a period or two each game, and he's doing great.

{This is the face of a kid with a goal assist.}

It really depends on if his desire to be a good player is there, but the ability is present. He played an incredible game last Thursday, outrunning the other team, turning the ball toward the goal, and even diving to block shots while playing goalie. His tournament starts this week, and I'm one eager fan.

He, too, likes the hand-slapping and good gaming. I mean, do you ever outgrow that?

The most hilarious thing that's been born from two kids on two soccer fields {often at the same time} is that this season has cemented my status. I've had the mom wagon for a while and I've stored folding chairs in the back of it since Nathan was four, but I've just now become a Soccer Mom. I can pack-mule it with the best of them while my husband helps coach whichever team needs him that night. I have cold drinks at the ready, dollars for Nathan to get some nachos, and an eagle eye that jumps from field to field. I have probably received an eye roll for the sheer volume of my cheering {or my "GET BACK IN THE GOAL AND WATCH THE BALL, OWEN!!"}.

I am unapologetic. Ball, apparently, is life.

Happy Monday, y'all! Make it a good one. :)

Thursday, October 5, 2017

A Fair to Remember

All last week Nora asked me when it was time to ride a roller coaster.

"I hope it goes so fast!" "I hope it goes upside down!" "I hope I can ride it a hundred times!"
Then she developed a fever.

The Hempstead County District Fair comes for a solid week, and as Nora kept a thermometer under her arm, the days passed by. The fever stayed until the weekend arrived and she woke up ravenous and cool as a cucumber. She downed her donuts and we rolled out on the final day of the fair.

Nora was stuck in a stroller the last time time we went to this fair, so she was ready to make up for lost time. Our first stop was the dragon coaster she had been dreaming of all week. Nathan sat by her so she wouldn't be scared {or at least that's what he told us}. We watched her eyes widen to saucers as the dragon began crawling around the course. Then it stopped. Then it quickly rushed backward. Then it stopped for good. We got our tickets back, but that taste of the carnival ride rush had Nora hooked.

This was the first year we actually used up all of our tickets. The boys were boosted by Nora's courage and they both tested out new rides. Nora and Owen waved at us on every loop of the car ride and Nathan tried to suppress his laughter at each chicken joke I shouted from beside the carousel. He was riding a chicken, and I am hilarious. It was a winning combination.

As much as I am into adrenaline-inducing activities, such activities can only go in a straight line. I typically keep the lame title of popcorn holder at amusement parks, but when my daughter asked me to ride the Ferris Wheel, I rode the Ferris Wheel. She had to remove my grip at one point, but we had a blast. She loved seeing the whole fair and her tiny daddy down below.

After the rides we followed the booming call of people who wanted to trade our dollars for junk prizes. We may have played a certain game many times to obtain three fidget spinners. Nora also picked a winning duck for an inflatable princess hammer {a quick regret} and the boys popped balloons like professionals. After a little boys-versus-girls bumper cars, we were walking out of the midway to call an end to the fun. Until we heard a voice...

"Hey Burger Head!"

We looked over to see a clown sitting in a dunking booth, directing her jeers at us. We laughed and kept walking, all except Nora who continued to stare. "What are you looking at?!" Owen smack-talked the clown under his breath and we explained it was part of the act. Then Jonathan decided to show him the rest of the act. After two close throws at the longest-distance fair target I've ever seen, he hit it and down she splashed. She surfaced laughing and thanking us because it was unusually hot for the close of September.

Not only did our kids throw their arms up and cheer, so did everyone close enough to know what happened. You better believe my husband walked out of that fair with his day made. I was too into the action to photograph it, but there are plenty of witnesses who will vouch for him.

Even though this is my second fair post in a month, this was one had more excitement and less animal poop!
Have you ridden any fair rides lately? Which is your favorite? Have a great Thursday, y,all.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Dear October

Dear October,

Welcome! Your thirty-one days bring a crisp freshness not found in the month before you {at least not around these parts}. Sure, I might have changed into a tank top after church on the day you showed up, but I know you'll make things more comfortable before too long.

October, you are the follow-up to one of my least-favorite months. Personally, I believe September ranks second, only after the dreary, grey January days that drag winter long past Christmas. September, with its summer-ending tendencies, but still soaring temperatures... If you're going to to use one of your calendar squares to replace summer with fall, at least let us wear pants?! But, I digress.

My dear October, I am glad you are here. The deep orange and burgundy and golden accents set against a forest green backdrop will soon usher in revival to my soul. My summer skin will fade to its natural shade and my senses will no longer be smothered beneath the oppressive heat. While September brings summer in and out {and in and out again}, October replaces it with something new. I may not be of the PSL, scarf-slinging, furry boot variety, but change is good.

Change is inevitable, so why not let it come in the form of leaf-hidden highways and pumpkins on the porch?

October, you bring about a time of year that forces my attention. I sit up a little straighter than in the lazy days of summer and I notice all that whirls around me. October is a personal reminder that life is so much faster than we realize. As the colors change and humanity {re: Hobby Lobby} starts hurdling through the holidays at lightning speed, sometimes you feel rushed. But in this quick descent toward a new year, I'd like to take a second look.

Each year I've lived has been faster than the one before, but I intend to stretch your days, October.
I want to be awake as the seasons change.

As for this particular round, you are going to show me some new things, October. Soon I will board an airplane for the first time since Owen was board and fly to California for the first time in my life. I'm going to see the hills covered in grapevines and I'm going to soak in a new piece of God's creation. {I may drink more than enough wine for the both of us, so bear with me.}

Adventures await, October, and I'm looking forward to it. I have a feeling that when the cool breezes start blowing and you urge me to grab the flannel shirts from the back of my closet, we're going to get along just fine.

Staying present is the name of the game this October, and from the early days when we're still sweating at soccer games to the last day filled with tricks and treats, I hope to reconnect in a new way. With nature, with time, and with myself.

Happy October, y'all. Let's open our eyes and enjoy it!