Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Fourth, Family and the Big Move

The big move happened over 4th of July weekend. I know, I am a bit behind.

There was a mix up with the trucks. Apparently the one they sent to us (a full-sized semi trailer) was supposed to go to a place a couple hours away and the one we were supposed to get (a much more reasonably sized one) was there. When they said this I had two thoughts: wow, those people must have a ton of stuff, and, what are they going to do when a little truck comes to get all that stuff?

The packers had come the day before (Thursday) and boxed up our stuff. We were impressed with the job they did. Friday a different group of guys came to load it all into the truck. We were not so impressed with the job they did. They were supposed to wrap and put padding around furniture, mattresses, lamps, etc. Basically anything that couldn't be put in a box they were supposed to wrap before they loaded it. Keith saw them taking stuff out the door without wrapping it. When asked about this they said they were doing it outside.

They lied.

As a result we had a rather long list of things that were damaged/broken during the move, not the least of was the elliptical which apparently had something very heavy put on it which crashed it.. We filed the claim but it takes a while to process. In the mean time I am doing a lot of yoga via DVD. (I know that is making you smile Mom. We should do yoga together when you get here.)

Checkout and inspection was Saturday morning. That afternoon we began the drive to Paul and Jenae's place in Dayton, OH. They now live only 6 hours away! That may seem like quite the drive to some, but compared to Germany (where they have been for the past 4 years), and considering that is by far the closest we have lived to family for 5 years, it is awesome!

 Jenae has mad sewing skills and made Jane and Charlie dolls that look like them.
 I have no idea what the going on when this picture was taken but I get a kick out of the face Keith is making.


Monday Paul, who is a flight nurse in the Air Force and teaches nurses how to take care of patients at 40,000 feet. Let's just say, this made me appreciate the sacrifice wounded soldiers have made even more.

 I forget exactly how many wounded soldiers they can cram onto this plane but it is a lot. Each of those hook things can hold a stretcher. To make it worse, the lights are generally out during the flight so the nurses are doing everything by flashlight. I feel really bad for any claustrophobic soldiers that have to be in this situation. Maybe they could be given the top bunk.

 This is Paul showing Charlie the buttons that simulate various scenarios that are possible.
The fire one has fake smoke. :)

I would much rather be a patient on this plane. MUCH roomier. (Not that I would get a choice.) That being said, I can only imagine that a soldier in this situation would be happy to be in either one if it meant that they were going to go home.

 I am just thankful that there are people out there brave enough to make the sacrifices that keep our country free. It was a good way to spend our country's 240th birthday.

The next day, Tuesday, we went to this huge, really great and FREE flight museum. It was one of those museums where Keith and I could spend hours in it reading the information signs and immersing ourselves in history. However, we weren't alone, we had a pack of kids with us. The best part of going through a museum with kids is seeing how excited they get by seeing and experiencing various things. For example, Charlie has been interested in rockets and space shuttles. To his complete delight the museum not only had actual life-sized rockets but also a full-size replica of the space shuttle that you could walk through. Possibly the highlight of the museum.

Waiting in line to get on the space shuttle was also when we lost Charlie. Keith and Paul ran off looking for him, Jenae quickly headed to the nearest help desk, and I stood frantically keeping the rest of the kids as close to me as possible while yelling Charlie's name. A few people asked what he was wearing. As soon as I told them that he was wearing a red t-shirt I realized that it was 4th of July weekend. EVERYONE was wearing red, white and blue. I should have put him neon green. After what seemed like an eternity he calmly walked by completely oblivious to the panic he had caused. He just had decided to take a walk around the shuttle to get a better look.

Heading into Air Force One. It makes first class look like coach and coach look like those medical Air Force planes. (I don't think I mentioned that the commodes in those hospital planes are out in the open with only a curtain separating the user from the rest of the passengers.)

Charlie is always up for a ride on anything that remotely resembles a tractor.

Jane loved being served food while her cousins did the cooking. She kept them busy with her requests and complaints about the temperature of her food.

Brianna kept on preventing Charlie from getting each animal lined up and grouped by species. Future taxonomist or OCD or both?

Jane and Brianna hamming it up.

We asked the boys to smile and this is what we got...

All the Merrill grand kids!

Charlie and Jane both broke down when we left. The poor kids had a great time and were ready for stability again.

They sure were troopers though.

We finally got into the house Wednesday evening and it was a relief. No more bouncing around from hotel to family to hotel. We could begin the process of making our new house into a home. As Charlie would say for several weeks after we arrived: it takes a while before a new place feels like home.

Slowly it is beginning to.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Itasca: Our Last Fargo Hurrah

Our very last weekend in Fargo we took a break from all the craziness that is involved with moving, and fulfilled one of the things on my "Fargo Bucket List." We went to Itasca. (So not in Fargo, but much closer than we may ever be again!)

For those history buffs out there, the name "Itasca" was not the original name given by Native Americans in the area (surprise, surprise). The name was coined by the first white man to find it. It is a combination of two Latin words: veritas ("truth") and caput ("head"). There is a contingent that argues that Lake Itasca is not really the actual origin of the Mississippi, that it is one of the several streams that feed the lake. But other famous rivers (i.e. the Nile) follow the same "rule" that the Mississippi does; their official origin is considered a lake, not one of the lake's feeder streams.

Anyway... back to our trip.

We headed out first thing Friday morning (which with little ones means about 9am). Jane fell asleep in the truck and when she woke up we were driving through trees. Driving through trees always makes me feel happy and reminds me of home. Apparently it doesn't have the same affect on Jane. When she woke up and looked around she exclaimed: "I can't see! I can't see! The trees block my way! I can't see!" Keith and I both took that as a sign that it was time to move. ;)

When I had made reservations back in January I had picked a "cart-in" site. I didn't want another camping experience where we are surrounded by RVs and loud generators. Keith was a good sport and pulled the cart back and forth. He has had a lot of experience at pulling handcarts after all.

I admit I hesitated to post the picture on the left of our massive tent. But I figured there is no point in trying to pretend that we camp in a backpacking tent anymore. We have embraced the car camping lifestyle. At least until the kids are old enough to carry a pack. Hehehe  We had seen a weather warning that gave a storm warning for the coming night. Complete with very strong winds. Wanting to be safe rather than sorry, we used the guy-lines that we had but there weren't enough. So not being able to think of anything else, Keith got the bright orange ratchet straps out of the truck. It was a bit redneck but it worked. As fate would have it though, the night was completely calm. I wasn't complaining though.

I have to mention that I can not make a meal while camping and not have flashbacks to when Mom would make super yummy camping meals. I especially remember her laying out bread on the Ford tailgate and putting on sandwich fixings like a factory assembly line. Seven of the best sandwiches I have ever had. She did that countless times on countless family vacations. I didn't really appreciate the effort involved. So thanks Mom. Thanks for making those family trips all the better by your culinary efforts.

We got camp set up, ate a quick lunch and headed off to the head waters for the rest of the afternoon. Charlie really doesn't like cold water and Jane is adverse to water in general lately so I didn't bring their swimsuits along. I was just hoping for a picture of them wading across without tears.

I was wrong. The water was warm and Jane decided that water is okay after all and went right in. By the end they were completely soaked but were all smiles.

 At one point Jane was happily saying : "I in Mississippi wader! I like Mississippi wader." (plop!) Then wailing: "I fell in Mississippi wader Mom!!! I fell in Mississippi wader!" Being the good parents that we are, instead of sweeping her up and comforting her, we pulled out the camera and asked her what had happened (twice actually) just because it was so stinkin' cute.

Down the stream just a bit the water narrows considerably and there is a little place to cross there. The current is a bit faster there, so although it would have been neat to take five steps across the Mississippi River, I was a bit worried about the kiddos getting pushed over. They had way more fun wading around right where the river flows out of the lake anyway. Even if they did walk back in wet clothes and wear practically nothing on the short drive back to camp.

The next day we went on a little hike through the woods. Bliss. We saw squirrels sunbathing on tree limbs over the lake and lovely little flowers that both kids wanted in their hair. Charlie was mesmerized by a mating pair of dragonflies. Of which the female was feasting on the male's head. He seemed to not care about why they were stuck together, but was fascinated to see the one biting the others head off. They let us look fairly closely for quite some time before she flew off to finish her meal in peace. It was probably Charlie's highlight of the hike.

For some reason unknown even to myself, while I was walking behind Jane I starting singing that little diddy from Peter Pan "I'm following the leader, the leader, the leader. I'm following the leader where ever she may go..." (You know the one.) Except instead of "leader" I would say "Jane." Well she liked that a bit more than I thought and before we knew it she and Charlie were arguing about who got to be the "leader." We settled the dispute (somewhat) by having them take turns. We still however, had to listen to that little diddy all the way back.

The vast majority of the trip though, Charlie and Jane were best buds. It did my heart good to see them running through trees and bushes together, kissing each others owies better, and having little talks together. Sometimes they fight like cats and dogs, but it makes me feel like we must be doing something right to have kids who generally enjoy spending time together.

Itasca was the little reprieve I needed before moving chaos reached it's peak. It felt good. So very good. In a sense I felt as if I could really breathe for the first time in weeks. It is always hard to pack up and head home from wonderful vacations. This one seemed extra hard because I was returning home just to say good-bye.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Spring Robin Babies

Near the end of our special bunny experience, Keith discovered another nest. This one wasn't in the ground though, it was underneath the deck.


We could watch the babies in the nest by peaking through the spaces between the deck boards. We only have gone under the deck a few times to get a better view because doing so makes mommy and daddy robin mad. They don't seem to mind when we peer through the boards though and it is neat to see the nest from only about 6 inches above it.

When we first found them there were four eggs and the mother sat on them almost around the clock while the father kept guard out in the yard.

When the eggs hatched there were only three babies. (can you find the third little beak in the picture below?) They kept their parents busy bring them food! We would see them fly back and forth almost constantly to the nest, always leaving one in the yard to watch for trouble.

One night, before they left the nest, Keith and I awoke to the sound of pelting rain, powerful wind and loud thunder. It was so loud that I thought a window must have been left open. I went out to the front room to check and Keith soon joined me for a minute to watch the lightening show. When we returned to our bed Keith promptly fell asleep. I laid wide awake worrying about those baby robins. I tossed and turned the rest of the night wondering if they had fallen out of the nest. I had images going through my mind of a cold, wet baby robin laying on the soaked ground. What if the whole nest had blown down?!? I tried to remember if there was a board at the far end of the deck that would at least block some of the wind. In my half sleep, half awake state I couldn't remember. I thought ever once in a while that maybe I should brave the storm and go check on them. I reasoned that it wouldn't do any good anyway.

I was incredibly relieved to see the next morning that they had weathered the night's storm perfectly well. Whew.

That was almost the last of the drama. A few days later we noticed there were only two in the nest.  One had fallen/gotten pushed out of the nest and had died on the grass below. :(

They have since left the nest but still spend the majority of the day hanging out in the backyard learning how to find food and how to fly. It is cute and comical to watch them from the windows hoping after their parents, randomly pecking at the grass and chirping constantly. Just earlier this evening Keith and I watched one follow it's father to the top of the neighbor's roof and slide a bit on the landing. It is fun to watch them "learn" to be robins. Jane still loves spotting the robins from the window and waving to them from the deck as she has since they first arrived. It has been fun to see the whole thing play out in our own backyard. From building the nest to leaving it.

I absolutely love spring!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Spring Bunny Babies

Spring has sprung and it brought with it some special deliveries to our house!

One day, when walking out the door on his way to work, Keith noticed something move in the grass. It was a little nest of bunnies! Yes, cottontails have a reputation of being pesky garden-eaters around here, but these were sweet, cute, soft, precious wee little babies!

Later that day we hosted playgroup. My fears came true when the bunnies got spooked by all the people going in and out of the house and scattered. Being so small and mostly blind, they couldn't get far. So after everyone left the kids and I went and gathered them back up and tucked all seven of them back in their cozy hole. During this I noticed that two of them were smaller and weaker then the others. They didn't try to hop away at all when I went to pick them up and were shivering more than the other five.

Our neighbor, who had noticed them as well, came home just as we finished gathering them back up. He reasoned that because we hadn't noticed their mother around, and because they were pests (a point that he gently brought up several times) it would be best if he took them away. He said that he had a friend who had a rabbit cage and could care for them until they were older and release them somewhere far away. He told us he would take a few pictures of them to show us. I had a hunch that maybe the mother came at night when it was safer but I wasn't sure so I reluctantly agreed.

As soon as he went into his house to get a box, I looked at Charlie and knew that we couldn't let him take the bunnies. At least not all of them.

I knocked on his door and explained that Charlie really wanted to keep a couple. I admit that I wasn't entirely truthful with him. The whole truth was that, although Charlie had voiced some sadness with the plan, he seemed more okay with it than I was. I desperately wanted to keep those babies and watch them grow. Besides, I had my doubts about our neighbors intentions. I explained to the neighbor that two of them were smaller and weaker than the others and we would like to at least keep those. He agreed.

Charlie and I got a box with some towels and brought them inside. I got on the computer and looked up info about baby cottontails. I learned three things: first, I confirmed that they were in fact cottontails (not the much bigger jackrabbits), secondly, the mother does come at night, and third, all seven, and especially the little ones that we had, were too young to survive without their mother.

After a moment of panic, I realized that there wasn't anything to be done about the five the neighbor took. At least we had saved two. Maybe the other five would make it? I haven't had the guts to ask.

Jane was cautiously excited about them. She didn't want to hold them but giggled with delight when she got close to them. Charlie didn't want to ever put them down. I totally understood that. However, they would need to go back into the nest.

I quickly realized that the nest, which fit seven, would be too big to keep these two little ones warm, especially since the nights were barely above freezing. Charlie and I tore apart cotton balls to pack the nest with and then covered the cotton balls with dry grass and bits of the mother's fur to help camouflage it.

Keith and I kept watch that evening for the momma and she came right after dusk. My mother heart felt bad for her when I thought of her returning to find five of her little ones gone.

The next morning they were alive and well. I checked the weather forecast for that night and saw that there was a freeze warning with a chance of precipitation. I panicked. We had filled the nest with cotton balls. Every backpacker knows that "cotton kills!" I needed wool.

Keith came home to me cutting up a wool sock to replace the cotton balls. I explained the mistake I had made and he just shook his head and smiled. Like the killdeer incident of last year, I had adopted these bunnies.

We watched the mother come back that evening and first thing in the morning I went and made sure they had made it through okay. They had. :)

And so that is how things continued for several days. Watching for the mother to come each night and checking on them in the morning. They quickly grew until they were feisty little guys that no longer would patiently sit in our hands. Charlie was really sad about that.

Then one morning they were gone. They were still too small to survive without their mother, so I was a bit concerned. The nest didn't seem disturbed though so I figured nothing tragic had happened to them over night. The next day I found bits of wool sock on the driveway and around to the back of the house. I assumed the mother had realized that the current location of the nest was no longer safe and had relocated her two remaining babies once they were able to follow her.

My assumption was confirmed when the kids found a little bunny in the tall grass of the backyard. It was the same size as "our" bunnies would have been. My heart was at ease.

As a bonus, about a week later when we were roasting marshmallows out on the deck, Charlie noticed a juvenile relaxing between the house and the AC unit. It was far to big to be one of "ours" but it was fun to think that bunnies felt welcome here.

Even if they are considered pests.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Granny B and the Hunt for a House

In case you haven't heard we are moving in three weeks to St. Louis. Yep. We are leaving the frigid winters and lovely summers of Fargo, and returning to the oppressive heat and humidity of southern summers, paired with the mild winters. We are basically going from one extreme to the other.

For many reasons, that I won't bother going into here, we decided to buy a house. Keith and I are newbies at the whole house hunting thing so at first we thought we would just take the kids along. After tossing that idea around for a few weeks, and talking with more experienced house hunters, we ditched that idea and flew Granny B up to watch the kiddos for the week.

It didn't take long on our trip to realize that that had been a fabulous decision.

Granny B was quite pleased that even though she never raised a girl, she still rocked doing Jane's hair each morning.

With their powers combined, Granny B and Charlie totally nailed "wacky day" at preschool.

It sounded like they had a fun week. Charlie especially liked having her watch him at gymnastics.

She stayed for another week after we returned (having successfully found a house) so Keith and I could get in on the fun as well.

She brought a kite with her, which is pretty much perfect for Fargo. One sunny day we took it to the park and had a grand ol' time.

Granny's still got it!

After kite flying we had to play on the big toys for a bit.

The picture on the left is from Granny B's visit when we first moved here and the one on the left is when she visited just before we left; this visit. Jane was almost 1 when we came. Crazy how much she has grown.

Thank you so much Granny B for the visit. It was incredibly comforting to know Charlie and Jane were in such capable and caring hands. It was also a blast spending time together after we got back!

We love you!