An Afternoon With An Old Friend

We had fun last week visiting with some friends that we've known for many years. Nicholas and K. first met each other though a GLECPTA playgroup when Nicholas was 1 1/2 or 2 years old. They have always liked playing on this tire swing in K's backyard.

Here's a picture of them in 2007 on this same swing. He was cuter when he wasn't aiming a toy gun at me!

But this picture below is one of the cutest ever...first kiss 12/4/06 - yes, he was just 2 1/2!

It was neat to see little Rachel playing here just like Nicholas used to do when he was this age.

Rachel explores like a big kid but she's still my little baby girl.

I was so amazed to see this. This cat is the sweetest cat in the world. When Nicholas was little, he would always look at the cat and talk to it and really, really want to pet it. But if it came near him, he would squeal and try to get away in terror. I don't know why he was so afraid but he was still afraid of it the last time we were at their house, maybe a year ago. But this time, he was suddenly not afraid and even held the cat as he laughed about how big it is.

I love it that Nicholas is still good friends with this little girl even though they only see each other once or twice a year. He still gets excited to go play at her house (of course, it also helps that her older brothers have some really cool toys to play with). But he mentions K. occasionally throughout the year and I think it's neat that he has kept a few friendships like this one over several years even after they have moved on to different activites and different schools.

The Pancake Nibbler

On the weekends, we love to have Daddy's yummy pancakes, scrambled eggs, and bacon. We've been trying to eat more healthy so we've started having turkey bacon. It tastes good but it's NOT bacon. We're more inclined to call them turkey strips because the word bacon just doesn't fit.

We usually have some pancakes left over and I try to be sure to put them away right after breakfast. But on this morning, I had left the plate of pancakes on the table while we went about our day. A little while later, it got quiet and I wondered where little Rachel was. I found her sitting in Daddy's chair picking all the pancakes off the plate and taking one bite out of each one.

Of course, it's also fun to play with pancake building blocks to see how high they can be stacked.

All done!

We do love our pancakes. They are yummy AND fun to play with!

Silly Bandz Craze

Surely you know about the current craze with kids - Silly Bandz. They are little colored rubber bands that are shaped in all sorts of different designs from stars and hearts to wolves and vampire fangs. They look just like a colorful rubber band that's been formed into a shape when they are lying on the desk but kids wear them as bracelets, sometimes 20, 30, 40, or more at a time. And they trade these things with other kids. "I'll give you my guitar for a dragon?" I had heard about these crazy things a while back but not from Nicholas nor any of his friends. I really thought we were going to dodge that bullet altogether.

But then Nicholas noticed someone at school had a bunch of them on his wrist and he started hearing more about Silly Bandz.


Then it happened.

He was given his first Silly Bandz at a party at school. He was given a band that was shaped like a cowboy on a bucking horse. He traded it for a longhorn. He was hooked.

Double rats!

He has been given other silly bandz by friends but I've also bought some for him to get as rewards for doing something above and beyond. They are definitely a good motivator for my child. Who knew? Colorful shaped rubber bands?! I would have never guessed it.

The Silly Bandz craze is so big that stores host Silly Bandz trading parties. I took Nicholas to one of these at our local Borders bookstore recently although Learning Express hosts them as well. It was a small turnout - 2 boys and 2 girls. I was amazed at how many bands some of these kids had! And how obsessive they were with remembering from whom and where they got certain ones and how they know which ones were "special" or "rare" and they would only trade one special bad for 2 regular ones because it is so "valuable". It was entertaining to hear them talk amongst each other.

Borders even had refreshments for the traders who were working up an appetite with all the high pressure trading going on!

While the fad is quite silly to me, I can see that Nicholas has already learned a lot through Silly Bandz trading. He told us one time that he had to trade 10 Silly Bandz just so he could get one tie-dye colored phoenix. We were able to use this to talk about negotiating and bargaining. He must have taken our words to heart because he is a much more effective at trading now.

What's really funny is that now Rachel is also addicted to Silly Bandz.

Rats just isn't a strong enough word anymore!

She will grab up any loose Silly Banz and quickly put it on her little wrist. She will squeal if you try to take it off. And I make her take them off at bedtime when she isn't supervised because I worry she will put it in her mouth and then fall asleep and choke. On occasion, she has also double wrapped a band around her wrist so that it is too tight. It hurts her but it's so tight that she can't get it off by herself. Toddlers and rubber bands of any kind just don't mix.

Today I picked Rachel up from child care at the gym. Silly Bandz in the toddler area where she plays for the very reasons I mentioned above. And although she didn't bring any Silly Bandz with her, she came out saying, "I traded Silly Bandz! I got a dragon!" Too funny. There were no Silly Bandz in sight but she has heard big brother say this kind of thing when I pick him up (and she copies everything that big brother says and does).

Celebrate Your Friends

We all have our daily parent personas - wiper of noses, helper of homework, teller of stories, and kisser of boo-boos. But most of us also still remember ourselves in our BC (before children) lives. Those hobbies and activities that we had more time and money for before the house was filled with the pitter-patter of little feet.

One of Stuart's and my BC personas was that we loved going off-road in our Jeep. It started with my Isuzu Trooper. I loved it because it was 4x4 and could make it up a crazy-steep hill outside our apartment complex in Arlington no matter how icy or snow covered it was. But surely a 4x4 vehicle can do more than that! We wanted to play around with it some and find out just how well it could handle going off-road. We attended a meeting for a club called Ft. Worth/Dallas Four Wheel Drive Club (aka FWD-FWD). We didn't know anyone there and felt a little awkward in our Trooper with all of these other folks in their souped up Jeeps, Broncos, and Toyota trucks. I'm talking big tires, roll cages, big wenches, etc. But this one couple, Darrell and Marla, went out of there way to greet us and tell us more about the club and off-roading in general. They invited us to go off-roading with them sometime with their friend Mark.

Mark is a quiet guy with a quick-wit and dry humor that always makes us laugh. He always wears a hat, and either a t-shirt or a flannel button down shirt, and usually has a can of Dr. Pepper in his hand. He is a true McGyver when it comes to fixing things (anything!) and he's always willing to jump in and help you out, even if you are a total stranger. He seems to know something about everything and amazingly seems to know someone everywhere he goes. He is a genuine person and a true friend that you can always count on.

We had a lot of fun with our new group of friends. But my Trooper was my daily driver and not something I really wanted to take off-roading on any serious trails. So around 2001, we bought an old 1985 CJ7 Jeep that was strictly our fun vechicle. She is a sweet vehicle. Classic look, completely stock, and very well cared for.

Darrell and Mark helped Stuart make a few modifications to the Jeep and we started hitting the trails with her regularly. We went with our friends to go off-roading and "rock crawling" in Gilmer and Muenster, Texas as well as Clayton, Oklahoma. My fondest memories were in Clayton with the FWD-FWD club. Twice a year they scheduled off road events in Clayton where we would run on old logging trails through the mountains. Our found a small collection of one-room log cabins in the woods and we each rented a cabin for the weekend. It was in a quaint little part of town (actually, it's all rather quaint). It was fun hanging out with friends on their cabin patio, grilling hot dogs and burgers, and just relaxing in the mountains. For the event, the club would have a designated trail boss for each trail and you could pick the trails you wanted to run based on their level 1-6 difficulty. We'd sign up for different trails, go out with a large group, everyone would help each other get through the trails by spotting for the driver or helping if someone broke an axle shaft or needed a tow strap to get pulled out of a sticky situation, then we would head back to the meeting grounds or our cabins and share stories of overcoming giant boulders, running into trees, and occasionally roll overs (Don't worry, Dad. We never did any trails that put us in danger of rolling over). It was a fun sport but the comraderie was what made it really special.

Over the years, we did more trails with these guys. Mark even traveled with Stuart and me on a trip to Las Cruces, New Mexico in 2003 to attend the Las Cruces Chili Challenge. You can't help but to get to know someone better when you are on a long road trip with them and Mark made it fun. Along the way, he went with us on some detours to Carlsbad Caverns and Hatch, NM (chile pepper capital of the world) in addition to the off-road event. New Mexico has different terrain than we were used to but we had a great time. And the scenery was just incredible.

After Nicholas was born, we made one more trip to Clayton when he was about one year old. I stayed at the cabin with Nicholas during the day. We had fun hanging out on the patio, exploring the woods, visiting the Choctaw nation, and looking at animals.

Stuart spent the day with our friends out on the trails. Stuart is a great driver and our Jeep is really fantastic at maneuvering these particular trails. I dare say that our friend Mark is an even better driver than Stuart (sorry, babe!) but his Toyota truck was longer than our Jeep and sometimes that gave him a disadvantage when his back end couldn't keep up with the direction his front end was trying to go.

Brace yourself! Here it comes....


Fortunately the kind of trails we went on were always very slow moving so the people were rarely in danger of any sort of injury and the vehicles that got into trouble like Mark's here, would typically not get more than some scratches, but the occasional dent was not uncommon.

After this trip, Stuart decided to do some more upgrades to the Jeep. He got well into the project but then lack of time and money got in the way of completion. We still have our Jeep but it sits lonely in our garage awaiting the day when Stuart has some "free time" once again to finish putting it back together. Maybe in 15 years or so...

Even though we haven't been off-road with our friends since 2007, we have still kept in touch and still consider this group to be dear friends to us. Recently Mark was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. By the time it was discovered, the cancer had already attached to his spine and was inoperable. He gave it a hard fight and even tried several different experimental drugs. But a few weeks ago, Mark lost his battle and passed away at his mother's home in Canton. The family had a ceremony in south Louisiana but none of us were able to make the drive at the time. So we had our own little get together here and invited lots of friends who had known him and ran on the trails with him. It was amazing how everyone commented that they always remembered a time when Mark was helping someone fix a vehicle out on a trail. He was always the first person to jump in to help even when he didn't know the person. He was just happy to do it.

I worried about bringing the kids to a memorial but they were great. Nicholas played on his Leapster and Rachel drew pictures. There was some running around later but overall they were well behaved.

We all passed around scrapbooks and pictures of Mark, watched videos of us out on the trails with him, and shared lots of wonderful stories about the fun we had. I love that it was a happy get-together and not sad and somber (even though that's how I felt at times).

Our motley crew: Marla, Darrell, Paul, Rhonda, Nicholas, Kim, Rachel, and Stuart. It's sad that we never got a group picture of us that included Mark.

Cherish and celebrate your friends now while you can. They are a gift in your life. Take pictures of them and hold your memories with them close to your heart.

This is our friend, Mark. This picture says it all. Hat - check, flannel shirt - check, helping fix someone else's truck - check.

I started to write a long sappy post about being sad and missing our friend. But instead I decided to write it in celebration and memory of the good times that we had with him. For this is what friendship is all about. I can't look at our Jeep and not think of our friends and all the fun we've had with our friends.

We love you and miss you, Mark!

Happy First Day of School, Nicholas!

Oh, my baby boy is officially a first grader! I feel a little sad but I'm really more proud than anything. He's has a sweet heart and he strives to do what's right (even though he may miss the mark at times). He's full of energy and he enjoys each day to the fullest. He is bright and thinks outside the box. Every week he seems to changes his mind about what he wants to be when he grows up but he's bright and determined and I know he will do great things.

First Grade, 2010

Kindergarten, 2009

Preschool, 2008

Preschool, 2007

Stuart was able to go to work late so that he could walk with us to take Nicholas to school. Thank you Daddy for always putting family as your priority. Nicholas was excited to have Daddy with us and about starting school today. He had a big grin on his face the whole way there.

His first grade classroom. He was excited to see many of his friends from Kindergarten in his classroom, especially Heather (waving in the picture). Nicholas says they have a crush on each other and thinks they will get married someday (so cute!).

Finding his locker...

Well wishes from Daddy before we left...

I've heard that he has a great teacher this year. She's calm and patient, organized and structured, and tends to have the higher level thinkers in her class. It's going to be a great year!

I didn't cry a bit at school and I still haven't. I think Rachel misses Nichlas the most. On our way back to the house, Rachel realized that Nicholas wasn't with us and asked, "Why is Nicholas gone?" The house has been too quiet today with just Rachel and me here. We missed the little guy!

We were excited to finally get to pick him up after school. He ran out to us, still with a big grin on his face. He said he had an awesome day and first grade is so much better than kindergarten. He likes his teacher and his classmates.

Next, we met some friends over at Rita's for a little first day of school celebration of frozen custard and playing in the fountains. What a way to wrap up a great day!

Rachel chased big brother around the founatains!

At dinner, we talked some more about school. Stuart and I happened to get on the subject of homeschooling which is an idea we have kept on the back burner for a while now. I asked Nicholas if thought he would rather be at home each day and have Mommy as a teacher. He quickly said, "NO! I like my teacher and I like spending time with my friends every day." I have to admit that I was a little sad. I think it would be fun to teach him at home and get to spend more time with him each day. But he is such an energetic and social boy that I realize that homeschooling just might not be a good fit for him after all. Besides, he has such a strong personality that he easily steals my attention from Rachel. I'm looking forward to having lots of quality one-on-one time with her this year.