Friday, November 2, 2012

Zion National Park Vacation (Part 1)

During Fall Break at Caleb's school, the five of us joined my parents and my brother's family at Zion National Park for a whole-family vacation!  We planned this almost a year ago, and everything was even better than Dad promised it would be :)  The villa was gorgeous and huge, Zion National Park was the perfect playground for our kids, and we didn't see so much as the scat of a bear!  The weather was nice,  a little cold first thing in the morning, but in the 60's during the most active part of the day.  I liked it because I never broke a sweat in all the miles of hiking we did.

Despite the fact that our travel took us through all four of the continental U.S. time zones, the kids did remarkably well.  They were tired the whole week (I had to get up with at least one kid by 5:00 am every day), but they were only mildly whiny and still had a great time.  Caleb had the hardest time with the lack of sleep because  he needs more sleep than Ethan does, and he can almost never catch up during the day, so his tolerance level for frustration just stayed a little low all week.  Ethan did great, rolling with the 5:00 am wakings and catching a nap when he could.  Lydia got enough sleep, but she cut her first molar the day we got back and was struggling with a cold the whole week, so she spent quite a bit more time being unhappy than is usual for her.  All the kids loved playing in the backyard with their cousins, and Caleb and Ethan loved all the hikes and exploratory trips that we took them on.

Aunt Jennifer and the boys hanging out in the backyard of the villa.

Jasper (far left), Bennett, Ethan & Caleb

Another shot of the villa's backyard, with a better view of the beautiful desert/mountain formations all over Zion.

Ethan looking cute and contemplative. 

Ethan throwing rocks in the Virgin River, the main body of water the park and the "creator" of Zion canyon.

Our most exciting wildlife sighting: a squirrel that stole a granola bar from my brother's backpack :)

All of us taking a break during a hike, completely unaware that we were being profiled by a squirrel.

We took a day trip the Grand Canyon. 

This picture is at the end of short hike out to Bright Angel Point. The path was treacherous enough that I left Lydia back with her Papa.

Mom and Dad, after her hike out to Bright Angel Point.

The four cousins showing off their muscles. Youngest to oldest: Jasper, Ethan, Bennett, Caleb

Lydia. Just to prove she was there :). We did leave her back at the villa a lot with Nanna, but both she and Nanna had a great time hanging out.

Family shot at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon 

Zion National Park Vacation (Part 2)

I kept getting shut down putting all the pictures I wanted on the last post, so I just made it into two.

For me, the highlight of the trip was a 15-mile hike that Dad talked Marcus and I into taking with him.  At first, the night that we were all talking about it, it sounded like great fun and I was all for it.  But the next day I found out that the 15.5 miles also included 3,600 feet of elevation change.  The longest hike Marcus and I had ever been on was 14.5 miles, and we  had split that into two days!  Dad told us that he did this one in Zion in 7 hours.  I started getting worried that my 66-year-old father was going to leave me in the dust, but I couldn't see a way out of it, so I arranged a babysitter for the kids, packed our Camelbaks, and we headed out early the next morning.

I am so glad I didn't back out, because that hike was absolutely gorgeous.  I have no pictures because Dad brought his camera for all of us, but so many of those views are seared into my memory.  In some ways, it was very like that other long hike we took 10 years ago in Southern China (Tiger Leaping Gorge), in that more than half the trail was edged into the side of a mountain and there was a several-thousand-foot drop just to our left much of the time.  But the first few miles of the hike made it even better than the other: it was on a ridge overlooking miles and miles of Zion National Park, often with 360-degree views.  Marcus had some fun with his iPhone 5 camera taking panoramic photos.  I just couldn't stop soaking it all in.  We were beat at the end of the day, and Marcus's knee was pretty sore for more than 24-hours, but we were both extremely glad that we had that time with nature and with our companions.

The most fun we had with the boys was taking them exploring (with Papa) off the beaten path.  The first couple of days, we went on hikes spelled out on the park map.  But on our day trip to the Grand Canyon, we drove through a beautiful part of the park that was just begging to be explored.  So the next day, we drove back there, parked on the side of the road, and started walking.  Walking up the rock formations afforded beautiful views, and walking down almost always led us to a little hidden canyon with a sandy floor.  The boys rock-climbed to their hearts content, and even learned how to pull cactus spurs out of their hands without crying.  Most of these pictures are from our two days of exploring.

Though it was a little later in the fall, we still discovered a few trees still sporting their brilliant autumn red.  Can you see Caleb hidden in this foliage?
It fascinates me how trees grow right out of sandstone rock here!
Marcus carving "Marcus & Rachel" into a heart-shaped rock he found.  So sweet :)
Look!  A space ship landed on that rock!
One of several small canyons we stumbled across.
The last morning we were in Zion, my parents kept our kids so Marcus and I could go on a trail ride.   My favorite part was crossing the river on horseback.  I felt like a frontier settler!

Here are all the cousins on the Campbell side: Bennett & Jasper Campbell, Lydia, Ethan & Caleb Wagner. They are dressed in Christmas pajamas because the kids won't all be together at Christmas and I knew my Mom would love to have this picture :)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Ethan's ER Trip & Preschool Begins

Two weeks ago, Ethan stuck his finger all the way into a soda can and got it stuck.  In his panic to get it out, he sliced the base of his finger pretty deeply and had to get 3-4 stitches.  As if that were not traumatic enough, we get to the ER, follow all the signs towards the Children's ER, and end up in a drive-through with no adjacent parking.  An attendant comes out and offers me directions to a nearby parking garage.  I've got a bleeding 4-year-old in the backseat, and this girl is giving me directions to a parking garage a couple of blocks away!  I was MAD.  And boy did I miss my Children's ER in Birmingham, which has free valet parking.  But, having no choice, I drove to the parking garage, put Ethan in the stroller and pushed him while carrying a very angry Lydia.  And that umbrella stroller I was using was NOT made for one-handed pushing.  But, regardless, we made it to check-in, and were promptly taken back to a room where we waited for almost 3 hours for the cryptic and dismissive pediatrician to stitch him up.  It was not a great day.  In fact, I'm getting a little mad again just thinking about it all, so I should probably change subjects...

Ethan's been in school for over a week now, and he absolutely loves it!  He is going to a non-traditional preschool that employs a lot of real-life objects in lieu of toys, and uses a very child-centered educational approach, encouraging the kids to follow their curiosity towards learning.  He's doing so extremely well here that I really wish the school went past preschool into early elementary.  Up to now, Ethan has always gotten into trouble for stirring up angst in a group setting, but this new environment has kept him so engaged that we have heard nothing but positive reports so far.  I realize he's only been to school for six days, but, still, he's been there for six days with no problems!  And he loves going!  He runs to put his shoes on and get his bag when I tell him its time to go to school.  He had to miss one day last week for allergy testing, and he was distraught.  I couldn't console him with the promise of any other place in town: the Discover Center, the Aquarium, Chuck E. Cheese, the mall...none of his favorite places could compete with his "super-cool" new school.

Well, I wanted to write some about Ethan's health problems as well, but I think I'll save that for another day.  It's late and this Mommy is tired.  Until next time!


Thursday, August 23, 2012

New Beginnings

So I think the hardest part about a blog hiatus is figuring out where to begin when you get started again.  I think I have lost more than month of blogging because the idea of covering our family news for the past six months is too daunting.  So I guess I will just jump in and begin with what's going on right now.

Two weeks ago, Caleb started first grade at his new school here in Tennessee.  Thanks to the fact that I had failed to sync my iPhone calendar with my computer calendar for months, I got mixed up and thought that his first day of school was Wednesday.  Didn't realize until we were about half-a-mile from the school that I had the wrong day.  After the initial, "I can't believe I did that!" I was super-thankful to have a chance to do-over the first day of school.  I had overslept, failed to wake up Caleb early enough, served a rushed breakfast of cereal, discovered that one of Caleb's only pair of tennis shoes (a dress-code requirement) had been left in Alabama, and completely forgotten to take pictures.  So, on the fake first day of school, we went to the mall to buy new tennis shoes and enjoyed a second last-day-of-summer :)  The real first day of school went perfectly, complete with hot breakfast, new shoes, and lots of pictures.

Caleb loves his new school, and seems to have adjusted very well by all accounts.  He loves going every day, and though it seems that he is gone from me for so long (7 hours!), he is enjoying himself thoroughly.  He is full of reports of all the things he's learning, and his interest in reading and his fluency has taken another great leap forward.  I sometimes find him in his room, just reading to himself.  The first Sunday after school started, he and I had this conversation:

Me:  Caleb, you need to go take a shower.  You have school tomorrow and I let you skip it yesterday, but you have to take one today.
Caleb: You let me skip school!?  (face crumpling into tears) I didn't want to skip a day of school!  I didn't know there was school yesterday!!!

I quickly explained that it was the shower I'd let him skip, not school, but I was surprised at how upset he was!

Ethan started school at his preschool earlier this week.  His first three days have been successful, and he is excited to go each morning.  Caleb has the temperament to enjoy school, but Ethan does not as much, so I'm hoping and praying that this preschool will hold his interest in the weeks and months to come.  It is not a typical preschool, and I think it has the best chance of any preschool I've seen of keeping Ethan's voracious mind stimulated and his busy hands doing productive work.

We've been in Tennessee for two months now, and I still feel very new to everything.  I've found a pediatrician, a Publix, a couple of parks, the library, and, oh yeah, the Children's ER (story coming soon), but I still don't feel at home yet.  I miss Birmingham even more than I realized I would.  It will be easier when we find the right church home.  Even visiting churches has not been easy, since we started our time here with Marcus studying for boards 24/7 for two weeks, and his work schedule continued to be strenuous for the month after boards.  Things are settling down now for him at work, and hopefully soon we will have a church home.  I absolutely love the house we are renting here.  It is in a beautiful neighborhood and is more space than we need, but not more than we can enjoy!  We've been out of boxes for about a month now, and, even if Chattanooga doesn't feel like home yet, our house does and I couldn't be happier with it.

I'm trying to get back in the habit of blogging weekly, but life is crazy, so don't hold me to it :)  God bless!


Monday, April 30, 2012

That Time of Year Again

All the kids turned a year older in the last month, so, in a futile effort to freeze time, we had our pictures taken again.  As far as futile efforts go, these aren't half bad:

Monday, January 23, 2012

New Job & Girls' Weekend

Marcus is nearing the end of nine years of post-graduate medical training.  This coming summer, on June 30th, he will complete his residency in radiation oncology.  This past summer and fall, Marcus spent a good amount of time researching job opportunities and interviewed for several positions.  From the very first interview in June of 2011, one oncology group stood out among the others.  He called me just hours after that interview and I could hear the big smile in his voice when he said, "Well, Rach, it looks like we are moving to ___________."  He had nothing but good to say about the group, his potential co-workers, and the town.  Through the rest of the summer and fall, he continued to explore positions here in Birmingham and in his hometown of Melbourne, but no matter how hard he tried to "make them work," he just kept coming back to this job.  Though I love our lives here in Birmingham, and I will miss our friends and church here tremendously, I knew Marcus needed to go for the job that he felt so drawn to.

So (drum roll time), in about six months, we will be opening a new chapter of our lives in Chattanooga, TN!!!  Marcus signed his contract just a couple of weeks before Christmas, and we have been busy getting this house ready to sell, as well as doing some looking around for a new place in Chattanooga.  In fact, Marcus gave me the most wonderful gift of a couple of days house-shopping with my BFF in Chattanooga.  We drove up on Saturday morning, looked at about five houses, ate dinner at the hopping Blue Water Grill, hung out in our hotel's hot tub, and then talked until we fell asleep!  Sunday morning, we visited Clear Creek Church together and spent a couple more hours driving around and exploring the northern Chattanooga area. Q discovered this great little neighborhood that I love.  I have a feeling we are going to end up living in one of those houses :)  We met up with our realtor one more time to look inside a few more houses, and then headed back to Birmingham to resume our lives as wives and mothers.  This was the first night that I have spent away from my kids in 2.5 years, and I was ready for it!  Thanks, honey, for a perfect gift!

Friday, January 20, 2012

A Season of Sickness

This has been a rough month for Ethan & Lydia, healthwise, and therefore it's been a hard month for me as well. (Caleb has cruised through it all unscathed, like he usually does, though he did lose his second tooth in his sleep last Friday night!)

It seems like we've been to the pediatrician every week for more than a month!  Ethan has had bronchitis, pink eye and two ear infections, in addition to the general yuckiness of congestion.  On top of that, it took several weeks for the fluid to drain off his ears after his ear infection cleared up, so he was having a lot of trouble hearing for several weeks.  Ethan can be challenging enough when he is fully-functioning, but non-hearing Ethan has really reset the bar.  At school this past Monday, he threw a toy that collided with another boys' head and split the little boy's head open!  He didn't mean for that to happen, but it's just a result of him losing his temper.

After I got that delightful report, I piled all the kids back in the van and headed straight back to the pediatrician.  I'd been told 3 weeks in a row that we just needed to wait for the fluid to drain and then he would be able to hear again, but I needed something better than that.  After waiting in the little room with all three of my tired and hungry children for NINETY MINUTES, the doctor finally came in.  This week's diagnosis for Ethan was: yes, he has a lot of fluid on his ears, no he still can't hear very well, but, yes, we will try something else other than waiting now.  The doctor put him on another round of antibiotics and steroids, as well as setting us up for an ENT consult to see about getting tubes again.  I was very happy to have some answers, and even happier when, the next day, Ethan could finally hear normally again.  He has been a happy, cooperative little boy for the past two days.  (Now all I need to do is get him to write his apology note to his classmate, and make my own phone call of apology as well.)

During this same pediatrician visit, Lydia was diagnosed with another double ear infection, her second in 2 weeks.  (The only reason we're sure this one is a new infection is because we were in the previous Monday and her ears were pronounced clear.)  This is her 3rd ear infection in 3 months, so she may end up being a candidate for tubes as well.  I'm not as resistant to the idea as I was with Ethan, since they worked so well for him and it was so much better than having him on antibiotics every couple of weeks.

Lydia has also been dealing with a major eczema outbreak.  Just like the fluid in Ethan's ears, I kept showing the excema to the pediatrician whenever we were in (which was frequently), and I was told to use hypo-allergenic lotion twice a day.  I did that, but over a period of a couple of months, it has continued to get worse.  It finally got bad enough that the pediatrician prescribed Alclometasone Dipropionate Cream, which cleared all of it right up in just a few days.  One day, her back, bottom, elbows & thighs were covered in raw, patchy skin.  The next, it was smooth again and you could just see the outline of the eczema.

So, at the moment, Lydia and Ethan are ear-infection, virus & eczema free, and Caleb is healthy.  But it has been a ride!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Magic Kingdom

One of the best parts of our week in Florida at Christmas time was getting to go to Disney as a family for the first time.  Marcus & Mike have taken Caleb & Chase a couple of times before, but I had never been with any of the kids and Ethan & Lydia haven't been at all.  

One of the coolest parts is that the whole day was completely free (except food) for the five of us!  My parents had four park hopper passes from back in 1988 when our whole family went to Disney for a week, and we only used 3 of the 4 days on the pass. Mom kept those tickets in an envelope for 23 years, and they got our whole family into the Magic Kingdom for a day.  I don't know the exact cost, but I'm pretty sure that saved us more than $400 in admission.  Thanks so much, Mom & Dad!  

Another really cool thing about this trip to Disney is that Marcus used an iPhone app to help us pick which rides to do next (it gave us up-to-date wait times on all the rides).  Because of this, even though it was December 26th and a very crowded day at Disney, Marcus said that we were able to ride more rides in one day than he ever had before.  And I thought it was really cool that we had such a smooth, enjoyable day, despite the crowds and the fact that our own group numbered 13, with more children than adults.  Everyone agreed the day was a huge success, and we look forward to doing it again soon!

 First glimpse of the Disney Castle from the ferry.
 Marcus was laughing at how intent I looked on this Buzz Lightyear Shoot-em-up Ride
 Mimi kindly lent us her double-stroller for the day, and it turned out to be very useful.
Lydia enjoying the tunnel on Tom Sawyer island (one of the only times she got the get out of the stroller the whole day!)
 Ethan & Daddy love :)
 Mimi and her newest grandbabies, Lydia & Dallen
 The whole Wagner clan, except Gigi, Wendi & Joel was able to be there. We missed you three!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Enjoying Melbourne

We packed a lot into our 5 1/2 days in town, including a day at Disney (another post coming), a morning at the Zoo, an afternoon at Gemini park, and plenty of time hanging out at Mike & Gigi's house and at Mimi's house.  The weather was beautiful all week and we spent enough time outside to satisfy even me :)
 Lydia & Ethan hanging out with Uncle Mike.  Lydia wasn't too sure about Uncle Mike at first, but it didn't take him more than a couple of days to charm her.
 Lydia hanging out with her Mimi :)  Mimi was kind enough to pull babysitting duties two of the nights that we were in town so that the adults could enjoy some hanging out time.  Thanks, Mimi!
 We spent Thursday afternoon at the park by Gemini Elementary (where Chase goes to school).  We brought the bikes and Chase & Kylie's new wheeled-toys (a Razor and a skateboard).  Marcus and Mike came up with the idea to let the kids lie belly-down on the skate board and push them back and forth across the empty parking lot.  I kept Lydia out of the way :). The kids and the men had a blast, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching them.