Minus One

Last weekend, for the first time ever, Luke went away for the weekend on a church retreat for sixth graders. I have to admit, it was really, really weird to not have him with us… I felt like I was forgetting something all weekend.

However, it was really cool to spend some time with just the two younger boys while Luke was doing all of the Big Kid Things. Because we did not have a crazy overscheduled weekend for once, we had plenty of time to just do what we wanted.

Friday night, after Matt and I took care of the yard work and finishing up our bathroom remodel, we decided to have a bonfire in the cul-de-sac and let the boys have s’mores before dinner. Might’ve been our best decision all weekend.

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Saturday: early breakfast at The Shack (I’m obsessed with their berry granola pancake), a long walk on Grant’s Trail,

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and took some time to hang out at Grant’s Farm.

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It was just so much fun for Matt and me to focus on these 2. And even better, by far, was how they got along with each other. I’ve loooong known that just removing any one of them from the mix for a while totally changes the dynamic, but it’s such a pleasant surprise to see these two getting along.

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By Sunday afternoon we couldn’t wait to have Luke back! He was, of course, exhausted, but full of fun stories. Growing up Catholic, I didn’t have these kinds of experiences, so I’m excited for him that he got to experience something like this with his youth group!

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Things are totally (eyeroll) back to normal now, with B and JH resuming their roles as oil and water. Oh well. It was sure fun while it lasted.

Vacation 2014: The Estes Park Part (The Beautiful Weather Days)

Picking up where I left off

When we woke up Thursday morning, we knew the forecast had a much better day in store for us, despite some initial cloud cover and gray skies. We grabbed a quick breakfast at a little cafe on our way into RMNP, and we stopped for the obligatory entry pic at the park, since it wasn’t raining for once.

One of our very favorite parts of the park from our trip 3 years ago was the Alluvial Fan. Unfortunately, in the flood last fall, much of the Alluvial Fan was washed out, and we were disappointed to find that it was completely closed to foot traffic while they’re doing some sort of rebuilding. However, we did one good hike (a bit narrower and rockier than some) near the Alluvial Fan that took us up high enough to see the rushing water that eventually spills out below.

We spent some time driving around different parts of the park as the clouds completed burned off for the day, and decided on hiking to Alberta Falls. We were in a bit of time crunch, especially given that the trail is a) very busy; b) a little more difficult on the way back up than others we’d done; and c) we were meeting up with friends in less than an hour. No matter. We did it anyway.

SO glad we did. The last time we were there, and we didn’t realize this at the time, we didn’t hike all the way up to the best view. This time, Matt was intent on making that happen, including a small, dangerous, off-path diversion before we realized the regular path would take us up to a breathtaking view! We loved it…the air was misty with the spray coming off the falls.

We hiked back quickly to meet our friends, the McGills, for a walk around Bear Lake. How cool is it that their trip overlapped with our time there? Our kids had fun climbing rocks, until Elle slipped on the absolute last step of her climb down and gashed her leg! So that was a bummer. But still, definitely a highlight to have them join us there!

One more 2 mile-ish hike that day on what became known as “Horse Poop Pass” because our trail had been used FREQUENTLY by horses. Gross, but for boys, pretty much the highlight of the trip, what with all of the poop talk.

We finished the prettiest day in EP with mini-golf, where Jack Henry got TWO holes-in-one! Dinner at a very forgettable pizza place, and then a stroll down Elkhorn for t-shirts and ice cream cones.

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Part 2 of our Colorado trip began Friday, as we took Trail Ridge Road all the way across RMNP as we headed to Steamboat Springs to meet up with my whole family!

While it was a tiny bit hazy as we got started early, by mid-morning it was crystal clear and the absolute perfect day for seeing all that this incredible road has to offer. We took our time moseying along, looking for wildlife, stopping to skip rocks in the river, and checking out the Continental Divide.

Up next: 7 adults + 8 kids in one condo for 3 nights :)

Vacation 2014: The Estes Park Part (The Bad Weather Days)

As I mentioned before, we had 36ish hours at home. Around 4am on Tuesday, we woke the family and headed to the airport for our 7am flight.  And for the first time I can ever remember, our plane took off EARLY (I love you, Southwest Airlines!).

It was only after we were comfortably sitting on the plane that I remembered: we’d forgotten Jack Henry’s booster seat for the rental car. So that was fun. Related: I’ve got a brand new booster seat for sale.

After a brief panicky moment where we realized that the boys had left their backpack on the bus that took us to the rental car place from the airport (it was found immediately – that bus was still in the parking lot 10 minutes after dropping us off, which I consider a miracle. Oh, and everything was in it, which included an iPod and iPad. Sheesh.), we headed to Boulder for breakfast. We ate at The Buff, recommended by a friend who lives there, and it did not disappoint!

By going through Boulder, we planned to take a slightly more scenic route into Estes Park (EP from here on out)…however, we didn’t realize we’d really be rerouted due to damaged roads from last fall’s disastrous flooding. But, that was fine. We were treated to a pretty view of the St. Vrain Creek the whole way. Which was nice, because the rain started to fall on that drive, and it stayed majorly overcast and rainy for the next 36 hours.

Kind of a huge bummer when the reason you’re in Colorado is to hike, and the weather is unseasonably cold and wet.

However, we made the best of it. We bought ponchos, ate a snack, and got started on our first hike of the trip shortly after getting to EP.  We all loved Gem Lake. The trailhead is located just outside of EP and not in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) proper, which made it super easy to access. I was too worried about rain while we were on this hike, so I kept my camera in the van and just used my phone. This was probably the hardest hike we did, and everyone loved it, from the views to the difficulty to all of the rocks to climb on for the 11-and-under set.

Sidenote: these boys of mine nearly gave me heart failure several times with their rock-climbing antics and getting too far ahead on the trail this first day. I *may* have tried to put the fear of God in them by making them read the back cover of a book on people who have died while hiking in RMNP (and the story on the back cover is about a 12-year-old boy from the Midwest who was never seen again after he got too far ahead of his family and presumably fell to his death. I know, I am the funnest mom ever.)

We ended that day by settling into our amazing condo (people, seriously…if you’re going to EP, stay here), getting dinner at a place we’d never have tried if it weren’t for TripAdvisor’s recommendation (and it was delicious!), and went back to the condo and crashed by 9pm. Since we’d been up since 4am.

Day 2 in EP started out with more rain, but since our plans included not much more than RMNP, we decided to tough it out and take the drive up Trail Ridge Road that morning. We saw nothing. Absolutely nothing. Unless you count thick fog as something. Matt made us take this mile-long walk (thankfully not a hike) up in the Alpine region where it was 37 degrees, heavy fog, and steadily drizzling. As you will see in the pictures below, I wasn’t thrilled.

So we ate lunch in the van up at the top of Trail Ridge Road, turned around, and drove back down. We crashed at our condo for a while, and when the weather looked slightly more favorable later in the afternoon, we talked the boys into going on another hike: Nymph Lake (which we’d seen last time we were in RMNP in 2011) and on to Dream Lake.

It was raining on us as we started, but the drizzle stopped as we made our way up to the first lake. The trail was muddy and we stopped often to watch the water running off the mountainside in various cool little trickles. And then, we heard it ahead: a waterfall. We totally weren’t anticipating it, and it was raging due to the recent rain. It made wearing a poncho and being cold totally worthwhile! Dream Lake was beautiful, but I would definitely love to see it on a not-overcast day sometime with my own eyes, knowing it looks like this.

Making that last hike happen made us feel like the day wasn’t totally lost, and we all appreciated that had it not been raining for 2 days, the mini waterfalls, huge waterfall, and overflowing streams wouldn’t have been near what we got to experience.

By the time we made it to dinner at Poppy’s, we were really tired and hungry. There wasn’t a lot of talking until there was food in everyone’s belly…these children don’t stand a chance of avoiding the hangry gene.

Up next: the prettiest days ever in RMNP.

Some Thoughts on Parenting a Middle Schooler, 3 Weeks In.

Clearly, as the title indicates, I so far have a lot of experience parenting a middle schooler.

For the sake of record-keeping, and my failing memory, I thought it might be good therapeutic to write these thoughts and feelings down.  Because though some stages move along quickly, and others d-r-a-g by painfully, time wipes away some of the day-to-day type memories, right?

So here are my thoughts in a nutshell: I’m pretty sure I’m a much better baby/toddler/preschooler/early elementary mom than I am a late elementary/middle school mom. This really comes as no surprise to me, as my college major focused on early childhood development. I feel like I’m probably too snarky and sarcastic to be good at this at all. 

And let me say: it’s not like these new attitudes and behaviors and whatnot just came on when school started.  By mid-5th grade, there was some evidence of this tween Luke sneaking into our home. I can only describe it as such: sometimes, he seems like an exceedingly mature teenager, and he knocks my socks off with his insight and knowledge and responsibility. And sometimes, he’s like a giant toddler. And ya never know what you’re gonna get.

I DO understand that this is a major time of growth/exploration/changing about who one is, and that there is a ton of science that indicates major brain function changes (like, parts of the brain literally don’t work like they used to while other grow and stuff – obviously, I’m majorly oversimplifying it, but you get the point). I don’t think Luke is abnormal.  I just think I’m not used to this, and we – both Matt and I – need to get there.

Case in point: last weekend, one of us *might* have jokingly/not jokingly asked the other if it was possible that Luke had gotten a concussion we didn’t about. So you know, we’re handling this well. And by well, I mean we’re having a drink after the kids’ bedtime.

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In other news: though Luke isn’t exceptionally organized in general, he’s so far (as I can tell) been successful at keeping his school work straight.  This was a major concern of mine, so I’m really happy that this is going well!

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Next, beginning band. Oh, beginning band.

Luke is doing a great job as he’s learning to play the trombone. From what I can ascertain, it’s a pretty hard instrument to learn (I played the flute, so I don’t know anything about this, really), and he’s taking his responsibility to practice at home seriously. He has an excellent band director who is making learning fun. I’m being supportive, and congratulating him when I recognize pieces he’s practicing.

But let’s talk about that practice. It’s 100 minutes a week, guys. ONE HUNDRED MINUTES. Bless. That’s a lot of beginning trombone practice every week. And yes, he’s only going to improve if he practices. It’s just…

…I’m pretty sure there aren’t trombones in heaven. Or at least, there aren’t trombones playing “Let’s Go Band” and “Hot Cross Buns.” It’s just a hunch, so don’t quote me on that. 

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Lastly, to middle school teachers and pastors the world over: I love you guys. I mean it. I don’t know what on Earth would possess you to choose to spend your time and career this way, but THANK YOU. Thank you for coming alongside us and wanting to help my child grow and figure things out. I have so much to learn from all of you. 

Vacation 2014: The Wisconsin Part

As is custom in our family, we wait until the boys’ baseball season is over to travel. Which means that by the time late July rolls around, we are very ready to get out of town for a while!

This year’s vacation had 3 parts: Wisconsin and 2 parts in Colorado. We spent a weekend in Wisconsin with Matt’s family, came home Sunday, Matt worked Monday while the boys and I did laundry and repacked everything, and then very early Tuesday morning we headed to the airport. It was a whirlwind but really, really fun!

Our extended family now numbers 16 on the Diehl side, which means we’ve outgrown the family cottage. Therefore, Matt and the boys and I stayed in a little cottage across the neighborhood from the rest of the family, which worked out fine! We spent our lake time eating (great meals out but also pounds of Chex Mix, which I have proven time and again I have no self-control with), playing baseball, shopping a little bit in Lake Geneva, eating some more, and playing at the Assembly Park beach. Just all-around fun family time at Lake Delavan!

Sidenote: Luke found this picture of our family at the lake years ago on Google Images. Isn’t that crazy? Also: we had a talk about not searching Google Images, because, you know, they aren’t always PG.

So here’s the rest of the story, told in pictures…

So Clean.

The first week of the kids being back in school consisted of me running errands, meeting people for lunch, and just generally skipping and floating through life because, hello, freedom.

Now with the second week here, I’ve settled into a routine of volunteering at the school, working out, actually preparing food ahead of time for my family to eat, and starting on all of the things that have accumulated over the last few months that I haven’t been able to tackle.

One of those was deep cleaning the bathrooms, and I decided that today was the day. The boys had kept up all summer with their weekly cleanings, so it’s not like they’ve gone uncleaned for months, but I knew it was time for me to do it.

Let me just sum it up like this:

1. I didn’t know how bad a housekeeper I really am until today.

2. Toilets have so, so many tiny gross places on them, and I’d really never cleaned one that well, apparently. What prompted this crazy cleaning is my super-sensitive sense of smell, so, you know, gag.

3. I’d like to issue a blanket apology to anyone who has used the bathroom at our house the last, oh, say four years aka the whole time we’ve lived here. Because I guess our bathrooms really haven’t been that clean this whole time.

In the boys’ bathroom I realized that the shower curtain was due for a washing (extremely close proximity to the toilet), and in keeping with my previous low standards, as I rehung it, I asked the boys to please just do their best not to pee on the shower curtain. My comment was met with mostly-blank stares and some nods, like they didn’t have a clue what I was asking them to do. So we’ll see how that goes in the future.

Even though it was gross, I was surprised at how much today wasn’t horrible, even though I cleaned all day long…turns out being uninterrupted, with loud, favorite music playing, makes even the worst jobs tolerable.

Bennett, age 9 1/2

I’m very careful about what I write these days. (also, you might be thinking, “Nicole, you never write anything these days.” Fair enough.)  I have to be; the boys are getting older, and I would never write about something that would be embarrassing to them. So I’m wording this carefully, but as this blog is our scrapbook and this has become a huge part of Bennett’s life, I decided to record this.

this picture cracks me up...it was him, posing like a senior picture (he's seen them on the walls of his grandparents' houses)!

this picture cracks me up…it was his idea, posing like a senior picture (he’s seen them on the walls of his grandparents’ houses)!

By the end of last school year, I know I mentioned on the blog that Bennett had started getting in just a little bit of trouble at school.  Totally, totally minor…really, it was just him making some bad choices in the presence of certain friends. And it was right at the end of the year, so we discussed it some early in the summer.  Like how he might need to make some new friends, or really be aware of the choices he makes when around others, or else he may find himself in trouble.

Over the summer he also developed a bit of a negative attitude toward school.  This is a first for any of my kids, really, and it was unexpected. However, it boiled down to this: he just wants to be a baseball player.

So really, in his mind, he doesn’t need to be that educated. Like, he even came up with this gem this summer, completely on his own: “I want to go to a college that has a great baseball team and is just like, ok at academics. So it’s not too hard, and I can mostly focus on playing ball.”

Ohmygosh. Stop it. You’re nine.

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love that grin.

We talked a few different times over the summer about school. How important it is. How to choose (and behave around) friends. Of course, I tried to figure out what was causing this issue, and nothing bad happened to the best of my knowledge. What I do know is that Bennett is bright, a good student, much more confident in his math skills than reading (though he reads above grade level, he isn’t very sure of himself), and a middle child.

Yep, I think him being a middle is playing into this, too. He’s only 2 years behind Luke, so most teachers know him or have taught him by the time B gets them. And Luke is the kind of kid who volunteers for a lot of stuff, and he’s easygoing, and everyone in the school knew him, etc. Luke’s far from perfect, but you get the point…Bennett is second, and he’s a totally different kind of kid.

Then there’s Jack Henry, whose reading level is crazy-high for his age (which slays me, because as a toddler, I thought he was going to have some delays), and couple that with Bennett’s lack of confidence in his reading and comprehension skills, and you’ve got B feeling that middle-child pinch.

I made the following points, as lightheartedly as possible, but in a way that I hope got my point across:

1. If you want to be a pro baseball player, you first need to be a high school baseball player, then a college baseball player (I know that kids get drafted without playing college ball, and so does B, but he knows it’s rare), and then the draft/minors/MLB.

2. If you have to, view 4th grade as a step towards achieving your first big goal: high school baseball player. (This makes me roll my eyes, but I was grasping at straws to engage this child.)

3. My main point: no coach, at any point in this timeline, wants a dumb athlete. They want you to be able to critically think through plays. Plus, there’s the whole staying-eligible-to-play-based-on-your-grades thing.

Before school started, I got a chance to meet B’s teacher, who is new to our elementary school (ie hasn’t taught Luke) but isn’t a new teacher (and she has twin 7th grade boys!). I mentioned to her that Bennett’s attitude toward school had soured just a bit, and that he really wanted to be an athlete. Her immediate comment was, “Well, he will need to be able to read his contract, right?” I think this is going to be a good match. :)

School started 3 days ago, and Bennett has come home every day smiling and saying that things have been going well. So we’re off to a good start.

Only 175 days+/- to go.