Tuesday, September 05, 2017

2017 Willis Family Summer Bucket List

Even though school started a few weeks ago, I don't consider summer to be over until after Labor Day. Maybe its my years of living as a Michigander that rubbed off on me.

After taking last summer off from a bucket list since we primarily focused on moving, swimming in our pool every last second we could, saying goodbye, and making new friends.....well, we decided to re-institute the Willis Family Summer Bucket List this summer.

Good goal lists shouldn't be so attainable that everything happens, right? Then we'd be setting the bar too low. So, there are a few we didn't get to. There's always next year.

So, without further ado, here's our summer bucket list and our results:

The 2017 Willis Family Summer Bucket List

Go to a South Bend Cubs Game
The rest of the family went also, but they were not wearing Cubs attire, so they were not invited into the picture.

Have a Sleepover
Not much to explain. We had a friend spend the night. Haven't really done that before. 

Decorate Sidewalks at a Park and put encouraging messages on them
Didn't get this one done. Sounds lovely. But just didn't happen......yet.

Pay for the car behind us in the Drive-Thru
Went through the McD's drive thru. The car behind us gave us a nice honk of appreciation. The boys ask to do it all the time now.

Stay up until Midnight
Not really sure why they like to do this so much. But we did it.

Go to the Indy Children’s Museum
Almost tried to frantically get this in last weekend, but decided not to. I'm not a bucket list Nazi.

Visit 10 Different Parks
Yep, 10 of them.

Walk/Ride the Riverwalk 10 times (not in a row)

I think we only walked this once. The rest were on our bikes.

Bike a 12+ Mile Trip
We actually fit a couple of these in.

Paint Rocks
I'll let you try to figure out whose is whose. There's some trends these days of painting rocks and planting them around for others to find. We just decorated our landscape and fire ring with them though.

Watch a Movie Outdoors
We watched Lego Batman in our backyard with over 50 other people. 

Try Something NEW
I was thinking we'd try a new ethnic food or something, but we decided to cross this off the list when all 3 of the boys went tubing for the first time behind a boat. 

Go to SkyZone
Trampoline Park. The boys thought it was fun. I thought it was pricey (and of course, we went while they were running a promotion so as to not pay full price).
Go on a Boat Ride
We've all been on boats before, but only once this summer. Adam gave some wakeboard instruction a few times to a young boy in our church and they invited us all to enjoy the boat with them one afternoon.

Volunteer @ Food Pantry
Didn't squeeze this in yet. Our church has a food pantry. Volunteering with young kids can be hard as I've found in the past as well. Its hard to know how to provide opportunities for kids. And I didn't inquire about it until August. 

Have the Neighbors over
Maybe not a big deal to most people, but we've lived here a year and had yet to be able to make any sort of significant contact with neighbors. We've baked cookies and delivered them without much of a response or desire to interact with us. And for this list, we specifically were targeting our next door neighbors who seem to be the only other house with kids on the street. With a very last-minute-knock-on-the-door invitation to come over for pizza, they agreed! The wife was gone, but the dad with four kids was super eager to not have to feed them dinner himself. We'll take it. And hopefully build on it.


And that concludes the 2017 Willis Family Summer Bucket List Re-cap. 


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Tate turned 8.....a month ago

Sometimes I wonder if I should really keep blogging.....especially since I go for long lulls and get way behind........(Although, I feel fairly committed since this is the only journal of our lives....)

But then it's our middle child's birthday and I have this nagging pressure to not let our middle child feel neglected. Mostly because I can already tell there is something pretty significant about the whole middle-child-thing. Not because I was a middle child....which, I was....I was 3 of 4 - although, I was the only girl, so I'm quite sure there was a bit of the princess syndrome going on. I don't see it, but my brothers insist it was so. Anyways. I get it. The firstborn hits all the big milestones first. Gets to experience things first. A bit more of a domineering personality. And then the baby.....well, oh my.....he's my BABY! So, I'm working on trying to understand those middle kids and their view on life and the world. And how I can keep our middle child's heart from being hurt and feeling like he is always lacking something and voicing that things aren't "fair." (By the way.....we're OK with things not being "fair".....we consider it a life lesson....Because in case you didn't know, life isn't "fair.") :) How I can already see that he's trying to figure out who he is and sometimes wants to do things differently than his older brother. How he clearly has so much going through that mind of his already. How he is still trying to figure out how to express his big and extreme feelings. How he surprises us with his deep generosity and spot-on insights. This kid is so amazing.

Anyways. Our dear and favorite middle child turned 8.

For the 2nd year in a row, his birthday wish was to go fishing. So, Adam made some arrangements and they went fishing bright and early that morning.

Later that day, he opened gifts and cards from family. He chose to go out to Buffalo Wild Wings for dinner. Tate LOVES some bone-in chicken wings with a spicy sauce. (Thanks to everyone who sent something special for him!)

And well, did we have a birthday party?
If you know me at all, it takes a pretty strong force to convince me not to throw a birthday party! 
They are so stinking fun!
But because of a really busy end of June which lasted all the way through mid-July.....I scheduled his birthday party 2 weeks after his actual birthday. 

We invited a few handfuls of boys, anticipating that because it was summer we would catch some on vacation or with other commitments.....But on the night of the party, we had 17 young boys in our backyard (and a teenager). Every single one we invited was able to attend. 

It was Pokemon themed......little creatures with special powers. There's a whole empire around them with all sorts of playing cards, apps, toys, etc.
The games were all themed. I found a bunch, 144 to be exact, of knock-off mini Pokemon figures on Amazon and based most of the games around them. 

First, they had to hatch a Pokemon. I had put a character in a balloon and then filled it with water and froze it. There was 1 for each of them. They had to handle it with care (i.e. they couldn't just smash it in the driveway. So, it mostly involved them trying to melt it in their hands, blowing on it, etc. to see what character they got.
I had a pencil pouch for each of them that they could put their little Pokemon figures in as they collected them throughout the night. 

Then they played Pokemon Bingo in our basement (the ONLY time I let them inside the house.....except if they had to go to the bathroom). The game leader for this was super cute. And they could win more little figures or cards.

Then they returned to the backyard where I had hid a bunch of figures in a staked-out part of the yard. We had done the math. There was enough out there for each of them to find 7. 

Then the super-cute game leader led them in some sort of game involving throwing balls at each other and running around. I don't know what it was...They were having fun and I was getting the food out.
Nothing too fancy. Little boys aren't going to be impressed with fanciness and finery.
All of the food was named after Pokemon characters. My boys had fine helping me come up with these. Squirtle Juice. Weedle Watermelon. Charmander Chips. Jigglypuff Jello. Pikachu Popcorn. Bulbasaur Beans. Combusken Cupcakes.
(Yes, Pokemon characters have ridiculous names)


Here's what our Tate is like at 8:
- He LOVES being outdoors and exploring nature. A small stream could keep him entertained for hours. 
- He has a very strong affinity for rocks. We can't go anywhere without him looking for interesting rocks. And he's rubbed off on me....I've even found myself picking up rocks for him when I'm somewhere if I notice an interesting one. 
- He wants to try football this fall. There were some full-on football leagues that he could have just barely been old enough to play in.....but I found a flag football league instead. He doesn't even like when contact happened in soccer.....so I'm interested to see how he responds to it in football. 
- He is quite tall for his age. He's now eeked above his older brother barely. But its clear his limbs are longer and his feet are bigger. 
- He is a light sleeper and the earliest to rise in our family. 
- He is a voracious and good eater. Always the first one done at the table. Sometimes we have to implement a "put the silverware down between each bite" rule on him. 
- He thrives with one-on-one time. I still have some behavioral issues with him, but he responds great to Adam and other adults. 
- He can be an excellent worker when instructed and motivated well. He's excellent at being Adam's right-hand helper when he's working on things. 
- He's a thinker. Oftentimes, I'll look back at him when we're driving somewhere because he is so quiet and he is very clearly in deep thought, looking out the window. His deep thinking often results in deep questions.
- He has a sensitive heart. He internalizes mean things that are said or done to him and it bothers him quite a bit and hurts his feelings. Kids at school. His brothers. BUT, on the flip side, a kind and nice gesture or word towards him -- he'll remember and appreciate it forever. 
- He has the sweetest smile and big, dark eyes and we are so thankful to have him in our family!

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

2017 Garden Journal

There's just something immensely satisfying about growing your own food. I love walking into the backyard to top off a salad or to have the fridge and countertops bursting with produce.

Honestly, I'm not sure if its about saving money (or time) at all. I mean, I probably save some money with the amount of produce I get. Plus, I get to usually share some. And I'm definitely not saving time because I spend a lot of time planting, weeding, watering, and coaxing those plants along.

We expanded our garden space a little bit from last year. Adam got some timbers and edged out the sides.

Growing a garden doesn't necessarily come naturally for me. Growing weeds, on the other hand - I'm AH-MAZING! I document my gardening efforts so that I can look back next year and be reminded of what went well. And what didn't.

This year's garden included: broccoli, carrots, green beans, zucchini, yellow peppers, grape tomatoes, roma tomatoes, strawberries, yellow squash, lettuce, basil, and sweet corn. Oh, and weeds.


Broccoli did great. 
Carrots aren't quite ready yet, but they are growing. The tops look nice even if I'm not sure what the undersides look like. And I always forget how little the seeds are making them hard to plant and space well. 
Green beans....yum.
Zucchini....rocking my world.
Yellow squash. Ok. 
Yellow peppers. Hopeful that they'll actually turn yellow. But not yet.
Roma tomatoes were very short in stature and then got way too crowded within the cage, causing the leaves to yellow and die. But there's a lot of green ones waiting to ripen. 
Grape tomatoes developed a huge and tall plant. Lots of 'em.
Basil did super well. But I couldn't keep up with using it. And it flowered (which I believe is not good).
Lettuce variety pack. Did great! But we didn't really like it. Too bitter. And super tiny seeds making it hard to plant. (future Becca.....don't plant lettuce again...even if it is because of a free seed packet).
And those weeds. Continual. Persistant. Abundant. Turn-your-back-and they-are-thriving. Hmmm....I wonder if they are edible? (I did get some grass clippings from my brother early on to put around the bases, which helped with keeping some at bay and also helped to retain moisture. Note to Dan: I'd like more grass clippings if there is a 2018 Willis garden.)

And the sweet corn. It was my first attempt at growing it. And the crop has been decimated by a neighborhood varmint that is yet to be determined. I don't know if there's any ears left on the stalks at this point. Its the only thing that was touched in the garden though. I'm pretty sure hunting is not allowed within our city limits, otherwise I would let my hunter husband have his hand at eliminating my corn eater.

And this concludes the Summer 2017 Willis Garden details.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Grandma Jackson goes home

Last week we paused to remember the life of my (Becca's) Grandma Jackson.  This was my last grandparent. I don't feel "old" enough to no longer have any of my grandparents. But, alas, apparently I am. I know friends who have already had to say goodbye to parents.  As you get older, you start to realize that there are certain roles in your life that are incredibly important. As you parent, you finally have a glimpse of the magnitude of love your parents have for you. No one else will think of you so much, love you so deeply, cheer you on, lose sleep over you, or always want to spend time with you like a parent will. That's a big role. And a big hole once it's gone. And I suppose I'll have a greater understanding of a grandparent's role if I'm able to make it there. But again, there's a hole once that's gone.
Mother's Day 2015 with my mom and I. Three generations, all with the middle name of "Ann."

Reality is - funerals remind us that our lives are brief - even if we nearly make it to 90, like my grandma. We have but this one life to live on earth. There aren't do-overs. There will be a day when our loved ones will sit in a service, or at a graveside, and cling to precious memories of us. The feeling of separation from our loved ones can be painful and hard, but as a Christian, the assurance of eternity spent in heaven offers immense comfort and peace. I am certain my grandma did not just cease to be...this life is not all there is......but that she is living whole and in the presence of Jesus. It breaks my heart to know that many, many people live and die without that assurance.

I had the privilege of sharing my grandmother's life story at her funeral. I had told my mom I thought I could handle it, but 2 days prior to it as I snuck away from the house and worked on honing it while sitting in a coffee shop, I had second thoughts.  My mom had drafted much of it, jotting down details from her memory and from journal entries from my grandma - details that many of us were unaware of. I didn't want to just read some bullet points, I wanted to make it smooth and pretty. But all of a sudden, the weight of sharing one's life story and trying to do it justice in a 10-minute reading seemed overwhelming. I used a lot of tissues, received some sympathetic pity looks, and sent a few texts to friends asking them to pray for me. I could barely type it out and hold it together, I didn't want to be a blubbering mess, not allowing anyone to even understand what I was saying.

I made it through just fine at the funeral though. A little emotion. A few pauses to take a breath and collect myself. And then a big release of tears once I took my seat and we sang "Blessed Assurance."

Some family had asked for a copy of it, so here's a link to it.


The day was long. There was a lunch that followed the funeral. And then several hours of gap time to allow travel to her burial site which was over an hour away. And then another meal. It was a long day.....but not that we should quickly move on from remembering the message of a funeral and of a life well-lived. In that case, it felt much, much, much too short. 

December 1982....I'm the girl in green plaid on Grandpa's lap.
August 2003 on our wedding day.

May 2010, with Tate and Landon.

February 2013, with Heath.


November 2016, with just a portion of her great-grandchildren.
In short, this woman was precious and endearing. I was blessed to call her my grandma. 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Strahm Vacation 2017

The Strahm Vacation came and went!

We headed to the Kentucky/Ohio border area. Rented a BIG house in a teeny tiny town along the Ohio River. The house was perfect for our group and gave us plenty of room to spread out. The riverfront was just a block away and the playground and baseball/kickball field was just a block the other way. And well, the town only really went about a block in all directions. Teeny tiny. We did most of our meals ourselves....and there were definitely some good meals. 

We headed to the area because mom really wanted to experience the Ark Encounter. And well, we all like to try to make mom happy. Not because she's demanding or opinionated.....but because she is kinda the opposite of that and usually does everything she can for everyone else. 

We all got in on Wednesday a little before dinner time. Explored the house and the area. 

Thursday was slated to be a cruddy weather day, so we decided to just chill and get acclimated and relax. The guys all went somewhere at some point....They said they were park scouting, although they had nothing to show for their time (not like the girls when we checked out the Gap Clearance Center on Sunday afternoon). 

On Friday, we headed to the Ark Encounter. Very cool to take in the massiveness of the boat. There was a lot of information to read and they've spent a lot of time researching and thinking through so many aspects.....everything from the timeline/geography.....to "why" God sent the flood....to the significance of the doors.....to how the species of animals were represented....to how they would feed/water the animals.....to how they would've gotten rid of the waste....to displays of animals that may have been on the ark that are now extinct....and more. To be honest, it wasn't the greatest for young kids - not a lot of "hands-on" opportunities for them to engage with. And well, I scoured the internet for a coupon....nope, nada, nothing. Its a little pricey. But, we had a good time. And we all look pretty good standing in front of it. 

On Saturday, we went to the Cincinnati Zoo. Busy day, but lots of animals and exhibits to explore. Fiona, a prematurely born baby hippo, was slowly being introduced to the public and was the big hotspot. Who knew a hippo could be so adorable?!?! 

I kinda really like big gorillas. (And yes, this was the zoo where the notorious Harambe was from! Google it if you don't know what I'm talking about. I do like people more than big gorillas though.)







On Sunday, we walked to the small church next to our rental house. And spent the afternoon relaxing (with a little bit of shopping mixed in). 


On Monday, we headed to downtown Cincinnati. There is an AWESOME park along the Ohio River.  We easily spent the entire afternoon there before catching pizza for dinner. A few of us had already packed up and had plans to head home from there in the evening, while the others left the next morning. 










When I write it down like this, the vacation doesn't seem we did much.....but honestly, the majority of our time was just enjoying being together. Cooking and eating meals. Kids playing hide and seek. Throwing rocks in the river. Playing baseball/kickball. Playing board/card games. S'Mores. Chatting. It was a very good time. 





Oh, and I *almost* forgot to mention that I continue to be the reigning champion in our Mother/Children Ticket to Ride Vacation Showdown. It was down to the wire, but I continue to be the leader in strategy, skill, and expertise when it comes to building with small plastic train cars.



Heath totally loved all of the attention that he got from his teenage girl cousins. 
He was really good at mooching rides off of them.




Overall, it was a really great time! Hmmm....now what to do for Strahm Vacation 2019?