Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Landon turned 9!

Landon is 9! 

On his actual birthday, he had to do the normal kid stuff....like go to school. But he handed out a little treat. He chose what was for dinner.....a pizza buffet. And then opened gifts and cards from family that had been mailed. 

On Sunday, we threw him a Nerf themed party using the gym at our church. 11 boys being trained in target shooting, agility courses, and evasion tactics. And then of course, they got to shoot at each other. And because it was an odd number, I had to get in on the action to make the teams even. I was a much easier target though since I am bigger than them. I still have a tender spot on my forehead where I got hit at close range. We had bought bulk knock-off Nerf darts online for a great price, but the tips were a little harder than actual Nerf darts. The darts definitely flew faster and hit harder. 

And we enjoyed simple snacks like Nerf Juice, Popcorn Ammo, Cheezy Bullets, Targets (orange slices), Carrot Darts, and cupcakes (sorry, I couldn't think of a clever themed name for them). 

Minimal decorations. We already had an arsenal of Nerf guns and most boys brought their own as well. No cost for using our church's gym. We provided all of the boys with protective eyewear glasses and a utility belt to hold their darts that they could take home with them. The total for both items ended up costing only around $1.50 per kid. 

Only minimal marital conflict as we finalized the games and order of events the night before, once again being reminded of how differently the two of us operate and plan. 

But Landon declared it was his best birthday party yet. We've thrown some pretty fun ones, so I'll consider this one a success. 

Here's what Landon is like at 9 years old:
- He LOVES to read. Mostly mystery, sci-fi, and adventure...with a little bit of humor. I have to tell him to put books down sometimes. He has one under his pillow, takes one in the car, and generally never has one far from him. 
- He is still pretty passionate about soccer and can't wait for this spring. This winter we also introduced him to basketball and martial arts. I have also mildly been trying to teach him some piano. 
- Still is very social and loves people of all ages. Its been interesting to watch him be the new kid at school though and how he has processed that. He was very selective on who he wanted to invite to his birthday party....which was a major shift from past years when I had to limit him to how many he could invite. He said he gets along with all of the boys in his class....but he just doesn't really hang out with some of them. He doesn't seem at all bothered by it. And part of it is probably just age and kids starting to have actual friend groups, where in younger ages you are friends with everybody. 
-  He has taken an interest in stamp collecting (since he read a book that had something about it). He has a nice pile of them thanks to his Grandma Strahm and he also now has an album to start putting them in. 
- He's been referred and recommended to begin orthodontia work. Apparently his upper palette is too small and it doesn't look like there is room for some of his adult teeth to grow in. He's excited about it.....I don't think he understands the restrictive eating part or the pain part yet. 
- But that's Landon. Very easily excitable. Making him for a very fun kid. He is generally very optimistic and eager.
- He's one of the smaller boys in his class. 
- His favorite things in school are.....gym, recess, library, and computers. 
- Sometimes he is a GREAT big brother. And other times, I am appalled.
We consider ourselves so very blessed and are grateful to have him in our family. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

Fa La La La La.....and Happy New Year!

Realizing I haven't finished up posting about our Christmas festivities. Thankfully, I have a few pictures to remind me since its almost a month later.

We enjoyed a lovely Christmas Eve service at church. Later that evening, we opened up the traditional PJ's and ornaments from Adam's mom. 
Heath - a turtle. Tate - a chicken. Landon - a penguin.

Sigh. I have bunny ears in so many pictures.
On Christmas morning, we opened gifts at home with just our little family. Then we headed to church for a short and simple service. With not having any family gatherings over the Christmas weekend, we were extra grateful to have a church that had so many opportunities to gather together and worship and remember what the season is really about.

Then we came home and set up Skype Christmas with Adam's mom and stepdad....and Adam's sister and husband.  His techy expertise allowed us to cast it onto our TV and split screen it. This is the first Christmas that we did not get together with them in person. We had shipped gifts to one another and opened them over an internet connection.
South Dakota, Washington DC, Indiana.....a lot of distance. 
Amazing what technology can allow us to do these days. 
We were thankful that we could do that, but it was definitely a little sad signing off and realizing that was it for our Christmas with them when we usually spend at least a day or two together. 

On the day after Christmas, we headed to Grand Rapids for a quick gathering with the Willis extended family.  No pictures, but a nice time. And then we brought back from GR one of our international students from last year for the week to stay with us. 

Heath gladly gave up his room for an overnight guest and bunked in his brothers' room (a dream come true for him).  And then Adam's dad and stepmom resided in it for a couple of nights right after that.  We enjoyed having them stay for a couple of nights, but look forward to when we can offer better accommodations for guests (guestroom in the basement is in progress!).  They were here for New Year's Eve and everybody except Heath, managed to stay up til midnight. He made it to 11:20 and then asked if he could be put to bed.  We played games, made homemade ice cream in our ice cream ball, watched a movie, and clinked some bubbly apple cider in plastic glasses at midnight.

Overall, our holidays in our new home were nice.  Definitely a different feel than in the past with not getting to see some family and not doing any major hosting - both of which we missed and were a bit sad about. But it was a very low-key and low-stress time.....which was enjoyed. 

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Strahm Christmas

One Christmas gathering down.
Got together with my (Becca's) side of the family last weekend.

And yes, we had the 4th Annual Strahm Grand Prix.
Doesn't everybody race Hot Wheels cars at Christmas time?

My gearhead brother, Dan, invented this event. And with the help of my I-like-to-build-things-husband, the two of them keep the event running strong. Its basically a good way for us to have an event that engages everybody together. We've streamlined gifts quite a bit (Kids draw a name of a cousin.....and we still let Grandma buy for the grandkids (within moderation)), so its good to have something (besides eating) that we all do together. This year's race was a single elimination bracket that moved along quickly. Starting slots were done in a fair fashion by drawing names from a hat.

Brother vs. Brother
And the winner is HEATH!!!! The matriarch presented the travelling trophy.
We now have it proudly displayed on our mantle.
And as you can see, the Willis' showed up ready to race! We were the top 3 cars!
Landon was the only one who didn't make it out of the first round. This was the first year our family took the trophy.
We might have a slight advantage in that we own the track.

And my mom and dad told the Christmas story using flannelgraph once again!
Pretty sure I get a picture of these two sleeping EVERY year.
And no, this was not during the telling of the Christmas story.

Trying to get arranged for a family photo. Obviously, Katie likes the camera.

The whole bunch of us.
Gma and Gpa with the grandkids.

A fun and festive day that we all enjoyed! 

DIY Family Photos

Well, the tripod and camera struck again!

We've had some pretty decent shots at taking our own family photos. It certainly does not compare to what our favorite photographer can do for us, but now that he lives 2 hours away and we cannot afford to pay for him to travel to us, we resorted to taking a few shots of our own this fall so that we would have something to put on a Christmas card. 

Here's our best family shot. 
I managed to pull outfits all of what we had on hand earlier that day. I knew this was our last chance before we got some not as lovely weather. Not perfectly coordinated outfits, but good enough for us. I spent the least amount of time on my outfit and seeing the pics afterwards, I wish I would have had on a big necklace or scarf to break up my 1-coloredness. I have cute brown booties on that go nicely with Tate's pants....you just can't see them. But now you know.

What was going on moments before we took the picture.....
We had been waiting most of the day to receive a delivery from Menard's with supplies for finishing the basement. Adam was still in the driveway with the delivery guy as the boys and I tromped outside dressed nicely with camera and tripod in hand. I gave a less-than-endearing look toward him and said, "The glow. We're going to miss the glow." (The lovely-warm-sun-is-setting-glow). We did kinda miss it, but at least it wasn't dark yet.

While he went in and changed, I tried to set up the tripod while the boys ran in circles around the yard, the whole time me chiding them to not mess up their hair or fall (one of my children, of whom I will not name at the moment, is CONSTANTLY falling).

We had Landon try to take a picture or two of us. Landon didn't notice what Tate was doing in the background. And I don't think Tate realized he was even in the shot. Bahahahaha!

The boys asked if they could do some leaf throwing pictures.
Oh, Tate. Do you really need that many leaves?

Love this family we've been given! So blessed!
(And having a nice camera that we were given a few years back from Adam's sister has certainly been a blessing and captured so many special memories!)

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Not your typical Thanksgiving post

Thanksgiving is a time where it comes more natural to be liberal with our showering and proclaiming of everything that we are thankful for.  Its certainly not a bad thing to sprinkle efforts of having an attitude of gratitude all over social media or throughout our homes in the forms of wall art or throw pillows. It’s an immensely beautiful thing, really – to be grateful.

Sometimes it comes easily, full of “my cup runneth over” moments where you just cannot get the smile of deep content and joy off of your face.  And other times, it is an intentional mindset or an effort of directing thoughts towards the abundance and the good, rather than the shortcomings or difficulties.  And for some, at other times, it may be downright difficult to see through the veil of hardships to identify blessings and believe that things can ever turn around for the better.

Our family of 5 has so much to be grateful for. We try to be intentional about voicing our gratefulness and identifying our blessings.  A thankfulness pumpkin has occupied our kitchen table for the last two months. Every night at dinner we take a few moments to write on its sides the people, places, and things that we are thankful for  (Yes, you might see penguins written down) Its become a dinnertime tradition that we have enjoyed and may have to do in different forms so that we can continue to practice it throughout the year.

This Thanksgiving was a little hard though.

We actually spent our Thanksgiving Day without any family or friend gatherings to attend.  I cracked the whip and made Adam work on getting the basement project started while I tended to the tedious job of painting trim and baseboards on the main level of the house most of the afternoon and into the evening. Much of the day was dreary, cloudy, and sprinkling rain.  And for dinner, we ate at Burger King because it was the only thing we could find that was open.

But none of that was what made it hard.

You see, we had a family gathering the weekend before. And we have another family gathering today. We’ve experienced a full house of loved ones with plenty of food to eat, good conversation, great moments of connection, and people that love us.  We have other family that we couldn’t see, due to distance, that we know love us also. We have been embraced by our new church. The boys are doing well in school. We have a house provided to us that is next door to church, Adam’s workplace, Heath’s preschool, the boys’ school, the local high school and middle school, and has a large parking lot for riding bikes in. We have closets full of clothes, cupboards and a fridge lined with food, bins stocked with various toys, bank accounts with more than enough for what we need.  We can easily think of people throughout the course of our lives that have influenced, affected, and blessed us.  We have 3 boys that are growing, learning, and are healthy. And I still have a smile on my face from getting to see friends all day yesterday as we made a quick whirlwind tour of visiting Grand Rapids.  We have so many bountiful and good things in our lives.  And we have the joy, peace, love, and hope of Jesus.

It was hard because we had volunteered to deliver meals to shut-ins.  Something I thought would have left a more satisfied feeling in my heart.  Helping out is supposed to feel good, right?....

But it didn’t.  It left me conflicted, confused, and heavy feeling, unsure of what could really be done on a grand scale – a feeling of the need being so much greater than what the offering was.  Our route was what I assume to be a government subsidized apartment complex with mostly older people residing in it.  For the rest of the day, I couldn’t shake the image of the woman who needed help getting out of bed so she could use the restroom – not even remotely interested in the meal we brought for her, and me smelling the urine in her bedsheets and asking if anyone stops in to check on her.  Me trying to smile and tell her we hope she has a nice Thanksgiving only to help her back to bed and have her quietly insist that she just didn’t know how it could be. Or the woman who expectantly and excitedly greeted us, even prepared to give us money for being so nice to bring her a thanksgiving meal….only for us to leave and be on with our route and day. Or the older man in overalls who peeked out his door and who wasn’t on our list that then proceeded to follow us from a distance down the hallway, clearly interested in the food that we were handing out.

But we showed up with our eager smiles and our homemade cards that we had drawn hand turkeys on.  The boys excitedly rode the elevator, knocked on doors, handed out our cards, and exclaimed over and over again how our van smelled like Thanksgiving.  I pointed out how providential it was that we had made the exact number of cards needed, even though we had no idea how many meals we were going to be delivering.  And how perfect it was that we ended up having someone on our list who had somehow just received another meal, giving us an extra meal to hand out to the man in overalls who was still following us down the hallway.  We exuded a spirit of joy as we walked in and back out of other’s realities.

But my heart is still heavy and conflicted thinking about it all.  A dose of reality that I know exists and readily admit to – that people are lonely and living in long moments of isolation, have broken bodies and spirits, and have tangible physical  needs , but one that I don’t often enough willingly encounter in doses like I did on Thanksgiving this year.  I’ve gone on missions trips to third world countries, served in the inner city, held babies in orphanages, fitted children with needed shoes, used a “toilet” and visited homes in rural Africa…..I’ve been exposed to “needs” before.  But it is easy to forget. …..or ignore in the midst of my normally comfortable and full life.

How do we live in the balance of being aware and involved in the deep and real needs and hardships of others…..and still enjoy life’s pleasures and embrace our full and bountiful existences of having more than enough?  All of a sudden, many of those things that our family listed on our thankfulness pumpkin seem silly and trite.  And the little we gave of ourselves on Thanksgiving feels like a drop in the ocean.  How are we supposed to do this Jesus?

But I am grateful to have these moments of wrestling.  Moments that make me catch my breath and ask Jesus to help me understand.  Moments that soften and tenderize my heart, open my eyes, challenge my views and thinking, get me uncomfortable, and spur me onto reaching out and doing what I can with the moments that I have been given. 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Clyde says goodbye

We had to say goodbye to our cat, Clyde.

We went away for an overnight youth retreat this weekend. We had only been gone a little over 27 hours, but we came home to find that that he had died while we were away. A big surprise for us.

He was over 12.5 years old, so not a kitten anymore, but some housecats live quite a bit longer. Still not completely sure what happened, but it appeared to be simply of a natural cause. We had noticed a few minor things lately (a couple of very small growths on his head/neck.....his fur not being as well groomed as usual), but nothing that would have led us to think that he was going to die soon. Thankful that he did not seem to be in pain prior to this or have a lingering and long illness to suffer through.

We haven't shed any tears over him. I know some pets take on extreme familial roles for some people....but well, we'll be honest, he was our pet. We enjoyed him. We were glad to have him in our home and to allow our kids to interact with and care for an animal. And when kids came into the picture, he was probably mildly neglected and occasionally his food dish would not be filled as quickly as it used to be. :) We think he was happy and content in his life. He'll be missed....but not mourned like a human life.

We got him within our first year of being married....when we lived in an apartment that did not allow pets.

Our other cat, Daisy, will certainly miss him. They've been together for almost 9 years.

He was such a good, tolerant cat to have with young kids! If he got fed up with kids or didn't like all the noise, he would simply go hide somewhere.
He had always moved with us.....from an apartment to a 95-year old house that we remodeled...to a 2-month temporary mission house....to our large family home......to our current house in a new state.
One of the most recent pictures taken of him. And probably one of my favorites.
So peaceful.

Clyde was a very good cat and we will miss hearing his large, padded paws come around the corner on the wooden floors. And how he didn't always want to be petted, but he would rub against your hand to let you know when he did want to be petted. How he seemed to have a bit of a fetish for heads/hair.  How he would sit on your lap and knead his paws back and forth on your legs. How he would come when you would whistle for him.

Thanks for letting us take care of you Clyde!

Heath turned 4!

Heath turned 4. 
11 days ago. But hey, still going to blog about it. 

He was our smallest baby by quite a bit (8lbs. 10oz) - although he was my toughest labor. He was the last one to walk, a little slow to talk....but ahead of his brothers in other ways! 

His birthday was the day after we returned from our Colorado trip. So, well, we didn't do a whole lot besides jumping into regular life.
I took him to Toys R Us while his brothers were at school. They give you a crown and a balloon on your birthday. And he had a $3 off coupon that I let him pick out something with. I let him pick out a new Paw Patrol pup that he didn't have.
He requested pizza and applesauce for dinner. We opened cards and gifts. We had some cake. And we were still recovering from a 3-hour time difference adjustment. :)

He's a pretty easy to please kid, so I think he enjoyed his day quite a bit.

Here's what Heath is like at the age of 4:
- He likes puppies, turtles, and frogs. He has a very special stuffed frog that is named "Speckles."
- He still doesn't usually pronounce "s" when it is at the beginning of some words. Thus, he actually calls his frog "peckles".  And he likes to play the game "Pot It" (Spot It). He likes "tickers" (stickers). And he likes to "nuggle" (snuggle).  
- He loves trying to keep up with his older brothers. 
- He loves having books read to him. 
- He attends preschool 2 mornings a week at our church (from 9am - 1pm). He really enjoys it. His favorite part is usually eating his lunch at school. 
- He still gets pretty shy in really busy social settings or with new people.
- His voice is pretty cute and distinct. A little robotic still. Get him going and he can be quite chatty.
- Still a big fan of trains, tow trucks, fire trucks and cars. 
- He gives great hugs (when he wants to).
- Speaking of "when he wants to".....he's starting to get an opinion and agenda of his own. Seeing some pouting and defiance.
- He repeatedly tells us he wants someone to share a room with. He is very sad about it. Landon and Tate wear the same size of clothes and get up at the same time for school....makes sense that they share a room. And mom and dad share a room. Poor kid feels left out.
- He can be pretty sensitive to the feelings of others.
- We think he is so adorable and are so thankful to be given him as a gift to our family!

Wednesday, November 02, 2016


Check another state off of our "been there" list! 


Adam's dad moved there almost exactly 3 years ago.  On a whim, I looked up airline tickets a couple of months ago and found they were quite affordable for us. So, we extended the boys' fall break and made a trip of it! 

This was the first flight for the boys. There is something so fun about watching these guys take in new experiences. They were so enamored by everything. Navigating the airport. Pulling their luggage. The moving sidewalks. The takeoffs. The snacks on the plane. It was all very exciting for them and they did really well. 

Adam's dad and wife live in Loveland, which is about an hour north of Denver. 
The fun thing about Denver and the route up to Loveland is that they run parallel to the mountain range of the Rocky Mountains.  As far as you can see in both directions you see the line of the mountain range. And if you look in the other direction, you see flatness.  You are still at a really high altitude, but its a huge flat plain. 

We enjoyed scoping out the Rocky Mountain National Park a bit on our first full day there. It is such a vast, huge area that we barely saw a drop in the bucket of it. Its crazy how much colder and windier it gets the higher you get. We mostly drove and would get out at different points to see a scenic view, but we did take a mile trail at one point.  And I must say, my "worst case scenario" mind took several rampant runs at times. Why are there not more guard rails along the road?!?!?! And I'd start sweating when one of the boys would even lean up against a rail while the wind gusted around us. It even led me to later look up stats to see how many people die every year in the Rocky Mountains. Yes, I'm aware that I'm a bit morbid.

Anyways. Super majestic and beautiful scenery. Makes you feel quite small. Definitely a sight to behold. Here's some pics from that day:

On Saturday, we enjoyed a community event in the downtown Loveland area. Kids were in costume and there was lots of businesses with activities for kids. It was beautiful weather and our little guys had a lot of fun. Then Maria and I enjoyed some outlet mall shopping later in the afternoon. In the evening, I made us all try to go out and find a spot to watch the sunset.

On Sunday, we took the boys to a local church in the morning. We debated on whether or not we were going to attend church. We were completely open and willing to attend a Catholic Mass with Mark and Maria. And we were completely fine with just laying low and enjoying some rest time. But, we found a small-ish community church and showed up. We were really blessed. We love being in a ministry position in a church setting.....but its also really nice and freeing to just be able to show up somewhere and worship and take it all in. No expectations from us. No "agenda" running through my head of who I need to connect with or catch. No problem solving if a situation arises and needs attention.  We were blessed by the music and message. And our boys have attended a number of churches over the years and do really well in new settings.  And after lunch, we hiked a stretch of The Devil's Backbone. And then we checked out the historical Dam Store. And oh yeah, it was also Adam's 37th birthday! 

On Monday, we headed to downtown Denver. Our boys are big fans of underwater creatures (especially Tate......No, Tate is not an underwater creature....he's the biggest fan of underwater creatures). There's an aquarium there and we have never taken the boys to an aquarium. And after doing some internet research, it turns out that if kids were in costume (since it was Halloween), they would get in FREE (normally $13.50/kid). There's also a restaurant inside of the aquarium where you eat beside big fish tanks. We had planned to do that also, even though I knew it was pretty pricey. Turns out that kids ate FREE on that day also (saving us another $7.50/kid). These people were speaking my language! The boys LOVED the aquarium. Since it was a Monday morning and area schools were in session, it was not busy at all. We then shed the costumes and walked to a local ice cream place and checked out a few other spots on the way. On our way out of Denver, we checked out the Rocky Mountain Wildlife Arsenal Refuge. It was free and we drove the 10 mile wildlife loop. It was hot and animals were pretty lazy, but we still saw a couple of bison, some deer, lots of prairie dogs, and a few birds of prey. 

On Tuesday, we visited Maria at her workplace for a bit and said our goodbyes to her. Then we visited a local park and played for awhile. It was a great view of Lake Loveland and the moutainscape. For the rest of our day, we just worked on packing up, chilling, and gearing up for our evening flight. 

This is as close to mountain climbing as I got.

Overall, it was a very good trip. Mix in some cooking of meals. Watching the World Series. Dealing with a 2-hour time difference. Trick or Treating. Gazing at mountains a lot. And well, that about sums it up. 

Super grateful to have the chance to visit family. Having moved away from what was our "home" area for the last 13 years, we know it means a lot when people come to see you in your new digs! I'm very glad we made the point to take this trip and spend some time with Adam's dad and Maria. 

Super grateful that God has given us such amazing different landscapes to have in our world. I'm sure the people that live in Colorado get used to the views, but I found myself trying to soak it all up. 

And I'm also super grateful that we had this chance to take a trip in general. It was good "timing" to get away with a short lull in responsibilities lining up with a school break. I'm thankful that my budget-conscious mind was able to get past dropping the money for us to all fly. Plus, we've been busy and it was really good to get away as a family. I'm completely endeared to these 4 guys in my life and I love spending time with them.