Thursday, April 30, 2015

NC Transportation Museum

My sister-in-law sent me an email that promoted Customer Appreciation Day (aka Free Day) at the NC Transportation Museum. While this is a good 45 minute drive from our house, I can't pass up free entertainment. It's been almost two years since we took Jackson, and the trio have never been. I packed a picnic lunch, change of clothes, and fully stocked diaper bag. We left after my morning Zumba class, straight from the gym. 

We arrived around 12:30. We had a light snack in the shade, before I realized the train ride was about to depart.

You can take a 25 minute train ride at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. I debated extensively over taking the kids on a train or not. Strollers are not allowed, and there are no seat belts. I wasn't sure how the trio would react since they've never been on a train. I ran into a friend of mine and asked her if she'd mind being an extra set of hands and eyes if things got out of hand. While I didn't end up needing her help, it gave me tremendous peace of mind.

Just for fun, here's a comparison of Jackson and I (and the trio) the last time we were at the Transportation Museum vs this afternoon.

Sorry for the excessive cleavage; James was pulling my shirt down.
Jackson was the most difficult of the four. It was partly my fault because he was hungry and I didn't give him a chance to eat more than a few pretzels. He perked up briefly when he got to give the conductor the train tickets to punch.

Amelia, who was closest to the window, was transfixed by the passing surroundings.

The most unexpected part of the train ride was passing dozens of professionally dressed adults. I quickly recognized our former major and current governor. Apparently he was discussing a bond proposal for upgrading NC roads. I'd prefer he spend more time allocating funds for education, but I digress...

After the train ride, we found another shady spot for a proper lunch. Everyone was in a better mood and energized after we ate.

The conductor stopped by to talk to us. He complimented the kids on their behavior on the train and for being good eaters. Jackson whispered to me, "Can I take a picture with him?" I'm pretty sure that made the conductor's day.

When the conductor came over, James and Maddie got out their tickets again. They are so funny!

The museum is spread out (57 acres, according to the website) and requires lots of walking. During the longer distances, I kept two in the stroller.

When it was Maddie's turn to walk, she held Jack's hand the whole time. They stopped to wave at one of the trains passing. Alas, proof that they love each other.

In addition to trains, the museum features full exhibits with antique and classic automobiles. I let everyone walk around, but held my breath, waiting for someone to walk under the rails and touch the cars. They did a great job and I worried for nothing.

Our last exhibit was the steam and diesel locomotives. The open space was ideal for the kids to explore the trains up close and personal.

Jackson was disturbed by some of the vintage photographs in the repair shop. He showed his siblings one photo and asked me, "Is he trapped under the train?!" I read Jack the captions and reassured him the man was safely working on the train.

I am always impressed by the roundhouse. Thanks to Thomas the Tank Engine, Jackson understands the roundhouse and was excited to see it in action.

We made a final stop by this stationary cart for water, snacks, diaper changes, and a last burst of energy before a long drive home.

I had left my phone in the van so I had no clue what time it was. I just followed the kids' cues and stayed until their energy began to fizzle. I was shocked to see we had walked around for 3.5 hours! Needless to say, all four kids were asleep within five minutes. 

The fun fact of the day is that the museum admission and train rides are free every day if you have a Discovery Place membership. The Transportation Museum will likely become a day trip for us a few times a year. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Strawberry Picking

As much as I love living in a large city, I can certainly appreciate spending an afternoon at the farm. Strawberry season has begun, and a few local farms allow you to pick your own strawberries. I thought this would be a fun activity for the kids and I, especially since we all love strawberries and being outside.

Jackson doesn't have school on Tuesdays, so I planned to go to the farm this morning. However, it was still 40 degrees outside. We ended up waiting and going much later than I had originally expected, which worked out even better because Jackson's MiMi and cousin were able to join us. It was a gorgeous afternoon!

The kids and I arrived before my MIL and nephew did, so we took our time perusing the fields and farm animals. I brought the stroller, but the trio walked the majority of the time.

There were signs regularly posted along the animal pens that said, "Animals may bite." Not surprisingly, James had no fear and kept putting his hands through the fence. Jackson would nearly knock his brother over, yelling "No sir!"

 All was fun and games until the pigs approached the fence and began snorting. Jackson started running and James, Amelia, and Maddie all began crying. Thankfully, this was the same time when MiMi called to say she was just a few minutes away.

While I could have managed navigating the fields by myself, it worked out really well having an extra adult with me. Unlike the pumpkin patch, the rows of strawberries are much closer together and are raised, making it impossible to use a stroller.

Everyone had ample time to pick strawberries. Jackson scrutinized each strawberry before selecting one. 

He was so excited about going to the farm. His enthusiasm multiplied as soon as I told him his cousin, Levi, was going to meet us there.

You could buy a pint, quart, or gallon of strawberries. I opted for the quarts solely because they were the easiest size container for the kids to carry. Together, my MIL and I requested four quarts, which meant the kids would have to share. The girls fought over their turn to carry the bucket. They did much better when they each had their own bucket.

James was initially engaged, though he had a bit of a meltdown halfway through. Sitting in the stroller with his water and a pacifier was enough to calm him down until the rest of us finished filling our quarts.

 Of all the kids, Maddie took her job most seriously. She was very focused at plucking red strawberries and keeping her bucket close by.

Amelia required a bit more guidance and love from her MiMi. She was happier to hold the bucket and follow MiMi around.

Jackson and his cousin were inseparable. The two would disappear behind a row of strawberries, then reemerge with a prized strawberry, saying how red it was or what a crazy shape it was.

Despite my requests to wait until we washed the strawberries, Jackson ate a handful of strawberries on the car ride home, before falling asleep. It was a beautiful, exciting afternoon that was followed by a fun, busy birthday party.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Accidental Big Boy Haircut

James' hair is so fine and straight. It grows very quickly and just hangs over his ears and eyes. 

I wanted to take James for a haircut, but Jesse felt confident that he could trim it. He took a pair of scissors to James' hair while James was in the bath. The result was almost zigzagged. I tried to straighten it, but failed to make it look any better. This was the result:

Knowing that we couldn't leave our son looking like a mushroom forever, Jesse buzzed it with the longest setting.

Here's our big boy with his summer haircut. The short hair makes his scar (not pictured) much more visible. And there are still pieces that were cut shorter. All in all, it's a significant improvement and I refuse to cut James' beautiful blonde locks any shorter.

Once it grows out, we'll take him to a real hairdresser for a proper cut.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Rest of the Weekend

After the 30 Hour Famine, I returned home to a house full of family members. We made plans to celebrate Jesse's mom's birthday, as well as his aunt. Thankfully my mother-in-law wanted hot dogs, which didn't require any prep work. I purchased all of the food on Thursday morning and made the requested lemon pound cake on Friday morning. That way Jesse just had to grill the hot dogs, put the chili on the stove, and combine the slaw "kit" I bought. 

For a variety of reasons, everyone seemed to be a bit stressed or overwhelmed about different things. We still managed to have a pleasant evening together. 

I absolutely love that my aunt and mother-in-law share a birthday week and were able to celebrate their birthdays together. I hope my sisters and I can continue to do this in 20+ years.

The older cousins played and ate, while the younger ones were fed and held by the adults.

Thirty minutes after everyone left, Amelia threw up in her crib. Over the next several hours, James threw up numerous times and had "the worst diaper" Jesse has ever changed. He required a bath after his third round of vomiting and diarrhea. After changing the crib sheets so many times, we finally laid down towels.

Between the night we had and the amount of time I spent at church this weekend, I didn't even consider going to church this morning. Everyone had a lazy morning. No one else got sick today, though James was quite weak and needed lots of cuddles throughout the day. Jackson and Jesse ran errands while I took a two hour nap and the trio slept for three hours. Then Jesse stayed home with the kids while I made the rounds at multiple grocery stores. We are stocked and ready for the week. Let's hope it's a relaxed and healthy one.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

30 Hour Famine

One of my favorite activities from my former youth director days was the 30 Hour Famine. This is an international event where students fast for 30 hours, all while raising funds and awareness of world hunger. They typically complete devotions, service projects, and educational activities about hunger.

None of my current youth had ever participated in the fast, so I knew it was something I wanted them to experience. I found it to be more mentally draining than previous experiences. It was a lot easier eight years ago when I had all the time in the world to plan events, a church van to drive everyone around, no need for childcare, and hips that didn't ache while sleeping on the floor. While you could technically complete the 30 Hour Famine any weekend, this is the designated weekend when most youth groups across the globe participate. I had told the youth about it several weeks ago, though I got caught up in Easter and birthdays and definitely procrastinated in planning. I stayed up until 1 am on Thursday and spent several hours on Friday coming up with an agenda. I felt like a school teacher planning my lessons for the week on Sunday night. (I do not miss those days!) Here's what I came up with for our time together:

At 21 months old, this was the first time I left the trio overnight. I mostly felt guilty about leaving Jesse for the day, rather than missing the kids. Of course, I still had to bring all four kids with me to church since the teens got out of school before Jesse did. Thankfully the youth love children and were great babysitters while I made copies and compiled a packet full of devotionals, directions, and activities.

Clearly the boys didn't mind the attention the teens gave them.

After Jesse picked up the kids and we completed our first devotional, we went to the sanctuary to watch a movie. The hour long documentary is about four college students who move to a rural village in Guatemala for three months, surviving on an average of $1 a day. I had watched this before a few months ago out of my own curiosity, and was relieved to discover it was still featured on Netflix. After an hour long tutorial from the pastor on Wednesday, I didn't have any technical difficulties with the projector, soundboard, or internet connection.

I was relieved that the youth were just as intrigued as I was and found the documentary to be informative and interesting. We had some downtime after the video discussion, then began the "SNAP Challenge". The challenge was issued years ago, though it regained popularity as the $29 a week Food Stamp Challenge. The average daily SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) allowance is $4.15 per person, per day--hence the $29 weekly budget. Since our youth group would not be together for a week, I simply asked them to create a full weeks menu with a strict budget of $29.

The youth were able to price items, answer questions (and even receive advice) from other customers, and learn the difficulty of balancing a strict budget while eating a nutritious variety of food.

After returning to the church, we worked on Youth Sunday plans and hung out. It's hard to have a lot of energy when you haven't eaten lunch or dinner. Thankfully everyone was asleep by 11:30 pm. (Note to self: bring air mattress for future lock-ins!)

Our morning was spent at the local food bank, sorting through thousands of donated items. We did not handle any food. Our specific task was to go through thousands of items donated from WalMart. We had to:
  • check expiration dates
  • mark lines through every barcode so the items cannot be returned
  • sort them into boxes (medical, cosmetic, nutrition supplements, feminine hygiene, etc)
  • package and stack the boxes onto pallets
Among more common items, we also came across condoms, pregnancy tests, and loose pads. The teens were so mature and handled everything like adults. I was so impressed. One of our guys became the regular "feminine hygiene runner", carrying a mountain of boxes of pads and tampons down the aisles.

The next thing on our agenda was what I had been most looking forward to. I planned a photo scavenger hunt uptown. This activity was not meant to be! Our first problem was it was raining and people weren't outside. We relocated to a large mall and adapted our list. The teens were excited and had a burst of energy. Not even ten minutes into the hunt, one of the girls called me to say their group was stopped by a mall cop on a power trip, who informed them that the mall was a private place and scavenger hunts were strictly prohibited. She threatened to kick them out. Who knew? 

With only a few hours left to go, our spirits were down and everyone was lethargic and bored. We decided to complete some of the items on the photo scavenger hunt at the church just for fun.

After a final devotion and reflection, the youth voted to break their fast at CiCi's. They made up for not eating for 30 hours at the all you can eat buffet. Hopefully no one got sick afterwards!

This random guy tried to photo bomb our picture.
We told him to pose anyway, since that was one of the photos from the list.
My least favorite thing about being youth director is driving teenagers home or waiting around at the church for their parents to show up. I was beyond ready to go home (especially since we were having Jesse's family over an hour later), but I had to wait on parents longer than expected.

I hope the youth felt closer to God and one another during their experience. I enjoyed being able to organize activities and help facilitate their first 30 Hour Famine.