Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tadpoles!

We had so much fun last year...so we've been checking the creek at the park...waiting anxiously for the tadpoles to hatch...anticipating a glorious afternoon together in the sun and water...and the time finally came. Today was our 2nd annual tadpole-catching extravaganza!

Conner even caught  frog this year!

After last year's experience, and a little bit of research on google, we decided that we may have tried to keep waaaay too many tadpoles last year. So we did things a little bit differently today and kept only six. We'll see how it goes... What a fun, fun, fun thing to do. I hope we really can make this an annual tradition!

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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter

We ended up with several different egg dying kits this year. We made sand eggs,

and tie dye eggs.


Here's how they all ended up!

Then that night, the Easter bunny came. And he brought stuffed animals!


Then we went to the Robeys for Easter with my family. I managed to get a couple of shots of the boys together!



Then we got to hunt Easter eggs! The boys looked out the back window and were very excited - "There's an egg paradise out there!"

There were eggs everywhere...but what they were really impressed with was the big pile right outside the door.

...and they were very disappointed when they learned that it wasn't for them, but for baby cousins Bonnie and Griffin. :)

Then we had to lay down a few ground rules...

...and finally it was time to hunt!

Then while we enjoyed the spoils,

a little photo shoot commenced. Little one-month-old cousin Bonnie was dressed in the cutest little bunny outfit. We simply had to get a good picture. It was definitely a team effort!

I love this picture. Lydia sprawled out on the floor with the camera, Mom and Jodi holding the blanket and posing the baby, Dodie giving advice...and Robert standing in the background trying to figure out what in the world the big deal is. :)

...but I love this picture even more!

Griffin just sat back and smiled. :)

Hallelujah, the Lord is risen! Happy Easter!
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Friday, April 22, 2011

Enough

Yesterday afternoon when we went to pick Conner up from school, there was a puddle on the sidewalk. It wasn't very big - hardly enough to be called a "puddle". It was really just more of a wet spot. But there was just enough water there to make a teensy tinsy splash when Micah and Joey jumped in it.

So jump they did. Over and and over and over, they jumped and jumped and jumped, squealing with delight each time. It didn't take long before what little bit of water there was in the "puddle" was gone, really leaving only a wet spot. But they still jumped, enjoying what little bit there was.

And I was reminded of a song that I had heard on the radio yesterday morning. My kids like it so much that I pretty much think of it as a kid's song now days, but for whatever reason the words really struck me that time, and I found myself singing it loudly with them and tearing up on the way to work:

"Oh no, You never let go
Through the calm and through the storm
Oh no, You never let go
In every high and every low
Oh no, You never let go
Lord, You never let go of me
...Yes, I can see a light that is coming for the heart that holds on
And there will be an end to these troubles
But until that day comes
Still I will praise You, still I will praise You!"

For whatever reason, through those two events, God chose to send me a message yesterday. "I'm always with you, I will never let go. It may seem unbearably hard sometimes...but hang on with all your heart! Know that I'm with you, continuing to bless you. Open your eyes and you'll see it, if you'll just quit whining that that every little gift is not quite enough and always wanting just a bit more. Be happy with what I give you - but not just that. Enjoy it, splash in it, squeal with delight. Because I'll never let go. You'll always have enough. Be happy with enough."

Thanks God. I needed that.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Lessons from Camping

Bret got to take Conner and Micah camping with Conner's Cub Scout Pack last weekend. It was a family campout - I could have gone...but camping just isn't my favorite thing to do...especially knowing that Joey would have been my responsibility...and when I had an appointment to go get my hair done! :)

So here's the scoop from the campout, as Bret shared on his blog:

I don’t get to hang out with my three boys (7, 5 and 3 years old) nearly as much as I’d like. I have friends who rarely see their kids awake accept on their days off, so I can’t complain too much, but still, I relish times like I had this weekend. At 3:30 Friday afternoon, Conner, Micah and I headed down to Belton for a 2 night camping trip with Conner’s cub scout pack. We’ve done a little camping together (see my previous post for a glimpse into how that’s gone) but this was the first time that the three of us headed out of town for such a trip.

I was a little nervous about how Micah would do. He’s only 5 and tends to have second thoughts on more adventurous activities. But, I am happy to say that not only was he fine, we had a fantastic time.

I’ve been reflecting on a few things that happened this weekend...and surprise, surprise, I thought I’d share them here.

We made a deal on the way to the campsite that the boys would help me set up our tent and other stuff before they started running around playing with the other boys. They aren’t really old enough for me to teach them all the intricate details of choosing the perfect camping spot (like how to find where the shade is going to be during the hot part of the day or which direction the wind will be coming from and set up against or with it depending on the expected weather). BUT, they can put tent poles together, help get the stakes in the ground, decide where they want their sleeping bags, etc. I wanted them to have some ownership in the process; I wanted them to feel a sense of pride in our accomplishment, even if that was just setting up a tent that I could set up in the dark.

They did. And it made me happy.

It also made me tired, because the 15 minute process took nearly an hour and I had to count to ten a few times so I didn’t tie them both to a tree. We got the tent set up to my OCD standards, but I had to sacrifice my competitive desire to have my campsite up faster and more efficiently than anyone in a 500 mile radius...because it wasn’t MY campsite, it was OUR campsite. It isn’t a new revelation to me that I have a tendency to want to just do things myself, but afterward, as Micah sat playing happily in the tent he helped “build,” I was reminded why its worth it to swallow my stupid ego and invite others into the process.

Conner and Micah are so different. Conner wanted nothing more than to run and play and fall and run and play and fall with his friends. He was filthy in about 3 minutes.

I love how, even when bigger kids are around, the group tends to follow Conner’s lead. And I love that (for the most part) it isn’t because he’s being bossy. He’s a good kid, full of joy and confidence. When he isn’t trying to play games on your iPhone, he’s right in the middle of whatever excitement there is to be found.

Micah on the other hand just wanted to play in the tent. He looked out the window with his binoculars, he laid on my air mattress and went through my stuff (yeah, that’s right, I brought an air mattress), he sat at the door and did a “radio show” of the kickball game the bigger kids were playing (which btw, was hilarious). He was the epitome of peaceful contentment. Then, when he was ready, he got out of the tent and played kickball...until he discovered that one of the moms had brought bubbles.

That night as we cooked dinner I knew my boys were in for a treat. I had brought the cast-iron grill for my camp stove and had some fresh asparagus and a couple perfectly marinaded, inch-thick elk steaks (thanks to my father-in-law’s hunting prowess and generous sharing spirit). They’d asked for Ramen soup for dinner, which I was also preparing for them. Suffice it to say, few people at the camp were set up to feast as richly as my boys were. Ramen. Steak. Grilled asparagus. And few dads were as excited as I was to shower their kids with such an extravagant banquet.

But, though they’d acted differently earlier in the day, when everything was ready, they were completely uninterested in my delicious offerings...they just wanted those styrofoam cups full of noodles.

I mean, seriously, who doesn’t want to eat steak?

I tried to reason with them. I thought about making them eat what had been cooked. But then I looked at their utterly content Ramen covered faces...and shirts...and laps. Sometimes we get too excited about giving someone something that WE really want - and then get offended when they aren’t as excited as we are. Its not that they are ungrateful...they just want noodle soup.

In the end, I realized that what was most important was that they were eating supper and enjoying it. Besides, this way, I got two steaks. I ate them both.

The next day, after a relatively uneventful night of sleep (which was never a given and thus was eventful itself) we began a day of hikes, dodgeball, lessons about weather and an unexpected nap. In one of our outings Micah had spotted a drink machine which happened to be about as far from our campsite as possible. I didn’t have any change with me but promised we’d see if there was some in the car later. As it turned out, there was a dollar but Micah was starting to get grumpy so I made a deal with him that if he’d lay down and rest for a while we’d go back after and get a soda (he was quite excited about the promise of a cherry coke).

After waiting patiently (mostly) for a couple hours (with a 45 minute nap in the middle) Micah and I began the trek back to the coke machine...which as it turns out, wasn’t working. To his credit he didn’t throw a fit, but by the look of sadness and disappointment you’d have thought he just found out I was selling him to a band of gypsies...

So, I asked him if he’d like to sneak off and secretly roast a marshmallow - that no one else would be getting. Instant relief from the cherry cokeless depression! You should have seen the look on his face as he hid behind a tarp and ate that slightly charred contraband sugar-puff. I know its a little cliche, but sometimes disappointment opens the door for unexpected blessings...and marshmallows.

That night at the pack campfire, Conner was shocked when he was called up in front of the whole group (about 75 folks) while the pack master told everyone about his fundraiser for Japan (which you can read about here). At first he looked excited, then nervous, then incredibly proud as everybody clapped and cheered for my awesome 7 year old...I may have been just a little proud as well.

Afterward, he was so excited he couldn’t stand still. There is difference between doing things for recognition and being unexpectedly recognized for something you’ve done. I hope and pray that Conner will grow up knowing that distinction; cherishing the joy that comes from helping others and continuing to serve for the purpose of serving because you know that “if God were here he would do it”...and getting that very pleasant surprise when you didn’t see the praise coming.

During that same campfire, the boys sang a camp favorite: “Ghost Chickens In the Sky.” Conner doesn’t remember it this way, but that kinda scared him on our first cub scout camping trip...and it had the same effect on Micah. As we walked back to camp, Micah said, “Dad that song was scary. Are there really ghost chickens?” I promised him there weren’t and the song is meant to be funny, not scary.

He was less than convinced.

As I lit our lantern and started getting more marshmallows ready for roasting (this time they were for everyone), he was still scared. The rest of the boys were playing run-around-in-the-dark-and-try-to-break-your-neck. Micah was not among them. I asked if he’d like to sit in the tent while I got our stuff ready. “No, Dad I just want to be with you. Don’t leave me, okay?”

This wasn’t a new experience. Our kids always want us to be with them when they’re scared, but when he reached up and grabbed my hand, I wasn’t even a little frustrated that I had to work one handed. I couldn’t stop thinking about how amazing it was that this little dude who was terrified of ghost chickens swooping out of the sky, felt safer out in the open next to me than in the comfort of the chicken-proof tent that he helped build.

And rightly so, because I’d sooner let those damn chickens peck out my eye-balls than so much as scratch this precious little boy.

We rolled back up to the house around noon on Sunday. We were all dirty, smelly and tired...as we normally are on Sundays at noon...and Tuesdays at three and Fridays at eight.

Now, its 2 am Monday morning. I’m at work, my wife and boys are at home asleep and I can’t help but think that I may possibly be the luckiest man on the planet.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Sweet Imaginations

Typically, Cub Scouts meetings are on Thursday nights. But this week a field trip was planned for Monday night. Bret works on Monday nights these days, so I got the rare treat of getting to take Conner.

The plan was to go to Sweet Imaginations, a local bakery, to see their kitchen and decorate cupcakes. I don't really know what I expected...but it was a little chaotic! The "tour of the kitchen" was pretty much "This is it! There's the cupcakes, there's the icing, here's some sprinkles and cherries. Have fun!"

Those little boys dove in, and it was all I could do to keep Micah and Joey out of the way while the Cub Scouts did their thing.But there was plenty for siblings...even enough for pretty much all of the kids to have two cupcakes each.
I don't think any of my guys got icing on their clothes, I only saw a small amount of green icing in Micah's hair, and to my knowledge we only dropped two cupcakes and about five cherries - success in my book!!

It was fun...but I owe Micah a "cupcake party" at home now since he dropped his second one on the way out. Hopefully I can come up with something that will be almost as exciting. Thanks, Conner, for letting us come with you!

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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Fudge Factory

We spent yesterday morning in the kitchen making fudge. We didn't really have any idea how much fudge we were going to need, so we thought we'd start with three batches (9 pounds). We're so glad that sweet Aunt Jodi and Baby Bonnie came over to help!

Though I've definitely eaten my share, I don't know if I had ever made fudge - if so, it was as a kid with Mom's help. I was a little nervous about this whole endeavor, but it's turning out okay! At first, everyone wanted to stir. (Micah is wiggling the loose tooth that he is very proud of. Don't worry, we stayed on top of the hand-washing! :)We actually had to set a timer - one minute of stirring at a time. That lasted longer than I thought it would - but there's a lot of stirring involved in three batches of fudge. Joey and Micah dropped out pretty quickly. But Conner stuck with it pretty good...until the last batch. Finding the lines between encouraging/expecting him to complete his own project and not completely burning him out the first rattle out of the box was a little difficult. But I think we ended up coming pretty close. He dumped and stirred and stirred and dumped...and still found a little time to play.

When we weren't stirring, everyone, of course, wanted a turn with newest Cousin Bonnie!...and no one seemed to get too tired of fudge to help lick the bowl!And when it cooled, I cut it up into 1/2-pound chunks, and we wrapped it all up ready to sell. By the end of the Saturday, Conner had already made $495 to give to Japan. We're so proud of him!!

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Saturday, April 9, 2011

Japanese Destruction and a 7-Year-Old Prophet

A more complete story of the way Fudge for Japan came about can be found on Bret's blog: Japanese Destruction and a 7-Year-Old Prophet:

So...yesterday, Conner - our unbelievably brilliant and compassionate 7 year old - saw a commercial about the continuing devastation in Japan. He came running up to Rachel screaming, “Mom! Mom! There’s tsunamis and earthquakes in Japan and they say we need to help them! I NEED TO HELP THEM!”

Rachel explained that Japan is a very long way away and maybe the best way we can help them is by sending money to a group of people that are already there doing what they can.

“Oh, money. I don’t have any money.”

Rachel asked him, “Well, how do you get money?” (which, coincidentally, happens to be a question she and I ask each other all the time!)

He replied, “Well, I work for it.”

“Okay, so what if you worked to make cookies or something to sell and then you could give that money to the people in Japan?”

He thought for a moment and then excitedly responded, “I could make caramel apples.”

After a little thinking and talking with the wise BooBoo (Rachel’s mom) it was decided that caramel apples may not be the best option, but fudge would be good.

That afternoon, after I got filled in on the situation, I asked Conner, “So what’s up with Japan and giving them money?”

“Dad, its terrible there are earthquakes and tsunamis and Japan is in big trouble...it could be completely destroyed! That would be awful...a whole country and all its people gone forever! The world would have one less country...Dad, Japan could become extinct...just like Atlantis! We have to do something!”

He was so upset - it made me a little sad and so very proud to see my son not only deeply concerned about the suffering of others, but equally convinced that it was HIS responsibility to do something about it. So I asked him. “Why do you care? Why should you do something?” The next words out of his mouth were not the words of a child, they were the words of a prophet.

He looked at me, very serious as though I’d just asked him the dumbest question ever: “Because if God were here, he would do something.”

When I composed myself enough to answer I simply said, “You’re right. And I think He’s going to.”
Perhaps this is precisely why Jesus told us we must become like little children if we wish to inherit the Kingdom. Seven year-olds haven't learned that they can't really do anything about suffering. They don't know that the proper response is to shake our head and move on to the next channel. They don't realize that Japan's problems aren't our problems.

In fairness, many people have given both their time and their money to this disaster and to recent ones. We witnessed first hand the generosity and compassion of people from all over the country during the aftermath of Katrina. Our small congregation in Mandeville housed between 20 and 200 out of town volunteers every day for an entire year. So, I don't want to take away from that.

But we've all experienced the desensitizing effect of seeing suffering on the news everyday. We've all, myself included, changed the channel because we didn't want to hear about it. Sometimes we move on because we feel overwhelmed at the enormity of the problems...sometimes we just don't feel anything.

I confess, there have been more than a few times when I've seen images of starving children in Africa and it seemed too far away, to un-real to even register. My son's reaction yesterday became the finger of the prophet Nathan accusing me of being the man who stole the poor shepherd's lamb (2 Samuel 12:1-7).

Lord, forgive me for allowing my heart to grow calloused to the suffering of others, whether they are near or far. Create in me a clean heart, the heart of a child and the heart of a father. Give me eyes to see suffering as you do. Not only something to be mourned, but something to be entered into and reconciled.

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Friday, April 8, 2011

Fudge for Japan

From Conner (7 years old):

I'm selling fudge candies because there are tsunamis, earthquakes, and radiation leaks going on in Japan. I'm saving money to give to the Red Cross to help the people in Japan. Because if they don't get enough money to fix everything, the whole country could become extinct! That's happened before you know - we don't want Japan to end up like Atlantis!

I'm helping Japan because me and my brothers want to do what God would do if he was here. So please buy some of my fudge.
A note from Mom:
The suggested donation for one bag of fudge (approx 1/2 lb) is $10. Please comment on this blog, message me on facebook, or send me an email (rachel.wells@yahoo.com) if you would like to buy or donate. Out of town friends and family, I still haven't figured out how to get fudge to you guys. I think it's gotten too hot to mail it. It has been suggested that if you would like to send a donation, Conner can deliver your fudge to needy and/or forgotten people in the Burleson area (some single moms we know, nursing homes, etc...) If you have any other suggestions I'd gladly take them!