Reno!

At the end of October/beginning of November we visited our dear friends the O’Reilly’s in Reno!  They had moved to Reno about a year and half prior in order for Shaun to attend graduate school there.  We had an awesome time, enjoying getting to be with them, taking in BEAUTIFUL sights and falling in love with Reno! (and all without even visiting the inside of a casino…can you imagine?!)

At an overlook on the way from the airport:

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The Truckee River winding it’s way through downtown Reno…

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very cool outdoor art installation…

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Heck, yeah!

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That night we made awesome vegetarian chili (in spite of my marked inability to successfully use their super cool ergonomic can opener) and Kyndra made the best biscuits I’ve ever had in my life while we handed out candy to trick or treaters at the door (including some really bizarre/scary adult trick or treaters with large backpacks – and you just don’t go around getting stingy with candy in the face of that).  And the sweetest part…Kyndra made an amazing cake for my birthday!!  What i had really wanted for my 30th birthday was a trip somewhere, so this was my “birthday trip”!  The cake was UNREAL and I was so touched!!

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After a morning walk to get coffee, we saw Shaun’s school! beautiful campus!

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We had breakfast at a cool spot in a little mountain town on our way to Lake Tahoe.  As you probably know if you know me at all, I drink a LOT of water.  Like, I can easily go through 64 oz. in any given meal, and usually several of those in between meals as well.  I tend to drive waiters crazy because they’re always having to refill my glass and I feel really bad about that!  However, this restaurant – this place – had it figured out!!!  Brian ordered water and coffee and I just ordered water…he got basically a shot glass, and I got basically a pail.  It cracked us up (esp since that is about how much water Brian drinks in a day). I was soooooo happy!

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Squaw Valley…site of the 1978 Winter Olympics.  We hoped this was a much smaler sized replica of the torch…otherwise, come on Squaw!

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overlooking Emerald Bay on Lake Tahoe…which the pics do no justice to — it truly was “emerald” and all kinds of beautiful greens and blues…

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Hiking down to the lake…beautiful yellow aspens and gigantic evergreens everywhere…

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Down by the bay!

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You know Brian…he dreams of swimming in alpine lakes…and while this one isn’t “alpine,” I would argue the water in november has to qualify it for something along those lines! eek!

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treehugger :)

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After the awesome hike (with an arduous hike back up, that made me seriously wonder why anyone goes down into the Grand Canyon) we continued driving around the lake and just taking in its changing beauty, listening to great music and having great talks.  We had lunch at a GREAT vegetarian restaurant (it is so fun to travel with other vegs), had drinks at a place overlooking the lake and then caught sunset on a beach.  It was getting chilly, the yoga people were making
weird barking noises and stars were beginning to twinkle.  we sat on a bench just watching the lake change and feeling the cold settle in…it was magical.

(I love how obviously tickled Brian is in this picture)

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We headed back to Reno and dinner at a great local pizza place along with a very funny game of Apples to Apples…

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Brian tried not to take the cards he was good at winning personally….

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next day – beautiful hike through some valley… yup, that’s snow!

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the girls…

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overlooking a misty lake Tahoe…

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California!!!  (half the lake is in CA…which made for a great discussion about the “state line” (that’s for you, Brian ;))

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(we’re “hanging 10″ just in case you’re wondering what that awesome gesture is we’re making)

And then back to Nevada!  doing the most “gambling”, ironically, that we did the whole visit…

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walking along the lake again…great little walk

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We drove out to the site of the Donner Party tragedy.  There was a great little museum and it was so intersting to learn all the history of that event as well as about life during that time…wow, so much respect.  I would so not have made it as a pioneer!  This stone behind me actually made one of the four walls of one of the 3 cabins that people lived out the winter in.

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great little guided nature walk…

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that night we found a great little campsite for a fire alongside the Truckee River…

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The next day…packing up….booo hooooo :(

I can’t believe this is the only shot we got of their super cute house.  They have such incredible taste and we were taking all kinds of mental notes! It was such a sweet and warm home and Shaun and Kyndra were such kind, gracious and generous hosts.

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But before we had to be at the airport, we picked up incredible sandwiches from Rubicon deli (once again, perfect for vegetarians!  seriously loving Nevada by this point) and headed to Pyramid Lake.  This was north, rather than south, which made for some different and beautiful scenery.  Instead of the mountains, greens and huge trees we found near Lake Tahoe, we were in the middle of the tans, beiges, and browns of the dessert, and in the middle of no where was a super deep, turquiose lake!  This lake was ANCIENT and had neat history.  We visited a museum that talked about the Native Americans who made their life around there for centuries as well as currently…very cool.

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picnic on the beach!

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greatest.photo.ever.

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Brian doing no justice to “the shaun”

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thanks for a great visit, O’s and Reno!  Hope to see you again really soon!

 

October

I can't remember why she was so tired or naked, but isn't she darling?

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After a few big weekends (work events the prior two) we were ready for some family time away, so we spent a day hiking in Bob Sandlin State Park (about 20 minutes from
the lakehouse).  It was such a beautiful fall day…we were teaching
Clara colors using leaves, flowers and sky :)

Here we are at Mamaw and Papaw's house the following weekend enjoying some good East Texas four-wheelin'!  We went in to meet Brian's second cousin, 3 times removed (or something like that).  They were visiting from California and were very nice! 

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Throwing rocks into the pond!

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One Saturday, we had "KidVenture" – a time for families and small group leaders to hang out together outside of church on Sunday.  We painted pumpkins in a nearby park.  It was a great day!

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We took a trip to the Hall Pumpkin Farm in Grapevine:
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riding a tractor:

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in the hay house:

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little cowgirl

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We had a very wet October, but it was beautiful weather when it wasn't raining.  Lot of days with the windows left open!  

Brian got to hear Newt Gingrich speak at the FW Club…I think it reminded him why he voted for and is proud of Barack Obama 😉

We paid off Brian's car, making us almost completely debt free!! 
(almost because we still have a small loan on the a/c we had to replace last summer; big loan on the
house) What a GREAT feeling to get that deed in the mail!!  thanks, Dave Ramsey!

We decided to find out if we were having a boy or girl this time around…I just REALLY wanted to know and while Brian still wanted a "delivery surprise," he VERY generously and kindly agreed to let us find out.  I had the doctor write it down on a folded piece of paper and it took every ounce of self control I had not to open it.  I gave it to my mom, who had very kindly agreed to bake us a cake either pink or blue and cover it in icing so we couldn't tell the color…then we would cut into it together that night.  

And when we cut into it….we saw….the color pink!!!  AND FREAKED OUT!!!!  We were soooooo excited!!!!!  We both would have been so happy with a boy, but we really wanted a girl.  Kristi and Dad were there, too, and they were equally ecstatic!  It was just the greatest feeling and still a great surprise – even if didn't happen at her birth.  Here is a pic of the cake along with the paper from Dr. New that very clearly says, "Girl!" 

I had really been thinking it must be a boy because my pregnancy has been SO different.  I have definitely been sick/naseaus, just not NEAR as constantly or much as I was with Clara.  I have a miracle drug- zofran- that really helps a lot. 

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Brian joined a Tennis League for the fall and had a ton of fun (he enjoys anything that involves sports and competition).  Clara and I enjoyed coming to some of his matches and cheering him on.  He was battling it out for first place in the league below – and he won!  It was such an intense game…I was honestly kind of amazed.  this picture was taken right before he literally did a frontward somersault across the court.  I didn't use a flash (I didn't want to embarass him; he had already told me I couldn't bring "Go Brian!" signs) so it isn't a great pic! 

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He ended up getting third in his division, which meant he made the playoffs!  Especially considering it was his first time playing that was awesome.  He got knocked out in the first round of the playoffs, which just gives him a LOT of fuel for the spring league ;)  Now let's hope that Clara inherits his athletic abilities and not mine!

Clara rocking out:

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Like Daddy, like daughter…

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I was a witness in a custody trial for some good friends and IBC'ers who were fighting to keep custody of the little girl they had fostered for the first 18 months of her life, before being returned to her bio parents that had proven time and time again dangerous, incapable of making safe and wise decisions and positive on drug tests.  The whole experience was incredibly eye opening and a real test of faith.  In the end, Rylie was left with her biological parents (as Brian put it, "It's like it has to be 'too late' before they can do anything"); completely devastating.  That is all I'm going to say about that.  

At the end of October, we visited our dear friends the O'Reilly's, who had moved to Reno.

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(more on that in it's own post!)

Clara spent time with her grandparents while we were in Reno.  Here she is at Mimi and Papi's house – learning her alphabet!

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playing:

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Clara also had fun at Mamaw and Papaw's!

She was there for Halloween and got to go trick or treating with Sophie and Aidan (how cute are they?!):

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At Grandma Rhea's:

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Trick or Treat, Mema!

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Clara had some blue candy- can you tell??

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What a fun night!

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Denise took some sweet phot
os of Clara while she was there…

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September

Our friends the Harrell's came over for dinner and rockband – fun stuff!!

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good friend Makenna – sweet girls!

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Clara always asks to call Mimi and Papi – here she is talking to them on video AND the phone. Technology these days is amazing and allows for closeness even in spite of distance – we are so grateful!  They sing songs, do puppet shows, read stories…

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Our children's ministry staff had a surprise shower for Melissa (on left) and her darling Ethan.  I am so grateful I get to work with people I want to be friends with, too.  What a great group!

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Drew turned 2 – wow!!  Here is his party…all of the kids were excited about the presents – eek! 

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Clara was ESPECIALLY excited about the cupcakes!
I had even scraped off a big chunk of extra icing and yet before I knew it – it was in her mouth! 

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Later that night, I decided that toddlerhood is, in fact, a contact sport, and the players that night were Clara's forehead and a very hard piece of pavement.  Leaving the Rhodes' house, Clara launched off the curb at a dead sprint (not realizing there was a curb there) and the resulting splat was so loud people way in the backyard heard it.  It was HORRIBLE!!!  She was crying, I was crying…  Brian was out of town (camping with Richard and Shaun down near Austin) but fortunately, Julie's mom and sister in law are nurses so they were able to check her out and check for a concussion.  I don't know HOW she wouldn't have gotten a concussion.  Over half of her forehead was instantly covered in a HUGE swollen red and purple goose egg.  I felt so bad for her!  when she eventually calmed down, my dear friend Suzanne rode back home with us so she could keep an ice pack on her and keep her awake.  I'm so grateful for such loving friends!  I kept Clara up for a few hours but eventually decided she was ok.  She woke up every hour or so crying but the next day seemed ok!  I have so much respect for single moms – they have to handle things like that on their own all the time.  What strong, amazing women! 

Our family participated in the DFW Walk for Huntington's Disease Society of America.  Eric was one of the organizers and it was an honor to be a part of this great cause, even in spite of the rain!  Even Captain (Ranger's mascot) came out:

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Happy 28th birthday, lil sis!!

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I think there was a game on or something…

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That wasn't the only birthday in September– I turned…30! :O  I am VERY excited to enter my 30's!  Brian was so sweet to make the day very special and memorable.  We went to dinner at joe t. garcia's with my parents and close friends, and then went to see Julie in "The Music Man".  She was absolutely spectacular!!!  It was a wonderful musical and a wonderful night!

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The next day was so nice…Mom and Dad took care of Clara and I went and got my hair done… it was time to become blonde again.  I was missing my old self and Brian had just been kindly tolerating my fun all year…  It was an INSANE process but boy did she make me blond (we're talking all over – as in every strand of hair – "highlights" that took 140 packets for those of you that means anything to…all the other students and teachers kept coming by to see, as it was the most that anyone could recall anyone ever getting).  I had been told it would take several more times of dying to get back to my blond, so I told her, "just make me as blond as you can."  I should have been a little more careful…considering I wound up a total bleach blond.  I went from one end of the spectrum to the other; I decided I would have a little fun being super blond for awhile!  What was nice, though, was that I got to sit in a chair for 7 hours getting basically a head massage and read a good book and some magazines…it was the most relaxing day.

And then when I came home, Brian had a surprise waiting!  he had booked a hotel and tickets to the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and my parents were going to take care of Clara at our house.  It was so perfect!  We got dressed up and went to the orchestra at the Meyerson-an absolutely beautiful concert hall.  It was such a neat experience, and a first for us.  We sat in the choir circle, which is essentially the area ON STAGE behind the orchestra, so it is a really neat view of the orchestra and then everyone watching them.  Of course, you als
o know they can see you, too, so I have to say it was one of the most still experiences of my life.  Brian had printed out an explanation of the pieces they were performing so we would know what the heck we were listening to!  I felt so 30 and grown up 😉  

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We stayed at the Hyatt downtown and it was absolutely beautiful!  and the view was spectacular…here is the view from our room:

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Mimi and Papi took Clara to Kid Kountry park in Coppell while we were gone:

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Our sweet baby girl, bald virtually her entire first year, finally had a mullet/Einstein-ish 'do going on that needed a little help – so Clara got her first haircut!  Hair salons for kids have come a long way since my day (as in, they exist)…Clara got to sit in a car and watch cartoons and all sorts of other fun stuff, making it a very un-traumatic experience.  She looked so cute and OLD at the end!

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Before:

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During:

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After!:

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Aunt Krissy even came for the momentous occasion: 

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afterward, we picked up Chipotle and took it to the lake and had a picnic!  what a special night :)  It is silly, but I have to admit I got a little teary – and Brian did, too.  Our baby girl is growing up!

Picnic at lake

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Two other big nights were the fall volunteer Kick Off event for Children's Ministry (super fun and great start to a promising year of ministry) as well as "Create a Rhythm".  Our early childhood team worked really hard to put on this parenting event, teaching parents of preschoolers and toddlers how to be weaving faith teaching into their daily routine.  We were so pleased by the response and hopeful about what God is going to be doing in the lives of families.  

At Brian's work, he was redesigning their main presentation, which he really enjoyed doing.  He loves presentations!  He also had some other big projects he was working on: Golden Pyramid submissions, a couple of proposals for programs and a possible new website! 

Our little 22 month old:

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She can climb up and over the sides now!  There are more and more things she is doing on her own… 

One of her new things – "shushing" people when someone is "sleeping": 

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She has new words and phrases every day.  How I wish I had written those down!  She says, "I love you" and "I miss you" very regularly (and unprompted) – music to our ears!  She loves saying, "C'me ear" (Come here) and "C'me on".  A super cute development is adding, "Mommy" or "Daddy" to everything ("Yes, Mommy," "I miss you, Daddy," etc.)

a great month!

Mow!!

"Mow" (like "mouse" without the "se" is what Clara says, or rather, shouts with great excitement) every time she sees Mickey Mouse, so it seemed an appropriate title for our trip to Disneyworld!

She had no idea who Mickey Mouse was (or another of the other Disney characters, for that matter) before our trip, but boy did she loooooooooooooove him by the end!

Brian's boss, Tom, decided to send Brian to the Disney Institute, a 3.5 day training academy they do for business professionals that teach them the "Disney way" of doing whatever subject focus – things that Disney really excels in that can help other companies if they apply the same kind of practices, culture, ideas, strategies, etc.  Brian's institute was on "Brand Loyalty."  This was so perfect for him as the artistic/marketing director for The Miller Company (since he has so much to do with their "brand" as a company) as well as his role as a salesman, since SO MUCH of what the Miller Company does is help other companies with their internal and external branding.  Getting to attend this alone was a HUGE blessing to Brian and such an exciting opportunity, but then on top of that, Tom said, "And I'd love to send Laura and Clara with you." WOW!!! :O  Brian has been working really hard and turning out great stuff for TMC and I think this was one way that Tom wanted to recognize and reward that.  I was so proud of my hubby!  and so loving his boss!! :D  So Tom provided our airfare and the hotel while he was at the Institute (which included his park tix).  And then, on our own, we came a few days beforehand and got to enjoy the park as a family!

One extra blessing was that, for the time we were "on our own," we had booked a package that included staying at one of Disney's "budget" properties, the All Star Music hotel.  It was a cheapy place but we didn't care – we just wanted to be there!  However, a few weeks before we left, I got an email that said we could have a free upgrade to one of their top tier resorts if we wanted, and of course we wanted!  I was SO excited to tell Brian!  (I think, because of the economy, their budget places were selling out but the pricey places weren't, so they just wanted to open up more budget rooms rather than letting some places stay vacant, so by clearing us out, they could get more guests…so we were happily cleared).  We wound up then staying at the Saratoga Springs Resort.  Part of the deal they were running at the time was that if you booked park tix and hotel, you got the dining plan for free…wowsers!  That saved us over 100$/day and we got to eat at some really neat places that we otherwise wouldn't have!  Disney was quickly becoming one of my favorite places on earth, and we hadn't even gotten there yet 😀

We came 3 days before Brian's Institute began.  It was our first big trip with Clara and that made it soooooooooo special!!!  We LOVED LOVED LOVED having her with us!  She did GREAT on the plane and the bus ride to the resort.

Clara on plane 

(here was a high powered business exec with laptop (wonderpets DVD) and Starbucks (juice))

After checking in, the first place we went was Disney's Hollywood Studios.  Clara is already wiped out and the fun has just begun!

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It was soooooooooooo exciting!!!!  I felt so overwhelmed and choked up!  (emotional?  hormonal?  yes, maybe)  But it really is like you're a little kid again, and the world is magical and happy!  I had been to Disney several times before (thanks, Mom and Dad!!!) but this was the first time as an "adult," and I had a whole new appreciation for it.  I think I was more excited to see Brian's reaction than Clara's — she just wasn't old enough yet to really "get" it, but Brian had never been, so it was really neat to see the wonder of it all through his eyes.  What a special place – I'm now in that annoying club that thinks it is one of the greatest places on earth!

Our first stop was lunch at the Sci-Fi Drive-In, and WOW was that a cool restaurant!  The tables were 50's cars you sat in, the whole room was made to look like an outdoor drive in, with stars above in a domed sky, and facing a giant screen that played funny clips from old sci-fi movies.  And the pasta we had could not be beat!

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the pics do it no justice since it was so dark in there! :P 

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off to our first show – Beauty and the Beast! (brian hadn't gotten up the guts yet to do Tower of Terror, even after I shared with him that it was some family friend's of ours 5 year-old's favorite ride :D)

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We rode several great rides after that!!  (I don't think I'll ever forget the car stunt show)  Something that was so great was that Clara (lil' shorty) and I (lil' preggo) could ride/do almost everything in the parks – there were only a few roller coasters in each park that we couldn't go on, so we would just wait while Brian did those (I INSISTED he do them; he felt bad leaving us, but I wanted him to get to experience everything!).  Here is Clara in front of "Mann's Chinese Theater" – she liked the lions.  Is she not the cutest thing you've ever seen?!

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My two favorite people…

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We went to bed that night SO TIRED but excited for the next day!

Here we are waiting for the bus to Magic Kingdom.  Clara LOVED wearing her ears!  our room is in the building in the back left of the photo.  Saratoga Springs had a horse races/New York early 1900's theme going on…

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We got to Magic Kingdom just in time for the opening of the park – they had all the characters out and they were singing and I really did tear up- boy, they know what they're doing!

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"It's a Small World" was definitely her favorite!  She kept gasping and dancing and pointing at all of the dancing dolls!

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For the most part, the rides (even really, really not-scary ones) still
scared her a little, probably just because it was dark and she couldn't
understand what the heck was going on or where she was…  she would
just kinda take it in, very serious, every now and then turning into my
side.  Sometimes she would light up and giggle and those were the best
parts!  I do think she liked all the new experiences, I just don't
think she knew what to do with them!

Mickey's Philharmagic:

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In Fantasyland:

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We were so blessed to be there during this time of year (end of August)– we practically walked onto most rides or into shows; there were only a few times we waited more than 10 minutes our entire trip for anything.  It also helped that I had planned our days using touringplans.com- it gives you a customized plan for each park telling you where to go and in which order so as to reduce wait times and maximize what you can do – I highly recommend it!  They also have crowd calendars which I used to pick which park we would go to each day.  I might be a little "psycho" when it comes to planning but it paid off!! 😀 and I'm all about having a plan but also being flexible within it.  We adapted based on our needs during the day and it all worked out great! 

Jungle Cruise – classic!

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Tiki!!!  (brian calls clara "tiki" a lot, especially when he is tickling her :))

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That pic came right after Clara peed in line for the Arabian carpet ride…and by peed I mean made a puddle on the sidewalk – YIKES!!!  Because she had been doing so good potty training all we brought with us was pull up diapers, which we learned early on are NOT very absorbent AT ALL.  She soaked ME at the super cool car stunt show at Hollywood Studios, made me question what else I've sat on unknowingly before on airplanes, caused quick changes on board an in-motion bus and on…  I'm sure she is going to love hearing one day about how she peed her way across Disneyworld.  It was INSANE!  It didn't seem to matter how often we changed her or asked if she needed to potty… by day 4 we finally discovered some "regular" diapers and what a relief!!  Sorry if this was TMI, but it was really funny to us and definitely something we will always remember about this trip!

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"meeting" Minnie Mouse

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We ate lunch at the Whispering Canyon Cafe in Disney's Wilderness Lodge
– I can't believe we didn't get any pictures!  It was super fun – the
waitstaff play all these games and antics.  and the food was INCREDIBLE
– the chef prepared us a special vegetarian dish and there was tons of
it!

taking the bus back for an afternoon nap…didn't quite make it!

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And then back for more magic!

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Tomorrowland! (we did space ranger twice!!)

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We'd done pretty much everything in the park so back to Clara's favorite – twice in a row!

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Then we caught the awesome fireworks show over the castle and headed home…

The next day we spent at Animal Kingdom.  Of course, Clara LOVED it because of all the animals!

Ready to go on the Safari:

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The Safari was seriously AMAZING – we saw animal after animal after animal; so exciting! 

we're both amazed by something….

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off to shows and rides! (including getting dive bombed by a hawk in the bird show)

Triceratop Spin:

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(can you tell Clara likes to put her own sunglasses on?  you'd think at least 50% of the time she would get them right side up, but nope!)

The different "lands" here, like everywhere, were just incredible to take in – so creative and over the top to the littlest detail.  You really felt like you had been completely transported to another place and time!  Here we are in "Asia":

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Mt. Everest!

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Which Brian conquered!  Can you see him?

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giant "tree of life"

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Annnnnnnd, she's out!

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Back to the hotel for naps for EVERYONE!  We had dinner that night at Boma at Animal Kingdom Lodge.  It was designed like an African Marketplace and they had a HUGE buffet with exotic dishes from all over Africa.  Each dish named the country it was from.  It was so neat to have that new experience and the food was sooooooo good! 

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Even the dessert was incredible!  I got a little of everything…and then more of a little of everything 😀

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The next day we transferred hotels to the Yacht Club because that was the day Brian's conference was starting (with a dinner followed by VIP viewing of the light show at Epcot…spouses NOT included).  The Yacht Club was easily one of the nicest hotels I've ever stayed in.  We're big budget travelers (see:  2$ "hotel" I stayed in in Central America that had massive holes in the floor, no water and a used needle in the bed) so this was such a special treat.

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We went to Epcot for part of the day, hitting most of the major things in Tomorrowland.

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looking into the giant aquarium following the Finding Nemo ride…

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Ice cream treats – a definite must!  one of my most vivid memories of Disneyworld when I visited for the first time at 7 was the ice cream sandwiches.  Either they were EXTREMELY good or my parents very rarely let us have sweets.  I'll let you place your own bets. 

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That night while Brian went to his thing, Clara and I hit the pool at our hotel.  The "pool" was a 3 acre wonderland called "Stormalong Bay," with lagoons, lazy river, wrecked "pirate ship" with slides coming out, sand beaches and zero-entry sand bottom pools.  Clara and I LOVED it; Brian could take it or leave it as he can with most pools/waterparks.  Isn't he crazy?!   

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there was even a "Clara-size" water slide (though still a good 12 ft. long! :P) on the ship that she did over and over and over…

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The next day, Brian went to the institute and Clara and I went to Epcot.  What a fun mommy-daughter day!  We rode and visited things we hadn't gotten to the day before.  This is in an interactive exhibit about exploring the senses:

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Surprisingly, she loved "Spaceship Earth"- a ride through the history of communication. 

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We started venturing into the World Showcase area of Epcot.  Here we are in Norway about to ride "Malestorm" (aka biggest dud of any ride at Disneyworld – I pity the person who uses a fastpass for that). 

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It did mean I got a shot of the cutest little Viking, though!

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we ate lunch in "Mexico" and there were some VERY friendly birds looking for handouts that Clara was alternatively excited and freaked out by –

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We woke up from a great nap to having Brian home!  We went and had dinner on the Boardwalk at the Big River Grille and Brewing Works…yup, you guessed it; we found Disney's only and own brewery.  Here is Brian with their sampling:

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It was a great day of teaching and learning and I got to hear all about it!  Here we are on the boardwalk:

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In front of our hotel looking back:

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We all went to Epcot then, and we took Brian on Spaceship Earth…can you see us on the globe?  It was so cool to see where everyone was from that was there right then!

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The whole time we were there it rained for a bit in the afternoons, but this day it STORMED.  Nothing like realizing you're in a very tall metal ball in the middle of a downpour/thunderstorm…! :S 

Brian rode Mission: Space a few times while Clara and I took cover in a giftshop.  It was pretty wet and they had to close a few attractions, but the upside was that hardly anyone was there!  :D 

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We went t
o the Mexican Pavillion and rode Gran Fiesta boat tour, about 7 times.  This was Clara's favorite ride of the whole entire trip.  I must say, I never would have guessed that before we came!  Haven't heard of it?  This is not surprising…it is a pretty lame ride for anyone above the age of 2.  But for Clara- it was the GREATEST THING EVER.  She laughed, she pointed, she danced, she gasped and when we would get to the end, she would say desperately, "More Please?  More Please?"  and as there was no one really there (again, very small crowd it appeals to, I believe), they let us just keep going and going.  Basically you ride in a boat through different parts of mexico, following an animated Donald Duck and two friends as they are playing music and trying to find each other…it really is cute and it was so fun to see Clara loving it! 

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(no good pics because of the lighting in there…)

Mexican pavillion:

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We continued to tour all the different countries in the World Showcase…no great pics because it was nighttime :(
 At the end, we caught Illuminations: Reflections of Earth, a fireworks, laser and water show that reflected on the story of our earth and people and was truly spectacular.  Brian was able to share all these neat tidbits he was learning (at that event and just throughout everything).  

Clara and I had both been fighting a pretty bad cold (I can't imagine there are strange germs in the happiest place on earth) and it came on that night with a vengeance.  Clara didn't sleep very well at all that night, poor baby, which means I didn't sleep much either.  we went to the breakfast buffet in our hotel the next morning and I don't think breakfast has ever tasted so good.  We both felt SO wretched but that really perked us up.  So we went to the pool!  We played in the water and sand for a few hours and then took the longest nap ever, waking up to Brian coming home!  

That night we were going back to Magic Kingdom but after a LONG bus ride there it was raining TORRENTIALY when we got there and didn't look like it was going to let up, and especially with CJ's cold, we (dejectedly) decided we should head home.  We ended up ordering pizza in our room and watching Aladdin…turning a crappy night into a special family night in.  :)  and then packed up…booooooo :( 

the next day was Brian's last at the Institute.  He had learned so much and been so inspired!  there were lots of practical applications he couldn't wait to get back and put into practice. 

Clara and I went to Hollywood Studios to try to get in just a few more things before we had to leave.  We went to several shows, including Disney's Playhouse, which she LOVED: 

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There was dancing and bubbles and confetti and singing perfect for preschoolers!

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Indiana Jones "set" – she put on her own jacket – can you tell?

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in the "city":

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very cool "behind the scenes" tour – in the costume shop right now:

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One funny thing was that Clara doesn't know ANY of the Disney characters yet and so it was nice that all of the character autograph sessions had no draw on her whatsoever.  She passed by princesses, Minnie, etc. without another glance.  However, we saw Sully from Monsters, Inc. and she got ecstatic!  She has never seen that movie; I guess she just liked the way he looked or something.  But she RAN up to the rope line around him and was just smiling and shouting "Hi!  Hi! Hi!!!" and blowing him many kisses.  It was too cute.  I let her wave at him for a while and then went on our merry way; she was sad but then kept waving, "Bye!  Bye!"

Here are the special effects in Cascade Canyon:

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this is how much Clara liked it:

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Toy Story Mania, on the other hand, she liked much better!

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I just loved the creativity EVERY where…

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Brian joined us after his "graduation".  He rode the star wars ride:

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while me and the little Ewok waited for him:

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"celllebrate good times, come on!" – enjoying the pa
rade:

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Clara wearing Brian's graduation cap:

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And then we had to leave to catch our flight home…the flight home was a little rougher (Clara and I both were REALLY coming down with the cold at this point) but we made it home happy and safe.  And grateful for a great family trip!

August

After many ear infections (about 1/month during 2009), Clara had surgery to put tubes in her ears (I had this same surgery when I was about her age).  Here she is pre-surgery…all smiles.  I got a lot more emotional than I expected…it is hard to see your baby rolled off and not get to hold her hand and comfort her, and of course there is also then the (needless) worry!    

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The surgery didn't take long at all and we were there holding her the second they let us.  It was difficult for her to come out of the anesthesia, probably because her body felt very weird and she couldn't understand what was happening.  It was like having a drunk 2 year old in your arms – poor little thing! :(  She threw up several times on the drive home, but after a long nap, she was as good as new!

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Clara video chats often with Mimi and Papi and gives the computer hugs and kisses the screen when they're on it…soooo precious! 

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One super cool thing that happened around this time was that Clara
decided to potty train herself.  I wish we could take credit for it,
but it is like she just woke up one morning and decided she wasn't
going to use her diaper anymore.  and POOF, she didn't!  it was
amazing!  and wonderful!!!  the only thing I was concerned about was
that we were going to Disney in a couple of weeks, and I was so scared
that that would interrupt and ruin everything (my friend Kristi had
experienced something similar with her youngest)…and unfortunately, I
was right. :(  but we sure did enjoy those couple of weeks! 
that little rabbit trail was to explain why she is naked in the photo :)

being silly…

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beautiful 21 month old!

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best friends! (as Clara calls her, "Cake")

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in early august, I got to go to my very first Air Review show!!!!!  and
it was even more amazing than I dreamed possible.  They are just SO
GOOD.  Air Review is a band one of Brian's best friends, Richard, is
in.  They just started playing publicly in May and Brian had been to
the shows they had done thus farand raved and raved.  I can't wait to see where they go and hope for all the best for them – they certainly deserve it!

Down the street from our house is Grapevine's Dove Park/Pool/Playground.  there are these dolphins there have water sprouting out of them and kids love to run around and play in them – including Clara!  Several of my days off we took a picnic down there and enjoyed.  Brian even joined us a few times during his lunch!

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She made a route of running through the dolphins and then onto the playground, down the slide and back to the dolphins!

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Go Rangers!!!!

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It was only a matter of time being married to Brian that I would start to REALLY care about the Rangers instead of just kinda enjoy watching them with him every now and then.  And this was it – 6 years to be exact.  We were in the wild card race and it was so exciting!  there was a night when he had fallen asleep that I ACTUALLY STAYED UP WATCHING THE GAME to see how it turned out.  I was incredulous at myself.  And Brian was very, very happy.

Clara found a new way to watch TV…

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One crazy thing that happened was that my laptop was stolen!  I should clarify…it was the church's laptop, so fortunately, it was covered by insurance.  But I lost all my files, music, etc., which was REALLY depressing.  Many of my work documents that I had saved to our server were backed up, which was an extreme blessing.  It happened on a Sunday, right off of my desk.  We even had security video footage of the guy taking it… there seriously could not have been a worse time of year to lose so much I was working on or to not have a laptop – we were getting ready for Promotion Sunday and the "new" year in Children's Ministry.  This is always my most stressful time of year and crazy work hours.   But all in all, laptops are just things, and things can always be replaced, or done without.  And anything that reminds us that our dependency is on God, and teaches us to continually rely on HIM, is a good and wonderful thing.  Obviously, someone who will steal from a church must REALLY be in need, so we prayed for him and that God would use it all for good.  

Promotion Sunday ended up going great and very smoothly.  One of the things I am over is the creative programming (large group worship experience) for preschoolers.  God brought together an AMAZING team of volunteers and it was so exciting to see them all in action that first day.  We have storytellers, hosts, youth worship leaders, worship leaders, puppeteers and techies.  August was filled with auditions and trainings, as well as training new small group leaders for the classrooms and getting everything ready to go for that first day (kids assigned to the right rooms, orientation for parents, etc.).  One of the things I am most excited about this year is that each of the large group teams has a significant number of youth on them – older elementary, middle school and high school aged kids – that will be leading and teaching the preschoolers.  And the adults who are leading those teams won't be just building into toddlers and preschoolers, but intentionally building into the youth as well, teaching them in loving and serving God, impacting others and discovering their own value and gifts.  These youth are so excited and eager; it is refreshing to see that sincere desire to serve.  And I couldn't have picked better adults to lead them – such a heart to love on kids of all ages!

We had a super cool event at the church for "back to school" – I just stood on the stairs in Town Square fighting tears of joy.  The church was filled with literally thousands of people in need getting free backpacks filled with supplies, clothes, shoes, haircuts, dental exams, dinner, physicals and Love…it felt so right – THIS is what Church should be.  It has never felt better to be a part of this community. 

A GREAT thing that happened at the very end of August was that we went to Disneyworld!  more on that later :) 

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July

Happy 4th of July!!!  We spent some time at the lake – what fun! 

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What is July 4th without a little of America's favorite pastime?  

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Or swimming???

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EVERYONE enjoyed the whale pool!!

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These are plastic horses I played with when I was little…and now Clara loves playing with!  Do you think Clara is trying to act like Mimi or the other way around here?

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oh how I love that little smile…

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We actually spent most weekends in July at the lake!!  Texas lakes are made (and they were, in fact, all man-made except for one :P)  for summertime!  The following weekend we took our annual village trip to the lake…finally timing it so that we were there during the summer rather than the winter! 

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Oh, what a difference a year makes!  compare the next two photos…

July, 2009: clara and helen kate

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April, 2008: clara and helen kate

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I think those mamas have grown up as much as those babies in that time! 😉

2008:

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2009:

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They LOVED swimming and splashing together!

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We had such fun boating, swimming (more like floating) in the lake (and trying to stay close to the boat!), taking long walks, playing lawn golf, horseshoes, jet skiing and just being together…  

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And we came back….the next weekend!!  (during the summer, Brian got half days on Friday…which made weekend trips much more do-able, since we always have to come back on Saturday nights for church/work on Sunday!)

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We were a sleepy crew that weekend, I guess! As Clara would say, like when she pretend naps (one of her favorite games), "M tard"; loooooove weekend naps!

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In the meantime, Dad got a "deck pool" that proved to be a HUGE hit! 

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do you see Clara holding her breath?  she is about to go under – well, up to her eyes anyway, before popping back up!  We were trying to teach her how to hold her breath and blow bubbles in water.  She loved "bouncing" in the water, being pulled around like a motorboat, playing "tea" and walking on her tip-toes. 

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picnic on the porch: tofu, avocado and clementines…YUM!

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dancing on a sunset cruise…

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one of her favorite games is "stealing" someone's nose…how that makes her giggle!

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I just love her wonder and excitement about the littlest things!

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eating a plum on the porch…and good thing, too!

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I had a girls night out with some girlfriends and came home to find a guys night in…awesomeness – rock band projected onto the wall!

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I wonder if the plums are worth it…Clara says, "YES!!"

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Thursday Night Small Group time…the first hour the kids just play: 

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Clara already loves playing dress up! 

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Helen Kate – such a cutie!

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Clara says, "teeeeee" (instead of "cheese")

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Clara began saying, "I love you" (more like "Owloo") whenever we say "I love you" to her…which means I will tell her about 17 times in a row.  Hearing those words is the greatest thing ever and makes my heart burst!  She also started unprompted "thank you"s which is equally gratifying!  

Gene hooked us up with comp tickets (and VIP lounge passes, which my lil' preggo self REALLY appreciated being able to sit down and cool off in!) to the Coldplay concert at the Superpages.com Center.  We were part of the "crew" that hands stuff out at the gate as people are coming in- a pretty sweet deal.  Of course, Brian and Gene were INTENT on sneaking into the pit up front, which totally freaked me out (I'm such a rule follower; Brian leads a much more exciting life) – it totally magnified our two personalities.  I was all worried about where we would go if it didn't work or we got in trouble and I needed a "plan" (the lawn was quickly filling up); Brian wasn't concerned at all and just taking stuff as it came.  Neither way bad but it was cracking me up how much each of us were being pushed out of our "comfort zones"!  In the end, we couldn't get in to the pit and fortunately Gene had a friend who let us sit with her on her blanket.  the show was INCREDIBLE!  It was a great night, great audience, great music, great vibe…  so amazing to hear them LIVE!

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and then…they came out into the lawn to do 3 songs….RIGHT IN FRONT OF US.  and by that I mean, there wasn't a single person between us and Coldplay, just about 3 feet of air.  And you could hear them clicking on the keys, strumming on the guitars, the actual singing rather than through a speaker…it was unreal.  This is a picture that Gene took with his phone:

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We went into Paris for our darling nephew Aidan's 5th birthday.  We also got to see Larr and Christi's awesome new house!

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cousins Kami, Sophie, Aidan, and Aidan's friend Brandon:

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It was so cute…Clara was trying to see what all the "big kids" were seeing…she was on her tip toes and everyone else was flat footed!

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Clara and Sophie…who is the first born here?IMG_7578

Family Date Night to Southlake Town Center…Clara gets her first icecream cone- she spent the whole time with her tongue hanging out and lunging for the cone in my hand…the icecream went fast!

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My roomie and best friend in college Korie asked me to be a bridesmaid in her wedding!  I got these fortune cookies delivered by UPS…there was a bride and groom iced on the outside, and when I broke it open, the fortune asked if I would stand up with them on their special day. 

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One of TMC's clients was having an event at the new Cowboys stadium ("Jerryworld") so Brian got to go.  They got a behind-the-scenes tour (in their locker room and everything!) and then a party where Brian met Jay Novachek! (btw, I had to look up how to spell that name- obviously, this was a bigger deal to Brian than to me!):

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almost every time we go over to Fort Worth to visit the Rhodes, we also go to our favorite restaurant – Joe T. Garcia's! YUM!!!  especially awesome to sit on the porch in the beautiful garden in good weather…  I'm sure fort worth has many other wonderful restaurants that at some point we might try, but it is just so hard NOT to go to Joe T's when we get the chance…

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Clara got her first pets!!!  We pulled out an old fish tank, cleaned it up and went to the pet store.  We got all sorts of supplies and instructions and were SO EXCITED!  They suggested we get "zebra fish" since they are "extra hardy," which is a good idea for your first fish in a tank.  Because their journey would be arduous and might even require eventual sacrifice, we decided to name them Frodo and Sam.  Clara loved them!  Here she is with them sitting on the counter in their bag.  She kept saying, "Fish! fish! Fish!"  They had to wait on the table while the water was treated and we got their home ready.  We put her down for bed, put the fish in and started a movie.  I came down to get a glass of water and checked the fish and found…dead fish.  yup, that's it…for about 2 hours, we had pets.  We knew that they might not make it, but good grief.  We expected at least 2 weeks or so…not 2 frickin' hours!!!  poor little fish!!  we felt soooooooo bad!! :(  we did EVERYTHING the store guy told us to do but it obviously wasn't enough…  the next morning, the first thing Clara said was, "Fish??" and we spent the day distracting her. 

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Clara and Nathan hanging out:

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Clara and Papi:

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Now I've saved the best for last…the absolute greatest moment in 2009 (and I can say this with great certainty since I'm writing it in January 2010 ;)) was finding out….we were expecting Baby #2!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Words can not even begin to describe our pure elation, gratitude, and overwhelming excitement.  

I had told Brian my appointment (for the preggo test) was on Friday, when it was actually on Tuesday, July 14th.  I got tested early that morning and then waiting to hear back the results made it the LONGEST day – but around 4 they called and told me the GREAT news!! 

I went to wal-mart and got a helium tank and balloons – my plan was to fill Clara's room with blue and pink balloons with "March 2010" written on them.  The first person I actually told was the checker at wal-mart — I just couldn't help telling her what I was buying those things for.  She was very excited.  :D  I rushed home to try to get it done before Brian got home, even asking him to go on an errand to buy a little time.  It was obvious it wasn't going to be enough, though, so I asked my mom (who was in town to take care of Clara for the day) to help with the "big surprise for Brian"…she came in and saw all the blue and pink balloons and I thought for sure she would get it then.  but she didn't!  So asked her to write "march 2010" on the balloons as I was blowing them up…and she still didn't get it.  I was going nuts I was so excited for her to realize!  On about the 6th balloon she stopped and it dawned on her and she got really excited!!!  and then I got really excited and we were hugging and I was telling her everything.  And then we got busy. 

When Brian got home, I told him that I thought Clara had just woken up from her nap and would he please go get her?  He opened the door, saw all the balloons and FLIPPED OUT!!  He was screaming and shouting and hugging me and swinging me around and jumping everywhere.  It was so great.  This was going to be a VERY loved and welcomed little baby!  I had set the video camera up to record it, so fortunately we have that taped.  But we were so swept up in all the excitement I didn't even take a photo of the room or the balloons… :P  We prayed and prayed thanking God for this special blessing. We also invited Aunt Krissy over, telling her mom wanted to see her before she left, and then had her go into the room, too.  What fun!  she was really excited of course!  Unfortunately, Eric was in Canada, so he would have to find out via her again. Brian called his family and shared the big news and they were
all really happy, too!!   

That Thursday, at our regular small group/bible study/accountability group time, we discreetly replaced all of the papers in our "question box" (each week we pull something out of the box at random for discussion – an article, a question, a scripture, etc.) with papers that said, "Village Baby #6!"  So when we settled down into group to start it was fun to have that pulled out and everyone get excited! 

 

New York, New York!

For each anniversary, rather than get each other presents, we plan a special experience together in order to celebrate.  It's been fun over the last 5 years to make those special memories together!  We also always go through the highlights of the year, remembering our life together and marriage over the last year.  Since it was our 5th anniversary, we wanted to do something extra special!  of course, our anniversary was actually in December, and on the actual day we were snowed into my parents time-share in Colorado.  We knew we wanted to take a trip somewhere but weren't sure where…. 

we started looking around and found some absolutely AMAZING deals to NYC. and you know how I am with a good deal… With the state of the economy, prices were slashed to encourage tourism, I guess!  our airfare was $300 for BOTH of us together, roundtrip, and I was able to priceline a 4-star hotel in the heart of midtown (near GrandCentral station) and pay just 10$ more a night than we had paid a few years earlier for a hostel in Chelsea that had a community bath and Brian could touch both sides of the room with by stretching out his arms…so you could say that this was definitely an improvement!

One thing we really wanted to do this trip was attend a taping of a TV show – something neither of us had ever done.  Our golden calf was "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart, but after looking daily for a couple of months and even trying to find backdoor ways of getting tickets, nuthin'.  Extremely rarely, tickets are opened up the day of a taping and so we checked during our layover in an airport in North Carolina…and THERE WERE TICKETS!!!!!!!! I can't even describe our excitement!!  So we snatched them FAST!  We were going to be cutting it very close timing-wise between when our plan landed and we needed to be in line (they give out more tickets than there are seats so they recommend getting there several hours early to get in line) so we got to have our wild taxi ride through NYC experience.  We quickly disembarked the plane (and watch an old man attacking a woman trying to get past him, but that's another story), quickly dropped off our bags at our hotel, grabbed another taxi and finally got in line – WOOHOO!  Brian then ran and got us some lunch…NY pizza….ahhhhhh, it felt like coming home :)  We could definitely live here.  Several hours later, we were sitting in a tiny studio listening to Jon Stewart himself.  He came out before the taping and just talked to audience and we were laughing SO FREAKIN' HARD…he is so funny and quick.  he was just answering questions from the audience and it was unreal.  seriously, heaven is going to have some element of this!  Then the taping started and it went SO FAST!  We were amazed at how well-oiled of a machine they have going on (once taping begins, that is.  the whole "line experience" leaves a LOT to be desired).  I was expecting several takes or stopping to adjust this or that but nope…it went straight through and then poof it was done!  tom hanks was the guest and it was so surreal for him to be real… 

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Outside the studio afterward –

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Walking to our next destination we passed a film crew filming what looked to be like an "escape" out of the building – there was a dummy they kept throwing out.  too cool!

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We walked over to Rockefeller Center and went to the "Top of the Rock" at sunset.  It was absolutely magical to see the sun set over the city and then all of the lights start coming on!  What a gorgeous view. 

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we continued to walk around the Rockefeller Center area, grabbed some dinner (sushi in Grand Central Station), and then hit the hay – we were TIRED!

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The next morning we grabbed some bagels and then rented some bikes to ride around Central Park.  It was a beautiful morning and it felt good to be out in it!  We had a little breakfast picnic by Belvedere Fountain and then continued our exploring.

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Strawberry Fields…

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Literary Walk

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Hanging out reading

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We went from one end of the park to another over several hours, stopping off just to sit in and enjoy throughout.  Afterwards, we picked up lunch at a deli and ate in Bryant Park, the site of Fashion Week each year.  We're HUGE Project Runway fans so this was exciting!  Kristin Chenoweth was doing a reading in the park that day so hearing her was a special treat!

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That afternoon we had tickets to the taping of Late Show with David Letterman.  Seeing him in real life was also very surreal and fun (though I must say not NEAR as great as Jon Stewart ;)).  the guest was Robin Williams and good grief is that man funny. 

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Between checking in for the late show and the taping, we had a little

afternoon snack nearby…

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We also went and saw St. Patrick's Cathedral nearby…beautiful.

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Brian especially enjoyed it:

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That night was….

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WICKED!!!!!!!!  It was truly spectacular in every single way…the story, the message, the singing, the costumes, the staging, the choreography–for a couple of hours we were completely enraptured and swept up into this wonderful story and world!  We spent hours talking about it later.  The only thing more "wicked" than wicked was the WICKED, EXCRUCIATING, HORRIFIC PAIN in my legs.  Yes, that is right…the bicycling (particularly the bicycling for several hours after many sedentary months of no exercise) caught up with me…to the point that I was fighting tears in intermission.  Yes, folks, it was that pathetic.  We totally hit a CVS for Icy Hot on the way back to the hotel! 

The next day we spent at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Incredible! 

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The Van Gogh lover…

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They had several pieces from Picasso's blue period that I thought were absolutely mesmerizing…

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I'm so glad I have Brian with me in art museums – he helps me appreciate and understand so much more! 

speaking of – here is a cool modern piece:

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that night – oh yeah, baby…that's right:  the Comedy Cellar!!!!  We laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed!  There were 5 different comedians, including Pete Correale, who we had actually seen the last time we were in NYC and had a special on Comedy Central coming up.  HILARIOUS!  This pic shows how close were to the stage…always dangerous (I was terrified) in a comedy club, but the venue is TEENY and fortunately it didn't backfire on us! :)

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We took the subway back from Greenwich Village to Times Square (our hotel was a few blocks from there) and got to see all the life, energy and action there – exhilarating!

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we spent the next day at the Museum of Modern Art, catching an awesome docent led tour.  One of my life dreams/goals is to take an Art History class.  One day…

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Did you have any idea this actual painting was so small?!  I didn't!!

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That night was the Broadway show Brian was really looking forward to…The Lion King!!  It really was amazing to see the creativity and artistry of this show – there were several times I gasped out loud. 

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We walked by the Chrysler building on our way to and from our hotel each day.

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Ghandi statue in Union Square.  Brian got up early one morning and just sat and wrote in this park – I slept in! :) 

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On Saturday we headed into Brooklyn (a first!) and discovered a SUPER cool burough as well as a SUPER cool local brewery – Brooklyn Brewery.  We toured the brewery, which was especially neat for Brian who has been brewing his own beer at home, got to sample some of their different beers (my favorite was the Pennant Ale, Brian's was ____), and got to know a group of public school teachers and coaches from Long Island. 

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there were lots of locals there just hanging out, so there was a really cool vibe…

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plotting his next brew…

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random door (on our way back to subway)…

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After lunch in a local pasta/pizzaria, we headed back into the city…I wanted to see if we could win the lottery (they give out the front row tickets for cheap in a drawing an hour before the show) for West Side Story – one of my favorite musicals!  We didn't win the lottery BUT since it was sold out, they were selling standing room only tickets (really cheap)- woohoo! and when we got in there, there were actually some empty seats, so we got to sit afterall.  Having grown up on that soundtrack and seeing local productions of WSS, it was so neat to see it on Broadway.  I LOVED it!

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We spent the next day walking around Washington Square Park, Greenwich Village, SoHo, Lower East Side, etc.  A nice day out walking NYC and just taking in the people and feel…

Brian is ready to take on someone at the chess tables…

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SoHo

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Lower Eastside/Alphabet City … great street "art"

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old Tenement Museum from immigrant days…I love this kind of history…

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lunch in Little Italy

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That night we were just exhausted and wanted a quiet evening in our hotel room watching movies and reading- it was vacation, afterall, and time for some relaxing!  We picked up some groceries at a nearby Amish market – really yummy cheeses, breads, and fruit.  We also had to pack….booo hoooo :( 

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gorgeous!

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The New York Helmsley

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The next day, after storing our luggage and checking out, we were off on the subway again!

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This time for a food and history walking tour through Greenwich Village.  (have you noticed that food is important to us throughout this?!)  This was definitely one of the highlights of the trip!  It was several hours of eating the most amazing things at about 12 stops along the way, and hearing about and seeing some really neat history in that neighborhood.

In front of Murray's cheese shop waiting for it to begin…I mean, a whole shop dedicated to CHEESE – how can you go wrong?!?!

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love these little streets…

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facade of "Friends" apartment building!!!

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mmmmm….saved the best for last….

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After that we walked around some more neighborhoods…  Look what we stumbled across!  Nerd-fantasy come true…the offices of WNYC, the NPR branch in NYC.  They put out some of our favorite shows, like RadioLab and Intelligence Squared!  You'll notice we also went down to Canal Street (where all the cheap knock-offs of stuff is sold) to get me a sweatshirt (don't you just love my bright purple?! Brian LOVED being seen with me in it) – it was getting COLD and we hadn't brought anything heavy enough…and we were going to be outside that night at a Yankees game, freezing our buns off. 

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so that is where we headed next, into the Bronx to boo (very, VERY quietly) the Yankees! 

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their new stadium…blech.

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This was definitely a new baseball experience and a VERY exciting one (though not near as family-friendly :P).  We sat in the bleacher section, and I do believe the term "bleacher creature" had to have been coined here.  I was absolutely incredulous at the yankees fans around us. 

Their fans take it to a whole new level.  They peppered the
centerfielder (and his mother) with a barrage of insults (and that is
putting it VERY G-rated) the entire game that NY comics themselves
would probably shy away from.  Also in the bleachers was either a very
brave or a very insane man who wore a Twins jersey.  After being
heckled in unison by our whole section, he was literally escorted out
by armed guards for his own safety after a yankee fan grabbed his hat to the
cheers of our section, shouting in his face.  this yankee was a 27
year-old female!  all in all, a very entertaining time!

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IT WAS FREEZING!!!  I don't know how many hot chocolates I went through…

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It was an AMAZING game!!  The Twins mounted an incredible comeback and it was SO exciting but those dadgum Yankees still won.  As much as we dislike the Yankees, we will begrudgingly admit it is a dislike that comes out of a respect for how intimidating and dominating they are, and how loyal and passionate their fans.

After that, we went back to the city and found a cool Irish pub for some late dinner and warming up.  Brian even tried the beer sampler!

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It was about midnight now and time to pick up our bags and head to the airport.  Good bye, NY Helmsley! 

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We had a super early flight – 6 a.m.- and we had decided to just spend the night in the airport rather than pay for a hotel for just 3 or 4 hours.  Great plan, right?  In the sense that it meant we could stay an extra day in NY, then Yes!  in the sense that it turns out the airport isn't open at night, and there is no heat, and the crazy taxi man hands us a bag of a french magazines right before we get out, and the only people that are there are, well, NO ONE, then NO it isn't a great plan!  oh, but an adventure – yes, it was… 

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We did make it out ok the next day and happily home.  Clara spent the week between our parents and had a blast but it was too long for us…never again can we leave her that long.  Even with getting to videochat with her at night we realized we just miss our baby girl way too much and a huge part of us was missing.  We were EXTREMELY thankful to our parents for taking such good care of her, though, so we could enjoy our 5th anniversary! 

June

June begins the downward spiral of not taking many photos that lasts for several months… darn it!!

Fortunately, my awesome photographer Dad DID take photos from the times we were together – THANKS Dad!

Brian was commissioned to paint a painting of the sign from the "Grand Theater" in Paris – an old movie theater downtown that is historic and beautiful and holds special memories for generations of Parisians…and has unfortunately fallen into great disrepair.  Because it has been closed down for so long and not taken care of, it needs massive renovations if it will ever be restored and enjoyed again.  There is a great group who are trying to make just that happen.  And they asked Brian to create a piece of art that could be auctioned off at a special fundraising night.  Here is the piece he created along with us at the auction.  It went for just over $1,000.00!  Another cool thing they did with it was make a special wine label from his painting and wine at the Paris Winery and ran a limited edition of those; part of the proceeds from the wine went to the fund.  The night of the Grand Event, they also auctioned off 25 bottles that Brian autographed.  I was soooooo proud of him!  My parents came and we were so glad they were there (and grateful to Aunt Chris and Uncle Larr for taking care of Clara!) – it was also one of the most awkward nights of our life….! :P  Brian spoke a little about the piece – he painted from the perspective of a little kid looking up at the sign outside of the theater, and just remembering that awe and excitement we all had when we were little and going to the Grand for the first time.  It was neat sharing memories with others and just so cool to get to be a part of something trying to preserve and celebrate what is special and unique about a community.

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enjoying Mimi and Papi's pool…it's a little coldy!

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hanging out with Papi…

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Back in Grapevine playing in her sandbox:

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Happy 61st birthday, Dad!!

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Now, the first photos WE have from June are from June 19th, at the "Road to Rome" family experience we did at the church.  It was SUCH a cool night and so fun to see it all come together!  It was so neat to see families worshiping and "deepening the soul" together while also growing closer to each other.  

I was over the large group element of the night…

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who is that HOT Roman soldier?!  It's Brian!  and boy can he make a skirt look good 😀

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so grateful for my sweet Jillzee!

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Happy 2nd Birthday, Makenna!!  clara had fun in her bounce house:

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ok, I just had to take a picture of this because I was just SO amazed at how far the grocery shopping experience has come for kids since my day…  not only does she get to ride in her own CAR with a steering wheel and light up buttons and everything, but this thing had a TV in it with several choices of kids' shows…ummm, our REAL car doesn't even have that in it.  We ride in style when we go to Kroger's!  

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On a related note, we typically shop at Wal-Mart  (I know, I know – I feel soooo guilty, and yet we continue to go back), which believe it or not, does NOT have pimp-my-cart-esque shopping carts, but she does absolutely fine.  We can be in there for 2 hours (2!) and she is just an adorable, fun, sweet little angel.  I mean, I try to keep her entertained with little games and stuff and remind her every now and then of expectations, but for the most part, she is agreeable – I am so thankful for such a happy little girl.  However, what is interesting, is that Blockbuster seems to have some weird power over her so that whenever we go in there – even if it is only for 4 minutes – she morphs into some sort of beast-child I can't even recognize, throwing tantrums and screaming at the top of her lungs.  I've had to remove her from a Blockbuster on more than one occasion, and always weigh whether a new movie is really worth a trip in there or not.  Isn't that crazy?!  I've come to appreciate the shopping cart less for it's function of holding items you wish to purchase and more for it's ability to contain a toddler.  ahhhh, t
he things you learn as a parent! 

Here she is swimming with Nathan…

 
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She thought it was so funny when he would splash!  She kept telling him, "Here, Here!" and pointing next to her…the first time she was asking someone to sit by her!

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Clara went swimming almost every single day this summer…she LOVES the water!!

Here we are during part of Father's Day Weekend -themed "Texas Fun"- enjoying our cookout, Rangers on the radio, and our attempt at re-creating Chili's chipotle blue cheese burger (which they inexplicably and devastatingly took off the menu)…

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The surprise ending was a trip to Six Flags on Sunday afternoon/evening!  Some friends of ours had a couple of free passes they gave us that I was able to surprise Brian with. Here Clara is on her first ride ever!!  She really liked it! 

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Going up in the mini-ferris wheel made her a little unsure…

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as did the airplanes…she wasn't scared, just couldn't quite figure out what to make of it all…

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we rode many rides and even went into a show (ahhhhhh, the a/c!!), but BY FAR her most favorite thing of all (which of course made it our favorite thing – hearing her laugh and squeal is the best thing ever!) was…………the misting fans!!!  they cracked her up!  she kept running back and forth, back and forth…

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Daddy's girl

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Wiped out!!

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I am so grateful for the father that Brian is.  We very much share the "parenting" role and all of the little chores, challenges and joys that go along with it equally.  He is incredibly invested and I know I take for granted how much he does to make our family and house "happen".  He makes her lunch and packs her bag every school day, and always gets her ready for bed and puts her down at the end of the day.  He often makes dinner and is always sharing in the cleaning, grocery shopping, dishes, laundry, etc.  But more than that, I appreciate how much he plays with Clara and treats her like the super special, super treasured little girl that she is.  They have such a special relationship.  They both make each other light up like no other can.  When he gets home each day she rushes to hug him and gets SO excited to be with him again.  She loves chasing him and tickling him and knows he will always read her a book whenever she brings him one.  He is patient and gentle, yet firm and strong.  What I read 10 books and websites trying to figure out how to do comes so naturally for him (though I appreciate that he is always willing to read those books, websites or go to classes, too!).  When he is with us, he is fully present, and that makes such a difference in the life of our family.  What a great dad!!! 

Here Clara is "helping" Brian repair the soaker hose in our front yard, pliers in hand.  She loves to "help" with whatever we're working on!  Let's hope that lasts for the next 16 years…

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Time for new shoes?  I feel like there are some ways I'm a really good mom…and then other ways I'm really NOT.  This is one of them…

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I had an extra morning off because of all of the Road to Rome stuff from the week before, so I got to take Clara to storytime at the library for the first time!!  We had a ball!  Here she is "reading" some books afterwards… hopefully, the first of many trips to the library in her life! :) 

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If you haven't noticed, I realized I hadn't taken many photos in a while, so I went crazy for about a week :) aren't you glad I only took pics for one week in June?!

We had a shower for one of our sweet interns, Deepthi, before the birth of her first baby.  this is most of our children's ministry staff…


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We were sad to miss the annual Tallant Family Reunion on the first weekend in June because Clara got sick right beforehand.  I know they still had a great time and a great turnout, though! 

Something fun going on in June was getting to follow the Rangers – our team was actually doing good for once!  we're talking first-in-the-division, well above .500 good!  It was so much fun!! 

A very special ending to June was getting to attend the Retirement Party for my dad.  After 33 years with CHRISTUS Health Systems and the Sisters that work with them, working as a social worker and then in every other role imaginable, he was retiring!  There was an unbelievable turnout and many people said many nice things- he truly touched many, many lives through his life and made such an impact in our community through what he gave and who he is.  It was such a special night and we were so proud and blessed to get to be there.  

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Dad with two of his best friends – Ed Clark and Derald Bulls – who both shared kind words and funny memories. 

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Taking a photo for the newspaper – they did a whole page and a half spread on him in Sunday's paper, highlighting everything he had done for Paris and her people…talk about making a life "count"! 

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Another of my biggest heroes – Ridley Briggs.  I look up to and am so inspired by him… It was great getting to catch up a little!

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Afterwards, our family went to a park and each read him a letter we wrote thanking him for how hard he worked to care for us and what his work and he meant to us.  there were lots of tears and laughs! 

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This was June 30th, his very last day.  And on to July! 

May

Early in May, we had the Birdwell Family Reunion (now it is the Birdwell/Mason/Rhea/Zan/Swasko Reunion…that's what happens when you have a bunch of girls that get married!) with my Aunt Susan and Uncle Bill and cousin Bonnie.  It was so great to get to be together and catch up with everyone!  We got to meet precious Christopher Steven, only a few weeks old! 

Can this seriously be the best shot I got of everyone?  Oh, but it can. 

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Uncle Eric makes a balloon hat/cage!  he did balloons for all the kids – so fun!

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The cousins!  second, removed, something like that…  Caroline, Clara and William – they loved swinging together!

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"I'm on a boat!"

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The following weekend was Mother's Day, and Brian made it very special…breakfast in bed, pampering all day :) 

And the next week..guess where we went?  5 Year Anniversary trip! 

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New York will be getting it's own post…

Happy Birthday, Suzanne!! 

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Happy Memorial Day!  Lone Star Park Horse Races…

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With her buddy Nathan…

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with the park's…

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petting zoo!!  Clara looooooves animals!  she can make almost all of their sounds now. 

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Our little Texan on her very first horse…about three seconds before she went absolutely ballistic. 

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the main reason we went was for a microbrewery "festival"…which stretched the word "festival" really, really, REALLY far. 

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Did I mention it was HOT?!

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What is Memorial Day without a little swimming (at Dove Pool down the street) and cooking out with the Zan's and…

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strawberry shortcake! YUM!

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We actually cooked out and ate on the back porch a lot in May – enjoying the weather and a green backyard! 

This was the beginning of "baby monster"– Clara growling…soooooo stinkin' cute!!!

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Happy 50th birthday, Larry!

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Go Rangers!

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Clara had her 18 month check up and it went great!  She is right on track in every way.  She is still in the 90's percentiles for weight, height, etc., so she is growing good.  

I became a part of the pastoral team at church, which was REALLY exciting and something I'm very excited about.  I already did many "pastoral" things but this just made it a little more official and added a few responsibilities to my role, which I have so enjoyed. 

At the end of May, we went to see Dr. Anil P
into for the first time for a consultation – he is a reproductive endocrinologist (fertility doctor).  We absolutely loved him!  We'd been trying to get pregnant for about 7 or 8 months at that point and decided it was time to take it up a notch (I had just been seeing my primary care doc).  I have polycystic ovarian syndrome, which makes it difficult to conceive naturally.  He checked me out and confirmed the PCOS (classic case, he said) but seemed VERY confident he could help us.  Every step along the way he had a "plan," and wasn't surprised by anything, which I really appreciated.  He put me on several medicines and I came in for frequent check ups to see what effect they were having… and of course, we were just giving it over to God and trusting His timing, knowing He would bring our baby if/when the time was just right! 

And that was May!