A Little Bit of Gratitude and A Whole Lot of Rambling

Maybe I'll get back to blogging about the New England trip...maybe I won't.  Sorry.  Apparently I don't have the overwhelming desire to complete things as much as I thought I did.  Oh goodness, it's happening.  I'm turning into my mother.  It's okay...my dad tells me that there are far worse things you can be on earth than Joyce.  (He's right, by the way.  She's crazy, but I love her.)  Turns out, I've got other things to say.  And at the center of my heart lies blog posts.  Who knew?

One thing I have noticed since God brought me home is that I am about 100% less stressed out.  I'm totally committed to the things of this home and this family, and there is literally nothing else to distract me.  I'm sure other people are better at compartmentalizing than me, but when I worked and got home in the evenings I was already spent, only to have to do the things that absolutely had to be done for the next day and very rarely involved anything fun, eventually crashing in a heap in the bed after having grumped at my husband and kids all night.  Lather.  Rinse.  Repeat.

So I still flip out on my kids sometimes - this is true.  I am so very far from perfect.  SO VERY FAR.  But...the redeeming but...I am able to enjoy these kids of mine so much more.  It's funny.  I always preached that being a work-out-of-the-home mom made me a better mom.  Some time apart from the kids was exactly what I needed to be great at being a mom.  I said this with conviction, knowing full well the stay-at-home mom life was not for me.  Even though I'd never so much as tried it on for size save for three months when I was twenty-years old, during which all I could think about was that life was going on without me.  It took a two by four to the forehead for me to realize that was flawed thinking.  I was kidding myself.  I was not a better mom because of my circumstances.  I was a grumpy, chronically-stressed, always late one. (This is a personal testimony and not an attack on anyone's lifestyle or choices, lest you feel defensive.  This is about me, not about you...whomever you are.  Phew, got that disclaimer out of the way.)

I've always attempted to listen to my kids, but the exchanges have a deeper, emotional connection now.  The to-do lists, deadlines, re-running phone calls, conflicting personalities that I encountered at work are no longer playing in my mind while we converse and interact.  And it's just....nice.

Why am I writing about this now?  Because this time two years ago, I just found out that I was losing my job.  It was a devastating blow at the time.  It was all I had known.  I had tried so hard to have it all, and I was about to lose a large part of it - my career.  What I didn't know at the time is that God had a promotion in store for me.  Yes.  I have come to embrace my status as a stay-at-home wife and mom, now homeschooling mom.  I have dropped the "I'm an unemployed engineer" tidbit from my conversations.  Right now, I'm exactly where God wants me and there is a peace that comes with that greater than any performance appraisal or pay increase I could ever receive.

I really believe that those emotionally taxing few months back at the end of 2010 were all part of God's plan to get me right here, right where I am.  He broke me down to build me up.  His strength was made perfect in my weakness.

I thought that I would lament the life lost.  When I got the news I was laid off, I worried about the loss of  "me time."  What on earth would I do with my kids at my side literally 24 hours a day?  What about the more-than-weekly lunch dates I had with Sam?  What about running quick errands on my lunch break?  What about all that time I spent struggling through engineering school?  Studying for the PE exam?  What about that letter that came telling me I passed - that I am a licensed, professional engineer?  I cried.  Like, real life, ugly cried.  That was two years ago. 

I'm here to report, now, that I have survived with kids by my side, without lunch dates, without solo errands.  The time I spent in engineering school and studying for a licensing exam were important life experiences, but they were not a be-all, end-all.  They taught me how to commit.  How to go all in.  And, that's kind of what I hope I'm doing now.  With my family.

So, again, why am I writing about this?  This is my thanksgiving post.  Late, of course, because some things don't change.  Even when your life gets turned upside down.

I'm so thankful to have been brought to a place I never imagined I'd be.  Teaching my kids while we sit at home and when we walk along the road, when we lie down and when we get up. I'm thankful to have the unconditional support and encouragement of a husband who, I honestly think, knows what's best for me before I do. And I'm thankful to be gaining security in who I am in Christ, instead of expending energy worrying about what people must think of me. (Turns out, they don't.)

I am endlessly imperfect.  My house is a wreck 90% of the time (the other 10% is when Sam does a good, hearty deep-clean).  My kids are forever climbing walls (literally).  I raise my voice too much.  I always burn one side of the grilled cheese.  The laundry - oh goodness the laundry.  It's everywhere.  So are the school books and papers.  Then there's Leah crawling around, picking up tiny pieces of carpet lint and eating them.  This is a snapshot of my day.  And every bit of this is why I'm overwhelmed with gratitude.  I am blessed beyond measure.

Today and every day, I'm thankful for peace amidst the chaos.
Philippians 4:6-7
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

In the Spirit of Learning and Thanksgiving - A Quiz!

Growing up in school we all learned about the pilgrims wearing their cute little belt-buckle shoes and the scantily-clad "Indians" sitting down together for a meal in November 1621 in frigid Massachusetts.  As adults, most of us know that picture is not entirely accurate.  I thought it would be fun (because I'm a big nerd) to create a little quiz to see how many of us know the facts about that first Thanksgiving and the traditions that have followed.

Disclaimer (because honestly, there has to be one on every blog post):  I should warn you that this is for entertainment purposes only.  There are no prizes and, of course, you always have Google at your disposal should you feel inclined to "cheat."  (....or you can just scroll down to the bottom where the answers are.)

The Questions:
1.  What's the difference between a Separatist (which is what the pilgrims were) and a Puritan?

2.  The pilgrims were not aiming for Cape Cod.  What was their desired destination? 

3.  How many passengers made the voyage aboard the Mayflower in 1620?   How many survived the first winter? 

4.  Wait a second...how did Samoset and Squanto know English at all?

5.  We use turkey as the hallmark of a Thanksgiving feast, but can you name any other "proteins" that were likely on the pilgrim menu at the first feast? 

6.  Of all the foods we gorge ourselves with on Thanksgiving Day, it's likely that only three of them were actually on the table in Plymouth.  What were they?

7.  While they probably did eat pumpkin, there were no pies.  Why not?  (There are two acceptable answers)

8.  What are the top six states for raising turkeys (accounting for 2/3 of the 248 million raised in the U.S. each year)? 

9.  What are the top four pumpkin-growing states?  

10.  What are the top three sweet potato-growing states? 

11.  An influential journalist petitioned the president for 40 years to make Thanksgiving a national holiday and finally convinced Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1941.  What was her name?

12.  Not only do we owe this woman a dedicated day of thanks (and turkey and football), we also owe her the credit for which popular childrens nursery rhyme? 

13.  The first Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade (then called the Macy's Christmas Parade) was started by employees and featured animals from the Central Park Zoo in what year?  

14.  Since 1934, excepting the years from 1939-1944, which NFL football team has played a game every year on Thanksgiving Day with their first televised game showing in 1956?  

15.  Name the amino acid in turkey alleged to make everyone sleepy after that big Thanksgiving meal.  

The Answers:
1.  The Separatists felt that the Church of England was corrupt and too closely resembled the Catholic Church from which they were originally reforming, so they left the church altogether.  Puritans felt the same way, but desired to reform the Church of England from within.

2.  The Virginia Company gave the pilgrims permission to establish a settlement, or “plantation,” on the East Coast between 38 and 41 degrees north latitude (roughly between the Chesapeake Bay and the mouth of the Hudson River).  Cape Cod is about 42 degrees north latitude.

3.  102 passengers began the voyage.  Only 53 survived through the first winter.

4.  Samoset learned from an earlier group of Englishmen to arrive in what is now Maine.  Squanto was a member of the Pawtuxet tribe who had been kidnapped by an English sea captain and sold into slavery before escaping to London and returning to his homeland on an exploratory expedition.  It was during his time in London, he learned English. The pilgrims called him a "special instrument sent from God," as he served as a liason between the pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe and facilitated discussion over the longest-lasting peace treaty in American history.

5. Swan, duck, lobster, shellfish, deer, and seal

6.  Turkey, stuffing, corn

7.  The pilgrims did not have an oven and their sugar supply was nearly depleted.

8.  Minnesota (#1 producer), North Carolina, Arkansas, Missouri, Virginia, and Indiana

9.  Illinois, California, Pennsylvania, and New York

10.   North Carolina, California, and Mississippi

11.  Sarah Josepha Hale - There is actually an excellent childrens book written about her called "Thanks, Sarah!" worth looking into if you like picture books with real history.  She was one determined lady.

12.  Mary had a Little Lamb

13.  1927

14.  Detroit Lions

15.  Tryptophan.  (That's the short answer.)  Fun fact:  Beef, chicken, pork, beans, and cheese also contain tryptophan.  So unless you get super sleepy after you eat all of these types of foods, it's likely that your Thanksgiving droopiness is due mostly to indulging on fats, carbohydrates, alcohol, and, well, just too much food altogether.

Now maybe you've learned something to help you in your annual game of Thanksgiving evening Trivial Pursuit.  What?  You don't play one of those?  Me neither.  I think we might start.  I love that game.


Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!

En Route to Boston

We left our hotel, again, in Auburn, Maine with the destination of Boston in mind.  We would make a lot of little stops that day along the coast, the first of which was Kennebunkport.  This, of course, was put on the map as the home of the Summer White House for George H.W. Bush.  It was more recently in the news (just days after we visited) due to a particular Zumba teacher sex scandal.  We were more interested in the summer home (duh).  Ben was most impressed by the secret service protection.  Sam and I were most amused by the Kennebunkport Romney/Ryan HQ which shared a building with a Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Shop.  Ironic much?  There's not much to do in this sleepy town, once you've driven by the Bush Compound, and so, we moved right along.

Next stop - York Beach, Maine. It was here that we would enjoy a lunch of Lobster Rolls in a seafood market where the locals talked politics and where we were treated to unsolicited homeschooling encouragement.  When you walk into a dining establishment in the middle of the day in October with four kids, people tend to notice you...even more than usual.  Maybe it was our lack of a Maine accent, or maybe it was obvious, given the fact that we were, in fact, there in the middle of the day in October, but one of the locals asked us if we were on some sort of Columbus Day holiday.  We told him we were on a homeschool field trip.  And he paused for a minute and said, "Oh!?  We love homeschoolers!"  It was completely unexpected and totally appreciated, especially after an unfounded funk I'd found myself in for the few days prior.

If you ever happen to be in York Beach looking for a lobster roll, we highly recommend the Shore Road Restaurant.  $8.99 lobster rolls that taste like pure butter?  Yes, please.  Sarah was most intrigued by the tanks of live lobsters inside.  Ben & Abby liked the gigantic acorns outside.  Kids...they're so weird.

Our other adventures in York Beach were a trip to The Goldenrod for some Kisses.  We got to watch saltwater taffy being made - the old-fashioned, but automated way. Here we are, holding our 1lb box of individually selected flavors.  Strawberry and blueberry were my favorites.  Sam liked peanut butter.

The beaches in Maine are not exactly like we're used to.  I mentioned in my last post that there were pine trees on the beach in Acadia National Park.  At York Beach, the entire coast was lined with rocks - no sand.  It was here we checked out the Cape Neddick Lighthouse.  It's an amazingly picturesque lighthouse.  As you stand on the shore looking across to the island that seems so close, you look down and see the waves crashing on the rocks and you realize it's much farther than it looks, especially by row boat, which is how the original lighthouse operators had to get over there.  Eventually, they constructed a cable with a hanging basket from shore to shore, similar to the sky trams you ride in at amusement parks, but it's not fit for human travel.  It's how they got provisions to and from the mainland.  I liked the story about how in a storm, the wife of the lighthouse operator sent her child over the crashing waves so he could go to school.  After that, the town prohibited operators from having school-aged children.  From the descriptions, the house on the island is very nice, but lacks indoor plumbing and did even through the last operator living there in the 1970's.  The light is now automated, which sparked significant controversy in this little coastal town.  It's funny the things people get worked up about.

That was our last stop in Maine.  We headed south on I-95 and stopped in Portsmouth, New Hampshire at a living history museum called Strawbery Banke.  It was, essentially, Colonial Williamsburg without the crowds and with even more hands-on fun and personal attention from the play-actors. 

We got to play various victorian games - like croquet (No, Abby!  Don't throw that ball!)

This "thingie where you use sticks to throw and catch a ring" (I think that's the official name)

And the game where you roll a ring along the ground with a stick (Abby was hilariously good at this, really).

I particularly loved this quote one the Victorian Games placard -

It so reminds me of my girls who lament when I mow over our dandelion-covered backyard.

In each of the buildings, there was either a tour guide or an actor/actress ready to tell you a story and answer your questions.  They were all knowledgeable and helpful, but we enjoyed the home of a Ukranian Jewish woman set in the 1950's the best.  She was kind enough to let the kids try on some of the clothes upstairs and let each of them take a try on "her daughter's" pogo stick out in the road. 

Yeah...I have no idea what these girls are doing here...

We shut the place down with some hula-hooping and a potty-break, and we loaded up the van for our final destination of the day...Boston, Massachusetts.  We arrived at our hotel near dinner time, but since it was a Friday evening, we were less than enthused about finding a sit-down restaurant.  Since it had been at least two weeks since any of us had eaten at Chick-Fil-A, we opted for the food court at the Burlington Mall.  Sweet tea tastes even better when you've been without it for that long.  (True story.)

We would spend the next three nights and two days in the historic city of Boston.  But more on that next time...

25 Hours from Home

The fifth day of our New England adventure included the longest amount of driving- from Auburn to Bar Harbor, Maine, or, as the locals say it, "Bah Hahbah."  To break up the 3 hour drive, we made a stop at Mount Battie in the picturesque town of Camden.

All I could see from where I stood
Was three long mountains and a wood;
I turned and looked the other way,
And saw three islands in a bay.
~From "Renascence" by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Mount Battie is one of two summits on the entire eastern seaboard where the mountains meet the sea, both of which are in Maine.  We made the ride to the top as exciting as possible, shouting "oohhs and ahhs" with every twist, turn, and climb.  It was no different than driving on rural backroads, but we were determined to turn our mountainous ascent into an adventure.  We reached the top in about 2 minutes (a very easy, almost laughable drive by comparison to what Mount Washington would have been).  But...!  Though it was overcast, visibility was perfect.  The views were absolutely breathtaking. We took the opportunity to take a rare all-inclusive family photo.

The top of the summit used to be home to a hotel, which ultimately met its demise in a fire, and was replaced with a monument to WWI soldiers.  We climbed the tower with the kids, up the windy stone steps with a single iron handrail on one side and nothing but the possibility of a fall to your death on the other.  When we reached the top, I thought, "This would make a great picture!"  So I left Sam at the top with all of the kids, made my way back down and snapped a few photos.  Then I realized how brave Sam was to handle all of that up there.  My fear of heights and I would have not have cooperated, I don't think, should the tables have been turned.

There wasn't a whole lot else to do atop Mount Battie, so we got back in the car and headed for Bah Hahbah, stopping only for lunch and gas, before entering Acadia National Park, the first national park east of the Mississippi and home to the tallest mountains on the U.S. Atlantic coast.  The park is enormous, but we had all day to take in the sights.  Despite the clouds in the sky and the threat of rain, it turned out to be an awesome day.  The first place we stopped was Cadillac Mountain, the tallest peak on Mount Desert Island, the other of the two places on the coast where the mountains meet the sea.  We stopped at one of the overlooks on the way up.

Sam was really happy to be there.

The kids were too.  If there are rocks, they will climb them.  And jump on them.

And jump off of them.  I mean, really, who cares if they're on the edge of a mountain?

The views from the top of Cadillac Mountain were, once again, amazing. 

To quote Ben:  "God does make things a lot better than man can."

(I just like this one because instead of jumping off the edge of the mountain, Abby is taking a little jog alongside of it.)

After we descended Cadillac Mountain, we hiked to the Overlook.  With the rocks and sea spray, it reminded me a lot of La Jolla, California...only on the Atlantic Ocean and minus the seals and sea lions. Equally gorgeous, however.

Just before we left for the evening, and right before it started to rain on us, we stopped at Sand Beach at the northernmost tip of the island.  Nestled between banks of rocks, it was the icing on the cake for the day.  The girls got to dig in sand (perhaps their most favorite activity ever).  Ben got to wrestle with giant driftwood.  And Sam got to tease Ben by writing this in the sand:

Even if it didn't last long...

And even though we're from Georgia, which might as well be the pine tree capital of the world, it felt so strange to be on a beach lined with evergreen trees.  

And because we wanted to see how cold the Atlantic is in Maine in the fall compared to the Gulf of Mexico in the summer, we stuck our hands in.  Verdict?  Pretty much freezing.

With that, our adventures in Acadia National Park were over.  So we took off our shoes, dumped out three tons of sand, and drove a rainy three hours back to Auburn for Boneless Wings night at BWW by our hotel.  Because, we all know how important food is to at least one member of this family. 

The next day would take us to Kennebunkport, York Beach, and Portsmouth, New Hampshire en route to a three night stay in Boston as we worked our way back down the coast and back toward home.  It wasn't even halfway over yet...

Heading North (Still!)

Turns out, real time blogging would have been better.  Now that I'm home, life seems to get in the way of sitting down and typing trip memories for posterity.  I may be delayed, but I won't be deterred.  I just need to be more diligent so I can get on to the other things I want to write about as well.  It's a unique problem that I haven't had in a while - more to write about than I have time to write.  So long writer's block!

On the fourth day of our trip, we woke up as early as possible after a full day in Vermont the day before, knowing our adventures in the White Mountain National Forest of New Hampshire would make for a long adventure, and we so wanted to make it to Mt. Washington on the way to our next hotel stop in Maine that evening.

We loaded up the car and the first thing we noticed was that the sky was a dreary shade of gray.  The clouds were low.  It was foggy, drizzly, and the wind was whipping.  As we drove from Lebanon, New Hampshire to the southernmost part of Franconia Notch we were feeling slightly discouraged by the weather and hoping things would clear up as the day progressed.  A quick stop at the park headquarters and a chat with a park ranger later, and we were advised to skip Mount Washington altogether.  The reasons being that the visability that day was terrible, and that it was significantly out of our way from where we were starting to where we were going (Auburn, Maine).

We left, shrugged, and decided to stick to the original plan, which was to drive up Franconia Notch, a road that traverses the White Mountains, similar to the Middlebury Gap in Vermont that we drove the day prior, only this was an interstate with exits to the natural attractions.  We visited as many as we could -

The Basin - a natural "pothole" created by rushing water carving a hole into solid granite.  Our sights were even more spectacular than usual thanks to the deluge of rain the night before.  The amount of water rushing through was incredible.

Don't let the Angry Birds shirts distract you from the beauty that surrounded us.  (wink, wink)

Boise Rock - a huge boulder with a pretty cool history - In a nutshell, Thomas Boise took shelter under it in a blizzard in the 1800s after getting stranded and realizing he would not make it to his destination before nightfall.  He had the foresight to slaughter his horse, wrap himself in the skin, and when a search party came to find him the next morning, the found the carcass frozen solid around him - but he was alive!  Pretty amazing stuff!

The Aerial Tramway to the top of Cannon Mountain, from which visibility was practically zero, and we could see almost nothing, but hey, it was still cool, even if only to see the stunted pine trees at the tops.  We did the little rim hike around the top and it smelled like Christmas.  Man, I love some evergreen scents.  While we were on the tram, I had a fun conversation with the operator about winters.  She said last year they'd had the least amount of snow ever, which was terrible for skiing - especially after coming off the best winter they'd ever had (aka Snowmageddon 2011).  What was interesting is that when I asked, "Aren't you expecting a bad winter this year?" (the almanac predicts a harsh winter) she replied, "No.  We're expecting a good one."  I guess it's all about perspective.  Only on a mountain where people ski would 4 feet of snow be considered "good."

And, my personal favorite, Flume Gorge...

(Whether you believe it's millions of years old...or not...The Flume was by far my favorite stop, perhaps, on the whole trip.)

In layman's terms, it's a stories-high crevice, carved out by massive amounts of water.  My pictures can't possibly do it justice, but I truly believe it was made even more spectacular because of the amount of water passing through due to rain on the day we visited.  

I also love this picture because it shows how uninhibited our eldest daughter is.  "Slippery when wet?  Who cares?  I got this.  See you slowpokes later!"

It really felt like something straight out of the movie, Jurassic Park.
God bless these little kids.  They did some serious hiking that day.  And I didn't hear a single complaint.

We searched and searched for a moose on the entire trip.  We never did find one.  Good thing we got this picture.

We left Flume Gorge after a picnic/snack lunch in our van in the drizzling rain.  Like I said, the weather was less than optimal.

Did that stop us from driving to Mount Washington?  No.  We took the scenic route from Franconia Notch across Pinkham Notch via New Hampshire Route 16, argued to be the most beautiful road in the northeast.  I think "they" may be right.  The colors were brilliant.  The oranges, yellows, and reds on the trees made them look like they were positively afire.  What we didn't know is that this little route would take us through the shopping hub of Conway, New Hampshire, with no less than 10,000 stop lights.  Give or take.  We got to Mount Washington four minutes after they closed...at 4:34pm.  We asked the gatekeeper for a favor.  He denied it.  If we'd have gotten there three days prior, the gates would have been open until 5pm.  Alas, we didn't.  So we couldn't.  There's a little more detail about that particular story in this post.

So, on to Maine we traveled.  We got over the disappointment relatively quickly.  And all things considered, I think it was pretty awesome that we skipped not one item on the list of all possible things to do on the itinerary up to Mount Washington.  Sam is a rockstar at trip planning.  (Have I mentioned that once or twenty times yet?) We arrived in Auburn, Maine after dark that evening, and to our delight our hotel sat in between a TGIFridays, Buffalo Wild Wings, and I-don't-even-remember-what-other restaurants.  It was so nice to be back in the middle of things.  Turns out, I'm a metropolitan girl through-and-through when it comes to conveniences and dining out.  We ate at Friday's that evening, enjoyed a dip in the pool, and rested up for another full day ahead.

Seeing as how we returned from this trip a month ago, I bet you weren't expecting this post on this day after Election Day.  You see, homeschooling (for me at least) is not conducive to blogging.  I'm choosing to view this as a good thing, because it affords me the luxury of time to sit on my thoughts before I spew them out.  Believe me.  This is a good thing.  I'm not without passion.  Don't worry.  That won't happen.

Next up, the beautiful state of Maine!
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