July brought even more changes in our family, namely I am now gainfully employed outside the home. I managed to find a job that disrupts our way of life as little as possible while providing the needed income to keep us afloat.
The kids have really stepped up to the plate and helped out with the running of the household. Even Caleb out in New York was willing to adapt to fluctuating call-us times. I think we are succeeding in viewing it as a safety net that assists us to reach our goals instead of a trapper's net catching us as prey. Sometimes one's point of view makes all the difference.
We kicked off July with a walk in our woods, naturally. The little ones were thrilled to see little tree frogs everywhere. After Ella, um, loved one a bit too hard, we agreed to let one of her older sisters put some in a bucket for her to watch for a bit before letting them hop on their way again.
Sure are cute little guys.
It was a weird weather day. The air was thick and humid. The denseness seemed to quiet everything, even our footsteps. One lone bird dared to cut the silence with an occasional muffled chirp.
We've officially been hiking these woods enough to have nicknamed many of the trees. Besides the oft photographed "Jaws," with it's gaping hole the girls love posing in, there's "The Naked Bunch" (a group of trees that have dropped all their bark onto the ground), "Best Friends" (two massive treed fused together over their years of growth), "In Love" ( a tree with a heart shaped hole), and "Boob Tree," a tree that could use a, um, bra.
This duo is called "The Kissing Trees" by the girls.
Most of the flowers of spring were now fruit. We nibbled on raspberries and blackberries, and found amusement in these "eyeball" berries (real name: baneberry) :
Anna, Ella, and I decided to check out the fox den. Several more bones and a couple skulls were found. Clumps of feathers along the fox's trodden down trail caught my eye. All that colorful plumage must have made for an easy target for our fox. (My unexpert opinion thinks they belonged to a male pheasant.)
This white slime mold was growing everywhere along the trail. Either that or a large bird with a bowel disorder had a hey day.
Anna wasn't about to step on any, just in case. Her careful watching of the dirt path yielded a find: a cicada just emerging from underground.
We ended our jaunt on the beach. The sun wore a veil of pinkish-grey smog from all the forest fires out west.
The girls wading under such a strange sun made for an almost other-worldly feel.
An Anna and Mom selfie on planet Smokey Sky:
The sky sported this grey-brown color for several more days before reverting back to its usual blue.
Random comment from the home front: Bubba is still adorable.
Random comment from the farm: Nora is thrilled the barnyard cats now have kittens.
My gardens have been really neglected this year, which is a nice way of saying I am growing a bunch of weeds. Some milkweed made an appearance among our sunflowers, which we gladly left for the struggling Monarch Butterfly population around here. As a bonus, their flowers are actually pretty pleasant to look at, and give off a soft lilac-like fragrance.
The sunflowers are always a treat, too. Good thing the resident birds plant them for us each year.
The late summer wildflowers of our woods, while less plentiful than the spring bounty, still beacon me over for a closer look. Each one is a sight to behold. Here is a slideshow of some of the the July and August fauna:
Even the prairie grass was decked out in fine garb.
We are always amazed by the wide variety of fungi as well. This decomposer sports a bonus slug:
The latest fashion designers got nothing on this perfectly decked out mushroom.
Even the trees know how to be get all glammed up.
Several of our late July jaunts entailed being surrounded in legions of blue damselflies.
One memorable woodland wander had us watching a couple of young raccoons skittering about their tree-land home. One picture just isn't enough...
So here's a little slideshow of some of our favorite shots:
One youngster was very wary of us, but the other climbed about, even sticking it's head out of their hollow-treed home just inches from Anna's giddy face.
The often smokey air made for some rather dramatic sunsets.
Meanwhile, out in New York, Caleb still gets to witness the sunsets an hour before us.
As he settled into life away from the family, the mother in me noticed his selfies seemed to take on a certain sadness.
He assured me all was fine, but he also often mentioned his desire to come home for our convention in August. Once we arranged the details, and his wish became a sure thing, he seemed to perk up a bit.
He really does love his work out at Bethel, and has no plans to leave. He just wanted to see us all in the flesh once again. He has made many friends out there, including many of his fellow waiters. Here is a shot he took of just some of the tables he has to set up and clear.
Now that I work many evenings, our walks in the woods have become even more treasured. One pleasant trip included watching numerous swallows and their young take wing.
They congregated in a barren tree overlooking a pond. Many a comment was made that we wished our bird-loving Caleb could witness the vast flock.
We were stopped by a deer on the way home, who was in no hurry to move aside and let our vehicle through.
We need not have commented that Caleb missed out. He has his own woods to wander about in.
A favorite destination is the top of a nearby "mountain."
Why? It's a great spot to bird watch, of course.
Caleb doing what comes naturally to him: birding.
He appreciates the New York fungi fashion as well.
And yes, he still takes tree climbing selfies, just to make his mother wince.
His frog photos are easier on the ol' ticker.
The closer we got to the date of his visit, the happier he seemed.
We also have the goal of going out to see him someday. His younger sisters really want to see where the Become Jehovah's Friend videos are made.
Random pet cameo part 2: Nit-Wit is still a... well... Nit-Wit. Nothing but a screen there between you and a two story plummet, buddy.
Our last woodland romp of July featured the usual: Mushrooms both ordinary...
Many a frog was clamored after.
A brief molestation of the playground ensued.
The grand finally: an ice cream cone stop on the way home.
A great thing about summer is the lack of school obligations and longer daylight hours. We have really enjoyed visiting many of our dear friends round about.
August brought with it the local county fair. The girls got all glammed up at the clown booth. Here's Ella:
Yes, actually, she is as dangerous as she looks.
Yep... a bunny. But then if you know Anna, you aren't surprised in the least.
A dainty butterfly:
and Nora's outcome:
Yes, her little sis copied her cat-loving look.
A final group shot:
The next day we returned for the Lego Competition. Ice cream and milk shakes with Grandpa... a fair (and delicious) tradition.
Nora just cannot pass up an empty chalkboard or white board without leaving her trademark slogan...
The poor barnyard animals never knew what hit them.
The kiddos had a blast at the Lego competition again this year. Anna made Lilo and Stitch, of the Disney movie fame:
Rosa placed second in her crowded age category with her Tree-House Treasure build.
Nora's crowded age group had a lot of really cool builds. The judges had a tie for first place, so they scrutinized the top two... and Nora's Lego dragons came in first!
Corbin's teen group only had three entries. We joked at least he'd place... and place he did: Top honors went to his Ferris Wheel!
Corbin is one cool dude.
Don't worry... he never lets it get to his head.
All in all, we did pretty good at the fair. Nora is into dragons, so her artwork all had a common (and winning) theme.
Rosa only entered two of her artworks, and they both placed.
Some of my photographs were recognized as well.
While we spent the weekend at the fair, Caleb finished packing for his journey back to see us. As he watched another New York sunset, I wonder if he thought about having to do another journey into the clouds. We all hoped this flight would go smoothly.
As it was, his flight left early Thursday, and he could only get a ride to the airport on Wednesday evening. (Read Caleb gets to spend a sleepless night in a New Jersey airport.) No worries, I assured him we'd let him sleep once we picked him up at the airport if he needed it. Good thing sunsets are so relaxing.
Random tidbit, Bethel addition: Caleb and a friend scoped out the the new world headquarters under construction at Warwick from across the lake.
Soon he was on his way back to Minnesota.
The bustling east coast faded away...
replaced by the Midwest's vast farmland.
After a heart stopping almost-didn't-make-it transfer in Chicago he found himself soaring over his final destination: Rochester, Minnesota.
At that very moment we arrived (After a numerous-hours drive) at the small airport. The girls were excited to spot one of the many geese statues that populate the city.
Hey, look! He's here! I excitedly told the kids. (While vowing I wasn't going to cry this time...)
It was a surreal moment. Ella ran right past the security guard to give Caleb a big hug. We were elated to be together again. Caleb looked tired, but happy.
We found our way to a small zoo to stretch our legs and have a picnic brunch.
Ella wouldn't let Caleb out of her sight. All weekend she begged from him to hold her and sit next to her.
My heart beat with joy seeing all the kids together again.
The zoo was a lot of fun, and the perfect size meander through. Rosa loved the wolves and foxes.
Caleb was impressed by the many raptors, from the adorable...
to the creepy...
The birds seemed to be watching us just as much.
The great horned owl was the most comedic, rotating his head every which way.
The often sighted turkey vulture... regal and creepy all rolled into one.
Another common bird in our area: the red tail hawk.
This one's a rough-legged hawk.
The bald eagle decided to chrip away at Alex, it's haunting cries echoing throughout.
My favorite at this zoo was the badger.
While no real rabbits were present, Anna managed to find a friend in the kids activity room.
After some bumming we watched a matinee showing of The Minion Movie.
While the movie was enjoyable, human theaters have nothing on the (really) big ultra HD screen.
The next morning was day one of our three day convention. The girls were up and ready to go bright and early.
Ella was thrilled to spot another goose statue.
The real geese are more fun to chase, of course.
Lunchtime was... um... interesting for Caleb. Ella wouldn't leave his lap.
It was wonderful to all sit together for the program.
The boys has the privilege of helping distribute the new releases each day. Here's Caleb and Corbin:
On the walk back to our hotel Ella spotted another goose.
The rest of us were more impressed with the hot air balloon drifting over the skyscrapers.
The girls brought some bread the next day to feed the many ducks.
Sure was a lot of the little quackers.
A majestic heron kept it's distance, though.
Our morning routine: reading the morning paper while waiting for the doors to open. The kids stuck to the funnies, naturally.
Ella really hit the jackpot on the walk back this day: not one...
but three more goose statue sightings.
That evening the boys held a pizza party while us girls ate out on our room's deck.
All too soon it was the last day already. We feed the Mallards one last time:
The heron was replaced by a cute little shore bird who scampered along the shore.
During our lunch-break wanderings Ella spotted one last goose.
I didn't mind the walk over to see it. The meters along the way amused me. (Just to prove I still see faces... even froggy ones)
By the third day of Ella climbing all over him, I think Caleb was ready to go back to Bethel.
Seeing her reaction to getting the van washed sealed that hunch.
We all visited the hotel's pool room that evening. Was it worth it? Two words: Hot Tub. Ahhh...
I soaked my anxieties away while the kids played.
The girls were thrilled it was only three feet deep the whole length of the pool.
Ella never left the stairs, though.
All too soon they figured out where I was at, though. So much for a relaxing hot tub experience.
The next day we would be seeing Caleb off once again.
All too soon that Monday morning arrived. We loaded up the van and headed out. We just had to stop at a local doughnut shop for a second breakfast.
We grabbed lunch to go and headed to Quarry Hill Nature Center and Park. It was the perfect spot for a picnic, and the kids' lunches even provided fancy head wear for the occasion.
Ella was smitten by the turtles inside.
I got to admit, they were pretty cool.
The park's trails were awesome. We could have explored all day, but we were within hours of needed to deliver Caleb to the airport. I tried to get some nice shots of the three boys in, which Ella photobombed.
We all took in the wondrous wildlife, not wanting to face the reality of having to go our separate ways so soon. Yellow touch-me-not flowers smiled at us as we traveled along the trails.
Everything seemed so new and special to the kids. A noticed spider was a show stopper for a bit.
Alex decided to get in touch with his inner spider, and we all egged him on as he crossed the creek via a wobbly branch.
Anna and I took our usual selfie:
Right before we were going to turn back and head out we came across a ravine full of boulders just demanding to be clamored over. Corbin found one that rocked back and forth, satisfying the daredevil inside of him.
The ravine ended at the creek, complete with small waterfalls.
One last group shot:
And we slowly headed back towards the van. Ella fussed horribly, knowing Caleb would soon be leaving her once again. Even the others got crabby, and soon bickering and wining commenced. What's a mother to do? I chose to ignore. Goldenrod? Now isn't that lovely?
Even a planking turtle couldn't get Ella's mind off the inevitable.
I didn't have a problem (looking like I was) staying calm, anyway. Why are invasive weeds so beautiful?
Wait, were did time go? How did we get to the airport so soon? I'm not going to loose it... I'm going to smile... it will be all right...
About an hour into our drive home Caleb called. His flight was delayed a couple hours due to bad weather in Chicago. Bummer. A bit after that he called again. His flight was cancelled until the next morning, so he'd have to spend another night in an airport. Serious? Turns out, the small airport closes for the night, so they placed him on a cargo plane to Chicago, where he had to spend the night. Poor lad. Soon he was on his way.
One last look at his native soil...
The windy city by night:
I jokingly told him from now on he'll have to bring a sleeping bag whenever he travels by plane. At least he found a way to stay somewhat alert until his early morning flight back to New York.
Turns out, the fun wasn't over for him. There was no one available to pick him up, so he had to take the subway as close as he could to Patterson, and then catch a cab home. Here he is at a train station:
We all got pretty worried when his updates stopped. I had visions of him falling onto the subways rails or being mugged. Finally he answered his phone. He had been so utterly tired that he had fallen asleep in the middle of unpacking his bags.
We all had a good laugh over his adventures. Despite the hardships, we all agreed it had been worth it to all be together for a little while once again.
A couple days later we drove out to our woods once again. Caleb's adventures were the talk of the picnic.
After the usual s'more-a-thon...
we wandered into the woods. It soon became apparent that not all was as it should be. Several storms had rocked the region while we were away, and this time our beloved forest suffered some blows. There were several uprooted trees:
and many more snapped right apart:
It's a good thing forests are self healing.
On an amusing note, the powers-that-be decided to install random benches along the trails, complete with a turf of grass.
Nora and Rosa struck out on their own; hiking the prairie under the wide blue sky. They found a newly installed sign that must have amused Nora as much as the random turf and benches amused me.
(In our family, "no" is a rather silly word. Why are there no signs that ever say "yes"?)
So no what? Why, this, of course:
Nora was laughing so hard it was rather hard to understand her, but her interpretation of the above sign is "no walking your dog when you are naked except for a baseball cap."
Rosa, however, was less amused. Something tells me she was annoyed at her sister's inability to pull herself together.
We all gathered together and watched the sun sink below the horizon once again, reminding each other that Caleb was safe and sound, and back right where he should be.
We'll end our day's escapades with glamour girl Ella on our trip home: