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.

a soccer net in Patterson, NY

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.

a frog in the bucket

Sure are cute little guys.

another tree frog

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.

two trees fuzzed together, making it appear they are kissing

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) :

white berries

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.)

colorful feathers

This white slime mold was growing everywhere along the trail. Either that or a large bird with a bowel disorder had a hey day.

white slime mold

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.

a cicada

We ended our jaunt on the beach. The sun wore a veil of pinkish-grey smog from all the forest fires out west.

the smokey sun

The girls wading under such a strange sun made for an almost other-worldly feel.

Ella on the beach

An Anna and Mom selfie on planet Smokey Sky:

Anna and I

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.

Bubba in a blanket

Random comment from the farm: Nora is thrilled the barnyard cats now have kittens.

a kitten

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.

a milkweed flower

The sunflowers are always a treat, too. Good thing the resident birds plant them for us each year.

a sunflower

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:

Slide: of

Even the prairie grass was decked out in fine garb.

colorful grass

We are always amazed by the wide variety of fungi as well. This decomposer sports a bonus slug:

a mushroom with a slug on it

The latest fashion designers got nothing on this perfectly decked out mushroom.

a spotted mushroom

Even the trees know how to be get all glammed up.

fungi on a tree

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...

a raccoon

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.

a sunset

Meanwhile, out in New York, Caleb still gets to witness the sunsets an hour before us.

a New York sunset

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.

perfectly set tables at Bethel

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.

a sparrow peeking out of a birdhouse

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.

a tree full of sparrows

We were stopped by a deer on the way home, who was in no hurry to move aside and let our vehicle through.

a deer on the road

We need not have commented that Caleb missed out. He has his own woods to wander about in.

Caleb peering through a hole in a tree

A favorite destination is the top of a nearby "mountain."

Caleb on the mountaintop

Why? It's a great spot to bird watch, of course.

a bird of prey soaring about the treetops

Caleb doing what comes naturally to him: birding.

Caleb looking through binoculars

He appreciates the New York fungi fashion as well.

a New York mushroom

And yes, he still takes tree climbing selfies, just to make his mother wince.

Caleb in a tree

His frog photos are easier on the ol' ticker.

a frog

The closer we got to the date of his visit, the happier he seemed.

Caleb at Bethel

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.

Caleb with Caleb of the video fame

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.

Nit-Wit relaxing against a window screen

Our last woodland romp of July featured the usual: Mushrooms both ordinary...

a mushroom

and extraordinary.

a dumbbell shaped mushroom

Many a frog was clamored after.

Ella and Anna watching frogs near a swampy pond

A brief molestation of the playground ensued.

Corbin at the playground

The grand finally: an ice cream cone stop on the way home.

the girls with ice cream cones

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.

girls in swing

August brought with it the local county fair. The girls got all glammed up at the clown booth. Here's Ella:

Ella with face painted face and a balloon animal

Yes, actually, she is as dangerous as she looks.

close up of her tiger face paint


Anna's clown make-over results

Yep... a bunny. But then if you know Anna, you aren't surprised in the least.

Anna as a rabbit

Rosa's results:

Rosa with a painted face

A dainty butterfly:

Rosa as a butterfly

and Nora's outcome:

Nora's face painted

Yes, her little sis copied her cat-loving look.

Nora as a pink cat

A final group shot:

the four girls

The next day we returned for the Lego Competition. Ice cream and milk shakes with Grandpa... a fair (and delicious) tradition.

the kids with Grandpa

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.

Ella and Nora with some horses

The kiddos had a blast at the Lego competition again this year. Anna made Lilo and Stitch, of the Disney movie fame:

Anna with her creation

Rosa placed second in her crowded age category with her Tree-House Treasure build.

Rosa with her Lego creation

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!

Nora with her build

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.

Corbin chilling on a bench

Don't worry... he never lets it get to his head.

Corbin with a balloon in front of 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.

Nora with her fair winnings

Rosa only entered two of her artworks, and they both placed.

Rosa with her artwork

Some of my photographs were recognized as well.

Shannon with her photos

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.

a New York sunset

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.

another shot of the setting sun

Random tidbit, Bethel addition: Caleb and a friend scoped out the the new world headquarters under construction at Warwick from across the lake.

the Warwick construction

Soon he was on his way back to Minnesota.

view out the airplane window

The bustling east coast faded away...

view of the city from the sky

replaced by the Midwest's vast farmland.

vast farmland

After a heart stopping almost-didn't-make-it transfer in Chicago he found himself soaring over his final destination: Rochester, Minnesota.

aerial view of Rochester

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...)

the airports arrival board

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.

Caleb in our van

We found our way to a small zoo to stretch our legs and have a picnic brunch.

the gang eating brunch

Ella wouldn't let Caleb out of her sight. All weekend she begged from him to hold her and sit next to her.

Ella holding Caleb's hand

My heart beat with joy seeing all the kids together again.

the seven kids

The zoo was a lot of fun, and the perfect size meander through. Rosa loved the wolves and foxes.

Rosa at the wolf cage

Caleb was impressed by the many raptors, from the adorable...

a snowy owl

to the creepy...

an owl

The birds seemed to be watching us just as much.

another owl

The great horned owl was the most comedic, rotating his head every which way.

a great horned owl

The often sighted turkey vulture... regal and creepy all rolled into one.

a turkey vulture

Another common bird in our area: the red tail hawk.

a red tail hawk

This one's a rough-legged hawk.

a rough-legged hawk

The bald eagle decided to chrip away at Alex, it's haunting cries echoing throughout.

a bald eagle

My favorite at this zoo was the badger.

a badger

While no real rabbits were present, Anna managed to find a friend in the kids activity room.

Anna with a stuffed rabbit

After some bumming we watched a matinee showing of The Minion Movie.

the gang in their seats

While the movie was enjoyable, human theaters have nothing on the (really) big ultra HD screen.

a rainbow

The next morning was day one of our three day convention. The girls were up and ready to go bright and early.

the girls ready to go

Ella was thrilled to spot another goose statue.

Caleb and Ella with the goose statue

The real geese are more fun to chase, of course.

Ella and Anna going after some geese

Lunchtime was... um... interesting for Caleb. Ella wouldn't leave his lap.

Corbin with Caleb and Ella on Caleb's lap

It was wonderful to all sit together for the program.

the 3 boys in their seats

The boys has the privilege of helping distribute the new releases each day. Here's Caleb and Corbin:

Corbin and Caleb holding up a new release

and Alex:

Alex with a new release

On the walk back to our hotel Ella spotted another goose.

Ella and Anna with goose statue number 3

The rest of us were more impressed with the hot air balloon drifting over the skyscrapers.

a hot air balloon

The girls brought some bread the next day to feed the many ducks.

the kids feeding the ducks

Sure was a lot of the little quackers.

lots of mallard ducks

A majestic heron kept it's distance, though.

the heron

Our morning routine: reading the morning paper while waiting for the doors to open. The kids stuck to the funnies, naturally.

the kids reading the paper and waiting

Ella really hit the jackpot on the walk back this day: not one...

a goose statue

or two...

another goose statue

but three more goose statue sightings.

yep, we're up to 6 goose statues now

That evening the boys held a pizza party while us girls ate out on our room's deck.

the girls having a snack

All too soon it was the last day already. We feed the Mallards one last time:

feeding the ducks again

The heron was replaced by a cute little shore bird who scampered along the shore.

a dainty shore bird

During our lunch-break wanderings Ella spotted one last goose.

Ella wand Anna with goose number 7

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)

a meter that looks like a face

By the third day of Ella climbing all over him, I think Caleb was ready to go back to Bethel.

the kids on a bench, with Ella climbing on Caleb

Seeing her reaction to getting the van washed sealed that hunch.

Ella freaking out

We all visited the hotel's pool room that evening. Was it worth it? Two words: Hot Tub. Ahhh...

the hot tub

I soaked my anxieties away while the kids played.

the kids in the water

The girls were thrilled it was only three feet deep the whole length of the pool.

all the kids in the pool again

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.

most of the gang in the small hot tub

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.

the kids eating their doughnuts in the van

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.

Anna with a fast food headband

Ella was smitten by the turtles inside.

Ella at the turtle's tank

I got to admit, they were pretty cool.

two turtles

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.

the 3 boys and Ella

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.

touch-me-not flower

Everything seemed so new and special to the kids. A noticed spider was a show stopper for a bit.

a spider

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.

Alex on the branch

Anna and I took our usual selfie:

Anna and I

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.

Corbin on the rock

The ravine ended at the creek, complete with small waterfalls.

Alex and Caleb at the creek

One last group shot:

all seven kids on a rock

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.

a turtle

I didn't have a problem (looking like I was) staying calm, anyway. Why are invasive weeds so beautiful?

vetch flower

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...

saying goodbye at the airport

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.

the runway

One last look at his native soil...

Rochester out the plane window

The windy city by night:

out the plane window at 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.

Caleb drinking coffee

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:

Caleb at the 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.

the gang eating at a picnic table

After the usual s'more-a-thon...

Anna roasting a marshmallow

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:

an uprooted tree

and many more snapped right apart:

snapped trees

It's a good thing forests are self healing.

a mushroom

On an amusing note, the powers-that-be decided to install random benches along the trails, complete with a turf of grass.

one of the new benches in the middle of the woods

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.

a giant NO sign

(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:

a stick figure walking a dog

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.

crabby Rosa

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.

the sunset

We'll end our day's escapades with glamour girl Ella on our trip home:

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