Our final day of camping started off with Josh Downs making pancakes.
And Courtney Lee doing some stretches before volunteering to help with breakfast.
And Annie trying to choke down all of her vitamins. (She's taking about 12 pills a day for all of her stomach problems, which I'll be sure to post about later.)
And then there was breakfast. (Check out all the mosquito bites on the girl's faces.)
Those bites get itchy.
And then everyone got their teeth brushed.
And hung out around camp.
And then we drove down to Redding for some In-N-Out burgers.
Check out that girl smiling for my camera in the background.
And then we mde our way to the lake.
As soon as we got there, two ladies (who were leaving) offered to give us their water guns and floaties. (When we left, we gifted them to someone else as well.)
Yep, both me and my camera got nailed with water right after taking that last shot.
After about 15 minutes in the sun, I made everyone put on sunblock.
It was the all-natural kind and much to Cole's dismay, that means it doesn't blend in very well. (He was telling Josh how unfair it was that he had to wear it becaues it made him look like a cream puff. Josh reassured him that he looked like a clown, not a cream puff.)
And then we headed back to camp.
Grabbed a snack.
Applied some more bug spray.
And then Josh took the kids back to the park amphitheater for a presentation on trains while I read and took a nap.
And then it was time for dinner. (Chicken, steak and veggie kabobs.)
That's Cole making a two-pronged marshmallow roasting stick.
Josh planned a surprise camping trip for us last weekend.
All I knew in advance was that I needed to pack for 85-degree daytime temperatures and 50-degree nighttime temperatures for three days.
And though there was a bit of chaos and crankiness as we picked up the kids after school and loaded the truck with a 3:30 p.m. departure on the agenda, we all said our apologies and had a smiles on our faces by the time we finally got on the freeway at 4:30 p.m.
A few hours into the drive (after all of the kids had taken a nap) Josh started doling out clues about our destination with the stipulation that all guesses had to be whispered in his ear.
I figured it out just a few minutes before we arrived based on the clue that it had four words in its name and four A's.
Coley guessed wrong.
Courtney Lee didn't have a guess at all (unless she was actaully serious when she shouted out "The Tigris!", "Afghanistan!", "England!", "New York!")
After a quick stop at the Ranger's Station, we set off to pick our campsite. (The ranger told us to pick three or four sites that we liked and then to come back to see if any of them were available. Our top pick was site #38, which just so happened to be available.)
And then we spent the next hour and a half or so setting up camp as the daylight decreased and the mosquito population increased.
I was too busy unloading the truck, getting things organized, spraying myself and my kiddos repeatedly with all-natural bug spray (which did not seem to deter these buggers), trying to mix myself a drink (My new, favorite concoction is Titos Vodka, fresh-squeezed juice from half a ruby-red grapefruit, some high-quality coconut water, and a slice of lemon with a coconut-sugar rimmed glass - just shake it with ice and strain it into a cup. Thanks Anna for the Titos recommendation!), finding all of the necessary ingredients for dinner, and trying to maintain my sanity amidst all the mosquitos swarming me - so I didn't take any photos.
Then, after we ate dinner and settled down around the campfire, the wind picked up enough to send the mosquitos packing, and we actually got to enjoy ourselves for a bit while Courtney Lee read aloud...
I looked at my photos folder in Lightroom the other day and noticed that I hadn't taken a single photo of my family so far this month (unless you count a couple of shots I took of Annie's pet rat, Deedle.)
But I picked up my camera again on Wednesday afternoon, and didn't want to put it down.
I photographed the photos I posted yesterday of Annie's vet clinic.
I photographed Cole working on the computer in my office.
I photographed Annie taking a bath.
I photographed Cole practicing his Romania speech.
(No photos of Courtney Lee - she's at her mom's, but she'll be home soon enough and I fully intend on pointing my camera at her too.)
And I'm totally ok with with taking long breaks from shooting because when I do pick my camera up again, I always feel like I'm looking at things with new eyes.
Hope your weekend is wonderful (and that you see everything with new eyes.)
On Sunday, I noticed a big ole' crusty, oozy sore about 1 1/2 inches in diameter on Annie's elbow. She said it had been there for a few days and that she had been having fun popping the 'bubbles' on it.
My mom immediately bet Yans a nickel that it was related to her new rat.
So first thing Monday morning, I called her pediatrician's office to see how quickly I could get her in to see whichever doctor had the soonest available opening.
The doctor said it was a fungal infection - possibly ringworm and possibly related to her new rat (I had no clue that ringworm was a fungus because it's name suggests it might be some sort of nasty, wormy parasite - but it's not.) and that Annie had picked at it so much that she had a secondary, staph infection on top of it.
It's contagious, but Annie's school said she could still attend as long as it was bandaged up and she wasn't itching it.
Around 11:00 today, I got a call from the school asking if I could come pick up Annie because she couldn't stop itching it.
So I brought home my little fungal-infection twerp and suggested that she spend the rest of the day setting up a veteranarian's office in her room to keep herself busy while I worked.
But somehow, I got tricked into being her one and only customer...
The visit required a lengthy check-in process (on my old laptop that quit working a few months back.)
And some lengthy questioning about the incoming patient's symptoms.
And a bunch of time spent watching the 'doctor' try to maintain control of her 'assistant.'
I brought in Blue Bear (Ross's very first stuffed animal) who had been complaining of stomach pain.
Which of course required a lengthy treatment plan.
Turns out it was a broken arm that cost fifty cents to have casted.
But the wait and the cost were well worth it because the patient care was impeccable.
I ran away with the intention of getting 450 miles worth of space between me and me and some of the problems back at home for a few days and with the hope of gaining some clarity and perspective.
I also ran way because I felt like I needed to not be needed by anyone for a few days.
And as much as I hate to admit it, I also ran away because I wanted my husband (who is regularly out of town) to remember how challenging it is to juggle work and all of the kids and their schedules on his own, like I do so often.
The icing on the cake was that I got to hang out in Seattle with my full-grown son (who wants nothing from me but a hug, and my opinions on life and music - though he's quite thankful when I offer to pick-up the lunch tab too) and my sister (who wants nothing from me but a companion while walking her dog, eating good food and watching T.V., even though she jokingly complains about the quality of my companionship with increasing frequency each day that she gets to enjoy my companionship.)
And the week away gave me more than enough time of not being needed by anyone and gave my husband enough time to say, "I'm good at sprinting, but this parenting gig is a marathon that takes both of us."
And I had so much fun with Ross and so much fun with my sister.
And because I made such good time on the drive home, I was excited, knowing that I was going to get to surprise Annie (who doesn't handle me being away from home all that well) by picking her up from my dad's house, while Josh rounded up the older kiddos (who handle me being away from home much better) from different grandparents houses. (Josh had Guard Duty, so he dispersed one child with each of the grandparents for the weekend.)
And I was excited because I knew I'd beat Josh home, which meant I'd have time to take a long, hot bath while talking to Annie about how her week went and time enough to get unpacked and settled back in before he got home with the other kiddos.
And just as I expected, Annie ran upstairs to greet Deedle (her pet rat) just as soon as I unlocked the front door.
What I didn't expect though was the screaming that proceeded Annie's discovery that she had not securely closed the door on Deedle's cage and that he was no where to be found.
I quickly consoled her and quieted her down and reminded her that if all of her attention was spent crying and worrying that she wouldn't have enough attention left to think about where he might be and to how to successfully find him.
I also told her that I'd help her for as long as it took to find him and that her dad and brother and sister would be home soon to join the search party too.
And then we began searching through closets and drawers and cupboards and under beds and in baskets and amongst toys, but the searching was hard because just about every room in the house was a disaster.
So as I searched, I found myself getting more and more frustrated - not because we couldn't find the rat, but because of the half eaten granola bars in Courtney's room (The kids know there's no eating in their rooms because we've had ant problems and rodent problems and those organic granola bars are expensive, so when you open one up, you're supposed to eat the whole thing.), and because I couldn't see an inch of the floor in Cole's room because it was covered in a sea of clothes (He's supposed to do his laundry every Tuesday, but no matter how many times he gets in trouble for it, all of this clothing, both clean and dirty ends up on the floor of his bedroom.), and because Annie must have had 14 dirty towels in her room (Each of the kids have their own towel color so they know which towels are theirs, yet she had her blue towels and Courtney's red ones and Cole's orange ones and just about every beach towel we own all wadded up on the floor in her bedroom, which is so ironic since I guarantee she didn't take more than one bath the entire week since she was on her daddy's watch.), and because Courtney's closet was a disaster (I spend over an hour helping her clean out and organize her closet the week before I left.), and because Annie had decided to make a feast for her stuffed animals out of flowers and weeds and grass, but for some reason none of that 'food' ended up in anyone's bellies or even in the trash for that matter and was strewn all over her bedroom instead.), and because of the mess of books all over Cole's room. (I had helped him organize every single book he owns by series just a few weeks earlier, yet it looked like a bomb went off in a library.), etcetera, etcetera, etcetera (ad neaseum.)
And when the rest of my family arrived, the 'Welcome Home!' greetings I had pictured in my head were all replaced by Annie's pleading for help in finding her rat. (Expectations and reality never really seem to match up, do they?)
Josh put on his headlamp and started lifting mattresses off of beds and pulling drawers away from the walls, I went from room to room helping each kid clean up (while biting my tongue to hold back my complaints and trying desperately to hold onto all of the insight and perspective I had gained over the last week) knowing that our odds of finding him would greatly increase in a clean house, and the older kids each took turns hugging Annie (in between cleaning their disasters/bedrooms) while sharing words of encouragement about finding Deedle (and then silently mouthing to me, "What if we don't find him?")
Three hours later, the house was cleaner than it had been in a long time (though much of the furniture was out of place) but Deedle was still missing.
I put Annie to bed that night as she cried and insisted that she couldn't fall asleep knowing that Deedle was alone and scared somewhere in the house.
And then I said goodnight to the bigger kids.
And then I asked Josh if he wanted to watch some T.V. (I'm stuck on Parenthood.) up in my office.
And then I went up to my office, turned on the computer (I've been watching it on Hulu.), turned off the light and sat down to wait for Josh (He said he had a few things to do before coming up.) and that's when I heard the sound of a rat scratching and scurrying around underneath my desk (even though I had searched every nook and cranny of my desk at least three times earlier that evening) and though the sound of a rat scratching and scurrying around underneath my desk would normally give me the heebie-jeebies, the sound of this particular rat scratching and scurrying around underneath my desk brought me great joy (and relief.)
So I stuck my hand underneath the desk and out popped Deedle (aka Ratfink.)
I immediately started hollering for Josh while running with Deedle into Annie's room to wake her up (Turns out she could fall asleep knowing that Deedle was alone and scared somewhere in the house.) and just relished in the moment (while simultaneously cringing) as Annie greeted Deedle with multiple kisses on his mouth.
And then the Down's Family lived happily ever after.
The last two weeks after coming home really haven't been all that much better than the week that caused me to seek refuge in another state.
And all that perspective I gained on the 900 mile round-trip has been hard to hold onto.
The truth about life (as you well know) is that you're always in one of three places...
Place #1: You're in the midst of a trial.
Place #2: You're just coming out of a trial.
Place #3: You're headed towards a trial.
Two things I was reminded of in the last few days though:
Reminder #1: Josh and I went on a date the other night. I had really been looking forward to it and had spent over an hour prettying myself up in anticipation for it and had starved myself all afternoon just because I knew it would make the coconut mojito and the salmon rangoons at my favorite restaurant in town taste even tastier.
As soon as we arrived, I asked Josh if he had called Cole (who was at my mom's) to 'un-ground' him. (I had grounded Cole from all technology for a week, but then I caught him looking at pictures of Pikachu when he had been entrusted to use his Dad's iPhone to look up political facts about Romania for a report that was due at school. That earned him an extra week without technology. And of course, I would never lift the grounding early myself because when I say something I want my kids to know that I mean it, but sometimes Josh and I like to let the other parent be the 'good guy' by suggesting that they lift the grounding or undo the punishment early. In this situation, I had requested that Josh be the 'good guy' and un-ground Cole two days early so he could watch T.V. at my mom's house.) So Josh called Cole only to find out that Cole was so mad about being grounded while at my mom's house that he had taken off, leaving my mom was in tears because she couldn't find him. (As you might remember, this has been a reoccurring problem.)
Instead of coming together to solve this problem though, Josh and I immediately went on the defense against each other. (This topic would take a long blog post of it's own, but suffice to say that Josh and I have had an amazing marriage thus far, yet on and off over the last year or so, it's felt really hard and we've been really disconnected - and I know we'll make a choice to come out of it stronger and that our relationship will be deeper and more genuine as a result, but it kind of sucks right now.)
So we finished our first drink, decided that neither one of us were hungry (even though I was starving), ended our conversation by agreeing that neither one of us knew how to go about fixing all that needed fixing in our marriage, went home and went to bed (in separate beds) without saying a word to each other. (Turns out Cole had just fallen asleep in my mom's car, but honestly, that's not what the argument was truly about anyhow - so that newfound knowledge certainly didn't bring about a treaty.)
The next morning, Josh and I had plans of clearing everything out of our storage unit (I'm so ready to OWN LESS and LIVE MORE.) so we hopped in his truck (without saying a word to each other) and headed to the dump to unload a bunch of junk.
And then Josh grabbed two pieces of wood and told me to turn around backwards (he turned around backwards too) so we could see who was able to throw the wood the furthest. And then we continued on just like that, with various throwing contests until the back of the trunk was empty.
And when we went to his work to load up a few tables (I need them for a garage sale) he put his arm around me and instead of holding onto my pride (like I had somehow managed to do, even amidst the wood throwing contest at the dump) I decided to let go of it (what a useless, yet destructive emotion pride is) and buried my nose into his chest.
And in that moment, I knew that 'fixing what needs to be fixed' just meant making a choice to move past it. That simple. We can choose to hold onto what feels fair and how 'right' we are (which by default, makes the other person in the relationship 'wrong'), and all of the ways in which we feel misunderstood and not valued OR we can hold onto our marriages, but we can't hold onto both.
Reminder #2: As I was going through some boxes from the storage unit, I found some old, required journaling pages Ross's 4th grade teacher had him write. He talked about being in trouble for not taking a bath, he talked about being grounded for this and that, he talked about hoping he'd get a trampoline for Christmas but how he knew he'd have to get one with a net around it because his aunt had told his mother too many horror stories about kids who were paralyzed for life after falling off of a trampoline, he talked about being sad that his dad wouldn't make time to see him, he talked about not having any friends since we had moved, etc, etc, etc.
I laughed when I read some of the things he had written, I felt nostalgic about things I had forgotten, and I got teary when I remembered some of the pain he had felt during that time.
But as I read them, I also realized that all of those things that felt frustrating and challenging and sometimes overwhelmingly painful at the time were now just memories and some of them were memories that were so insignificant (though they felt plenty significant at the time) that I had since forgotten about them. And then it hit me that today's problems are just that...TODAY'S problems. And that a month from now or a year from now (or heck, even a day from now) I won't even remember today's problems. So it's not really today's problems are the 'problem' - it's how I choose to cope with and handle today's problems that sometimes create the 'real problem.'
And with that newfound knowledge, the Downs's family lived happily every after.
This is just 'where I'm at' lately.
And sure, I could post pretty pictures and pretty words and pretend that I'm NOT here - but I AM here.
And though it feels messy and ugly, I think there's some beauty and some fruit in it.
I was reading the other day about how forest fires seem so destructive and so terrible, but how they're exactly what is required for new growth and a healthy forest.
Let me go back a bit though so all of this will make sense...
When Josh deployed to Afghanistan in 2011, we decided to do something special for each of the kids based on what was most important to them. That meant Courtney got signed up for an acting camp and got to perform in Oliver Twist, Cole got to sign up for Martial Arts, and Annie got a pup named Shindand. (He was named after the place Josh was supposed to deploy to - though he never ended up in Shindand.)
Animals have always been Annie's 'thing' so getting her a pup sounded like a good idea at the time (We made several well-intentioned, but inevitably wrong, emotional decisions before he deployed.) and for awhile, it was good.
What we hadn't planned for was how strong Shindand's herding instincts would be, and while those herding instincts were tolerable/semi-tolerable for all of the humans in our household, they were considered totally intolerable by our old, cranky retreiver/lab mix, Shelby.
When Shindand was little, it wasn't a huge problem because Shelby would just pummel him to the ground to show him who the alpha dog was anytime he got on her nerves. As he got older (and bigger) though, he started to fight back and that's when things went horribly awry.
Eventually, Josh and I decided the best solution was to find a new home for Shindand because he was a handome, expensive, papered pup, who was young and microchipped and x-rayed for dysplasia - a pup anyone would want him, in comparison with Shelby who is old and un-papered and doesn't like anyone other than the people in our family.
I didn't want to give him to just anyone though because I knew that while a lot of people would want him, most people wouldn't be able to meet his needs. (In addition to needing lots of physical exercise and stimulation, Shepherds also need a ton of intellectual exercise and stimulation because they are dogs that need a 'purpose' or else they can get kind of neurotic.) I also felt that Shindand needed an experienced trainer to help him socialize better with other dogs. (I hired a trainer who came out to our house, but that had limited success in improving his relationship with Shelby.)
So I never blogged about this because quite honestly, the topic hurt and I felt ashamed of it, but after a few months of deliberating, I drove Shindand three hours away to a German Shepherd rescue that extensively trains and socializes Shepherds before placing them into homes (homes that require applications and inspections) or into more intensive Search & Rescue training.
I walked him into the front door and immediately told the gal waiting for us that I had changed my mind and proceeded back out the door and to my car with Shindand. Then we sat in the car while I cried for about 20-minutes before finally deciding to take him back in.
I felt like an irresponsible pet-owner, but even more, I really loved this slightly-neurotic dog and felt like I had failed him. It was hard on Annie too, but I think the hardest thing for her was that I refused to talk about it. Shindand had kind of become my dog though because his size and his personality was overwhelming for Annie, so she still preferred Shelby, who was smaller and calmer and didn't constantly herd and mouth her.
I called a few times during the next few weeks to see how he was adjusting and they said he was doing well, but then I quit calling because sometimes I like to stick my head in the sand because its less painful that way.
And since then, I've considered other pets for Annie because I really feel like she's a girl who needs a pet of her own, but our experience with Shindand has made me shy away from getting another dog (even a small one), my husband destest cats and I really didn't want something that smelled, but lacked intellect (like a gerbil or a hamster.)
I took Annie to lunch about four weeks back though and as we were leaving, we spotted a dead baby mouse in the lobby. I walked back into the restaurant to let the manager know about it (because I assumed that dead mice in the lobby might be bad for business) and when I came back, Annie was sitting on the floor alongside the carcass petting it and sobbing.
So I texted my husband and asked him what he thought about me pulling Annie out of school for the rest of the day and taking her to the pet store to get some sort of mouse or rat or gerbil or something.
In the moment, I didn't even care what kind of a pet it was - just something she could love on and call her own.
Josh agreed, and Annie's mouth dropped wide-open when we pulled into the parking lot of PetSmart.
And then we stood peeking into each and every cage while waiting for the PetSmart small-animal expert so we could ask some questions.
(Annie has developed a new habit of incessantly twisting her earrings, so just about every shot of her in the last month includes at least one of her hands up next to her ear.)
Within seconds of the PetSmart gal arriving to answer our questions, she looked at me and said, "If the idea of it doesn't gross you out too badly, you need to get her a rat."
She went on to say how smart and how social rats are and how other small pets like mice and guinie pigs just aren't.
She also went on to say that she thought Dumbo Rats to be particularly smart and particularly social.
They had one Dumbo Rat in stock and Yans was immediately smitten...
Ross and I were supposed to go kayaking on Friday, but we didn't.
He works from 4:30 p.m. until 3:00 a.m. and has been dealing with some insomnia problems (much like his mama) and that means he texted me at 1:00 to ask if I'd be ok with meeting up later than planned so he could get a few more hours of sleep.
So I drove over to West Seattle to pick him up from his place around 3:00.
I was out of gas, so that was our first stop.
And then we spent a few minuts trying to figure out where the DMV was. (We were planning on going to a movie theater that served alcohol the next day, so he needed a new I.D. since he had lost his wallet recently.)
And then we hung out at the DMV for a bit.
And then we walked along Alkai Beach until it started raining.
And then we checked out some shops on California Street. (Ross had already misplaced his new I.D. and was looking for it.)
Looking at house prices.
Looking for piano books.
Looking at vinyl.
And waiting for a table at the Matador.
I was so young when I had him and I made so many mistakes, so quite honestly, I have no clue how I got lucky enough to have a 22 year-old son that shows me so much respect and care, that values my opinion even when he disagrees with it, and that is so enjoyable to hang out it with - so I'm just chalking it up as a blessing.