Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Best Gift

It was unanimous…the family’s favorite gift this year came as a hand-me-down T-shirt on Christmas day to Cienna from Cousin Katie…


Cienna will be getting lots of use out of this shirt over the next 6 months as we await the arrival of Baby #6…due around July 10.

At 13 weeks, I’m feeling the usual pregnancy fatigue and mild nausea, but the kids keep me going every day. We can’t wait to see who is coming next. This new baby is already very loved and will receive lots of tender hugs, kisses, and care!

Merry Christmas to all Family and Friends!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Memories 2010

We drove to Arizona for Christmas and for Brent’s youngest brother’s wedding to be on Dec. 28.

The drive took 26.5 hours. And because Brent is such a marathon driver, we drove straight threw in our trusty (but very mocked by siblings) 1995 Toyota Previa, which upon arriving in Mesa, has officially been driven by our family from Coast to Coast (in random order: San Jose to Provo; Provo to Mesa; Mesa to Chicago; and Chicago to NYC).  Dec 2010 084And I, who normally struggle with more than an hour of monotonous freeway driving, was determined to make my husband proud this trip by taking the wheel for the critical 2-6 a.m. shift of driving through Oklahoma. The kids slept a great deal and listened to music/ebooks. And we only had one incident of car-sickness with Allison…poor Brent…that was the only other time I was driving.

Due to our big trip, we celebrated Christmas early in IL. We gathered the family on my grandmother’s 89th birthday for a dual party. She’s an amazing lady whom Kenny says looks only 70 and acts only 20 because she still cooks great meals and drives all over the place (but he probably meant she acts more like 50 because I don’t know too many 20-year-olds who cook great meals…Brent and I were eating mac-n-cheese and the really disgusting microwave burritos under our college budget and my 20-year-old cooking). Dec 2010 051 The girls received doll furniture and beautiful dresses with matching doll dresses (dresses from Grandma and Grandpa), Kenny wanted an electric tooth-brush and an mp3 player, and Diggy was most excited about getting a wooden model ship to build.

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Kirsti, Kirsten (the doll), Allison, and Cienna. The other two girls have non-American Girl dolls that fit very nicely into matching dresses, too, but just aren’t pictured.

My personal favorite part of the gift exchange is watching the kids pick out (primarily from dollar sections), buy with their own money, wrap, try not to tell, give hints, usually tell, and then still anticipate with full excitement the opening of each other’s gifts. A few highlights include: Kirsti picked out Hello Kitty socks for Allison; Diggy bought Kenny a compass for drawing; Cienna helped wrap up some doll shoes for Kirsti and Allison; and Diggy knew about the 12” Christmas tree from Kirsti for his pet giraffe, Gerry, early enough to go out and buy a few mini ornaments for himself in prep for decorating it immediately after the grand opening.

Dec  22010 003Gerry and his Christmas Tree 

We also dug out the chimes again this Christmas. With another year of musical experience under our belts, practices went more smoothly than ever. “Angels We Have Heard on High” was the song of choice as we rehearsed for our first public debut at the Ward Christmas party. Cienna helped Dad hit his notes, and Allison knew right when her low “Ri-Ah” notes fit in on the chorus, which turned into a big crowd pleaser. We’re planning to rehash it for the Extended-Family Nativity tonight.

Kirsti was in elf in the 1st grade Christmas show called “Santa Goes Green.” We had the pleasure of hearing clever lyrics all season long  about powering the sleigh with windmills, how to detect a green house effect, and recycling grandma’s fruitcake. Dec 2010 058

The kids took turns exhibiting the persistence of  Sam-I-Am in order to convince Cienna that a visit from Santa Clause is a good thing. They talked excitedly about how he comes at night…with reindeer…on Christmas Eve…and comes down our chimney…when everyone’s asleep…and brings us presents!  And because she’s not familiar enough with presents to accept them as a reasonable reward for having a stranger creep into her comfort zone, with every new detail, Cienna insisted, “I not like Santa. I not like Santa.” I even saw her swallow hard when she saw Santa’s picture on a magazine. The Santa debate when on for days until Allison said, “He brings us prinkles!” (which interpreted means Pringles—equivalent to the Christmas Orange at the Smith house).  And thinking she heard ‘sprinkles’ (which I’m not sure she really likes that much, but it was at least something she recognized), Cienna finally began chanting, “I like Santa! I like Santa!”

She ultimately decided that as long as Mom was holding her and she didn’t actually have to see him, the benefits of Santa coming (especially to Nana’a house instead of her house) should outweigh the costs.   His visit is now much-anticipated tonight…even though the kids know he can’t bring anything that doesn’t fit in their backpacks for the trip home. And I have to say, because of Santa’s down-sized visit, much excitement (but definitely not all)has been shifted to giving away all the home-made gifts they’ve made for extended relatives this year.

Dec 2010 030   Cienna adding her hand to an apron.

We have LOVED returning to Arizona for the first time in 3 1/2 years. We left a White Christmas, but have hardly had time to mourn because we’ve been outside every day playing in short sleeves and flip flops. And being around Brent’s ENTIRE family is such a treat!!

Merry Christmas to all and to all a Good Night!Papa pictures Dec 2010 086Ken, Allison, Brent, Kirsti, Amy, Cienna, and Diggy

Stay tuned ‘til tomorrow for what I think will be the whole family’s favorite present this year…

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Teaching Moments

I awoke suddenly at 3:30 a.m. the other night (which isn’t unusual with young children around), and I heard a low voice talking somewhere in the house (which was unusual enough that I rapidly became more alert).

And after surveying the room with ears perked, I realized Brent’s spot next to me was empty, and the floor space on the other side of me was occupied by someone who must have had a bad dream…and had come searching for a “safe” place to sleep. (I can still remember the comfort of retreating to my parents’ bedroom floor when I was a kid because I had dreamed that ants were crawling on me or that a tornado was right outside my window…)

I listened to the low voice in the other room for a few minutes…and also heard a soft child’s voice sharing the dialogue.

Then I smiled.

For several minutes I couldn’t pin-point which child Brent was off comforting in the middle of the night. I could only hear bits and pieces of bad-dream-discussions and empathy and advice on various subjects and more empathy.

And when Brent didn’t return, I realized he’d happily taken the vacant bed of the child on our floor, giving company to the now lonely child in the other room, who also happened to be plagued with a bad cold, and thus was up most of the night.

At one point I heard the low voice say, “That’s why it’s so important to be honest…then people can trust you. I’m glad you’re honest.”

I learned in the morning that the conversation had lasted nearly 30 minutes.

My heart felt warm and fuzzy inside…when our child was lonely or afraid in the middle of the night and came searching for comfort, my amazing husband, the father of my children, didn’t send the child away comfortless (or to my side of the bed). Instead, my husband lost sleep… And gained a powerful, peaceful bonding moment….which so often turns into a teaching moment.

My children know from many experiences that they will get a loving response from their father—even in the middle of the night. I think that’s why they are so quick to listen to him and work alongside him during the day. He inspires them with his love.

And as we sacrifice on behalf of our children in attempt to provide simple teaching moments 24/7, we’re learning that our children are really giving us many opportunities to learn the truth to this scripture taught by Christ: Matthew 16:25

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Halloween Happenings

Oct 2010 097 Oct 2010 103

Oct 2010 119

For kids who are frequently spotted (indoors and outdoors) dressed up in random costumes throughout the year, Halloween is just another day to pretend (with bonuses like pumpkin carving and candy). Deciding which costume to wear became a down-to-the-wire decision…and even changed based on various parties/events we attended. (I don’t even have pictures of all of them.)

Ken (I keep forgetting to call him Ken, but when he reads these, he reminds me): Had planned on being a football player for several weeks, but just a few days before parties started, he followed his heart and rehashed his favorite character, whom he plays so well, English accent and all. (He was a football player for a trunk-or-treat we attended Sat. night.)

Halloween 2010 005

This is Ken in the school costume parade. As part-timers, the kids still get to enjoy perks like school parties. We live near such a GREAT public school!

Diggy: Last year when the whole family dressed as Harry Potter characters, Diggy was quoted saying with a deep sigh, “I can’t believe Kenny is going to be into something else next year.” He was relenting the thought of having to change side-kick roles…what could be better than being Ron?! BUT, this year, Diggy decided to be a ninja long before Ken started re-reading HP again a couple of weeks ago. And despite major pressure to be Ron in Hogwarts robes, Diggy also followed his heart and was Ron dressed in a Ninja suit.

Halloween 2010 007

Kirsten: Had a cheer-leading costume ready when Ken was planning his football costume. And happily unleashed her Hermoine garb last-minute when she was needed as someone else. She dressed as an angel for the trunk-or-treat…very fitting.

Allison: Was a witch a few weeks ago until she discovered the Unicorn costume at the bottom of the box. She loved wearing this bright pink costume and was so excited to go trick-or-treating (during family council, the kids had voted against going out on Sunday, the 31st, but we still went to local businesses Friday night and to a city near my parents’ house named Zion (also very fitting), who held their trick-or-treating on Saturday afternoon) …but Allison was sick with a fever the whole weekend. : (

Halloween 2010 013

This is just before the fever started.

Cienna: For someone who is genuinely frightened by most costumes (she clung to me while we watched the kids’ school parade and kept repeating, “I not yike the wolf” for several hours afterwards), Cienna wanted nothing to do with dressing up (smart girl). She could choose from a ladybug, a bumblebee, Cheer Bear, a puppy dog, or her Hedwig suit from last year. But they all looked to much like, well, costumes…so “Nope” was the repeated answer. (And I wasn’t going to force her into a costume, because her memory is WAY too good for that…perhaps I’ll share examples another time.) Finally, in desperation as we were getting ready to go out, I grabbed a pretty church dress and wand…and she said, “YES! I’m a princess!” And she was adorable.

Halloween 2010 009

And finally…You Know You Are Home-schooled IF---

Oct 2010 016

Your Halloween decorations double as anatomy visual aids.

I love having family, fun, and education all wrapped up together…and the kids love it, too.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Passing of the Bow

After watching out the window (or waiting while perched on the front steps) for the “package truck” to come for DAAAAYS…he finally came!!! And he was greeted by children who spotted him around the corner and ran out to snatch the odd-shaped package from his hands while he was also delivering something to Harry’s house across the street.

The package was ripped open…

Oct 2010 043 This is what happened to the box.

And once the 1/4 size violin was carefully unwrapped, Kirsten officially passed her 1/8 size violin (with bow included) on to Allison.

Kirsten’s pre-school now includes violin lessons. (And did I mention we get FREE pre-school here at the Smith house??!!)Oct 2010 046

The first lesson went well…

Oct 2010 051

…Not forgetting the all-important “Bow-to-the-Teacher” at the end…Allison is a wise student.

And we now have a quartet! (Diggy has inherited Ken’s smaller cello and prefers/enjoys exploring his new instrument informally. Kirsten and Ken have been taking formal lessons for about a year….and love it!) It’s quite entertaining to listen to them “practice” together. Oct 2010 039

And Cienna anxiously waits for someone’s bow to get officially passed on to her…whose bow will she get??Sept 2010 006 Oct 2010 042

Friday, October 8, 2010

Colonel Krusteaz

I wish I could remember who gave us these two bowls as wedding gifts so many years ago…I would like to thank them both.

Oct 2010 062

They are both nice bowls intended for use in making pancakes or waffles. One even contains the name brand of pancakes the manufacturer suggests we buy…how convenient.

But we didn’t need two pancake bowls…so one bowl sat unused for the first several years of our marriage. I’m glad we were poor college students back then and not yet in the mode of getting rid of things we didn’t use. We saved the unused bowl, having faith that we’d find a good use for it…someday.

And once we had children, it didn’t take very many vomiting episodes (especially the night-time ones) to realize that we needed the perfect bowl…a big bowl because throw-up tends to spray all over…but a short bowl that can fit under our bed for quick and easy access in the middle of the night…plus a plastic, non-breakable, lightweight bowl for ease in transportation…and one with a pouring spout, so transfer to the toilet is smooth and effortless.

Which bowl would you use??

For us, Colonel Krusteaz (doesn’t the name sound fitting?) has served our family’s vomiting needs for 9 years and has thus been nick-named The Throw-up Bowl. (Occasionally, we have to bring in a back-up bowl (but NOT the other pancake bowl, because once throw-up has been in it, we simply can’t use it for anything else) to help out when multiple children have the stomach flu at the same time…but surprisingly, The Throw-up Bowl handles most jobs alone. It does have to work long hours, because for example, we’ve had the stomach flu pass through twice in the last 2 months…that’s about 250 hours of on-call time (the boys and I narrowly escaped this most recent episode).)Oct 2010 019

While our children may not have fond memories of this beloved bowl, Brent and I will always treasure it as a fellow front-line trooper in the defense against virus and bacteria invaders. Colonel Krusteaz has aided us in winning many battles (and when he’s MIA, it’s NOT a pretty sight!). 

Brad Pitt once told Oprah about how parenting has changed him…(and I’m paraphrasing): I’m now a man of steel. I used to cringe whenever I saw or smelled pee-pee or poo-poo or snot or throw-up. But after having (and taking care-of) children, I can handle anything!

I agree with this statement. Nurturing my children (with natural bodily functions and all) has made me stronger, too. 

Kudos to all the parents out there who are also busy fighting battles day and night. The sacrifice is never in vain.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Our Cups Are Full

When a major spill occurs at nearly every meal (and often in between), it is hard to decide during typical daily life if our cups are half-full or half-empty. But after General Conference weekend (first weekend in Oct. and April), we don’t have to worry about that decision…our cups are all FULL.

Perhaps our cups filled up again because for the last 6 years, we have had the tradition of “pitching our tents” on Friday night as a fun introduction to listening to inspiring leaders during Conference Weekend. Tents are magical for kids…When I was playing in the tent with Allison Saturday morning, she kept saying, “Let’s stay in here forever!” And she really meant it.

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General Conference Oct 2010 006

Or perhaps we’re overflowing because we opened up the hide-a-bed and crowded around the TV together and watched a whole 8 hours of inspirational speakers in one weekend (which is about how many hours the TV is normally on for an entire month at our house). Brent and I soaked up as many words as we could hear (over the arguments of “She’s in my spot!”/ “He touched me!”). Here are two talks that especially filled me up…about using time wisely and caring for children.

Or maybe we’re full because the kids enjoyed searching for Auntie Karen in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. (She’s not really in the choir, but a few years ago one of the kids thought for sure he spotted her, so yet another Conference tradition was born. Now we’ve expanded the search…we found Papa, Aunt Debbie, our Bishop, and Kirsti’s first grade teacher this year. And Grandma was playing the organ in the last session!) It’s quite entertaining to hear Cienna’s enthusiastic, believing voice proclaim, “There’s Auntie Karen!” repeated at least 100 hundred times.

The General Conference activity packet that we printed Saturday morning filled some cups, too…especially the younger cups. Their young minds were engaged in doing word searches, playing bingo and coloring the ties of the speakers they saw on TV as they listened to church leaders speak about very grown-up topics. (Kenny, however, proclaimed quite early on, “I don’t think I’ll need this next time…Because I just like listening.” And he did listen…to all four 2-hr sessions. And FYI: he also wants to be called “Ken” now.)

General Conference Oct 2010 028

Allison predicted that everyone would be wearing orange or blue ties within the first five minutes of the first session.

General Conference Oct 2010 030

Diggy’s favorite is the Bingo game. He doesn’t let any key words slip by undetected. In fact, he finished in record time this Conference, thus freeing his mind all day Sunday to think of more creative ways to enjoy listening…as a Nephite (more on this later).

I think cups were filled when Brent pretended to be the Big Bad Wolf blowing the house down as he was putting the tent away Saturday afternoon. The little pigs happily squealed inside (except for Cienna who chose to stay away from the Big Bad Wolf, so her cup wouldn’t run dry).

General Conference Oct 2010 043 Do you see the hand sticking out of there? Proof that the Four Little Pigs didn’t make it to the House Made of Bricks before the Big Bad Wolf blew their flimsy house down this time.

Perhaps we’re full now because we made cinnamon rolls on Saturday night and enjoyed them alongside the family-favorite Orange Julius treat on Sunday morning.

General Conference Oct 2010 050We can pretend to get exhausted toiling in the kitchen together, but the flour on our faces actually filled us up some more. General Conference Oct 2010 056 General Conference Oct 2010 057 General Conference Oct 2010 059

Some of the kids even filled their cups by making giant cushion thrones to sit on or by throwing arrows with suction cups at the TV (apparently pretending to be a Nephite aiming for Samuel the Lamanite…and purposely missing).

General Conference Oct 2010 069

Last week when we told the kids Conference Weekend was coming again, there was a unanimous shout for joy.

And regardless of how everyone in the family filled their cups up this weekend, one thing is certain: We had a great weekend together, and we’re ALL more ready to face the world this week because of it.

I LOVE listening to church leaders speak about inspiring topics, and particularly about faith in Christ. If I can teach anything to my children before they go out into the world some day, I hope I can teach them and show them that Christ is the only TRUE source of filling our cups.

I think tents, cinnamon rolls, and coloring pages at Conference-time will all have their place in connecting our children to Christ.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

A Happy Birthday for Cienna

We celebrated Cienna’s 2nd birthday a couple of days ago. As the fifth child, she is frequently showered with love on a daily basis…but she received extra-special attention on her birthday.

Allison gave Cienna her favorite doll. It’s a very well-used doll that Allison had received for her birthday not too long ago. The doll has pen marks all over her head and arms because apparently she felt left out when Allison and Cienna were drawing on themselves a few weeks ago. The excitement in wrapping this special gift up for Cienna was genuine. This doll is a true symbol of sisterly love…and may need to be given back to Allison come Christmas.

Kirsti made Cienna an elephant out of tape she had purchased with her own money not too long ago. She also gave away 25 cents and two pieces of her gum (Cienna passed the gum-chewing test recently and was very thrilled with Kirsti’s gift).

Diggy wrapped up his small Woody doll (which is another generous give-away considering he may ask Santa for the matching Bulls-eye horse in a few months). Later he made her a giraffe out of K-Nex and giraffe-looking fabric that, yes, he’d purchased with his own money a few weeks ago to make himself a pet giraffe.

Kenny, as a big brother of a much younger sister, couldn’t find any exciting give-aways in his stash (he’s already given away most of his “stuff” to younger siblings), so instead, he read books to Cienna, played “Happy Birthday” on his cello for her, made her cupcakes for the evening’s festivities, and sang a nice harmony to “Happy Birthday” just before she blew out her candles (which she did with great success, I might add).

Brent lingered longer at home that morning, enabling Cienna’s siblings enough time to convince her to let them open her presents for her before he left. AND he came home a bit early, enabling Cienna’s dream of riding bikes to the park to come true. Brent pulled her in the bike trailer, pushed her in a swing, walked her across a stream, and held her in his arms as only a father can do.

I awoke near Cienna and fed her that morning like I always do (yes…she is the only nursing two-year-old I’ve ever had). She loves being held on my lap. I carried Cienna around a lot and did all my chores with her like I always do. She loves being my partner. I prepared her favorite meal with black beans and avocados. The other kids were hoping for pizza, but that’s her second favorite. And I pondered and told Cienna how much I love her and how glad I am that she is part of our family…like I always do.

Life wouldn’t be the same without Cienna. She brings great joy to all of us. Our constant hope, but especially on her birthday, is to bring great joy to her, too!

Happy Birthday to a wonderful little girl!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

FREE Preschool!

For the past 4 weeks (with more consistency than my shower routine), Kirsten marches with Allison (and occasionally Cienna) down to the basement every day right after morning devotional to start Preschool. She has a colorful table set up next to a bookcase full of school supplies.  (After a few days of sensing her seriousness, and after she cleaned the toys off of the nearby shelves herself, I happily handed over most of the family puzzles, letter games, coloring books, crayons, etc. and assisted Miss Smith in organizing her new classroom shelves to her liking.)Sept 2010 180

And for at least an hour, I hear my daughters singing songs, reviewing letter sounds, counting, and playing games together. The other day I saw Miss Smith take her class outside for a field trip to collect leaves in the backyard. Then they sat on the trampoline with their clipboards and colored leaf books, giggled, jumped, played duck-duck-goose, and giggled some more.   Sept 2010 107Sept 2010 123Sept 2010 122

And at the end of every day of preschool, Allison marches back up the basement stairs, announces, “I’m home from pre-cool!” and shows me the sticker her teacher gave her that day (and sometimes a coloring page or two). And even though Cienna bounces between me (who plays teacher with the boys while all of this is going on) and the preschool festivities throughout the morning, she always manages to be in on the action when stickers are passed out.   

Twice I have received written progress reports on how my girls are doing. Miss Smith wrote, “Allison is a gud stoodent. Cienna is a gud stoodent too.” And the next day, “Allison and Cienna wer olsoe good in this dae too. I love hou thae liket the games.”

And during the formal sit-down parent/teacher conference with Miss Smith, I was informed that Allison knows all of her letters and sounds quite well…except for “y” and sometimes “w,” she’s learning to sound out 3-letter words, and she can count up to 100, but needs significant help after she gets past 13. Miss Smith is a little concerned about Allison’s occasional goofy behavior, which only improves if Miss Smith promises to play “The Betsy Game” (a pretend game that lasts another hour with Mother (Kirsti), Sister (Allison), Baby Betsy (doll), and Lacy (a toy dog)) after preschool is over.     

Miss Smith said Cienna knows some shapes and colors, loves to sing “Wheels on the Bus,” and can repeat any letter or number, but can’t count on her own yet…I should assist her in lengthening her attention span and encourage more consistent attendance if I want to see improvement in math.   

I’ve heard Kirsten say that she’d like to be a teacher some day. (I think she’ll have 12 years experience before going to college.)Sept 2010 181

I’ve heard Allison proudly tell many random people, “I go to Pre-cool, and Kirssi is my teacher.” Sept 2010 194

And, yes, Pajama Day comes around quite often at this school. 

I’ve seen Cienna perched in a chair at the colorful table vigorously coloring away, only glancing up to ensure she’s still accurately mimicking her fellow classmates. Sept 2010 195

And I’ve also heard Kirsten proclaim more than once and in a very serious tone, “Even though preschool is down in the basement where we play some of our other games, it’s not a game. It’s for REAL.”

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And it’s all FREE!!

It seems to be a winning educational experience for all parties involved. 

I’ve heard President Obama talk about the need for educational reform…I wonder if there are any other first-graders and preschoolers out there who would like to band together with Miss Smith and take this revolutionary preschool idea to Washington.

I would back them up.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

To the EAST and To the WEST

Hello again!

Though we've had a long drought in posting updates, please be assured that besides a rare summer stomach flu (which managed to hit all 7 of us and may have been related to the salmonilla outbreak a few weeks ago) we have NOT dropped off the face of the earth, but have instead enjoyed a summer full of swimming, playing, Six Flags Great America-ing, visiting with friends and relatives, and traveling nearly coast to coast (via mini-van without DVD player).

Here are the brief stats of our summer adventures...
Total miles driven: 5546.38 miles
Number of hours in the car: 87 hours, 48 minutes
Number of states visited: 17 States + Ontario, Canada
Total $$ in parking tickets issued (all in NYC): $200 ($90 was refuted by the accused)
Approx. $$ spent on tolls (all East of the Mississippi....hmmm): $60
Number of family and friends visited: We lost track...over 100

Number of hours spent in swim suits: 40 (except for Cienna who spent more like 1000 hours in her swim suit because it was one of the obsessions that come as part of the "Nearly-2-Virus")

Favorite new rides at GA this summer: Brent: Superman; Amy: Raging Bull; Kenny: Raging Bull, front row; Diggy: Giant Drop; Kirsti: The Whizzer; Allison: Dorothy's Rosie Teacups; Cienna: Yogi's Yahoo River (aka long as the song "Move it, Move It" was playing in the background)

And the pics...

To The EAST: In May, we explored several Eastern states en route to a fabulous LDS home-school conference in Virginia.

First Stop: Kirtland, Ohio. My little history buffs and I loved seeing and feeling the spirit of the early pioneers.

We LOVED Newel K. Whitney's store where Joseph and Emma Smith lived for a short time.

Second Stop: Niagra Falls, NY and (after walking across the connecting bridge) Canada.

Brent took the older kids on the Maid of the Mist.

Third Stop: The Sacred Grove in Palmyra, NY.

On a peaceful spring Sunday morning before church, we found beauty all around filled our insides, too.

Fourth Stop: NYC, NY.

Our stroll through Central Park with Kirsten's namesake (my BYU roommate, Kirsten) was quite a contrast from the Sacred Grove...but yet another place to observe millions of God's Creations. Kenny even left his watch in Central Park overnight and it was STILL THERE the next morning! (But we would've traded the $200 in parking tickets for a stolen watch any day...except for the fact that a happy 9-year-old is priceless.)

We visited the World Trade Center site and rode the ferry past the Statue of Liberty.

I wonder what the man going up the escalator is thinking...his expression is representative of the MANY looks we received upon arriving in the Big Apple...a big place with lots of LITTLE spaces, most of which a family of 7 with a BIG double stroller barely fit (like our hotel elevator where we had to fold the stroller up in order to close the door...and half the family had to wait for another elevator).

Whose children are running through the fountain in their clothes?? So many crazy things happen in NYC!

Fifth Stop: Wilmington, DE.

We rested. We played with second cousins. We ate ice cream. The girls played with doll houses. The boys caught a skunk. We all watched Adam carefully, and oh so bravely, release the skunk.

Kirsten and Olivia.

Sixth Stop: Washington, D.C.

By the time we made it to Washington, D.C. (which was the hottest day of the May trip), even the White House wasn't as exciting as the sprinklers that happened to come on as we were resting our sore feet and deciding which monumental attractions to skip because we just couldn't walk another site-seeing step. DC will have to be the first stop next time. :)

Seventh Stop: Buena Vista, Virginia

At the end of the East Coast Trip, we met Cody and Utahna Albright (who drove up to VA from Mississippi with their 3 kids) at the LDS home-school conference on the Southern Virginia Campus. Brent and Cody (childhood BFFs) played for 2 days with the 8 kids while Utahna and I attended classes all day and swapped notes into the night.
The men and the kids visited a drive-through safari, which seemed like a great opportunity for a family of animal lovers to get up-close and personal with a variety of beasts. But when the "wild" animals, who are conditioned to charge at every vehicle window in search of buckets full of food, started licking the windows, the great adventure turned into a living nightmare for the majority of the Smith kids. No wonder Cienna was VERY scared of Bugs Bunny at Great America a few weeks later.

After a 10-day trip and saying good-bye to dear friends...we drove straight home.

And to the WEST:

I have my mother to thank for the success of this trip. She accompanied me as the driver of the mini-van trek across I-80. Due to work constraints, Brent flew in for just a few days for his brother's wedding in Salt Lake City.

My Mom and I had a great time chatting, visiting several of her siblings along the way in Iowa and Colorado (who fed us and gave us warm beds to sleep in), listening to "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," feeding the kids suckers (the only reason Allison and Cienna were counting down until "The Long Car Ride"), examining liscense plates, and tolerating the kids' discovery that truck drivers enjoy honking at children who excitedly pump their arms up and down up against their windows.

A Utah trip also means we get to visit with my brother, Brian, and his wife Ashley. And the kids get to play with cousin Kylie!

Kylie has the perfect huge bean bags in her basement for playing "Belly Flops."

Brent's brother, Kevin (and new wife Brigette), got married on Aug. 3 in the Salt Lake City, UT Temple. It was a privilege to witness their true love and happiness. Congrats to the newlweds!

Kirsten admired Brigette's dress while Kenny and Diggy admired Kevin's taste in picking a beautiful bride.

Cienna and her Daddy outside the Salt Lake Temple

A Thousand Thanks to all who housed us and fed us!!