Summer break so far

The moment we finished our last day at the homeschool co-op where the boys attend and I teach, my brain slipped into something more comfortable. It shrunk and turned on its back, like a cat stretched out on a warm patio. Done and done.

One might think this means I’ve spent the last two weeks with my feet up, but that’s not been the case. Freelance writing has kept me busy, along with a couple of photo sessions and deep cleaning parts of the house that have been neglected since the holidays.

It won’t be a slow summer, but it will be less busy to a degree. Jeremy is working more, plus he’ll have three soccer camps and a sleep-away church camp to enjoy in June. Jackson has a sports camp and, on account of Jeremy’s outside work, will pick up more chores at home. (We are currently on a waiting list for equine therapy for him. Fingers crossed they call soon!) My non-teaching workload has increased, and Chuck continues to knock it out of the park at work, too.

So that we aren’t all business and no play, we took the boys to the mountains over the weekend to play in the river and also enjoy the sweetest teacher gift I’ve received yet – four passes to ride The Wheel at the Island. I couldn’t believe such a generous gift came my way! (Thanks, girls!)

The view was beautiful from above!

We eventually made our way to the river, where the banks were lush green.

The water was mountain-level cold, which the boys were shocked to discover. They did more wading than swimming, but we still enjoyed the brief retreat anyway.

In other news, we went strawberry picking for the first time ever, and it was with a goal in mind: to recreate the homemade strawberry jelly Chuck’s parents used to make.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a recipe to pull from, so I followed the directions on the back of the Sure-Jell box and crossed my fingers that it would resemble the homemade jelly we remember.

It tastes nearly the same, though it’s not quite as thick as I’d prefer. Still, it’s HANDS DOWN better than anything store-bought. I’d never eat a spoonful of store-bought jam or jelly, but that isn’t the case with this stuff. Come visit and I’ll hand you a spoon.

I’m darn proud.

Finally, here is Salem napping and setting a good example for all of us.

The Nascar Speedpark

On Monday we drove to the Nascar Speedpark in Pigeon Forge and paid an obscene amount of money for the boys to drive race cars until dark. They loved it, and I was particularly glad that Jackson was able to drive a few tracks by himself.

Jackson rode alongside Chuck on a faster track…

…which meant going a lot faster than he would’ve on his own.

Midday we took a quick detour to Gatlinburg so Jacob could get a few donuts at the Donut Friar, his mother’s favorite sweet spot in town. She is in Real Germany this week, so we went to Faux Germany for about 20 minutes.

If you recall, Gatlinburg suffered a massive loss after forest fires spread through the area in November 2016. It looked like most of the surrounding ranges were touched by fire, but I was encouraged to see bright green spots of growth from this spring.

After a quick walk in Gatlinburg, we went back to the Nascar Speedpark for round two of racing and stayed until 11 p.m. Right away Chuck and Jacob drove on the one track that requires a driver’s license. So glad these two get to pal around together.

Mom and Chuck left about an hour before the boys and I did, so I made sure it was documented that Mom and I were there!

We had a great time, and every boy was exhausted the morning after. Today we’ll head to the river to play, and still on the list is canoeing and Splash Country. They keep me young!

Pre-Christmas Fun

Desperate to find Christmas spirit (whatever that actually means), we fled to Pigeon Forge last night to enjoy the holiday lights. That was my original goal. Since neighborhoods don’t collectively provide outdoor illumination displays the way they used to (we are guilty of this), driving longer distances to see Christmas lights is necessary, and Pigeon Forge knows how to do it.

We drove up and down the strip, then parked at The Island so we could walk around a bit and find dinner.

The lights and fountain were lovely, exactly what I wanted to see.

Though we had no intention of shopping, Jackson discovered the Build-a-Bear shop almost immediately and began his lengthy speech about how he’s always wanted a Build-a-Bear (true), how Jeremy has one and he doesn’t (true), and how happy he’d be to help pay for it with his own money (sure!).

Meet Joshua:

We also picked up a new shirt for Two, Jeremy’s monkey, who used to have a more prominent role in Jeremy’s life. Here they are on a plane together in 2010:

Anyway, we’re happy to welcome Joshua into the family, and Jackson is very excited to introduce Joshua to Jelly, Owen’s faithful bear who is well-traveled.

Dinner happened at Dick’s Last Resort, a highly inappropriate restaurant if you don’t have a sense of humor. I won’t share all the photos from dinner but rather confess that what I needed more than Christmas lights was a lot of laughter. Mission accomplished.

My heart feels lighter after last night’s excursion, so it was the right call to go (thanks, babe!).

After uploading photos I realized I still had some images that I didn’t share from our brief trip through Chicago earlier in the month, particularly from the morning we spent at the Naperville Christmas Market. (Jacob was at a swim meet and unable to go with us! Boo!)

While there, Jeremy learned that freshly made marshmallows (dipped in chocolate) are WAY BETTER than store-bought.

I miss these people all the time. So thankful we had an extra few days with them…