Goodbye chaos? I still need a tissue…

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I really, truly suck at goodbyes.  My stomach starts churning anxiously a few days before any dreaded farewell, and I frequently find myself sneaking off to the bathroom to blot tears from my eyes.

Yesterday we had to say goodbye to the girls.  It has been two great weeks, and their parents missed them desperately.  We all knew they needed to go home, but that didn’t make it any easier.

Damn I love those girls!

I hate how spread out our families are, but must admit that when we do get together it is quality.  We cram at least a year’s worth of memories into the week (or two!) that we carve out each year.

We made the absolute most of our Cousin Week bonus days.  We explored small town swimming pools, celebrated the 4th of July together, played games galore, and visited the Omaha Children’s Museum.

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Less is More

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Last week we kept crazy busy, rushing and running from one big event to the next.  First was the water park and lemonade stand.  Next came zoo day.  The Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha is unbelievable.  In addition to all of the outdoor exhibits, it has an aquarium, jungle, desert dome, aviary, butterfly pavilion, kingdom of the night, IMAX theatre, and Skyfari, where you ride in a chair lift over the giraffes, cougars, and rhinos.  I’m not a huge zoo person, but I must admit this place is worth a visit every time we venture back to the Midwest.

Adorable baby giraffe in background, adorable cousins in foreground!

Inside the desert dome

Making friends with a sea turtle

In the butterfly pavilion. This little guy loved Nola and stayed on her shirt the entire time we were inside!

Mom taking photos inside the butterfly pavilion.

Unfortunately, this fanged animal accompanied us to the zoo too.  SCARY (not to mention gross):

We were really hoping Sam’s tooth would fall out at the zoo.  Not only because it was beyond ready, but because it would have brought things full circle.  Last year when we all went to the zoo, Madi walked straight into the glass wall of an elevator and chipped her two front teeth.  It was awful, and I have never dreaded making a phone call more than when I had to call my brother that day.  The conversation started with, “Madi is okay, but…” The experience is all just a bad memory now; her teeth are all fixed and we made it through this year’s zoo excursion without any lost or broken teeth stories!

After zoo day, we planned an afternoon at the Fremont State Lakes.

The best part about lakes day?  Sam’s tooth finally fell out!!  Clark’s sister may have sort of “bumped” his face as they were frolicking, and luckily he caught the fang before it fell into the murky water.

Much better!

The next day we visited Clark’s sister.  Who else has a backyard with both a trampoline and a tortoise?

That afternoon we went bowling, and then I headed to Lincoln for a rehearsal dinner.  Sam stayed the night with Grandma Nola, while Mom took the rest of the crew out for “Girls Night Out.”  Shopping and dinner!

Saturday was the wedding of my high school friend Kim.  I was a bridesmaid, and with Clark still back in Alaska my mom volunteered to be my +1.  She brought the kids for me, while Kylie and Madi had a special Grandpa day.

Talk about a busy string of days!  On Sunday, for the first time all week, we had no plans.  It was time to sit.  And guess what?  I think it was the best day yet! The kids spent a lot of time in Grandpa’s pool.

Grandma even got in the pool!

Swimming is more fun when Grandpa throws you around!

The kids also invented a kids vs. grown ups Olympics.  I think it was their way of forcing us to play with them all day, and it worked!  They named themselves the Warriors of USA, and we dubbed ourselves the Goldie Oldies.  Events included tetherball, obstacle course, racing around the house, washers, a drawing contest, Wii bowling, spinning contests, rock throwing, basketball, Apples to Apples, and more.  It was hilarious, but we still have a few events to finish… so stay tuned!

It was such a fun day of playing, laughing, swimming, and relaxing.  Best of all, Tyson and Amy gave the girls permission to stay longer this year.  Yesterday we learned that they will be here for an extra week!  We are all ecstatic! This week we will strive for earlier bedtimes and a slower pace.  We don’t need to plan every last second.Less is more!

The no-lemons-but-only-lemonade-day!

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My brother and I grew up on a gravel road, several miles from the nearest highway or town.  But you bloom where you’re planted, right?  So one day we decided to give the lemonade stand thing a go.  We set up shop at the bottom of our driveway, and parked ourselves in the sweltering heat.  The traffic on our old country road averaged one car an hour, so I can’t imagine what we were thinking.  I can’t remember how long we sat there, how many cars kicked dust in our face as they zipped past us, or how much we charged for our little cups of lemonade.

What I do remember is the kindness of one woman and her teenage daughter.  Their car initially flew past our driveway, but a few seconds later we saw brake lights.  As we fanned the dust from our eyes we realized they were backing up.  We joyously wiped the dirty sweat from our foreheads as we watched the ladies stop their car and climb out.

Customers.  Our first!  We poured them their lemonade (who knows how horrid and hot it was by then) and they paid us a full dollar for the two glasses.  They refused to accept any change.  A DOLLAR!  We were overjoyed.  After they left, we closed our shop and screamed up the driveway with glee.

I wish I knew who those ladies were, so all these years later I could thank them for the five minutes they spent showing kindness to a couple of country kids.

I had forgotten this memory until “Cousin Week” two years ago, when I emerged from the shower to find the kids making giant vats of lemonade.  They had decided to have a lemonade stand contest, right here at Grandma and Grandpa’s.  It was Kylie and Sam vs. Madi and Maggie.  In addition to lemonade, Kylie and Sam recited Shel Silverstein poetry to all their customers.  They thought it gave their stand an edge.

Of course, their only customers were the family members who drove out here to visit us.  The kids still had fun, but this year we decided to step it up a notch and move the business into town. Grandma Nola lives on a great street with plenty of shade and traffic, and she was definitely game!

I tried to make it educational, price shopping for the products and calculating the profit margin.  Dad hooked us up with a donation of ice from the local liquor store, and we were set for business!

Most of our customers were Nola’s neighbors, family members, and the Great Grandmas.  The mail lady stopped for a few glasses, and so did a random lawn mowing service dude.

In the end the kid made a $13 profit.  They decided to combine their funds to buy a board game to keep at Grandma and Grandpa’s that they can play here every year.  It is called Headbanz, and it is hilarious!

Enjoying the lemonade stand profits... playing Headbanz in the driveway!

Here are the lemonade stand photo highlights from today:

Adorable entrepreneurs!

Off to get ice!


Waiting and waiting for customers...

Business was slow at first, so Kylie escaped to the tree with a good book!

Madi and Sam... if I had to guess, I'd say she is harassing him about that tooth!

Drinking the profits!

Getting ready to serve the mail lady...

Serving the Lawngevity guy. Catchy name for a mowing service!

After sitting all day at the lemonade stand, the kids were wired to play tonight!  On the drive home we had to stop and check out the pigs:

Once we got home, the kids were thrilled to see that Grandpa’s “kiddie pool” was all set up.  They had a blast, even though the water was freezingly fresh from the tap:

And then came the highlight of the kids’ day.  Not the lemonade stand or even the pool.  Nope.  Every year it is all about truck rides with Grandpa.  We can hear them squeal with joy as they cruise up and down the pasture, precariously bouncing in the greasy back of his Dodge Dakota.  You’d think we had  roller coaster in the bean field the way these kids howl!

What? No car seats?

Oftentimes less is more:  we should just hang out here all day!  After truck rides Grandma spotted a Praying Mantis, and Maggie was quite interested:

Once again the night ended too late… the kids were busy catching fireflies and had no interest in coming inside.  Eventually the promise of milkshakes lured them into the kitchen, and Hugo Cabret helped calm them for bed.

Which is good, because they need their rest. Another big day is planned for tomorrow!

The Very-Good-No-Worst Day

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We have this game we play at dinner called “Best & Worst,” where everyone at the table shares the best and worst events of their day.  Today, hardly anyone had a worst to share.  Maggie’s worst was scraping her knee when she fell off her scooter, and my worst was forgetting to take towels to the pool.  None of the other six people at the table could think of a bad thing that had happened to them all day.  Good stuff!

We are in the midst of our fourth annual “Cousin Week.”  Our family is sadly spread out:  we live in Anchorage, my brother’s crew lives in Missouri, and my folks and younger sister are still in Nebraska.  To compensate for the distance, we make a point of getting the kids together for a gigantic week-long sleepover at their grandparents’ house every summer.  Cousin Week!!

The kids love the tree in Nola's front yard!

Honestly, this week is a highlight of my year.  My brother’s girls are an absolute delight, and it gives me such joy to see the instant bond the kids have with each other.  Every year it takes about five minutes for them to reconnect.  They are family, and they know it.

I have many friends who regularly travel to exotic locations.  It sometimes makes me feel a bit unworldly, hearing about their adventures.  Part of me (a large part!) envies them, but I have yet to choose those trips over this week I get each year with my nieces.  Back to Nebraska.  Back to country roads and corn.  But, most importantly, back to family.

It takes about six hours to drive from my parents’ house to my brother’s, so we often meet halfway in Kansas City for a quick kid swap.  This year I decided to drive all the way to Jeff City to kidnap his girls.  It gave me a weekend with his family down there, which is rare since he works crazy hours at a car dealership and seldom has enough time off to come back to Nebraska these days.

The time in Jeff City was perfect.  We headed to a pool, grilled burgers and brats, sat around a fire pit, drank too many beers, told childhood stories, mentored our wayward younger sister, played board games, and fed some ducks.  No amusement parks this year – just some low key family time.

Maggie lost a tooth down there, while Sam earned the nickname “Fang.”  (His front tooth is still dangling, and he actually answers to “Fang” now.)

Maggie is down a tooth, but Sam still has the Fang...

So back to today’s very-good-no-worst-day.  It started with a pancake breakfast and unpacking.  From there the kids climbed a tree, ate lunch at Runza, bought supplies for tomorrow’s lemonade stand, and headed to the Splash Station Water Park.  Madi was finally tall enough to do the big slides, and she proudly conquered the Blue Slide everyone says is so terrifying.  About five times!

Sam might be scared of pulling his teeth, but he did do the lily pad things for the first time.  He was proud of his successful traverse, but did admit that he is not yet ready for American Ninja Warrior:

Maggie did them too, but my favorite pool picture of her past few days was actually down in Jefferson City.  She now jumps off a diving board all by herself!

After the pool fun, my parents cooked one of their amazing meals.  Dad grilled the chicken, Mom chopped the salad, and Grandma Quigley joined us for the evening.  That would be great-Grandma Quigley to all these kiddos:

The kids played tether ball, shot hoops, and started on a scavenger hunt my mom has spent hours putting together.  After dinner it was time to assemble the swimming pool.  Dad was supposed to pick up a “kiddie pool” from Menard’s today, but he went a little overboard:

The hose has been running for hours and there are only a few inches of water in the bottom of the pool.  We will leave it on all night and see what happens.  Stay tuned!

I told Dad I was jealous.  “Think how much fun we could have had with this growing up!” I declared.

“Well, you were just my kids,” he responded.  “This is for my grandkids.”  Well okay then!

The night ended with showers, milkshakes, and Maggie falling asleep during Chapter 1 of The Invention of Hugo Cabret (this year’s Cousin Week Read Aloud).

So yep, a pretty perfect day.  And the week has only just begun!