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Preview: Jen and Derrick: Just Life

Team Teal

"Yes. Wait a minute... no." Our life in a nutshell.

Updated: 2016-10-24T06:04:27.394-04:00



Russ has had a busy two weeks at school. The local fire department came for their annual visit, and the kids clearly enjoyed climbing around in the firetruck and checking out the equipment. Apparently, his teacher also volunteered to put on all the gear and was shocked by how heavy it all was. Here's Russell playing dress-up with his friend Max. Meanwhile, Graham's class took their fall trip to the school nature center. They explored a variety of nuts and seeds. And they got to taste vegetables from the nature center garden. Graham's favorite was the radish! Derrick then accompanied Russell and his class on their fall trip to the school farm. Russell thought the goats were pretty funny. And he even got to milk one! The kids love their field trips, and though we've said it once, we'll say it again: we are so fortunate to have a farm and a nature center right inside the district!  [...]


Russ is all about styling his hair ... wild style! And of course Bear Bear had to be in the picture. Russ said he forgot to smile, though.


What does fall mean in Michigan? Apple picking! We had a pretty perfect day for it, too. We headed out to Erwin's Orchards right after Russ's gymnastics class and were done by the time the lunch crowds were rolling in.  The apple crop is not great this year, so we only had Golden Delicious or Jonagold apples to choose from, but we still managed to pick half a bushel (about 45 apples).  This was the first year that Russ could climb the trees by himself, and he really got up there! Graham was able to use his reach to get the apples from the very, very top of some of the trees! After apple picking, the boys enjoyed some time in the bounce houses set up near the orchards, and Graham tried the human version of Hungry, Hungry Hippos. Now it's time for apple pies and apple sauce! [...]


The boys decided they wanted to do some artwork today. Russell covered every square inch of his paper with paint and ended up with a very colorful painting. Graham painted a vase with flowers.


Graham after his Fun Run today at school


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This is Russ last week on National Pirate Day at school (yes, that's actually a thing). Russell has also started gymnastics, and he is loving it. Here he is on the parallel bars. And here he is trying to get himself into a perfectly straight plank against the wall. On Saturday, we were invited over to our friend Kasia and Lech's house. Their daughter, Magda, and Russ were in preschool together last year, and we hit it off with their family right away. By the end of the evening, the kids had reached silly level 100! And the dads were looking very dapper indeed. [...]


A couple of action shots from Graham's soccer game last week


We never understand why so many people say that the boys look "exactly alike." We think they actually don't look that similar. But then, when Jen picked them up from school yesterday, we realized the problem... keep in mind that they both dress themselves!

And they're even both carrying a little Star Wars notebook!


First Day of School They were so excited to go to school that they left almost half an hour early! 4-year-old preschool 2nd grade   Graham and Benjamin are in the same class. He was pretty excited! And we know these two trouble makers! [...]


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What better way to end a summer than with family?! We spent a short but wonderful weekend in Pittsburgh with Pops and Ama and all Jen's siblings with their families.  Here's Avery, Graham, Lauren, and Andy playing with a ball ramp. Here are the boys (Russ, Graham, Jack, and Andy) playing a hodge podge game of dinosaurs and trucks. Here's Avery being tickled by Erik. This is Ama bravely organizing painting crafts for Graham, Russ, and Andy. Emma had a hilarious and very sweet obsession with Avery. We figured maybe she thought Avery was like a live baby doll. Emma was very gentle with her! We went to North Park on Saturday for a picnic lunch, playing on the playgrounds, and some kayaking for Jen with Graham and Russ, Dave with Andy, and Paul with Jack. Back at the house, Pops and Ama had some awesome water toys outside. Lauren loved the inflatable giraffe. Most of the kids spent their time on the slip 'n slide, which was a big success! Of course there was time for food, too. Feeding 17 is no easy feat, but many hands make light(er) work. We grilled out and let the kids get messy on the deck. Pops had some time on Sunday to teach Graham how to play a strategy game from his childhood, L'Attaque (now called Stratego). Graham is hooked! It was a whirlwind two days, full of tons of fun. Can't wait to see everyone again! [...]


We just got back from another terrific long weekend in Lexington for the Watson-Teal-Von Erck-Tunison reunion. We arrived mid-day Friday (having stopped at Belle Tire to have what turned out to be half a screwdriver removed from Derrick's tire) and met up with almost everyone at the cottage. While the Von Ercks rested after a morning at the beach, we headed down to Lake Huron for a couple of hours in the sun and sand. The lake was chilly, but not as cold as it sometimes is! Before dinner, all the kids headed down to the playground for some time together. Here's the crew, minus baby Charlotte; she'll be ready for this photo next year! The boys love being together, and it didn't take long before their shenanigans made their way to Grandma and Papa D's big bed. Feeding all 15 of us is becoming quite the enterprise. Isla was happy to help Aunt Jamie shuck corn, and Papa D made some delicious blackened salmon.  This might be a good time to note that while Derrick spent last year's reunion largely incapacitated due to a crushed big toe, Papa D took his turn this year with a knee injury. He was really sad to miss the beach trips! Here are most of the kids enjoying some "walking tacos" out on the back porch and the same crew having hamburgers and hotdogs in the kitchen. One night, Nancy and Daniel held down the fort after bedtime (that's 7 kids!) so that the siblings could go out. We went to the fairly new local microbrewery and had a blast hanging out! Here are the mobile kiddos and Grandma outside the General Store, where she treated them to their choice of goodies from the candy counter.  We really lucked out with the weather this weekend; though there were tornadoes in western Michigan, we had largely clear skies and warm weather while we were there, which meant lots of good beach time for the cousins. Miss Isla Mae Russ and Luke Stef, Isla, and Nancy Derrick decided to bury Graham at one point. This of course meant that he also ended up burying Russell, Flynn,  and Ashton. Steve, Jamie and Charlotte came down for a bit of beach time, too. Look at those adorable sunglasses! Grandma had planned a couple of neat crafts for the kids. The first was decorating paper bags that they then used to "trick-or-treat" from aunts, uncles, and grandparents for little goodies.  They also made trivets from ceramic tiles, napkins, and modge podge, and they strung beaded necklaces! What would a beach vacation be without smores and a bonfire? One night, we let our two stay up a bit late and roast marshmallows. They then got to sit up with their aunts and uncles, listening to stories around the fire. They thought that was pretty special! Of course there was plenty of time for Charlotte snuggles this weekend. She is such a mellow baby and did so well with all the commotion. Once the Von Ercks and Tunisons headed home on Sunday, we enjoyed one more day at the cottage. Monday morning was a bit chilly, so we took a walk out to the end of the pier. It's just so beautiful! And it was clear enough that Derrick and Graham could just make out windmills on the Canadian coast across the water. It did warm up as the day went on, so we spent one last day at the beach. Graham was particularly proud of the sand castle he built, which included two towers, a jail, a court, and a moat. And on Monday night, before we headed home, we enjoyed a delicious dinner out at Wind Jammers restaurant, right on the harbor.  As always, we had a great time and can't wait for next year's reunion! [...]


On Sunday, Grammy arrived for a visit from Florida. We had a busy 4 days full of all sorts of activities. On Sunday night, Grammy treated us to sushi at our favorite local restaurant, Yotsuba.  The boys were great, but you can't take these two anywhere! Another important food outing was to take Grammy to our favorite bakery, Bake Station Too. Grammy got to meet our favorite bakers, and everyone enjoyed a morning donut outside. On Monday, we headed over to a place that has an outdoor climbing wall and trampolines. Russell ending up deciding he'd rather not try it, so Graham and Jen had a go instead.  From there, were went to play miniature golf. It was a place we hadn't been before, and we really liked their course. In fact, we ended up going to play again on Wednesday morning! During the Monday game, all four of us got a hole-in-one! Tuesday was rainy, and we decided to head to Ann Arbor to the Hands-On Children's Museum. We've been meaning to go for years but never got around to it. Graham really liked a coding machine, where the lights were used as code and could be seen by a similar station across the room to enable coded conversations. Russell loved this magnetic liquid machine. The mercury would form into shapes depending on where you positioned the magnets. They also had a bubble machine, which you could use to form a bubble all around yourself. They had an ambulance, which Russell was very eager to drive and a smaller-scale climbing wall, which was perfect for Russell. There were really a lot of exhibits there, and we spent a good part of the day investigating and playing, Once we were home, the boys decided to do an experiment after Graham had been playing with his Magic Science kit. The experiment, using items from the pantry, turned into a cooking experiment. The boys decided it would be a cookie, so they had to decorate them, of course. And then everyone was obliged to taste one after dinner. The ingredients included cumin, paprika, black pepper, coriander, whole peanuts, bread, flour, egg, baking soda, baking powder, and more! Graham then decided he wanted to make a website where he could show off his recipes. Here it is! [...]


We had a great visit with cousin Charlotte (and her parents) today! Jamie and Steve brought her over to hang out for the afternoon, and it was so nice to see them and catch up. 

Charlotte is such a smiley baby!

tummy time

The visit was so exhausting that she just couldn't keep her eyes open anymore.


Since we got back from England, life has been pretty relaxed around here. Jen and the boys spend almost every day at the pool, which is a great perk since the weather has been beastly hot. But it also means we've sort of forgotten to take pictures lately. Here are a few random ones from the last two weeks.

Here's Russ in his uniform. He often comes out of his room like this first thing in the morning, recently also wearing his new, bright orange gym shoes.

We've also recently seen a bit more of the deer that live in the woods behind the house. Early in the spring, we saw mom with three babies, and the other afternoon, this little one decided to rest right in our neighbor's back yard. So cute!

And Graham has been devouring the set of Roald Dahl books given to him and Russell by Jen's Aunt Jane. It's great to have him on another series so we can space out the library trips a bit more again.


It is officially the end of swim team season at our club, and we are so proud of our swimmer! This was a terrific experience for him all around. And although we were very impressed with all the swimming, we've been most pleased by how confident Graham has become and how proud he is of his efforts. A HUGE shout-out goes to Russell, who endured practices every day and long, long swim meets without being able to go in the pool. He is SUPER excited to join his brother in the water next summer.

Here's Graham at his last meet, at which he had to swim butterfly for the first and last time, but at which he also got to compete on a relay doing the 50m freestyle (his favorite, but double his normal distance).

And here are the boys enjoying the end-of-season banquet.

U.K. Trip 2016: An Adventurous Drive to Wales


Back in February, we booked flights for an 11 day vacation in the U.K. The kids and Derrick hadn't been in 3 years, and we were eager to see Jen's family.  We also decided that it would be nice to spend a few days in Cardiff, Wales (where Jen's grandma was born and raised) before heading to England.  After looking at dozens of accommodations in Wales, Jen found a beautiful cottage on a farm outside Cardiff in the Vale of Glamorgan. What she did not realize was that this cottage was so rural that the road on which it sits is called "Unnamed Road" by GPS. It's located in a village called Peterston-Super-Ely, whose population is 800! This meant that after landing in London, Derrick (driving a Mitsubishi Outlander on the other side of the road) got to try to navigate some absurdly tiny "streets" while recovering from jet lag.  In retrospect, this may not have been the best idea. But we carried on, and we were just 10 minutes from the cottage when a truck coming the other way forced Derrick to hug his side of the road and come smack up against something metal on the roadside. We heard the tire pop, and the low pressure light went on right away. Keep in mind that it was 4:00pm on a Friday in a tiny Welsh village, and we had no working cell phone. We drove about 500 yards on the flat to a parking lot, and Jen got out to explore.  It turned out that the building was the Pendoylan Church in Wales Primary School, and there were a few teachers just packing up for the day. One lovely woman stayed for 30 minutes while we used her classroom phone to call for a tow truck. She even made the boys paper airplanes! We ended up having to get towed to the town of Bridgend, where a tire store open for another 30 minutes was able to replace our flat tire. Again, the tow truck driver and garage went out of their way to help us (even taking us to the local grocery store to get a few things to feed our hungry boys some dinner), and we were blown away by how kind everyone was. By 8:00pm, very tired and extremely frazzled, we finally made it to the cottage. allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" width="560"> Thankfully a few remaining hours of daylight allowed us to appreciate just how beautiful our surroundings were. Uwch-y-Lllyn (the cottage) is part of a larger farmhouse in which the owners live. It backs to their farmland, full of sheep, ducks, geese, dogs, and lots and lots of horses. In the morning, the kids jumped right in and got to exploring. The family owns two dogs. Millie--we couldn't believe she shared our sweet girl's name--is their Labrador, and Meg is their Welsh Sheepdog. We did also get to meet Millie's mom, Ruby. The boys loved walking the trails with the dogs and petting the horses. allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" width="560"> [...]

The Dr. Who Experience and Cardiff Bay


Our first full day in Wales was cool and cloudy, so we thought an indoor excursion would fit best. We drove the 20 minutes or so to Cardiff Bay to go to the Dr. Who Experience (we are huge fans of the series). Here are Jen and the boys outside this custom-made building for the exhibit. Just inside the doors, we saw a weeping angel statue waiting to greet us, which only served to make everyone more excited. The first part of the adventure takes visitors on a special effects journey on a simulated adventure with The Doctor. The kids got to try driving the Tardis, and Graham found a crystal to save us all from some alien spider creatures!  After the adventure, you get to go through to the museum, which showcases the actual set pieces and costumes used on the show. Here are Graham and Russ with some Daleks, a deadly robot race that is trying to exterminate everything in the galaxy. The costumes were probably the most impressive part of the whole experience. They are so intricate and beautiful in their design, and we spent a lot of time looking at all the costumes they've displayed. They had a few larger pieces, which were set up as a part of a whole set. It was fascinating being able to walk around and get a sense of what the actors feel and see during filming. They had several iterations of the Tardis interior (Dr. Who's ship). Graham is standing by one of the old consoles from the 70s, Russ by one from the 80s, and then both boys by the most recently used interior model. Here are the boys controlling a Dalek from the inside. This is the outside of Dr. Who's ship, the Tardis. It's bigger on the inside. After seeing the Doctor Who Experience, it was just a short walk to Cardiff Bay, which is full of shops, restaurants, boats, a carousel, and more. Despite the cool weather, it seemed silly to not get ice cream. The boys rode the carousel. And then they climbed around on some old cannons. The view from Cardiff Bay is really quite stunning. It's not captured as well as we'd like in this photo since it was overcast, but it's really a beautiful spot.  Our day in Cardiff Bay was jam-packed, and we were glad to get back to the cottage to unwind. [...]

Cardiff Castle and Cowbridge


Our next day in Wales took us to a nearby village (Cowbridge) to let the boys run around in an indoor play area, and then Cardiff Castle, right in the city center. At the play center, we met a couple of really nice Welsh families, and the boys enjoyed playing with some kids their age. The castle is a wonderful site, perfectly manageable in an afternoon and full of great things to look at for kids and adults alike. According to the castle's site, "The Roman fort at Cardiff was probably established at the end of the 50s AD. ... After the Norman conquest, the Castle’s keep was built, re-using the site of the Roman fort. ... The Castle passed through the hands of many noble families until in 1766, it passed by marriage to the Bute family. The 2nd Marquess of Bute was responsible for turning Cardiff into the world’s greatest coal exporting port. The Castle and Bute fortune passed to his son John, the 3rd Marquess of Bute, who by the 1860s was reputed to be the richest man in the world. ... Each room has its own special theme, including Mediterranean gardens and Italian and Arabian decoration." Here is the Norman Keep, which was our first endeavor. We climbed all the way to the top up very steep and narrow steps! But the view from the top is definitely worth the climb. We then checked out the rooms inside the castle, which are spectacular. We kept finding ourselves looking up at elaborately decorated ceilings. Most of the rooms date from the 1500s but are decorated in Victorian style. We also really liked this staircase. Outside, the boys took a turn in the stocks and checked out the trebuchet. Below the castle, you can also tour the World War II shelters. They have a lot of decor from the war period and play war-time announcements as you walk through. The boys found this the "scariest" part of our time at the castle, but the grown-ups were fascinated.  After another day of lots of walking and climbing, we're not sure how the boys still had energy, but they spent the evening running around with the dogs back at the cottage. allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" width="420"> [...]

St. Fagans Museum of Welsh Life and Dunraven Bay


On our last full day in Wales, we didn't cut back on packing in as much as possible. In the morning, we drove a short distance to St. Fagans Museum of Welsh Life. Part of the National History Museum, this reminded us a lot of the Henry Ford Village in Detroit. The Welsh museum stands in the grounds of  St Fagans Castle and gardens, a late 16th-century manor house. The historic buildings take visitors through various times in Welsh history.  This is the Nant Wallter Cottage, built in 1770. This is a tailor's shop, built in the late 19th Century. We enjoyed some bread from the Derwin Bakehouse, still working and producing baked goods every day. Here is the grocer, also built in the 19th Century. Here is the ironmongers shop, part of the Rhyd-y-Car Ironworkers' Houses from the 19th Century. And here is the Pen-rhiw Chapel, built in 1777. From the historic buildings, we walked to the manor house, which is surrounded by unbelievably beautiful gardens and a small lake. We had a tasty lunch inside the manor house cafe before heading back to the cottage to get ready for the beach! While Derrick and Jen got ready for the beach, the boys took some time to run around with the dogs again. They were thoroughly attached by this point. Jen had wanted to see the coast, and rather than going to one of the more commercialized beaches in Cardiff, we drove a few extra miles to the village of Southerdown, which lies next to Dunraven Bay. We mis-timed the tide a bit, arriving mid-afternoon when the tide was already swiftly coming in, but it turned out to be a perfect afternoon. Instead of spending time on the sand, which disappeared below the waves within 15 minutes of our arrival, the boys got to explore on the rocks and in the rock pools, something we don't get to do at home. Here is Russ enjoying a few minutes of sand time before the tide rushed in.  And here's Graham splashing in the waves. The tide can be quite treacherous in Dunraven Bay, regularly trapping visitors on bits of beach and forcing them to be rescued by the coastguard. We were impressed by the lifeguards on duty, who regularly took out their surfboards to check to see if anyone was stuck. Once we were done with the sand, the kids took to exploring the rocks. Graham was so excited to find this crab hiding under one of the rocks as he looked for snails. Jen and Graham sat down by the water's edge, getting splashed by the waves. Russell took this photo of the tow of us. Not bad! And he took this one of Graham. We may have found the next family photographer! We agreed that Dunraven was one of the most beautiful beaches we've ever seen. It was a great way to end our time in Wales. allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" width="560"> [...]

Goodby Wales; Hello Gigi, Gogo, and Sarah-Jane


On the morning of July 19th, we set off for England. After a four-hour drive, we arrived in Tonbridge, the area where Jen's parents grew up. Jen's aunt Sarah-Jane met us at our hotel and gave Derrick a break from driving by running us up to nearby Sevenoaks to see Gigi and Gogo.  We found them in their room, and it was SO NICE to see them again. Graham had brought along a painting to give Gigi and Gogo. Before dinner time (and as a spectacular idea of how to keep two little boys entertained in a nursing home), Graham and Russell helped clean Gogo's wheelchair. Russell really got into it! The boys then helped push Gogo's chair down to the dining room for dinner. Gigi and Gogo's home has a really lovely private dining room, where we got to enjoy dinner together. It was so special to enjoy one another's company in person! [...]

Sevenoaks and London


Our 2nd day in England was split into two parts. In the morning, we headed back to Sevenoaks to spend some time with Gigi and Gogo. We arrived just in time for Gogo's painting class, and the nice gentleman who runs it let the boys join in. They had a blast! Sarah-Jane had also brought along Chi Chi the Chimpanzee, who has been a family favorite for years. The boys loved saying hello and feeding him bananas. allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" width="560"> When it was time to head off for the afternoon, we said "goodbye for now" with kisses and hugs. Sarah-Jane then drove us up to London, stopping at her flat for a sweet treat. Neither Derrick nor the kids have ever seen her flat, so this was a nice chance to see where she lives. This is St. Katharine's Dock, right outside Sarah-Jane's flat, really one of the most lovely residential areas of London. She gets to walk along this boardwalk every day on her way to work! Everyone had a chance to decide which boat they would like to have when we all become millionaires. From there, we walked to the pick-up point for the London Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour. The boys LOVED being so high up, and although it was a very hot day (even by Michigan standards), we had some terrific views. Graham was really looking forward to seeing Big Ben. And Russell had been asked by Gigi to say hello to the lions in Trafalgar Square. Despite such tall buildings around the city, the bus tour does afford some terrific perspectives on the city. We "hopped off" at Buckingham Palace and enjoyed a walk through St. James's Park and a cool drink. The queen was actually at the palace that day, and although we didn't see her, of course, it was neat to think she was inside somewhere! Our last leg of the sightseeing tour in London was on the river cruise from Westminster Pier back to the Tower of London, which is right by Sarah-Jane's flat.  Here is our view of Tower Bridge from the water. And here is a picture of us reminiscent of a very similar one that was taken in 2004 on Derrick's very first trip to England! [...]

Bowling, Scrabble, and Playgrounds


The next day was our last full day in Kent, and we had a lovely long visit with Gigi and Gogo from mid-morning through early afternoon. When we arrived, Gogo was in the lounge, and Derrick and Russell played a great table-top bowling game with him. Upstairs, Graham and Jen joined Gigi's Scrabble team for the second part of their game, which they won!  We headed back to their room after a lovely lunch for a bit more time with Sarah-Jane's puppets. From there, we went to Tonbridge to give the kids some time to run around on the playground there. This park is right down the road from the school where Jen's dad was a student and where Gigi and Gogo taught.  allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" width="560"> Sarah-Jane also treated us to a game of mini-golf! And after a nice dinner out at a local Chinese restaurant, we let the boys run around on the grounds of Tonbridge Castle, most of which has now crumbled, but whose keep remains. Jen used to do this all the time when she visited Gigi and Gogo in her childhood! [...]

Goodbye Austins; Hello Calogirous


On the morning of July 22, we spent a bit more time with Gigi and Gogo (playing Uno and Crazy Eights), before saying goodbye and driving up to Oxford to see Jen's Aunt Jane and Uncle Nick for the last 2 days of our trip. Jane and Nick live in a lovely village near Oxford, and we had a most delicious lunch on our arrival. The boys were desperate to get in their pool and spent more than 3 hours swimming after lunch! Jen's cousin Chris and his girlfriend Catalina live in the flat attached to Jane and Nick's house, and it was great to see them as well! Chris had fun with the boys, who loved being thrown into the pool. allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" width="560"> Chris also let the boys play with his old action figures, which they thought was really neat. Family resemblance much! That night, the boys got a bedtime story with Auntie Jane before crashing around 9:30pm! [...]