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Preview: Jen and Derrick: Just Life

Team Teal

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

Updated: 2017-01-17T21:53:59.011-05:00



Instead of gifts for all the nieces and nephews this year, we decided to get hotel rooms for one night of fun together. Our family, Stef and Matt's family, and Jamie and Steve's family met up in East Lansing on Saturday. Of course the first stop was the pool. Little Charlotte was all tuckered out from swimming, but she was ready to go again at dinner time! The hotel had a great lounge area where we could all eat dinner in one place. We had delicious Chinese food from a place Jamie and Steve used to go when they were living there. The kids then all enjoyed a movie together,  complete with a RIDICULOUS array of snacks for all the kids. Meanwhile, the grownups played a board game (sort of...we made it through a couple of turns and ended up mostly talking all night). We had a blast and definitely plan to do it again! [...]


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Belated Christmas This year, our annual Christmas gathering with Derrick's family had to wait all the way until January 7th. But we had tons of fun all the same! Russell got a new ukulele, and Graham got the sequel to the Percy Jackson book series. Auntie Bubbles (Stef) also brought little monster Lego sets for the boys to build together. It was a great day and a great kick-off to 2017! [...]


From January 2-3, we took a surprise overnight trip for Russell's early birthday celebration in lieu of a party this year. Although it has confused him a bit, it was a much better time to go than in early February for a whole host of reasons. We took him (and Graham) to Great Wolf Lodge, the same water park hotel where Graham went last year with Oliver for his birthday. Russell was SO EXCITED and had a really wonderful time. He just kept grinning and hopping up and down. Some of the following pictures are from the Great Wolf site, as it's the kind of place where you don't really carry things around much, especially not in the water park! This is the lobby, all decked out with "lodge" decor.  At check-in, Russ was given special birthday wolf ears, which he slept in and wore until we got home today. It was cute, especially as the employees are good about wishing a happy birthday to kids who are wearing their birthday ears. We got a room that had a special kid cabin suite. Russell was especially excited to sleep on the top bunk. He also shared that his second favorite part of the trip was getting to eat dinner on his bunk while watching tv.  This is a picture of the GIANT bucket that tips water every time it fills up. Allegedly, it holds 1000 gallons of water. Graham and Russell rushed right over to stand underneath it whenever they were close enough when the bell started to clang. We were really excited that Russell was also excited to go on all the water slides. The giant yellow one in the picture below was "awesome" as far as he was concerned. He went down in a double inner tube with Jen. The red water slide below was another favorite. This one he could go down on his own. He really liked all the slides that were pitch black all the way down! Here are the boys enjoying an ice cream before the bedtime show in the lobby. It's super fun that everyone pretty much wanders around in their pajamas all evening. You can also see here the two wands the boys had. Graham got his when he went in April, and it's nice that it still works when you go back. Russ got to choose a wand for himself, and they both enjoyed a game of Magiquest. They choose to go on quests and walk around finding clues hidden in the hotel (in paintings, podiums, etc.) to collect runes. It was definitely less stressful this time around, since Graham and Jen had learned the ropes in April, and Russell thought it was really fun. It was his favorite part of the trip.  Though he will get to take some cupcakes in for his classmates on his actual birthday, this was his "party," and he says he is completely okay with the trade-off! We have a feeling we may be headed back for another trip in April (parents need that long to recoup!). [...]


Happy 2017!

As we mentioned in our Christmas post, we have yet more Legos added to our collection. On New Year's Eve, Graham designed this add-on platform for our Lego table (including desired measurements), and he, Jen, and Russell went to Home Depot, bought the necessary supplies, and built it together. The boys' favorite parts were getting to use the drill and spray painting! Now there's more room for all of their Lego creations.

Graham has also now finished his first sewing project: this cute, stuffed dog.


Merry Christmas! This was actually Christmas Eve dinner, before church. Even though we only get out all the fancy tableware a few times a year, we do enjoy it. This year, the boys got sparkling grape juice in our nice goblets, and they felt very grown-up indeed.  And what would Christmas be without Christmas crackers?! Christmas morning was just as chaotic and fun as always. You will notice that Russell's mouth is distinctly blue from his breakfast of candy canes. He was very excited about his science kit, which you'll see pictures of him digging in to further down in this post. He has also been enjoying a set of classic fairytales. Here's Graham investigating his box of magic tricks. And of course there were Legos for both boys. It's so sad that the don't have very many Legos (ha!). Graham also got a beginner's sewing kit, and he is about half-way through making a stuffed-animal dog. There are two other stuffed animals patterns, a pouch, and a book cover left to make. Russ is very proud of his newest Lego sets, which he has put together with only parental double-checking, following the instruction book on his own, a HUGE step in his foray into Lego building. We did also all go outside for a bit on Christmas Day. There was still snow, but it had warmed up considerably, which made it both pleasant and fun for building a snowman.  Those who know of our tradition of not getting out of our pajamas on Christmas Day, fear not; we are wearing pajamas under our snow pants and coats! Christmas dinner in pajamas, a favorite tradition. You may notice another guest at the table in this particular photo. On Boxing Day (Dec 26), we headed down to Pittsburgh to see some of Jen's family. First, we got to hang out with youngest cousin Avery (and her parents). We couldn't believe how much she's grown just since August.  Graham kept trying to read her books, but she is at the adorable stage of flipping pages mid-sentence and skipping whole chunks to get to the end. Graham made it through about one book in order, in its entirety, but he enjoyed all the attempts just the same. While the Snyders were there with us, Pops took out his childhood game, Taxi. It's a map of London, and you get cards that show you your passenger, where you have to get them, and how much they will pay you. Of course there are all kinds of obstacles along the way. The kids really enjoyed it! Graham did also play several games of L'Attaque with various people; we just didn't catch any of it on camera this time. Pops remains the reigning champ, but Graham picked up some new strategy. Pops also got out his old harbor, which Russ has not seen before and which Graham hasn't seen since he was quite little. This is a metal harbor set compete with cruise-liners, tug boats, war ships, and more. The kids enjoyed playing with it, though their bickering over the biggest battle ships led to a somewhat early end to the activity.  The Snyders and Hoenks overlapped for just an hour or two on Tuesday night, but we did manage to snag this photo of Avery and Lauren with Dave and Eric. Here's a cute one of Lauren demolishing a chocolate ice-cream cone after dinner. All the kids had one, but their faces weren't quite as precious as Lauren's. On Wednesday, we headed to North Park to enjoy some beautiful sunshine and run off some energy outside. We played some very soggy baseball and soccer. Pops and Jen held their own against Russ and Graham in two soccer matches. Each team one once. Father and daughter The next day, we went to the park closer to Tim and Meg's house, and Andy and Lauren joined us. Russ and Andy were having fun running around together. And this is Lauren trying to cheer Graham up here after he got the wind knocked right out of him after falling flat on his back from the monkey b[...]


Guess who just turned 40? Both of the dads in this picture! We went down to Detroit's Hard Rock Cafe for dinner with Derrick's friend John and his family before the two guys headed out to a Red Wings game. We haven't all been together since our wedding!


Thanksgiving in Florida This year, we headed down to Florida to spend Thanksgiving with Jen's mom and Aunt Jane, who was in from England for the week. We had Thanksgiving dinner on Wednesday evening instead of Thursday. Why, you might ask? So we could spend Thanksgiving day on the beach! It was 80 degrees, sunny, and the perfect day to enjoy the white sandy beaches of Anna Maria Island. Back at Grammy's house, Graham won his first game of Scrabble. And Russell and Graham worked on their Checkers skills. And of course, we all played in the pool. We think the boys racked up at least 3 hours a day while we were there, and they only got out because we told them they needed a break. The trip was really relaxing and a nice break from the cold in Michigan (which, we will remind you, we've actually only been dealing with for a few weeks thanks to a very warm fall). [...]


At Graham's conference, his teacher shared math tests, spelling lists, journals, etc. But our favorite was his Mission Statement. 


This Saturday, Graham's Jr. First Lego League team--self-named the Trans Lego Team -- had their exhibition at the high school. The FLL Jr. program is the beginning stages of the nationwide FIRST Robotics League, which teaches young people advanced programming skills in a creative and competitive atmosphere. For the young students, there is simple programming all based on an annual theme. This year's theme was "Bees," and their task was to use Legos to build a scene that showed a bee, their chosen predator animal (a bear), and the bee's habitat. In addition, they had to program one movable component.  Their team, coached by two team members' moms, was a terrific group of 1st and 2nd grade boys, several of whom were close friends before the season began. They met once a week after school and learned lots about teamwork, bees (including research in books and at a local nature center), programming, and patience! All of the teams in this FIRST Lego  League showcase their work at a massive exhibition in November. It is so special to have 1st graders through seniors in high school all displaying their robotics creations in one place. Here is their team's creation. The moving/programmed piece was a bee that was programmed to fly in a circle and make a buzzing noise. During the exhibition, the high-school-age Lego Robotics students ran activities for the younger kids. Here, the boys took turns adding body parts to one another's animal drawings. The idea was that by the end, there was a creative creature that couldn't have been invented without all 6 minds working together. It was a super cute idea.   Some kids named their final creatures things like "Stinky" and "Donkey Pig." Graham, currently immersed in a book based on Greek mythology, named his "Hellhound." We got some strange looks. Part of the exhibition includes the team presenting to a judge. They had practiced what to talk about at their last meeting, and they did a nice job with it. They talked about their design, their program, and what they learned. The judge was terrific at prompting the kids, and we were excited to hear how enthusiastic they all were about wanting to work together again next year. One of the neatest parts of the exhibition is the younger kids getting to see where Lego robotics can take them. This is a picture of what middle school Lego Robotics kids create! These robots shoot baskets, and Graham's team had been visited by this older group at one of their meetings. Needless to say, they thought the big kids were SO COOL! We wish we'd taken a good photo of the high school teams. They had a full-blown Battle Bots scenario set up in the gym. Below is a video clip from news coverage a year ago of what high school Robotics is all about. It is incredibly awesome to see what they know by the time they are in high school! allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" width="560"> Each team receives recognition for something in their project, and Graham's team earned the "Master Programmers" award. They were so excited! Joining this team happened on a whim on the invitation from one of Graham's friends. We are so glad he joined, as it has given him a fantastic outlet for his creativity and love of Legos and programming, as well as a great place to spend time with some of his best buddies! [...]


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LEAVES! Lots and lots of leaves. This is round 2 of what we hope will only be 3 rounds.

In addition to being good for jumping in, it turns out leaves are good for reading in as well!


Halloween 2016 This year, we had a pirate (Graham) and a viking (Russ). We had exceptionally warm weather this year, which made for lots of fun Halloween events. This was taken before we headed out for Trunk-or-Treat at church. Here is the camping-themed trunk of our friends Chris and Susanna, including spider dog Laila. We then had the annual Halloween bash at the kids' school. Here is Russ with Magda and Justina. And here's Graham with their little brother, Lesh. ] Then there was trick-or-treating on Halloween itself. We were invited to go with Oliver and his cousins, and we all had a blast! Here are the kids after trick-or-treating getting ready to trade with one another for their favorites. This worked out especially well with Graham, who got rid of almost all of his dairy-filled candy in exchange for some of his favorites, like Skittles. Another fun year! [...]


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! [...]