day one of our road trip to the black hills.

nearly two weeks ago, we left to go visit todd's parents in the black hills.  to say i was a bit nervous about the 'road trip' part of our road trip is an understatement; the last time we made the drive, we only had two kids, and 16-month-old penelope SCREAMED. HER. HEAD. OFF. pretty much the entire time we were in the car.  all of our kids have hated their car seats, and none have been car-sleepers, both facts that can be mighty frightening when you're staring down the barrel of an 11-hour drive.

all that to say, though, the kids were rockstars.  finneas even napped both ways.  laurelai didn't sleep much, and cried some, but really, she's only 25% of our kids, so even if she had cried nonstop, that would still mean 75% of the drive was fantastic... or something like that.  (and she didn't actually cry nonstop.)

getting ready to hit the road.

first stop: random truck stop.  and guys, i just have to brag about those pencil-cases-turned-snack-boxes.  i had a stroke of genius.  you can close them but don't have to keep track of the lid, and they're a perfect size for a sandwich and some grapes,  and they nestle easily when not in use.  GENIUS.  

they look so tiny out in the big, big world.  i mean, truck stop parking lot.

our longest stop of the day was at falls park in sioux falls.  it was a wonderful break from driving, and the scenery was so pretty.  it was a perfect day for it, too.

finneas, looking saucy.

one of very few photos we have of all kids at least attempting a semblance of a smile. 

we tried to take a photo where everyone was smiling and looking at the camera.  this is the closest we got. 

and this is the furthest away we got.

the next leg of our journey was a long one.  we had just eaten lunch, and it was naptime, so we put a movie on and hoped for the best.

missed her naps and dropped her apple and can't even see the movie screen!!!! LIFE IS SO UNFAIR!

finally asleep!  at, like, 6:30 p.m.

i had read good reviews on trip advisor about this place.  it was only okay.

after dinner, we made our way through the badlands at sunset, and YOU GUYS:

uh, yeah.  that was my real life for an hour.

we pulled into todd's parents' driveway around 10:30 and threw the kids into bed quickly and stayed up way too late watching HGTV because TODD'S PARENTS HAVE TV!!!!!!!!!  talk about vacation.

and that was day one!  i'll tell you more about our actual visit next week.

video vednesday: that's what i'm talkin' 'bout.

one fish, two fish... that's it.

when we left for vacation, we had four fish.

when we got back from vacation, we had two swimmers and a floater.  one fish was missing altogether.

orange and white fish: Princess Ally.  property of: penelope.  status: missing.
white fish: Lucy.  property of: laurelai.  status: in the great fishtank in the sky.
orange and black fish: Gunnar.  property of: atticus.  status: died a long time ago and was replaced by another orange and black fish named Sword.
orange fish: arthur.  property of: finneas.  status: large and in charge.

i made todd skim the unfortunate dead one off the top (and it was so dead, by the way, that it was breaking apart and floating away in pieces.  no 'mostly dead' about it) and then i got to work cleaning the tank and dragging it for the missing body.  but here's the weird thing: there was no trace of it.

i suspect the mob was involved.  but how does the mob go about making a fish sleep with the fishes?  i mean, isn't that probably more comforting than scary to a fish?  like if you told a fish, 'i'm going to throw you off this boat into the river and no person will find you ever again,' wouldn't the fish be like, 'YES PLEASE'?

anyway, i also suspect it was a political kidnapping, since it was Princess Ally that disappeared.  and i also think the kidnapping of Princess Ally and the murder of Lucy were driven by sexism.  someone wanted those female fish out of that tank, dead or alive.

so, to sum up, i think a sexist politician hired the mob to off Lucy and and make Princess Ally disappear.  i think this is the only logical conclusion one can draw in a situation like this.

either that or it got so hot in the air of the unconditioned house while we were away that the two fish of the more delicate sex were essentially boiled to smithereens.  now, that's a happy thought.

so who is left?  finneas' fish, Arthur, who has suspiciously appeared to have grown much larger since we left, and atticus' fish, Sword, who (in comparison to Arthur) appears to have shrunk.

so now we just have these two lonely bachelor fish, one humongous and one runty, pal-ing around the tank.  i guess they're not pal-ing, really, as Sword has always been skittish and now probably has reason to think that Big Arthur is not beyond cannibalism.  but either way, i really think i have the makings of a pretty good children's book here.  minus the cannibalism.  plus my wonky microsoft paint illustrations.

this is just a teaser.  this will be the part of the book where Big Arthur dons a hat and decides to eat Sword, but Sword saw it coming all along.  my book will be called "Dangers of the Deep: That One Time My Fish Brother Tried to Eat Me But I Made It Out Okay Because of My Foresight and Preparedness, and Also My General Tendency Toward Suspicion, Founded or Otherwise," by Sword the Fish, as told to Paige Van Voorst.

anyway.  we're offering a reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Princess Ally's fishnapper.  we can't tell you what the reward is, since that would ruin the surprise, but let's just say it may or may not be a gift card that will allow you to eat good in the neighborhood.  maybe get yourself some half-price happy hour appetizers.  with incentive like that, i have a feeling we'll have this case wrapped up before nightfall.

And That's...Life in the Fish Tank.

(ps: that's my new catchphrase.  do you like it?  if it helps you to imagine me putting on sunglasses when i say it and then riding off a jet ski, you can do that.)

if an oak-clad dishwasher falls in the forest, how will i assuage my grief?!

well, i believe it's official.  old oaky has fallen.

you know, old oaky.  don't tell me you don't remember old oaky?!

how has this image not burned itself in your brain over the past year?  how do you not fall asleep with it swimming before your eyes?  OLD OAKY, YOU GUYS!

let's just move on, assuming you remember, but only vaguely, so i'll freshen your memory.  old oaky is the 1994 dishwasher, paneled in genuine, solid oak, that came with our house.  he got a makeover when i painted the cabinets, but he was still as sturdy and solid and honey-colored as ever under all that greasepaint.

considering he was twenty years old and still running as smoothly as a college track athlete the same age, i figured he was immortal.  i mean, i really kind of did.  but i was wrong.  very wrong.  

the day before we left on vacation (oh yeah, we've been on vacation.  i'll tell you about that later, but first things first.  we're talking about a death in the family, and the story of how i fell six inches off a tiny rock and re-sprained my ankle and just would not stop screaming about it will just have to wait.)...whoops, where did my original sentence go? oh yeah.  the day before we left on vacation, i ran a load of dishes.  and then i emptied it and tried to start another load.  and old oaky would not rumble.  he would not rouse.  he would not harumph his way awake.  he had passed over to the beyond in silence and aloneness with nary a complaint or final word.

i must say, we're all still in shock.  i mean, after all, he was as ancient and sturdy as, well, the oak tree that died to give him life.  one just never sees things like this coming.

in the meantime, we're doing our best to soldier on.  we're washing dishes by hand, and ordering takeout to avoid cooking, and reminiscing about all the ways his rusty old racks and downright wasteful water consumption got the dishes cleaner than any of my previous dishwashers combined.  Quiet Partner he was not, on decibel level alone, but he sure knew how to beat the younger models at their own game.  (you know, washing dishes.  i realize this is a tangent, but is it really too much to expect a dishwasher to wash dishes?  this good-for-nothing younger generation of appliances is just so lazy.)

anyway, we'll miss you, old oaky.  i like to imagine you're somewhere in the beyond right now, turning your heavily-grained face to the sun, and wasting all the water your ancient jets desire.  you lived a good life, buddy, and you will be missed.

weekly 'what's up.'

as was the case last week, very little of specific note happened this week.  how does it happen that the weeks fly by, but then it's hard to remember what you even did?

so, i'll just share some of my favorite pictures of the kids from this week:

what little girl's life is complete without an 'ed grimly in the bathtub' shot?

i LOVE this photo of the brothers.

finn has been wearing a hat all week and pretending to be a lion.  i'm not sure what one has to do with the other, but they are definitely somehow related in finneas' mind.

laurelai was having a blast getting raspberried.

he desperately wanted to help me feed laurelai.  he's such a good big brother.

this is my right-hand man.  she's ALWAYS asking and looking for ways to help me out.  here she is, voluntarily dusting.

finneas loved his cupcake, but it was a bit unwieldy for him, so instead of lifting it to his face, he brought his face down to meet it.  life is all about compromise.

laurelai is learning 'so big.'  i love how intense she looks about it in the lower right photo.

in the most important news of the week, todd got to preach at church on sunday, which was really fun for him.  if you want to check it out, he posted the video on his blog.

and as a quick organizational note, i thought i'd let you know that i've decided to take next week off the blog to spend a little time hanging out with the fam.  don't worry, i'll miss you, but absence makes the heart grow fonder, right?  love you to bits!  see you in a week, playazzzz.

a feast in the House of Laur!

laurelai has staked her claim on a 5' x 8' piece of ground.  she has been busy preparing her palace for year-round habitation, but as her kingdom lies within a land that is figuratively and literally flowing with milk and honey, very little modification to the location has been required and she's settling in quite nicely.  

ladies and gentlemen, i would like to announce that laurelai is now the reigning queen of the Rug Under the Dining Room Table, and has named it Laureland.  all who inhabit the Table Above the Rug Under the Dining Room Table must pay their taxes (read: spill crumbly bits from dinner) to appease her.  but as the folks from the highlands are a very generous and untidy bunch, this has not been a problem in the slightest.

standing sentry at the entrance to her kingdom.

waiting for the hunt to begin.

and we're off!

queen laurelai has now secured what is rightfully hers and will make it her sole mission to prevent being mouth-swiped.  in such uncertain times as these, there is always a mother around the corner, waiting to stage a coup.  it's as if the boundaries and laws of Laureland are not respected among the heathen.

but for now, all is well and tasty in the Land of Laur.

long live queen laurelai!  wishing you a long life and a neverending supply of two-day-old shredded pork.

video vednesday: guess what i really want but i'm not going to beg for it?

waxing 'family size' philosophic.

with four kids, we are bordering on 'big family' classification.  not 'huge family,' but we're almost to 'big family.'  maybe we're there already.  i don't know.  i'll have to consult the handbook.  but in thinking through a lot of our culture's concerns about big families, and thinking through my (limited, i realize) experience having more kids than average, one thing that has been popping up in my head lately is how W-R-O-N-G our culture is about (at least) one thing.

one of the well-meaning concerns i hear a lot is that kids in big families will get lost in the shuffle of the birth order and sheer family girth.  therefore, families should be smaller, right?  for the good of the children?  in the past, i've rolled my eyes at this and wondered if people ever assume that, for example, kids shouldn't even bother going to school because they might get lost in the girth of the classroom.  is it possible, and maybe even likely in some scenarios?  yeah.  is the conclusion accurate?  no.  the proper conclusion is that, if education for all children really is worth the cost, you just get creative and find ways around the inconveniences and difficulties.  you don't just throw up your hands and say the kids are better off if they're not even thrown in the mix in the first place.

but lately, i've been realizing that even this is an incomplete understanding of how god has designed the family.  i've been watching laurelai, and i have felt so vicariously lucky for her.  my word, when atticus was a baby, he only had todd and me giving him love and attention and smooches and cuddles.  he only got two hearts to fall in love with him every day.  but laurelai?  she gets five.

and herein lies the untruth of the not-enough-attention argument:  that there is only the capacity for 'X amount' of attention to be given in a home, and the more kids there are to share it, the less each gets individually.  but the truth of the matter is that god not only expands a parent's capacity for love and attention and affection with the birth of each child, making that fictional 'X amount' grow exponentially within them, but he also provides more physical sources through which it comes.

how blessed is my fourth-born!  and how blessed are all my kids, that not only do they have lots of people loving them every day, but lots of people to love.  their hearts are getting bigger and bigger to hold the fullness of everything god has given them.  and i think of how much we all would have missed out on if we stopped at two kids, or three.  what might we miss out on if we stop at four?

i'm not saying every family fits a single mold.  families are unique, just like the individuals in each family are unique.  but what i am saying is that we lose out when we're deceived into thinking the way the world does, and making decisions based on cultural wisdom.

just something to noodle on this fine tuesday morning.

'what's up' weekly

i have zero to tell you that i haven't already told you, other than the fact that finneas seems to have recovered from what we suspect was viral meningitis.  so, two hoots and a holler for that.

in closing, this:

fourth of july.

we went down to my mom's for the fourth of july.  we busted out the kiddie pool, and let laurelai have her first swim.  it was hard to tell exactly what she thought of it, she was acting a little ambiguous about the whole thing, but i like to think she got a kick out of it.

in addition to busting out the kiddie pool, i busted out my massive biceps.

it was also finn's first swim, and he really seemed to like it, after we told him he wasn't allowed to get out of the pool regardless of how much he cried about it.  once he was out of options, he chose to make lemonade and whatnot and really seemed to enjoy himself.  it was also obvious that he had been watching the big kids at swimming lessons, since he kept putting his face under the water.  oh, the things that you have to threaten/bribe/manipulate/pray for one kid to do that another kid will do for zero hassle.

look at the tan line on his face from his glasses.  i die from the cuteness.

penelope, as always, loved the pool, and even practiced some synchronized swimming... by herself.

finneas pulled his wagon around for a bit, and laurelai just made her doll faces, both events of which deserve photos on here due to cuteness and not inherently due to fourth of july relatedness.

well, now, that's a cute baby.

once it started to get darker out, we busted out the sparklers.  the kids were more on board with the whole thing this year than they were last year, when atticus just kept saying, 'i don't want to do this anymore.  i'm done.  i don't want to do this anymore.'

he looks like he's doing 'magic missile.'

we let the big kids stay up to watch fireworks for the first time, and they loved them!  life is good.

video vednesday: [this is going to blow your mind, just believe me.]

after you hear his christina aguilera impression, you're going to want to be besties with him.  on the condition that he never actually sings christina aguilera songs in that voice, because that would be a little much, obviously.

edit: SUCH A BUMMER.  they came out and said it's fake.  watch for the link at the end to see how they actually made it.  let. down.

going for a walk. and then another one, when the first one didn't pan out.

there are lots of nice trails and things around here, so we've spent some time this summer exploring some of them.

there's a nature reserve close by, and we trekked out there on memorial day.  it was fun for a while...

...and then we got to this part, and with a double stroller in tow, it was time to call it quits.

not to mention the bugs were so thick i think they replaced part of the oxygen in the air, and i had not thought to bring bug spray.  parenting fail.  so we decided to try out some of the walking/bike paths through town instead.  our favorite part was this spot that goes over the river.

the kids had tons of fun watching a couple of duck families with their ducklings.

and then penelope inexplicably started having less fun.

when we got home, i had each of the big kids draw a picture of something they saw on our walk.  penelope drew a family of swimming ducks.  atticus drew a bunch of bugs.

i'm looking forward to going on more walks around here, especially as the seasons change, and getting the kids sketch books to keep all their 'walk' drawings in one place.