Sunday, August 31, 2008

After Church

Here are my treasures--Dylan, Jacob, and Sarah--just after we got home from church today.

Dylan (age 11) is, of course, in his final year of Primary, in the Valiant 11 class. His teacher, Brother Watson, and previous teachers assure me that Dylan is one of the most helpful and quiet boys in class. Sometimes that's hard to believe, but I guess Primary teachers wouldn't lie!

Jacob (age 17) was secretary of the Priests Quorum all last year, but as soon as he returned from his summer job at Camp Geronimo last month he was called to be first assistant to our Bishop, Bishop Gardner. Now Jacob is busy planning Priest activities and making assignments and phone calls. He's quite good at organizing! (Now if he'd just finish his Eagle, he could get his drivers license!)

Sarah (age 18) was called to teach the Sunbeams class in Primary last month. Not only was she relieved to get out of Relief Society (she hasn't learned to love that organization the way her mom does yet), but she has a great time making little craft items and teaching those sweet 4-year-olds about Heavenly Father and Jesus. She truly has a gift for working with children and animals. In high school she earned certification to teach preschool, but her goal remains becoming a veterinarian tech.

As for me, I have been the ward Primary secretary since February. Unlike my daughter, I miss Relief Society a lot, yet I also enjoy this calling and the wonderful sisters I work with. I like the challenge of keeping things organized. I'm also the ward representative for 30+ Singles, although I asked to be released--back in February! I gave the whole singles thing a try for awhile, but sticking my toe in the pool of romance just gave me a bad chill!
You may be wondering about the funny-looking parrot on Jacob's shoulder. That's actually our cat Gandalf. We have a tall "Kitty Condo" on the porch next to the front door, where he waits for us to come home every day. The first person to walk through the door is the person he pounces upon, getting himself a free ride into the house.

The first time he leaped down on me from behind, I nearly had a heart attack, thinking I was being assaulted by a madman! I now have greater sympathy for the robbers in that old tale, the Bremen Town Musicians, who were attacked by critters gone wild!
Last of all, I'm happy to announce yet another new baby in the family! This one is a girl, breaking the run of five baby boys born this year!

This is Natalie Jacqueline Grace Esteban-Venturino, born on August 30. Her parents are my nephew DJ and his girlfriend Jessica. DJ is the youngest son of my sister-in-law Tamera and stepson of my brother Darryl, all of Missouri. Thanks, Tamera, for sharing the photos.
Congratulations on the new arrival, DJ and Jessica! We can't wait to meet her!

And to Gwen, if you're reading this: We love you! Our prayers are with you always!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Growing Up Too Fast

I've been watching my babies grow up all week!
Sarah started her classes at Northland Pioneer College on Monday. She is taking a full load: Intermediate Algebra; History of the Western World; Principles of Economics; and Effective Writing. Sounds delightful!
This is Sarah on Tuesday at the NPC campus, ready to take on the world!
Also on Tuesday Dylan attended his final Cub Scout pack meeting. Now that he is 11, he is officially a Boy Scout.
At this pack meeting he received his Webelos badge and several awards he has earned over the past few months. He also earned his Arrow of Light, which he is holding in the picture at right. That's a big accomplishment!
As part of the ceremony, his mom and his brother Jacob and several of his leaders spoke about the qualities he has developed during his Cub Scout years. He was a little embarrassed when his mom began to cry, making everyone else start choking up! What can I say, he's my baby boy!
After watching the new Bobcats get turned upside down while their moms pinned their awards on their collars, an honored tradition in these parts (the pin is upside-down until the new Bobcats do a good deed), Dylan decided he wanted to be turned once more for old time's sake.
The Cub Master was more than happy to oblige, while Mom looked on!

Finally, at the end of the pack meeting, Dylan crossed The Bridge from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts, with all of his Cub friends saying good-bye on one end while the older Boy Scouts waited to welcome him on the other end. Doesn't he look proud in his brand new official Boy Scout uniform shirt?

Afterward he wrote his name on the bridge, alongside the names of all the other new Boy Scouts who crossed the bridge in years past.

Dylan's dad, Mark, and his dad's girlfriend, Diane, were in town for a few days, so they were able to attend Dylan's important pack meeting. That made it even more special for him.
We don't want to leave Jacob out! Not only did he talk about Dylan's loving nature in the Arrow of Light ceremony, but you can see in this picture that the Cub Master strong-armed him into leading the Cubs in a silly scouting song. Jacob has grown so much this summer. He's about 6'1", almost as tall as his dad!

If you're wondering why everyone looks a bit bedraggled, rain had fallen nonstop all day, and just before we arrived at the pack meeting, the heavens let loose a downpour! It was impossible to see across the street, literally. So we were all soaked to the skin as we raced inside the building that night.
It was a great week, but it didn't end so well for Dylan. After school today while riding his bike to meet a friend, the front tire flew off the bike and Dylan met the road face-first. Keep in mind, we live on unpaved roads that are mostly dirt and rocks. He took several layers of skin off his chin and the backs of his hands. After scrubbing the dirt out of the wounds, we were both exhausted and Dylan crashed on the couch.

I'm happy to report he's feeling better now, but he'll be sore for a good while!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Bandits in the Night

At 4:00 a.m. I awoke with a cramp in my leg and got up to walk it out. As I passed through the kitchen I heard chittering noises through the open window, letting me know that our nightly visitors were out on the porch. I grabbed the camera and cracked open the door to catch them in their act of burglarizing! (Pardon the bad pictures--it was dark and I was still half-asleep!)
Years ago this racoon family discovered we kept bins of cat and dog food on our porch, and we soon became their nightly fast food fix.
We fought it for a long time, purchasing more secure bins and allowing the dog to chase them up the trees. However, when the racoons could no longer open the bins, they found they could knock the lids off and spill the contents by pushing the bins over, leaving us a nice mess to clean up the next day. As for the dog, they just had to wait to do their marauding when we were all safely in bed.
Eventually we accepted that feeding this family of four as well as our own pets was going to be a part of our rural life.
I think the parents escaped when they heard me open the door, and these two are their current youngsters. While I snapped pictures, Diego slipped past my legs to bark at the intruders (here they are watching him curiously from their perch on the gas grill). After he growled menacingly at them for a few minutes, he returned to the house, his job done. I feel safer already!
I just love the challenges of country living!

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Roof Cat

It's time to introduce the rest of our family, the pets who keep us humble and remind us who's in charge!
This is Tabitha, who lives on the roof. She is our senior pet at age 14. She was an ordinary housecat until we adopted Astro in 2004. Their first unhappy meeting was enough to convince her she wanted a dog-free life, so she took up residence on the roof, and there she has remained for 4 years. The kids keep a ladder handy to feed her and pet her twice a day.
Astro no longer lives with us, but he's still part of the family. He was a bit too high strung, so he went with Mark in the divorce 2 years ago. He now lives with Mark's grandma Helen in Mesa, where he's starting to look like a fluffy white marshmallow from eating too many Happy Meals!
This is Astro after a run-in with a skunk that wandered into our yard one night. We all ran for the house, but Astro lingered long enough for the skunk to empty his scent glands on him--TWICE! Needless to say, he spent the night outdoors. The next morning Sarah gave him several tomato juice baths, rendering him this lovely shade of pinkish orange.
You may notice Astro has a "Popeye" look. He had a bad eye infection and lost use of his left eye despite repeated treatments by the vet.
After Tabitha retired to the roof, we decided to get a kitten to grow up with Astro. We ended up with two: brothers Gandalf (dark gray) and Gimli (brown stripes). They all bonded and became buddies.
Now at age 3 Gandalf and Gimli are more like teenage boys fighting over a girl, passing each other with snarls and pouncing when the other's back is turned. What happened to my sweet babies?
Gimli is the quiet, cautious boy (maybe due to falling 60 feet from the top of a pine tree onto his face when he was 6 weeks old).

Gandalf is spoiled and demanding. He'd do anything for a slice of ham (he's sharing one with Dylan at right). He drinks from the toilet and cries loudly if anyone leaves the lid down. (I doubt Dylan was considering the whole toilet water thing when we took the picture!)

And what do we say about Diego? We got Diego from my sister Karla last summer and he is now 15 months old. Judging by his ears, his color and markings, and his instincts, his father was clearly an Australian cattle dog of some kind, probably a blue heeler.

Even as a puppy he would try to herd our two cats by hovering over them and trying to control where they went. Gandalf and Gimli were not amused. (But we were!)

Since then, Diego and the cats have worked out a deal. If he gently scratches and rubs their itchy spots, they don't rip his face off.
Diego now weighs in at over 50 pounds, but he still thinks he's a little pup, perching on the kids' laps like a tiny chihuahua.
He also has a strange idea of what's fun. If you toss him a rock--a large rock--he will joyfully push and roll it around the yard as if you'd thrown him a beach ball. And he is obsessed with flashlights. He would rather chase the beam of a flashlight for hours than eat or sleep. If he finds that someone left a flashlight sitting on the table, he will sit and stare at it for ages, as if it will suddently spring to life and play with him. We suspect there may be some brain damage involved . . .
The rest of our furry family includes 3 bunnies, remnants of the years Sarah and Jacob spent in 4-H Club. Here you see all 3 of them in a lovely hutch Jacob made in his woods technology class last year, that his grandpa Myron helped him complete.

On the far left you can barely see black-furred Likki Nikki (short for her pedigree name, Licorice Nicole).
On the right is sable-furred Cocoa Puff, Sarah's best rabbit for show. She's calm and sweet-tempered, and she patiently endures all the showing positions.
In the center and with Sarah at right is Rosebud ("Rosie"), a purebred, red mini-rex who won best of breed at her first competition. Her fur is incredibly soft, like the original velveteen rabbit! After her initial showing, she never worked out as a good show rabbit, but she is a great pet.
Finally, in memory of our most recent hamster, Sox: When an older woman from church had to move out of her home, she asked for someone to give her beloved hamster a good home. My Sarah, the animal lover and budding vet tech, immediately volunteered (of course).

Sox was already at the end of the normal hamster lifespan, but the balding little guy was a friendly, curious sweetheart who went on to spend a year with us before he passed away in May.
Now our family tail is complete! Children help make our house a home, but pets definitely keep it real!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Soccer Stud

Soccer season is here again, whereupon our lives are taken over by weekday practices and Saturday games in the punishing sun or the pouring rain. We live for it!
Here is Dylan after his first game of the season last Saturday (August 9). He was very excited because his team, White Chaos (the boys named the team, go figure), won the game by a handy 6-0. Dylan kicked in 2 of the goals and set up a third point, so he was quite happy.
Yesterday's game was much more of a challenge, though. First of all, we weren't even sure there would be a game, thanks to a big thunder-storm that rolled in.
In the photo you can see storm clouds glowering over the ballfield adjacent to the soccer fields. The little white speck in the bottom left corner is Dylan.
To his delight, the lightning stayed in the not-so-far-off distance and only a light rain fell on us, so the game proceeded as planned. The boys played a hard-fought game that ended in a 4-4 tie.

In this picture you can see Dylan going head-to-head in yesterday's game. In the background you can just see a fence the town put up around the soccer fields. It seems it was becoming a problem to have horses and elk wandering onto the field all the time!
In Arizona, even here in the high mountains, we have a monsoon season, usually from late June to early September. It is characterized by daily heavy rains and noisy thunder-and-lightning storms that echo through the mountains. Mornings are generally clear until a storm rolls in during the afternoon. Most of the time it rolls out after a few hours, but sometimes it stays all night. It can be humid before a storm hits, but our temperatures rarely reach above the eighties during monsoon season. Personally, I love the monsoons!
We had some excitement at church today when lightning hit the roof over the chapel TWICE within a few minutes! The building rocked and the windows and doors quaked loudly. Kind of thrilling and frightening at the same time! No one was hurt, thankfully, but it fried the speaker system, which made a horrible piercing squeal for a short while. Never a dull moment here on the mountain!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Bison Ranch

Awhile back I mentioned our family vacation at Bison Ranch, so I thought I'd share some pictures from our trip. Thanks to the $4.00+ per gallon cost of gas, we chose to vacation close to home this year. Bison Ranch is located a short 40-minute drive away in the little mountain town of Heber-Overgaard. There are no theme parks in the area, but we did enjoy swimming, fishing, exploration, horseback rides, restaurants, and relaxation in our roomy 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom condo with full kitchen and laundry room. (We are WorldMark owners in a vacation club similar to but better than a timeshare. If you're interested, I'll hook you up!)

Dylan turned 11 on July 1st, which was during our stay (June 28 to July 5). His Aunt Dana and several cousins (also WorldMark owners) spent 2 days there in their own condo, and they were able to celebrate Dylan's birthday with him. His cousin Brinley taste-tested a goodly portion of the birthday cake while we were all down at the pool! That's my disgruntled boy on the right, glaring through the candle-smoke.
That's also Dylan at the top of this entry, about to be trampled by a cowboy-and-rearing-horse statue. Don't you love it! I thought we were terribly creative . . . or maybe just terrible?

We were reunited briefly with our missing son, Jacob. We picked him up from Camp Geronimo, about 1.5 hours away, on Wednesday and we took him back very early on Saturday morning, just hours before we had to check out of the resort. It was a special treat to get to see him in the midst of his summer job.

Posing for these Old West photos was an unexpected challenge. The first few poses were easy, but by the time we got to the 9th picture we were fresh out of ideas!

This is Dylan again, with his catch-of-the-day, a whopper of a rag-fish! He really thought he had The Big One on the line, but it turned out to be nothing more than a stubborn rag!

We went horseback riding twice, once for Dylan's birthday on Tuesday, and again after Jacob joined us, on Thursday.

We loved the time we spent together in the quiet forest and fresh air. We rode through some charred areas where the Rodeo-Chediski Fire destroyed large stands of pine back in June 2002. It was sobering, but still so beautiful and peaceful.

It was a wonderful vacation. The only rough patch was when I came down with a vicious stomach bug.

It knocked me off my feet for the last 2 days of our vacation (not much fun driving Jacob back to Geronimo while in that condition). Thank goodness for my beautiful friend Gwen, who spent Friday with us. She entertained my children, gave me a neck rub and put me to bed, helped the kids prepare meals and clean up, and helped them start packing for our return home. I honestly don't know what I'd have done without her sweet, helpful spirit.
Now we look ahead to our next summer vacation. We're making plans to spend 2 weeks traveling to Branson, Missouri, just a short drive from my baby brother Darryl's home near Springfield. We can't wait to see him and his family! Family trips are great--yahoo!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Graduate

It's hard to believe, but my firstborn is all grown up! Sarah graduated from Blue Ridge High on May 22 and is preparing to start classes at Northland Pioneer College in nearby Show Low later this month. That's her at left, with her two best friends since forever, Brandy and Kristin. The picture was taken at the graduation night lock-in, where the new graduates spent the night locked inside the school with tons of food and activities and friends. Donated prizes were given away, including a car, televisions, computers, and so on. The idea is to keep the kids safely indoors that first night rather than out partying, drinking, and driving. So far these past few years the program has been a great success.

As you can see, the weather was a little unexpected for late May. It started snowing several hours before graduation and continued on into the night, dropping a few inches of white stuff. The ceremonies are traditionally held on the football field, but this year graduation was moved inside the gym. It actually turned out to be quite nice.

One of the perks of teaching at our high school is that the school board invites us as parents to come up on the stand and present the diploma to our own children. This was my first opportunity to enjoy this particularly daunting experience in front of almost 200 graduates and nearly a thousand spectators. It was a little scary, but what an exciting moment, to present my daughter with the diploma she worked so hard to earn!

Sarah graduated with a 3.8+ grade point average and we're so proud of her! She also earned $2500 in scholarships, which she plans to use while earning her Associate degree. Eventually she wants to move to Mesa to attend Mesa Community College and train as a veterinarian technician, her dream career. (PS, my own dream includes grandchildren someday!)

Now there's just one thing left to do: Get a job!

Friday, August 8, 2008

School Daze

We survived the first week of back-to-school! This is Dylan (age 11) outside his new 5th grade classroom in the brand-new Blue Ridge Middle School on the first day of school, Wednesday, August 6. I hope he can keep that upbeat smile all year!
For all the 18 years we've lived here on the mountain, our entire school district (4 schools) and all its facilities have been contained on one large piece of property. No matter what grade my kids were in, they were just a short walk across a parking lot from my classroom. Now we have the brand-new middle school/junior high school about a mile away. Grades 5-6 are on one side and grades 7-8 are on the other, with shared gym, cafeteria, library, and nurse's office in between. It's pretty traumatic for Mom to have her baby boy so far away now!
Jacob (age 17) is now a junior at the high school where Mom teaches. He's jealous that his sister Sarah (age 18) graduated in May and didn't have to join us for that first day of school. She'll soon have her hands full with a job and college classes, though.

As for me, here I am (the Mom) at my old desk in a new classroom in a different building. Our growing high school was able to expand into the former junior high since it has been vacated. When I arrived in 1990 the high school had about 400 students; today it has over 900. Now we have an "East Campus" and "West Campus" so we're feeling pretty upper class collegiate these days! My new room is in the East Campus, where the old junior high computer lab was located.
This is my 19th year at Blue Ridge High and 14th as department chair. As you can imagine, I've accumulated a lot of materials in that time, especially during the 12 years I spent in my last classroom, so making such a major move in a few short weeks was an overwhelming job. Much thanks goes out to Sarah and Dylan, who helped set up my new room and singlehandedly moved most of my furniture for me!
Last week I was informed by the district Special Services director that I set a new record during the 2007-08 school year by directing 144 student-related meetings. I may yet beat that record! I already have 12 meetings scheduled for next week and almost as many the week after. Luckily the need for so many meetings eases up by about mid-September. Then I can breathe again. For now, I'm all moved in; I have the world's best teaching assistant, Wyndie; I have a great group of students; and Legolas is watching over me from the wall above my desk. Life is good!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Baby Boys

Our family has been blessed with an abundance of baby boys this year! On May 6 my nephew Jamison and his wife Monica had their first child, Trenton James. On June 2 my step-sister Becky and her husband Dylan had their first child, Dale Morgan. On July 2 my niece Ashley and her husband Matt had their second son, Garrett Marshall, who joins their firstborn Gage Lee. On July 10 my nephew Jeremy and his wife Cami had their second child, Jaren Dean (see above photo), who joins their firstborn Analyce Lichelle. (I must mention here that my niece Genevieve and her husband Scott have two sweet little girls of their own, Brooke Fern and Jaycee Lou.) And on July 19 my nephew Justin and his wife Alisha had their first son, Aiden Alan, who is a great comfort to them since the tragic loss of his sister Rhionna Dina last October. Thank Heaven that families truly are forever!

After we picked Jacob up from Camp Geronimo on Wednesday, we drove on down to Mesa--since we were halfway there already--to do some back-to-school shopping. We enjoyed eating out and swimming and visiting family. Sarah, Jacob, Dylan, and Jacob's friend Bryce spent the night at great-grandma Helen's house and had some time with their dad, Mark, and their former pet, beloved Jack Russell terrier Astro. (I myself luxuriated in a Holiday Inn suite all to myself!) Then we spent time with Aunt Karla and Uncle Brian and the kids' Mesa cousins. That's when we got to meet one of my new grand-nephews, Jaren, and take the attached pictures of him and his big sister Analyce. He is so huggable! Sarah, of course, held him for every possible second!

It was wonderful to see everyone, but we were very glad to return home to our cool White Mountains home after the 112 degree temperatures in the Valley of the Sun!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Prodigal Son

We finally picked up our long-gone Jacob from Camp Geronimo (located north of Payson, AZ) on July 30. He had been working at the Trading Post for 9 1/2 weeks, since May 24, and he was more than ready to come home! In fact, he met us at the bottom of Staff Hill with his foot locker and bag in hand, and lots of interesting stories to tell! We also brought home his friend Bryce, who lives in nearby Pinetop. The new little car was quite crowded!
This was Jacob's second summer as staff at Geronimo, and he has decided this was the last one! (Mom is relieved to hear that...) He's tired of sleeping in a hard bed and trying to digest camp food. His tales of their fish dinners are definitely not for the squeamish!
Jacob even celebrated his 17th birthday on June 26 away from us, although he was able to join us for 3 days of our week-long family vacation at Bison Ranch in July. Still, we know it has been a growing experience for him. And maybe, just maybe, he'll appreciate his home and family a little more.
Welcome home, Jacob! We missed you!