101 Market 2014

Another fall tradition is to visit the Nathe's 101 Market in Otsego, MN for their annual fall festival with G and our Bottolene cousins. The kids LOVE it. There is a corn pit, animal train, bouncy balloon, pedal carts, duck races, potato slinger, corn cannon, and petting zoo. This year we ventured into the corn maze for the first time, too. It was fun, but would have been better if I had a stroller for Silas.

We were blessed with another beautiful day! This fall is turning out to be one of the longest, warmest and most beautiful we've had in a while. I love it!

The highlight of the kids' day was when they found out the kittens at the petting zoo were for sale. I must be getting soft in my old age. I said yes, and we brought Minnie home that day. The Charlezoo keeps growing!

Thanks for the beautiful day, G!

Harpel Family Hayride 2014

Every fall, my side of the family likes to do a family hayride. It's always a blast, and every year as the kids get older, the fun escalates.

Usually my brother Micah and his family are not in town for this event (they are a military family stationed at Ft. Campbell), but this year they just happened to be home for a visit! For the first time in more than two years, the ENTIRE Harpel family was together -- and my heart was full to the very brim!

It was a wonderful time. We had beautiful, warm weather and a gorgeous sunset. The horse-drawn wagons at Bunker Hill Stable captivated the kids, and afterwards we celebrated our October birthdays around a bonfire. It was perhaps the most perfect night in years.

And here it is! Our first family photos since before Ruby was born! 11 adults, 15 kids, and 3 buns in the oven! And everyone is looking!

Left to right: Abigail (1), Micah, Missy, Jeremiah (4), Pete, Chloe (4), Anna (5.5),  Amber,  Ruthie (5), Christian (2), Naomi (7), Dad, Zachary (7), Mom, Ruby (6), Malachi (8.5), Nate, Elijah (8), Audra, Silas (2), Israel (7), JP, Rosie (4), Becky, Isaac (2) and Joe. 

The kids' favorite thing to do is jump off the back of the wagon. This is Anna jumping to Pete. 

Ruby in horsey heaven.

Pete and Nate were the rockstars of the night, chasing, carrying, and catching kids the whole time.

Grandma & Grandpa with all 15 of the gradkids

It's a race!

Micah and Joe give the youngest kids a fighting chance.

Our driver stopped the wagon at this huge sand hill for the kids to play on.

Isaac thought it was hilarious to throw hay on Christian. Christian was not amused! 

Everybody loves Uncle Joe!


Silas is 2!

Yesterday, we celebrated Silas' second birthday! I can hardly believe that my boy is growing so quickly.

We didn't do much in terms of celebrating. The previous week, we made a cake, sang, and opened gifts with my family when we were all together for our annual hayride (post coming soon!), so on the actual day of his birthday we kept it simple. We had a play date planned with some friends, so we brought a treat to share, and he received several phone calls from singing relatives. Every time someone sang to him, he looked surprised when they sang his name instead of someone else's.

Silas' construction cake. He loves his "chucks" (trucks) and plays with them every day.

 Silas, Nate and Christian are our October birthday boys.

Silas -- such a manly little dude! I am absolutely smitten by him. There's something about him being the perfect, shrunken-down image and personality of his daddy that I just can't resist! He is 100% boy, despite being surrounded by princesses, ponies, and polly pockets every day of his life. He loves to "ford fight" (sword fight) and wrestle, and he'll never pass up a chance to be outside.

At 2 years old, his favorite things are Daddy (above all else), drums, trucks, trains, being outside, Boz the Bear, apples, and "fighting." He L-O-V-E-S to drum on anything and everything and sing as loudly as he can. He also loves to read books, and he already knows all of his shapes, most of his colors and can count and sing his ABC's..."decently."

Silas is sure he is just as big as Rae and can do anything she can do, and Rae adores him so much that she happily helps him try. They are best buds. She takes such good care of him.

He is his daddy's boy, which also means he's very strong-willed and commanding! He marches around the house looking like a mini JP, using his loudest, deepest voice to boss around anyone or anything that will respond. (We are working on that.) ;)  He is sure to be a leader in his life, and we are committed to  teaching him what that means and entails.

Silas, I'm so thankful that God gave us you as a first-born son. You make me and Daddy so proud! You are fearless, funny, strong and smart, yet soft-hearted and affectionate. Every day you amaze me with the subtle ways you are changing and growing, slowing (yet too quickly?) transforming from my baby into a young, strapping boy. I can't wait to see what plans God has for you! Happy birthday, Si guy!


Pregnancy Update

I am now 9 weeks along in my 5th pregnancy, and I'm starting to feel it! So far it has been smooth sailing -- and even now, the "symptoms" are so minor that  I can't complain -- but I can feel the all-too-familiar signs of a healthy baby growing inside.

Most obviously, I. Am. Exhausted. All day long.

JP and I started waking up earlier about 8 months ago (you know, to "jump start" our day), and what started as 5:00 am has turned into 4:30 am. By 10:00 am, I'm pretty tired, and by 2:00 pm, it is all I can do to sit on the couch and read books to the kids without falling asleep, much less stay on top of the laundry, dishes, errands, and other daily tasks that are being more frequently neglected. By 8:00 pm, the kids all seem as fresh as daisies, and my gaze goes back and forth longingly between my bed and the clock, yearning for 8:30, bedtime, and the ensuing collapse.

Now, I used to quit coffee when I was pregnant, but that was before I was pregnant with four other pre-birthed children/homeschool/etc. This time around, I had no intention of giving up what I considered necessary for daily function.

But then the food aversions began. And wouldn't you know -- one of the first things to make me sick to my stomach? My coffee. I still want it. I still long to sip it's warm, nutty goodness and feel the caffeine electrify my blood. But as soon as the cup hits my lips, I start gagging and have to back away.

Nothing is appetizing. I force myself to eat for the baby's sake. And the baby is growing beautifully. In fact, the baby is the size of a grape this week. His or her "tail" is gone, hands and feet are forming, and eyelids are appearing over perfectly formed eyes. Even little teeth are growing. The heart finishes dividing into 4 chambers this week, and the valves are forming. I'm so thankful for this baby, and for the healthy body God gave me with such amazing capabilities. It all is truly such a miracle, and an honor.

See what a baby looks like at 9 week here. 


Camping at Itasca

This past weekend, we had the amazing joy of going on an extended family camping trip to Itasca State Park. In all, there were 9 adults and 10 kids present -- our family of six, plus my parents, my sister's family of 7, my brother's family of 3 and my youngest brother.

The gorgeous Elk Lake Group Camp at Itasca State Park

It was an amazing time -- something we used to do multiple times per year before life threw us curveballs and stole away what should have been taking place over the past six years, but hadn't. To me, it was symbolic of a year of jubilee for our family; an event to mark the restoration and healing that has taken place in my family.

We left Thursday evening after work. From our home, it's about a 3.5 hour drive to Itasca State Park. By the time we arrived, the sun was down, and we humored ourselves by driving a little too fast down the windy, hilly, dark forest road that lead to the campsite. When we came over the top of a hill, it looked as though we were plunging into blackness (because our headlights weren't hitting the road beneath us yet), and the girls would all squeal with suspenseful delight. It was great.

Thankfully, the girls had begged and pleaded to camp in JP's $60 hunting camper rather than our $600 Springbar tent (go figure), so we didn't have to pitch a tent in the dark. And we woke up to this:

Absolutely gorgeous!

One of the most entertaining aspects of the trip was watching Silas play/bond with his cousin Isaac. We don't get to spend nearly the amount of time with them that we'd like, so it was fun to have three full days of play time! My other nephew, Christian, was there too, but we saw less of them because they were staying in the park cabins instead of at the campsite. When the three of them were together, it was extra fun to watch!
Isaac & Silas enjoyed playing on/in the shelter most of all

My dad with his sweet setup

Ruby in the glorious morning sunlight

JP and I were the early risers of the trip.  On the very first morning, JP let Gideon (the dog) out of the camper while he got ready to sneak out without waking the kids. When he came out of the camper, he found Gideon with a nose full of porcupine quills! That poor dog! We did our best to get as many out as we could, but it was so painful for him -- and he is SO STRONG -- that even JP and I together couldn't hold him down to finish the job.

We ended up having to find a local vet who gave him some tranquilizers, removed the quills and gave him a shot of antibiotics. Then, because he was so "out of it," Gideon pooped in the car on the way home. What a morning! That poor, poor, dog...he was so scared and confused. It's hard to tell from this photo, but he was so dizzy and wobbly that he couldn't even hold his head upright. He was back to normal by later that afternoon.

 Later the next morning, we took a walk down a nearby path to Itasca's record red pine. It was such a picturesque morning, and all of the kids were being such great little models for me. :)

Rosie & Ruby pose at my request in front of this breathtaking background

All four kids looking at the same time! 

Isaac ponders whether we have lead him down the right path

Seriously? So beautiful. 

Rae with the record red pine

Joe & Isaac with the record red pine

Silas...tree hugger! (My favorite picture from the trip!)

Back at the camp, there was another short path that lead down the hill where we were camping to Elk Lake. Mom and I hiked down there with Rosie & Ruby that afternoon.

Back at the camp...
Joe contemplates more ways to be awesome

Rosie, my silly girl

Silas leaf bombs Isaac

Rosie jumps into the leaf pile

The next day, we were headed to see the Mississippi headwaters when we were diverted by an accident in the one-way road. We detoured to the fire tower trail, which turned out to be a gorgeous hike, albeit a little long for small companions.
My brother, Nathan

The forest was absolutely on FIRE! Nate was serenading us on his harmonica during our hike. 

Joe, Becky, Isaac & baby #2!

The 100 ft. fire tower

My love...we are still smiling because we haven't climbed the tower yet. 

It was a long way up! Eh, Mom & Becky?

My sweetie girls at the top of the fire tower. What champs!

View from the top

Becky, Isaac & Joe at the top

My look-alikes. JP carried at least one child all the way to the tower, up the tower, and back. 

My adorable mother, whom I love!

Just seeing my whole family together fills my heart to the top! 

After the fire tower, we continued to the Mississippi headwaters only to find it PACKED with tourists. The rest of the family went all the way in, but JP and I opted to skip that part since it was so crowded and the kids were getting super hungry. We waited for them back at camp.

2 of my sister's girls, Chloe & Ruthie

Christian playing in the leaves

Ruthie, Rosie & Chloe

 I can't thank God and my family enough for this amazing trip. My cup runneth over!