Wednesday, August 16, 2017

A Dozen Years With Luke

Our boy Luke turned twelve today.  Wanna see a cute baby picture of that guy?  I figured.

That was him on his first birthday.  This was him this morning:

Definitely the same kid.  Right?  Let me brag a bit on this boy because it's his birthday, I'm his mom, and this is my blog.  ;-)

Luke is a delight to us.  He is so intelligent and knowledgable while also being personable and fun-loving.  He unloads the dishwasher without complaint and gives his mom hugs without being asked.  He plays piano with a level of sensitivity and precision that awes his parents as well as his piano teacher.  He is soft-hearted toward people younger than him.  Multiple moms of toddlers have commented about how much they love the way Luke interacts with their kids.  I love it, too.  When he does funny things  (i.e. repeatedly rolling off the couch in slow motion) to entertain a visiting two-year old, I can see the man he is becoming, and he reminds me of his father.   A very good thing, people.

A quick word about the nearly teenage-ness of my son.  I am not afraid.  I am excited.  (Maybe a little nervous, too, but mostly excited.)  I believe the concept of teenager is a social construct.  I know Luke is moving toward adulthood, but that does not mean he has to rebel or be surly.  It means he has to intentionally seek out his place in this crazy world, try things on, suffer failure, and go back to the drawing board.  We will love, support, continue to train, and guide him while he does this.  We will also be intentional about finding ways to help Luke gain independence.  Yes, this process hurts a little, but it doesn't have to be miserable.  In fact, I think it is going to be epic.

End sermon.

Wanna see the rest of the pictures from the day's celebrations?  Sure you do.

 Getting the third in the Harry Potter series from us this morning.  He was pretty excited.

 But he also likes toys.  And we like that about him.  He's still a kid!  This is a new light saber set that he had been eyeing recently.  I love that we found it on clearance.  The Lord is so good.

The next picture was taken at breakfast where Grandma and Grandpa gave Luke a new watch, a nice watch, a fancy watch, a watch that he can program to help him remember things like taking ADD meds and accomplishing other important tasks.  He was pretty jazzed.  So were we.

Luke had requested Chick-Fil-A for lunch on his birthday.  We invited some friends along to make it even more fun.  They are almost all looking at the camera in this picture.  We tried.

The birthday party was a standard Bangsund affair, with a Star Wars theme and a movie shown.  Here is the cake.  It's a Baskin Robbins ice cream cake.  It was super yummy.

 I couldn't find twelve candles that were all the same.  The individual plugging his ears is doing so because our rendition of "Happy Birthday" was loud enough to be heard in the street.  For real.  Loud and proud, people.  That's us.

Then it was time for the movie!  "The Return of the Jedi" is a good one.  And the crowd enjoyed it.  Eleven kids, two dads and one grandma watched while three moms drank sparkling water in the living room upstairs.  Lovely.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

A decade with Paul

Paul turned ten today.  That is crazy.  In my mind, this is Paul:

See.  Amazingly adorable little man who has always made great funny faces.  Nope.  This was him this morning after building his birthday train:

Oh, my heart.  So, let me take a few minutes to brag to the world in general about the sweet, awesomeness that is our Paul.  Paul is our creative, brilliant, musical, tender-hearted youngest son.  He loves to draw and create.  He reads voraciously and loves to listen to audio books.  He plays piano better than any second year piano student I know.   And he can scat.  I'm not kidding.  It's not a public thing yet, but maybe later in life.  He struggles with his temper because he is passionate and sensitive like his mama.  And he can find clever solutions to problems by thinking outside the box like his daddy.  He will sit and draw a picture of dragons during the sermon at church, appearing like he isn't really listening, but then join in the dinner table conversation with spiritual truths he gleaned.  And he is quick to forgive.  Me, mostly but also his brother and dad.  Do you know how beautiful that is?  My prayer for Paul is that he would be quicker to forgive himself.  We all need that, right?

Here are a few other pics from our celebratory business.
 One hundred and eight gel pens from Oma!

 These two both helped prepare our house for Paul's party on Saturday.  We hung this banner last and they celebrated.  Perfect.

 Party time!  We watched Despicable Me 2 with a great group of people that included church friends, CC friends, and BSF friends.

 It's an ice cream cake from Baskin Robbins.  It was his one request and I was SO happy to grant it.

 We got Paul this plush Stitch.  (We only just recently watched Lilo and Stitch for the first time with the boys.) He rode with us to Denny's this morning for birthday breakfast.  They buckled him in on their own.  Adorableness.

 Grandma and Grandpa gave Paul cool glasses for biking.  Paul leaves on his overnight bike trip with Grandpa tomorrow!  These have a mirror that clips onto them, allowing Paul to have a rear view mirror of sorts while he rides.  So. Cool.

This picture really says it all.  He's ten, people.  And he's fun and awesome.  Clearly.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017


I want to apologize in advance for the crassness of this post.  I am going to name actual amounts of money given and received.  If that is too offensive to you, I’m sorry.  But not really.  Get over it!
Erik and I have always given to our church.  Sometimes it’s been ten percent.  Sometimes it’s been more.  I usually write that check.  And it hasn’t ever been a thing I was resentful about or afraid to do.  In fact, it has always given me joy.  I am not claiming to be some Super Christian.  In fact, I suck in a lot of other ways.  But this is one area where the Lord has granted me an obedient heart.  I am able to joyfully give money to my church.  Woot!
So, Erik got laid off about six weeks ago.  His former company, as part of the severance package, agreed to continue to pay him every two weeks for a period of 8 weeks.  I immediately restructured our budget to plow as much of those paychecks into savings as possible, not knowing how long our season of unemployment would last.  But I didn’t change the tithe amount.  Not one cent.  We made the money.  We would give some of the money.
However we were out of town the first Sunday I would have written a tithe check.  So, two paychecks worth had accumulated when it came time to write that puppy.  True confessions:  For the first time ever, it stung a little.  So, I prayed.  And it wasn’t some holy, awesome prayer, people.  It went a lot like this, “Lord, this stings!  And I’m scared!  Help!”  I was about to give away $600, an amount that could feed our family and fill our gas tanks for a month and a half.  Giving was suddenly more sacrificial than ever before. 
Well, I didn’t hear an audible voice in answer, but I knew I needed to write the check and give the check.  So, I did.  And I didn’t give it any thought afterward.  I had peace.  (Sidenote:  it helps that we go to an amazing church filled with folks who love us unconditionally and remind us of the goodness of the Gospel ALL the time.)
Fast forward a week and a half.  Erik had his final sharing night for Bible Study Fellowship last night.  If you don’t know what that means, think of around 150 men singing a hymn together and then taking turns sharing with each other about all the amazing things God has done in their lives over the course of the current year’s study.  Since February, Erik has been teaching this band of brothers from the book of John.  Every Monday night, he stood before them and gave them truths from God’s Word to encourage them, to convict them, and to draw them closer to their loving Savior, Jesus Christ.  It has definitely been a sacrifice of time and energy for Erik.  But he has done it SO joyfully.   I am fairly certain that it hasn’t stung at all.  In fact, it has been a huge blessing.  Because sometimes tithing isn’t just about money.  It’s about time.  Right?  The four hours of lecture preparation each weekend.  The two hours on Saturday morning to lead and train the leaders.  The two hours on Monday night to teach and serve the class members.  Joyfully given and abundantly blessed!
Here’s where this story gets incredible to me.  At the end of the night last night, Erik was handed a card from a person who wished to remain anonymous.  When he opened it, he found a SUPER encouraging note and $1400 cash.  I burst into tears and blubbered for a good five minutes when he told me.  People, God provides.  And tithing is important.  I wrote the check for $600 thinking about groceries and gas money.  God gave us twice that amount and then some.  Wanna know what the “then some” is for?  It’s for giving back to Him.
The lessons I learned from this experience:  When giving stings, pray.  Trust the Lord.  And give even when you think it is going to hurt.  Jesus did.  He died an excruciatingly painful death.  He gave His life.  And it was so worth it.  He rose again, conquering sin and death! 
When we give sacrificially we get to experience in a very small way the sting of dying to self and the joy of being raised to new life.  It is the Gospel all over again. 

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Here I Raise My Ebenezer

A few weeks ago one of the pastors at my church asked if I would write something to share in an all worship gathering this past Sunday.  So, I did.  Here it is.

I am a worshipper.  That probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise to those of you who sit anywhere on this side of the room.  But I also have a secret, quiet, sometimes silent way of worshiping Jesus that I will be sharing with you today.  I love to write.  Producing pages of oft times painfully crafted paragraphs feeds my soul.  Crazy, huh?  But because I love it, because God created me with this passion, I use it to worship Him, to praise Him, to honor Him.  And today He asks me to share that with you.
Ebenezer.  It’s a weird word.  I know I’m not the only one who immediately thinks of a Christmas story with a crabby old guy.  And I could write a literary essay about his transformation, but I won’t!  I DO need to talk about this word though because it has more meaning to me in my current season of life.  I’ll get there.  But first, the weird word.
Ebenezer comes from the Hebrew for stone of help.  It was coined by Samuel after God had helped the Israelites subdue the Philistines at Mizpah.  It’s okay if you don’t remember that time.  Just know that the Philistines were big, scary enemies of God’s people and God had taken care of that business miraculously.  Samuel wanted the people to remember the place and time when God intervened and saved them.  God had worked in a powerful way on behalf of His people.  And so a rock, a stone of help, an Ebenezer was set up to remind the people of what God had done.  Okay.  I’m going to jump to present day Portland, OR, but try to keep the Ancient Israelite Ebenezer or Stone of Help in your head.  I’ll get back around to it.
On March 29th, Erik received an email saying that the following day 480 folks in his company would be laid off.  That’s 38 percent of the workforce.  We immediately reached out to our Roots Family and other believers in our lives, asking for prayer, trusting God to accomplish His plan for our lives.  The next morning at 7am Erik received the call from his manager letting him know that he was among those who were no longer employed.  And we again immediately texted our praying friends, letting them know that Erik had indeed been let go by his company, but not by our gracious, loving God.  (That was Erik’s awesome, Holy Spirit-inspired verbiage, which I immediately stole)
So, after eleven years, his job was just over.  He didn’t put on a tie.  He didn’t gather his detail bag.  He didn’t load up his car.  So. Weird.
I won’t lie.  We were a little stunned.  Not because we thought we were immune to such things.  More because we hadn’t really processed all that was involved.  Our loss loomed over us like the proverbial cloud of grief.  It wasn’t really the lack of income that concerned us those first few days.  We mourned the job that Erik had loved, the job the Lord had given to him.  We grieved that the career that brought us to Portland and re-defined Erik’s professional journey was over.  It was a good job.  We would miss it.
Those first few days really are blurry, filled with that foggy-headed existence that accompanies grief.  Our lives certainly did NOT slow down, but things happened without our awareness, daily events rolling on, one into the next. 
And in the midst of all this, the Body of Christ became so very real to us.
Two meat packs were purchased by members of our Gospel Community, their hearts touched by my recent sharing about a Christmas from my childhood.  Nuttelmans and Steeles – thank you for overflowing our freezer with meat. Every time we sit down to dinner, we give glory to God and thank Jesus for you. 
Our kids were invited to play for long afternoons, allowing Erik and I to go through the severance package and restructure our budget without distractions and with as many tears as necessary.  Thank you Kemples, Smiths, and Vices for loving our boys like they are family.
Invitations to dinner were extended and immediately accepted.  Thank you Gleasons and Smiths.  The fellowship alone blessed our souls but the steak and Swedish meatballs certainly didn’t hurt!
Meals and toilet paper and cereal and snack food arrived at our home.  And when I went to Winco and only had to spend $40 to feed my family for the week, it was easy for me to help the young mom in front of me who was going to put back her whole grain bread and organic yogurt because her WIC benefits hadn’t rolled for the month.  Thank you Smiths, Vices, and Abarias.  You sponsored that moment at Winco with your generosity and sacrifice.
The Body of Christ is an amazing thing, friends.  Up until this moment in our lives we have always felt loved by our Roots Family.  But this has been the event that has allowed our Roots Family to physically and financially be the hands, feet, and wallet of Christ to us.  (Is it irreverent to say the wallet of Christ?  Too late, I already did.)  And there is something beautiful about receiving help from the hands of brothers and sisters who love you unconditionally.  We have often been on the giving end of this equation.  It has been humbling, glorious, horrifying, encouraging, difficult, and SO, SO good to be on the receiving end of sacrificial giving.  A lot like our salvation.  I look at the Cross of Christ and think, “That was too expensive.  He should not have done that.  That price was too high.”  And then I get on my knees and am inexpressibly grateful that He did.  I guess what I’m trying to say, Roots, is that I see a very small, not yet complete but still incredibly beautiful picture of Jesus Christ in you.
So, now I need to remind you of the weird word.  Where does an Ebenezer come into all of this?  Needless to say we began to see God’s hand of provision and help in almost everything.  While on a walk around the block during that first week, a neighbor and fellow follower of Jesus engaged us in conversation, challenging us to write down all the Lord had done so far.   I totally agreed, knowing that I WANTED to write it all down, but that I also NEEDED a visual representation, a remembrance and acknowledgement for our entire family and anyone who entered our home.
God inspired Samuel to place that stone of help so that the people would remember what He had done.  I wanted to place stones so we would remember, too.  I created an Ebenezer wall in our dining room.  

Let me be clear:  I am NOT a crafty person.  Ask anyone who knows me well about my gifts and crafty will NOT be on any of their lists.  But this did not need to be pinterest worthy.  And while creating it that first Saturday, I knew it was exactly what the Lord wanted. Each stone has a single act of love and/or provision.  Most of them are from folks with whom we share life, but a few are from strangers who had no idea how the Lord used them to bless us.  He can do that.  He is God.
And the dining room is the perfect place for it.  Every time we sit down to eat food we didn’t purchase or a meal we didn’t prepare, we remember the Lord and all He has done.  Our gratitude to our loving God overflows, friends. 
We are in the midst of a fairly uncertain time.  But we are unable to forget God’s great love for us seen in the person of Jesus Christ and experienced more than ever through our brothers and sisters in Him.  It is not a road I would have picked, but I am glad He brought us to it if for no other reason than it has set me here in this place, a place of our weakness and His strength, our privation and His provision, our want and His willingness.  This is where I stand and this is where I give Him glory.  This is where I worship.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Luke is eleven

Oh, friends.  My first-born son turned eleven today.  I don't brag about my kids very often...because I spend all day every day with them and I see their flaws (my flaws in them) clearly.  But today, as he balances on the edge of adolescence, I can easily brag about Luke's strengths.

He is articulate and well-read, much more so than I was at his age.  Sometimes Luke enters an adult conversation about theology and adds to the discussion.  What in the world?  More importantly, he is compassionate, striving to love others and serve selflessly (sometimes).  He delights to volunteer in the 2-year old class at our church.  Who does that? Plus, he is so quick to forgive me.  I've given him plenty of opportunity to practice over the past eleven years.   Okay.  He's not perfect, but he is soft-hearted toward His Savior, Jesus Christ.  Simply put, even if I weren't his mom, I think I would be impressed by Luke.  (I'm so biased...there is no way to be sure.)

I could go on.  But instead, I'll post pictures of all the fun ways we have celebrated Luke over the past few days.  :-)

 On Saturday, we had some friends over to watch The Empire Strikes Back.  It was super fun.  Here are most of the peeps posing on the couch before the movie.  The matching t-shirts are a new tradition here.  I gave up party favors last year and bought cheap, awesome, Star Wars-themed t-shirts at Target instead.  I love the results, and I hope all the parents do, too.

After the picture, we went to the basement the film began.  We eventually had eight kids and three dads.  It was great.

Then yesterday we met Grandma and Grandpa at The Old Spaghetti Factory for birthday lunch.  Luke ordered and ate all of an adult serving of spaghetti with marinara, including the cup of minestrone soup.  I didn't know he ate that kind of soup!  (I think we are quickly entering the phase of life when Luke eats food regardless of whether it is familiar or not...good for physical growth...bad for my grocery budget!)

As we ate lunch, Luke opened his gifts from this portion of his fan club.

 New bike clothes!

 Super fun spy gear set, including a pen shaped voice recorder and night goggles.

Luke also got a set of marshmallow shooters, but all the pictures were blurry because he was bouncing in excitement.  

 Birthday rainbow sherbet!

It was a sweet, little celebration.  The wait staff was so sweet and Luke had a great time.

This morning, the actual day Luke arrived eleven years ago, he happily built his birthday train and posed for pictures.  Are these days numbered?  Probably, but I'm going to enjoy them while they last.

 This might be my favorite picture ever.  It captures their hearts for each other and really for me.  Their willingness to pose and smile and snuggle for the camera is really out of love for their mom.  Because what they really want to be doing is this...
 But I also like this one.  Because it is so very Luke and Paul.  :-)

After breakfast, Luke opened his gifts from Mom and Dad.  At his party on Saturday, we gave him a length of 100 feet of rope.  And some of you are thinking that we are weird.  Well, people, it's what he wanted.  He was delighted and has already made use of it in multiple ways including a belt to hold his sword and a separated length devoted to practicing knots.  He's so cool.

So this morning's first gift stuck to the theme of useful, but awesome.  We gave Luke his first tools.

 A set of crescent wrenches, a multi-tool, and a bag for all the goods.

And now, lest you think we such practical parents, we also gave him this:
 It's a ginormous nerf gun.  This thing is so big, it uses batteries to shoot.  And Luke loves it.

Once our presents were done, we jumped in the car and drove to Canby where we had a lovely second breakfast of pancakes and bacon with my mom.  I utterly failed to take pictures though.  Weak.  But my mom gave him the next four Redwall books.  This is a series that Luke read in its entirety last summer.  That's twenty-two books, folks.  Now he wants to own them all so he can re-read them whenever he wants.  He was thrilled to add these four to his collection.

After food and presents, we headed to the Clackamas County Fair to spend the day with some of our dearest friends.  One of our favorite six-year olds showed his bunny for the first time with 4-H.  He did awesome!  Then we spent the next four and a half hours doing the fair together...just the free stuff...because that's how we roll.

After seeing the exhibit halls, including the Legos and the flight simulator, both wildly popular, we jumped aboard the free train ride.  It's a great way to see the fair and sit for twenty minutes.  :-)

 I like this picture.  Luke is chilling.  Paul is doing bunny ears.  Paul's buddy is enjoying the bunny ears.  And our favorite eleven year old girl is doing her best to pretend like she doesn't know any of them.  Right?  ;-)

The kids with the moms.  I am blessed to have this family in my life.

After the train ride, we all met Timber Joey.  It's terrible that I had to explain to the boys who he is, but they were totally game to pose with him after I explained the whole chain saw thing.  :-)

We grabbed some lunch and Holly took another fabulous selfie.  She is really good at that!

We spent time doing other fun fair things, like visiting the pioneer village and watching our female buddy roll her pigeon in a 4-H demonstration.  No, that's not a typo.  Roller pigeons are real things.  Google it and get ready to giggle.  They are fun and funny to see.

The boys also spent a LOT of time climbing on the farming machinery that is always on display and available for kids to enjoy.  It makes me so happy that my guys still love this type of thing.  At one point, Luke was spending his time helping smaller kids climb up into the seat of one particular machine.  I think the other parents believed that he was a fair volunteer or a farm machinery employee.  He's a natural when it comes to serving small people, even in places where he isn't expected to do so.  What a great kid!

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Happy 9th Birthday, Paul!

Paul turned 9 today.  That is crazy!  Mostly because I remember this little guy...

He's a little bigger now...

And he loves to make faces.  :-) We had a pretty great day with this guy.  He started by making his birthday train, followed by some presents from his family.

We got a Paul a Lite Brite.  The new, improved version uses LEDs that never die with batteries.  It is WAY cooler.  Paul really liked it.

Paul's first creation - It's a monster face with the moon.  Fun!

We also got Paul this glow-in-the-dark Hex Bug maze.  Hex bugs are little battery powered wiggly things that can crawl through these tubes.  Paul really likes to watch them, talk to them, and narrate what they are doing.  That fact that it glows in the dark just makes it that much cooler.

Erik also found this rubix snake thing.  It folks out flat, but can also be used to make LOTS of different things.  Right up Paul's alley.

Paul spent the morning enjoying his new things (with a few hiccups because brother was a little envious).  I was able to bake the cupcakes and get the house a little cleaner, but not much, in preparation for the birthday party at 1pm.

We hosted a screening of "The Lego Movie" for Paul's birthday this year.  There were eight kids and six adults.  It was great.  We wisely chose to show the film to the boys for the first time last night.  Inevitably, the first time my guys view anything, they have LOTS of questions and comments.  About 15 minutes in to the film last night, Erik and I simultaneously realized that this was the boys' first experience with what we would consider to be a modern action film.  They kept exclaiming loudly, "WOW! Did you see that?!?"  They are in no way inured to action sequences.  They respond enthusiastically to the insanity that is a modern chase scene.  It was super fun to see it through their eyes.  And I'm glad that at nine and nearly eleven, my guys are impressed by these things, rather than being so accustomed to them as to find them blasé.  It also makes it SUPER fun to watch movies like this with them!

So, the guests came, we showed the movie and I took a picture or two.

Everyone enjoyed the movie.  And then we opened presents and ate cake.  And it was a party!

This sweet customer was a last minute addition to the guest list when Paul asked on Sunday as we left church, "Can Caroline come to my party?"  She's five, super fun, and adorable.  After a few quick texts, she was all in.  She did get up the most during the movie, but it was a delight having her here.  She was explaining to Paul in this picture that she accidentally wrote "Happy Birthday, Paul" upside down on his card.  Paul didn't seem to mind.  :-)

I didn't get a candle shot of Paul with his cupcake, but this is his face while we sang to him.  Pretty happy customer.

I haven't really spent much time thinking about my youngest being nine years old.  We love our Paul.  We are thankful for all the ways he is maturing and growing.  And we think he is so stinkin' fun.  I'm actively ignoring the fact that this birthday marks his halfway point to adulthood.  Some days are long, folks, but the years - they are crazy short.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Our BIG Trip!

We went on our biggest, longest trip as a family of four, and it rocked.  Let's talk about that.

Back in January (I think) Erik's side of the family began talking about having a family reunion this summer in Minneapolis.  Looking at a map of the United States, I thought to myself, "Heck, that's halfway to my sister's place in New York.  We should totally go there, too."  Right?  And then I googled how long it takes to drive from my sister's place to Boston, the birthplace of the American Revolution, which we spent the bulk of our school year studying.  Three hours, people.  Clearly we needed to go there as well.  So, we did.  We did it all.  Eleven days, three states, five flights, and two rental cars later I can say with all confidence, we are raising some awesome travelers.  These boys absolutely rocked.  Yes, we all had moments that were less than lovely, but they were short-lived and they did not flavor the trip.  We made awesome memories with family and saw the places we had read about in books.  Epic.  Wanna see the pictures?  Of course you do.

Warning:  Many pictures are just my adorable nephews.  Many other pictures reveal my new crush on the city of Boston.  You've been warned.

We start in Minneapolis.  This was our adorable, sweet, awesome airbnb find.  I don't have any pictures of the interior, but it was sweet.  And the boys didn't break anything.  A triumph!

We had bunnies in our yard.  I'm sure they are a hassle for the gardeners in this neighborhood, but I found them delightful.

We spent lots of time with family, including the morning when I took this picture of Paul being himself on the couch with Michael and Dave.  Good times.

Erik's new hobby is the rubix cube.  He got Dave one for his birthday and then taught him how to solve it...sort of.  ;-)

Here is our entire group, minus Uncle Jim, who was taking the picture.  

Here is my ten-year old being terribly proud of how close he is to being Grandma's height.

And then it was time for two more flights!  We said goodbye to family in Minnesota and headed toward more family in Upstate New York.

I took this picture of Luke and he took the picture of me and Daddy and Paul.  

Our flights went really well.  The boys read, played their handheld video games, and listened to audio books.  Happy!

And then, we arrived at my sister's place.  It was a moment of awesomeness watching these cousins meet for the first time.  My nephews, Joe and Rory, met us at the gate and all four boys immediately raced around the side of the house into the backyard.  It was beautiful.  All the pictures are blurry because they just never held still.

 All four boys headed back toward the house.

 Rory on the deck

 Joe with his light saber
The following four days were filled with running, swimming, jumping, and shouting.  It was magical and crazy.  Yes, there were moments, especially toward the end, when they began to treat each other like brothers...bossing and bickering from my guys mostly.  So, we had some time-outs.  But overall it was pretty sweet time for these four to get to know each other.

 Joe and Luke

 Paul and Rory being robots

 Making faces

 Chilling together on the deck

 Selfie with Aunt Amy!

 Rory loves his old Oregon Ducks shirt, so I got him a new one.  :-)

 The pool!

On Tuesday, our third day there, we took a trip to Saratoga to visit the battlefield.  It was so cool!  The National Historic Park there is well worth the visit.  We spent the better part of four hours there and could have spent more if we'd had the time.  We started in the Visitor's Center and then drove the battlefield sites, getting out to walk around at seven of the ten stops.  Here are the pics.

 Probably the boys' favorite thing: a map with embedded LEDs that light up to show troop movements as an audio recording tells the story of the battle.  We watched it twice.

 Completely enthralled

 Farmhouse from which General Horatio Gates commanded the American troops.

 Cannon on Bemis Heights, placed here to prevent the British forces from reaching Albany by water.

 These three doing history and science together...lots of cool insects in this battlefield.

 Luke points to where the American forces attacked from, forcing the British to retreat to a nearby wheat field on September 19, 1777.  One thing that I noticed - these battlefields are huge.  When you read it in a book, you forget that thousands of men were involved.  The spaces had to be large.

And now the most thought-provoking monument I've ever seen.

 "In memory of the most brilliant solder of the Continental Army who was desperately wounded on this spot...7th October 1777, winning for his countrymen the decisive battle of the American Revolution and for himself the rank of Major General."

Why just a boot?  Why not this man's face?  Why isn't he named?  It was Benedict Arnold.  He truly was the hero of Saratoga.  Without his bold actions to ride across the line of fire and take the Breymann Redoubt, the Americans would not have won the battle and might not have won the war.  When we arrived at this monument, the boys already knew the story.  And they knew Arnold's eventual choice to betray his country, brought on by bitterness regarding an overlooked promotion.  Pride.  We all stopped and read Genesis 4:7, God's words to Cain after his offering wasn't accepted.  "You will be accepted if you do what is right.  But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out!  Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you.  But you must subdue it and be its master."

Arnold's heroism and downfall was a clear example to us all about how sin can completely ruin an otherwise admirable human being.  He allowed the sin of pride to be his master.  And so, despite being the man who won the Battle of Saratoga, his name is forever synonymous with betrayal.  Okay.  End sermon.

And now, back to the pool!

 One of the last pictures I took of the cousins.  It pretty accurately portrays them!

Thursday morning, the Bangsund crew headed for Boston, via the Massachusetts turnpike.  It was a lovely drive and we arrived at Minuteman Park in the early afternoon.  We enjoyed the visitor center and then headed out to see a few sites.

 The exact spot where Paul Revere was taken captive on the road between Lexington and Concord.  He never finished the ride!  Did you know that?  Luke did.  He read that book in his hand, Mr. Revere and I, a fictionalized account of these events as told by Paul Revere's horse.  We highly recommend it for folks of all ages!

Our next stop was Concord.  At this point we were running out of time because the rental car needed to be returned.  Luke picked Concord over the Lexington Green.  I was cool with that.

 The boys in a tree at Concord that was probably standing the day of the skirmish.
 Standing on the bridge that was the site of the first shots.
 Looking out toward the bridge.

From there, we headed into town.  Erik did an amazing job getting us into town in the midst of rush hour traffic.  By the way, lest you imagine that the traffic is all headed out of town on a Thursday at 5pm, it wasn't.  I think that in cities of this size, it just gets crazy and maybe stays crazy all the time.  I don't know for sure because we returned the car and spent the next two and a half days walking!

So, I need to go back a bit.  When we were considering this trip and I was looking at lodging in Boston, I needed to make a choice.  Pay less and stay farther from the things we wanted to see or pay more and be able to return the car and walk everywhere.  I am SO, SO, happy that I decided to fork over the extra money to stay where we did.  We rented a two-bedroom apartment through airbnb that was across the street from Boston Common and a two minute walk from the start of the Freedom Trail.  Perfect location!  Money well spent, people.  We will do it that way every time.

Our first evening in Boston, we headed over to the park.  I have a confession to make.  I now have a complete crush on the city of Boston.  Our time there was nothing short of magical.  So, excuse me while I gush and rave.

Boston Common is my new favorite spot on earth.  Yes, it's a public park, but it is so gorgeous.  Let me prove it:

And it abounds with awesome historical business like this monument commemorating the year Boston was founded, 1630, by Puritans.

And then there are the literary references:
 When Luke was two years old, we read Make Way for Ducklings to him so many times that he had the entire first three pages memorized.  I can still hear his little voice saying "Mistuh and Missus Mawurd wuhr wooking for a puh-wace to wihve."  Now look at him.  (deep mommy sigh)

Okay!  Beacon street is beautiful.  Like this:

The next day was my birthday!  And it was our only full day in town, so we filled it!

 Outside the Granary Burying Ground, this man was nice enough to pose with the boys.

We saw the grave of James Otis, a man the boys became familiar with through the reading of Johnny Tremain and the viewing of the Liberty's Kids series.  He was really one of the first men to speak out against the Writs of Assistance, early British legislation that infringed on the rights of colonial merchants.  We also saw the graves of Paul Revere, Samual Adams, the victims of the Boston Massacre, and the parents of Benjamin Franklin.

Next came the Old South Meeting House.  I didn't take any pictures outside!  But you can google it.  This was the place where Sam Adams spoke to a gathering of at least 5,000 folks on the evening of December 16, 1773 while they waited to see if the colonial governor would allow the Dartmouth, a tea ship waiting in the harbor, to return to Britain with its cargo, rather than unload it, forcing the colonists to pay the taxes due.  When the messenger announced that the governor would not relent, Sam Adams reportedly said, "This meeting can do nothing more to save the country," a pre-arranged signal for the Sons of Liberty to proceed to the wharf and dump the tea.  It started in this building!  And we were there!  EEK!!  I LOVE living history!!  Here are the pics from inside Old South.

 An interactive map!
 These two men presented a dialogue between a patriot merchant and a British regular, highlighting what each might have been experiencing in the days that led up to the Boston Tea Party.

And then, because it was my birthday, we stopped at Starbucks and got cake pops!

We continued on our way, headed for Paul Revere's house, but I stopped to take this picture of the Old State House.  (We went inside the following day...keep scrolling!)

This was the only shot I took of Paul Revere's house.  We weren't actually permitted to take any pictures while inside.  So, I'll just say that it was very interesting.  It's one of the oldest original structures in Boston.  And it was NOT a big home.  One thing to think about for future visitors - this place was absolutely packed on Friday at 11am.  It opens at 10am.  I would maybe go on a weekday when it opens.  Just a thought.  :-)

Then we got hungry.  We had just heard from the actors at the Old South Meeting House about the meetings the Sons of Liberty used to have at the Green Dragon Tavern.  We had passed it on the way to Paul Revere's house, so we went back!

 Luke is tired and hungry in this picture.  But I'm posting it anyway.  It was nearly 2 o'clock in the afternoon.  Definitely time to feed the people.

 The place is filled with cool Revolutionary War artifacts.  So cool!  

After our late lunch, we decided it was time to rest.  We walked back to our apartment and spent a few hours doing not much.  The boys played their handheld video games and we napped.  Lovely.

After rest, the boys really wanted to try the wading pond on Boston Common.  And since it's my new favorite place, I agreed it was a splendid idea.

 The backdrop of city buildings against the park is just stunning to me!

For birthday dinner, we grabbed McDonald's pancakes for the kids and Thai takeout for the grownups.  Our first night in Boston, we did a fun Italian restaurant with the boys.  I didn't really want to press my luck with tired children on my birthday.  Take out seemed smart.

Saturday was our final day in Boston, but our flight didn't leave until 6:30 pm.  Our airbnb host was gracious enough to allow us to leave our luggage in the apartment until we headed for the airport.  We were able to go enjoy the city unencumbered!  Sweet!

We headed for the Old North Church.  Rather than walk for twenty minutes, we took the subway.  Luke was pretty impressed by the sight and sound of his first subway train.  Those puppies are loud!

There it is!  One if by land; two if by sea.  The spire is a replica thanks to Hurricane Carol in 1954.  But it still looks awesome.

The boys are holding our copy of Johnny Tremain.  I can't help myself.  We read about these places all year long!  When we get to see them, it feels so special and amazing.

 Another picture with the book in front of the entrance to the church.  Costumed gentleman was super sweet and accommodating...probably meets crazy history geek moms all the time.

As we entered the church, a presentation was just beginning, so we took a seat in one of the box pews.  We looked over and read this plaque:
 HA!  Extra brush with cool history - no extra charge!

This clock is original to the church.  It's over 300 years old and still runs.  That's impressive to me.

 The sanctuary

 This plaque explains that General Thomas Gage viewed the Battle of Bunker Hill from the spire of this church.  The boys thought that was cool.  Because it is.

This is the window through which Robert Newman escaped on the night he hung the two lanterns.  There were British Regulars stationed at the church, probably because it was the tallest structure in all of Boston, the perfect signal tower.  Newman climbed out this window, eluding them.

Another picture of the spire because it is beautiful against the blue sky and the green trees.

And because it was my birthday, I wanted my picture taken with these ladies in historical garb.  :-)

We did the behind the scenes tour, which allowed us to climb to the first level of the bell tower.  Paul Revere was hired as a teenage boy to ring those bells.  He climbed those stairs.  We sat in the room where he worked.  I love it!  Sidenote:  I probably would not recognize most of the folks considered to be celebrities today.  And even if I did, I'm confident I would ignore them if I saw them. Seriously. But if historical figures were walking around, somehow resurrected, I would turn into a mushy, gushy school girl and probably follow them around asking for their autographs.  That's just how I roll.

 Luke climbing the stairs to the bell-ringing tower.

By the time were we done at the Old North Church, we had about three hours until our flight.  Too soon for the airport.  So, we stopped off at the Old State House for an hour.  It was a great museum!  There were lots of interesting artifacts and plenty of interactive exhibits for the boys to enjoy.

 Our final interactive map!

 Actual weapons from the Battle of Bunker Hill

 The balcony from which the Declaration of Independence was first read to the citizens of Boston on July 18, 1776.

 The table where the colonial government of Massachusetts met.

Well, people, that might have seemed like a lot of pictures, but I did an amazing job of paring down from the 377 that I took.  It was a glorious trip.  We learned that our kids can travel well, eating at non-chain restaurants and walking for three to five miles a day in high humidity and moderate temperatures.  I think the key to our success was drinking lots of water and stopping when we were tired.  We didn't get to Bunker Hill or the U.S.S. Constitution because we stopped when we were tired.  But we all have mostly sweet, awesome memories of our time in Boston.  And that was the goal.  Go Team Bangsund!