Monday, April 28, 2014

Day 11-- We're Home!!

Let's begin with the good news.  We're home.  We're safe, we're alive, our van worked great, and our home is still standing (mostly).
It was an okay drive home.  There's some wild weather in the country right now and we saw a lot of it.  We didn't see any tornadoes, but we had a LOT of wind, rain, and snow. 
We had a super early morning-- we were off and driving by 4:30am Utah time.
Everyone slept a bit.
Some watched movies.
I discovered and had way too much fun playing Fruit Ninja.  The Kindles and Abe's work iPad were popular items.
We listened to books on tape-- the most popular being some world history CDs.
Abe laughed until he cried while quoting scenes from Dumb and Dumber.  For the record, I have never seen this movie, but Abe was laughing so hard that it got me laughing till I cried.
And Abe drove and drove and drove. 
We finally got home around 7:20pm.  We like long car rides together, but 15 hours is too much.

Okay, are you ready for the bad news.  Our neighbors had told us the fence between our homes got blown down in a wind storm earlier in the week.
Fortunately, this family is renting the home and their owners will cover the cost to have it fixed. 
That's kind of a bummer, but this next little surprise was downright unpleasant to discover.
 Our upstairs toilet somehow leaked or overflowed or something and it soaked the floor, and the ceiling of the playroom downstairs (directly below the bathroom) fell out.  Carpet is soaked upstairs near the bathroom and in the girls' room and down in the playroom.  There was a mattress on the floor of the playroom that is soaked as well. 
What a mess.
After such a long drive we were all anxious to rest and get to bed, but that was not to be.  We spent the evening moving all the furniture out so disaster cleanup can get started tomorrow.  We don't know when the leak started, but I would guess it was doing damage most, if not all of the time, we were gone. 
There is our ceiling on the floor. 
We'll see how long it takes to get everything fixed up.  It looks to me like it's going to be a pretty big project.  I'll not complain too much, since I may end up with new carpet when it's all said and done.  I suppose I'll trade a mildew smell now for a new carpet smell in the future.  Just kind of a hassle for a while.  

But it was a wonderful trip.  I'm so grateful for the many people who made such an event possible.  And now I am extremely happy to arrive home safely to a mostly standing house.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Day 10 -- Only Because I've Made it This Far

Only because I've made it so far blogging every day of the trip, I shall post again this evening.  I am writing from a cozy little hotel room in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Glamorous, eh?  It's no Ritz-Carlton, but it will do.  Abe did a good job of finding us a very reasonably priced room with enough sleeping space for 8 people and nobody on the floor.  Not an easy feat.
We didn't have a very long driving day today, but tomorrow will be a little uglier.  We've got two long, boring states left to get through-- Nebraska and Wyoming.  Blah. 
That complaint aside, we do enjoy long car trips as a family, so it's not too bad. 
We had a rather leisurely morning leaving our hotel in St. Louis.  The Flynns and we found a 10:00am branch to attend Sacrament meeting.  The building was a converted old mortuary and the members were so friendly and welcoming to us.  We quite enjoyed it and after several days of unfamiliar activities, it felt so good to be at church-- which is always familiar no matter where you go.
This picture is Abe with his daughters, plus Raven.  We enjoyed having Raven with our family for much of the trip, so she was pretty much like one of the daughters this week.  Clark led a picture-taking-revolt, which is why we're not all in the picture.
We hit a couple of seriously heavy rainstorms on our drive today.  We just don't get that kind of rain in Utah.
Because it was right on the way, we decided to stop at the LDS Visitors' Center in Independence, MO-- even though we'd already driven by it on an earlier leg of the trip.  They have a nice church history exhibit and tour. 
Our very favorite part was the adorable horse and covered wagon in a small children's play area.  Oh, I want one so bad! 
Hopefully we won't encounter such rough roads tomorrow as we head home!  Oh, I love my home and am excited to be back!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Day Nine -- Finishing Up the Competition

Clark, Jakob T., Tanner, Jakob S., and London.
We won our final match this morning at 9:45am, finishing with a 5-5 record, ranked 54th out of 100 teams in our division.  We were hopeful, but not expecting, to be chosen by one of the top 8 teams into an alliance to go on to quarterfinals.  We were not picked so our competition was over by 11:00 today.
Not such a great picture, but there we are in our final match.  FRC has been a very different experience than FLL was three years ago.  Our family all agreed that we enjoyed the FLL championship more than FRC.  It is much more international and more well rounded as far as robot, project, judging sessions and such.  FRC is more serious, intense, and focused solely on the robot.  As far as our time in St. Louis, we've spent much more time at the stadium and less time exploring the city.  Of course the robotics competition is why we came, so I suppose that is as it should be.
George frequently and quickly fell asleep when we were in the stadium.  It was very loud and overstimulating for him, so his defense was to sleep.  No complaints from me-- it did make it easier to keep track of him.
Sometimes he'd stay asleep even when we were on the move.
Here we are, somewhat disappointed, leaving the stadium after the alliance selections to go get some lunch.
Here is much of the team after the finals of our division.  The team had broken down and packed up the pit and loaded a bit of equipment into our van.
We are grateful for our relationships with these outstanding people.  We're all a bit wiped out after the last few days-- lots of noise, crowds, and not much down time.  Our family has been away from home for over a week and we operate best in our routine.  I, for one, am weary of keeping track of people.  Our children and all the kids that tagged along with us on our adventures were very well behaved, but even still I was constantly checking to make sure we had everyone.  I want my fenced backyard!  Looking forward to many hours in the car over the next couple of days where everyone will sit and have some time to decompress.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Day 8--Farewell to Grandpa Fox

This was the gang that went up in the St. Louis Arch this morning.  It was a beautiful, clear, calm day.  Three years ago it was a windy day and it was kind of freaky to have that huge arch swaying ever so slightly.  No swaying this year.
To get to the top you ride an elevator/tram system in little pods that hold about 5 people each.  The girls rode in one...
...and the boys, plus Faith rode in one.
Couples selfie at 630 feet above the Mississippi.
Throwback picture of the day.  Now...
...and then.
We've missed Clark on pretty much all our outings here in St. Louis.  He has commitments with his team and working on the robot, so we're not seeing him much.
Elinor at the Arch.
One of the really fun things to do in between match times is roam the pits.  We especially enjoy the FIRST Lego League pits (this is the age group that Clark was when we came last time).  FLL is a much more international group of teams with better swag to give out.  The kids have bags full of buttons, pins, pens, stickers, necklaces, paper, chapstick, flashlights, etc.  It's better than trick-or-treating!
 After their last match this afternoon, which unfortunately, went extremely badly due to a messed up high gear caused by a loose screw, we went with Grandpa for one last meal together (minus Clark).  Then we dropped him off at the airport to get home to Grandma.  We enjoyed having him with us so much.  He was helpful and patient with his grandchildren, was asking all sorts of questions and following the robot games, was interested in getting to know our good friends and fellow team families, was easy and flexible with schedules and plans and sleeping arrangements.  He was supportive and complimentary of Abe and I and made us feel very loved.  We're so glad he joined us on this trip and gratefully sent him back home to Spokane, WA.
A very enjoyable end to the day was meeting with much of the team and families once we were all congregated back at the hotel.  The Thygersons had brought back Ted Drewes Frozen Custard for the whole group.  There was quite a party happening in the lobby-- live band and dancing and snazzy folks out on the town.  Yes, we were there too with our bajillion children in bare feet and pajamas, fresh from the pool.  It was funny to me.
But what I like best about the picture is Clark on the left with Cannon and George on his lap.  Like I said, Clark has been missing from our family for the past 3 days.  The little boys miss him and were happy to see him again.
We soon moved ourselves to the darkened ballroom down the hall.  They might not have wanted us there either, but I think it was preferable to the main lobby with all the people.
What I like best about this picture is the age range of those in it: 5-16.  They were all sitting together laughing, talking, enjoying one another's company.  That was a happy moment I'd like to remember.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Day Seven-- Abe the Historian

We will begin tonight's post with the picture of the day.  After PrototypeX won their 4th match-up of the day, bringing their record to 2-2, the cheering fan section was projected onto the jumbo-tron screens in the arena.  That was great fun to see them all up there.  But here's what CRACKED me up when I looked through the pictures of the day loaded onto the computer--- Abe is taking a picture of the screen!
This is a man who takes his job as unofficial team historian VERY seriously!  I appreciate it, as it makes my job as family blogger a lot easier.
But let's start at the beginning of the day.  Abe dropped the team off at 7:00am at the stadium to begin their first of four qualification matches for the day.  He then returned  to find our hotel room crawling with many little people from the various PrototypeX families staying at our hotel  eating little boxes of sugar cereal for breakfast.  We got everyone ready and we were off to the Zoo for the morning.  Here we are walking some distance to the zoo entrance as to avoid the $15 parking fee.  Zoo entrance is free, but parking is not-- unless you park far away and walk.  It was worth $15.
Abe is like the Pied Piper, except he doesn't get rid of rats and he doesn't steal children away from their families.  But he does quite successfully lead a large group of children through a zoo with little to no force or tears from anyone.
The boys-- Cannon, Hayden, George, and Anders.
We were too cheap to pay for parking and too cheap to pay for all the kids to go on the carousel.  Only the 8 and unders got to ride.
Everyone else was given the very important job of waving to the passengers.
Abe captures wonderful moments.  We really could benefit from a better camera, but we're strangely attached to this 5 year-old Canon model.  We've tried to buy new ones, but we don't like them as well and we return them.  Someone, please help us move on!
That's just cute.
This is a very close 1st runner up for picture of the day.  We found Clark at his team's pit and George got up close to the robot.
Mid-round you can see the intensity of the fans as we watch to see how it will turn out.  This was the 3rd match of the day, but the first one we won.
The excitement got to be too much for little Georgie and he took a happy nappy.  I know I'm hiding it so well, but I was exhausted at this point too.  I needed my happy nappy.
Pathetic... but this is what kept these four happy for the afternoon.
Here's where the night got a little more adventurous.  We ate dinner at The Old Spaghetti Factory right near the Mississippi River and the Convention Center.  Just as we were finishing dinner the team was ready to be picked up from the arena.  So Abe dropped our group off at the Metro station in a heavy downpour of rain and he went to go take the team back to the hotel in our mega-van;  he is the Team Chauffeur after all.
Then from our station we walked across a wet, muddy field to our hotel.
Most of the team gathered in the hotel for a strategizing meeting after turning in their PrototypeX t-shirts to their mamas for washing.
Abe was so good as to drive Camille and I to a laundromat to do some laundry.  Let me just say, Laundromats are underrated.  You can wash and dry an enormous amount of clothing in a relatively short time.  I want to git me one of them commercial washers and dryers.  That was a beautiful experience.  Except we were really tired. 
When Abe came to pick us up he took up the task of sorting through all the many PrototypeX t-shirts and figuring whose was whose.  There were about 20 of them.  Not an easy task.  We'll see in the morning if everyone has the right size.

I don't have a picture of the final thought for the evening, but let me give a little back story.  We gladly would have paid to use a coin operated washer and dryer in the hotel to do our laundry, but it was not to be.  The Ritz-Carlton and others like it do not wish to see their guests washing their own clothes.  I'm sure we could have called someone from downstairs to come and collect our laundry for us (and charge us a very pretty penny for such a service), but we are not to do such menial work ourselves.  Instead they are so helpful as to force us out into a dark and stormy night in search of a laundromat. 

But I can get over that, because it was sort of interesting to go to the laundromat and didn't take that long.  The thing I'm not quite over is the humor of quite possibly the most glamorous moment of my life:  Walking from the parking garage through the very large, fancy lounge area filled with the very type of people you would expect to find in such a setting, drinking and socializing.  Meanwhile, Abe, Camille, and I (in my very ill-fitting yoga pants and pregnant belly hanging out) are toting our garbage bags full of clean clothes-- as opposed the bags of dirty clothes we toted out earlier--and my laundry soap hanging out of my bag. 
Listen, I tried to be discreet.  I tried to find a coin-operated washing machine at the end of my hall.  I didn't want to parade my dirty laundry through your nice lobby.   If I have somehow tarnished the image of the hotel the management is trying to portray, I apologize.  If you would please just install a couple of do-it-yourself operations for those rare guests who are accustomed to such menial labor, we could avoid any awkward encounters in the lobby of your hotel next time.