Wednesday, August 27

home sweet home

after 9 ½ months, we made our first trip back to florida. 
man oh man, did it feel good to be home!

not just because we were spoiled rotten by one of the best grandmas and grandpas that we know, although that happened quite a bit.
and not just because we got to see all of our cousins and friends that we've missed terribly, even though we did and it was so hard to leave again.
and not just because we got to eat publix subs, only the best subs on the planet, twice.

going home felt so great because these kids are water babies! it's like their gills and fins grew back and they pretty much lived in the water... all day long, everyday. and had permanent prune fingers and toes. we needed that. we needed that as much as we needed to be with our family. it was probably the best vacation we've ever had except that daddy had to stay in arkansas for work. that was the only downside to the trip. we missed him so much that little jack broke into tears when we got off the plane and saw him for the first time in two weeks. "i didn't know how much i missed you until i saw you!" he said through deep breaths. we all missed our papa.

the kids had private diving lessons while we were there too, courtesy of aunt larissa. she's pretty much the coolest person in the world when we are swimming.
this video isn't ellie's best dive, but i love her smile at the end.

if we weren't swimming in the pool or at the beach with our buds, we were fishing!
thats a pretty mandatory thing if you're a browne.

see that guy in the black shirt?
he wins the award for most patient grandpa in all the land! he helped the kids fish off the dock several times a day and took jack and ellie out on the boat so many times. it's not easy taking them fishing, with jack's constant stream of questions and busy hands touching everything and ellie's non stop singing and squealing, not to mention retying the line over and over because of their snag after snag. but he put up with it time after time and it's something that they will remember forever.

after one of their fishing trips, grandpa chuckled while telling us that at one point on the trip, ellie was sitting in the back singing the hymn "I stand all amazed", while jack was in the front humming "centerfold" by the j. geils band. what are we going to do with these two?!

i even got in on the action. 
my first and only cast brought in a beautiful jackfish.
that sucker put up a great fight and now i know why those boy's wrists are going to be broken and decrepit by the time they're 60. it's hard work!

ellie really caught the fisherman's bug! i was quite proud of her. she'd go get bait with the guys and help load them up in the bait well with her hands. she used to only hold the bait with her hands if they were dead, but now she holds them when they are squirmy and wriggling, including the spiky pin fish, and will even bait her own hook!

this kid set his record of catching 11 snook in under two hours. then the next day he broke that record with 14 snook in two hours.

a few other highlights were:

riding bikes while grandma sprayed us with the hose.

going for rides on grandpa's homemade go cart!
he even let jack drive it by himself for the first time.

here are the others, waiting patiently for a turn. 
charlie loves his ashie poo and gave him enough kisses to last him a year or two.

bo and larissa, alli and jacob, and aunt rik came over most days to swim, hang out, and/or eat dinner. that was our favorite part. we really really really missed them.

a playdate with her bestie, sophie

i also had a playdate with all my girlfriends to get frozen custard one night, and another night was able to attend book club to discuss a great book called The Rent Collector. i'm missing those friends already.

we, of course, had a special lunch with grandma at outback, ellie and grandma's favorite.

jack and ellie took turns going on deliveries with grandma and loved it. they enjoyed it so much that usually there was quite an argument deciding who got to go with her. I'm guessing not only did they love the one on one time with grandma, but also loved the treat she'd let them pick out at dairy queen afterwards too.

aunt alli set up a tug-o-war that was epic!

we liked watching this osprey, who brought his lunch to eat while watching the kids swim in the backyard.

totally by chance and definitely not planned, we happened to be in florida over my birthday :)
mom made the best enchiladas in the world, larissa made my favorite texas fudge cake into a LAYER cake (!), i made an exception to my no-soda-new-years-resolution and had a frosty bottle of root beer thanks to rik, saw all my lovely friends at church, and as if that wasn't enough, was showered with gifts and cards. it was pretty much the best ever.

chris went above and beyond, and with the help of larissa and mom, sent rikki and i away on an overnight getaway in miami!!! 
thank you thank you thank you to chris, lari, and my sweet mama. it was immensely enjoyed and very much needed. i know it wasn't easy watching our three little wackos, but i know they had so much fun and for that i am so grateful.
and to my rik, i will always cherish our night in miami and never forget:
 the crazy guy in the lobby that messed up our reservation, or the weird voice on the elevator saying "going down" the entire descent from our room on the 32nd floor, or the way you showed that miami traffic who's boss and made me feel like you were fiona and i was sam ax along for a ride on an episode of Burn Notice, or staying up till 2 am giving each other online quizzes to see which order of the phoenix member we are, or getting room service, or finding those crazy delicious lotions at william sanoma, or the freaky hand trying to grab you through the fridge at the gas station, or driving down south beach, or the weird dance of mine that you video taped behind the glass door to the bathroom, or the yummy food we had at shake shack, or listening to the incredible cd's you made me on the drive, or how standing next to the window of our room made you weak in the knees because your fear of heights, or the time that rich guy thought your car was his at the valet parking and got in, or how we gathered a crowd of people with really bad plastic surgery in anthropologie by telling that crazy lady that ft myers beach is definitely NOT the best beach in florida and how she should visit a few others instead, or how the same crazy lady in anthropolgie asked if i was slovik or ukranian because "we are both so beautiful", or how great those swedish fish tasted at 1 in the morning while laughing so hard during our crazy conversations. 
nope, i won't forget any of it.

florida was perfect!
it was exactly what the kids and i needed. we miss our grandma and grandpa, our cousins and aunts and uncles, and our good friends. the second we stepped into the airport to fly home, ellie broke down. she didn't stop crying during both flights and continued crying at home. the tears came several more times during the following week. she misses grandma so badly. but just like the last time we left, it will just take some time. we are pretty lucky to be able to take such fun trips and are already looking forward to planning a trip next summer.
until next time, florida!

Monday, August 25

That's Alotta Browne

boy, do we have A LOT to catch up on! 

the browne family reunion, which was dubbed "That's Alotta Browne", was july 21-25 in Rogers, AR. before the fun began at the official reunion, we joined up with Bo & Delayna's families in Little Rock on saturday the 19th and then met Grandma and Grandpa Browne back at our house that evening.

look at those cute cousins!
only one missing in this shot was little louie, alli and jacob's little girl.

we were able to meet leilani finally, and also celebrate tony's birthday. that was a special treat since they have been in hawaii and we miss out on their birthday celebrations.

it was a bit crowded at our house (8 adults and 8 kids in a 4 room house) but we had a fantastic time catching fireflies, going for walks, eating yummy foods, and just being together!

on monday, we made the hour drive up to Rogers. Grandpa was in charge of the reunion this time around and he did the best. job. ever. it was the most well organized and fun reunion without being too stressful or overbooked. i think i must get my party-planning skills from him, even though I'm sure he would rather not be known for his party planning skills ;) it truly was a great time catching up with all of our extended browne fam. it was also fun for me to watch chris get to know all of my cousins and aunts and uncles better. he's very good in situations like that, which is something i have always admired about him because i struggle with that. 

i think it goes without saying, we have too many pictures and too many stories that we could include, but i'll just try to condense it and tell about our week with pictures and videos.

heres the whole gang!

a day at the park which included a kid's soccer tournament, kite making (a definite highlight!), sand art, badminton, etc.

we found a yummy frozen custard place, Andy's, and visited it on several occasions :)

cousins watching the custard

a day at the lake which included a ride on cousin Zack's boat and tubing.
 the best moment at the lake was when lou arrived. she stripped down and took off for the sand, giggling and letting her hair (and buns) bounce and blow in the breeze! so precious.

each evening we met together after dinner for a devotional and an activity like a talent show or a game night, which happened to be my favorite night. alli and my team tore it up!

pioneer day happened to be during the week, so one morning the guys in our family put together a pioneer tournament for all the men and boys in the group (with some not-so-pioneerish games) and the ladies in our family set up a time-out for women and girls activity (with some not-so-pioneerish yogurt and fruit parfaits). afterwards, the ladies joined the men and were able to play some of the games before lunch. probably the funnest thing we did the whole week was a gigantic blow dart game! oh man, just thinking about it makes me laugh! unfortunately, i didn't get any pictures because i was too busy blowin' darts :) no mercy was shown and i had bruises all down my arms for almost a week.

one not-so-fun part of this morning was that little soph fell and smashed her nose. it was very sad and i can't imagine how stressful it was for larissa to be in a new location and taking her kid to the er with a possible broken nose. yikes! for the record, it wasn't broken just very swollen and bruised.

 We visited Blowing Springs. This is a beautiful location in the Ozarks with caves and a little stream running through it. It's special to the browne's because this location inspired some of my Grandma's novels that she wrote. we explored, took family pictures, caught crawdads, had a talent show, and then the original browne kids and their spouses told some very touching stories about grandma and grandpa browne. it was very special and a great reminder of the incredible people they are and the legacy they have left for us.

thats jack way up top

thats a pretty good lookin' group!

my dad and all his siblings but one brother.

while here, i was a little worried about jack and ellie falling off a cliff or charlie drowning in the stream. you know, those happy thoughts moms have. well, luckily none of that happened, but we did experience another parent's worst nightmare. we lost charlie. it turned out fine, he was on a little hike with one of my cousins, but we didn't know that. it was one of those experiences that you hope you never go through again.

here are some random things we did throughout the week:

jack, chris, and jacob went out for sushi

we went and watched the Buckyball at Crystal Bridges Art Museum one night and then walked around the park, ate a snow cone treat from grandpa, and danced to the live music.

we went to the fayettville farmers market where we bought some delicious amish jams and watched a  cool beehive they had on display at a honey stand.

there were a few different mountain biking trips. alli and larissa each took a turn going with the boys, as well as grandpa and cousin ty.

we had a story telling night, where bo really shined

i love this picture. grandpa and his brother, dale, reminiscing and laughing to the point of tears

all in all, it was such a great week! it wasn't easy saying goodbye to everyone, especially layna and tony since they are being stationed in germany at the beginning of next year and will be gone for 3 years. if we didn't have a trip to florida planned the following week, it would have been really hard to say goodbye to our immediate group. it was wonderful to see the kids getting to know my aunts, uncles, cousins, and all of their kiddos. they had the best time ever. several times they said "this is so much better than disney world!" and we totally agreed.