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Thursday, July 26th, 2007.  Happy Birthday to me!  I'm 38 years old today.  As a special treat, Amy, Jackson and Ben drove to Martinsville to join me for lunch.  Since we were eating right next to the Martinsville Speedway, we drove down to it and let the boys run around on the track for a few minutes.

I mentioned in yesterday's post that we spent three days at my grandmother's house.  The boys and I went on Saturday while Amy worked so that we could pick Ben's tomatoes and play in the creek.  We ended up staying most of the day and even filled a kiddie pool up next to the creek.  On Sunday, after our hike around Pilot Mountain, we went back to Hama's for lunch.  I had told Amy about the chocolate cake Hama made on Saturday and she wanted to try a piece herself.  My sister Melanie's family was there too and again, we stayed almost all day.  Then on Monday, the boys wanted to go back, so while I worked, Amy took the boys and their friend Samuel back for another day of playing in the creek.  Ben loves building dams and can work for hours carrying rocks and sticks.  And as a parent, sitting in the shade talking is a pretty relaxing way to watch the kids.


Wednesday, July 25th, 2007.  My grandmother has an awesome garden again this year and we've been reaping its rewards lately.  Ben loves tomatoes and eats them at almost every meal.  He even asks for tomatoes to go with his breakfast.  I'm not joking.  I've never seen anyone eat tomatoes like that kid.  And it doesn't matter what else is on his plate, he always eats the tomatoes first.   So with that in mind, Hama planted two different varieties of tiny tomatoes just for Ben.  We spent most of Saturday, Sunday and Monday at my grandmother's house and Ben ate countless tomatoes straight from the garden while we were there.  Thanks to my grandmother, mother, sister and aunt, Amy has had fresh ingredients for corn on the cob, green beans, stuffed bell peppers, zucchini bread and eggplant casserole.  And lots and lots of tomatoes for Ben.  The pretty little girl in today's garden photos is my first cousin Maddie.

Monday, July 23rd, 2007.  We are in the middle of a beautiful stretch of weather.  One of the things we did over the weekend to take advantage of it was hike around the base of Pilot Mountain.  Click here to see photos from Sunday's hike and from past Pilot Mountain excursions.  We hadn't made this hike in two years, but after my sister Melanie mentioned that her family was going there Saturday afternoon, I thought that it sounded like something my gang would enjoy too.

Thursday, July 19th, 2007.  If you enlarge the collage of Ben from the waterpark yesterday, you might detect pieces of his complex little personality.  He can be as sweet as an angel one minute and as mean as a barn cat the next.  According to Amy, he was not an angel today.   He wasn't exactly an angel tonight either.   (My sister Deana took the photos on the left)

We had a fantastic time at the waterpark yesterday.  By the end of the day, Ben was probably the most tired.  Deana rented a cabana in the kid zone area and Ben played all day long either in the water or in the sand.  Everyone else spent at least part of their day standing in long lines at the water slides, but Ben just played and played.  He calls his Big Bird float the "best floatie in the world" and wears it whenever he is near the water.  Even if he has a life jacket on.  They wouldn't let him ride it down the toddler water slides, so he would hold it, then slip it on just before he hit the water at the bottom.  By the end of the day he was using Big Bird's head as a pillow as he floated around the kiddie pools.  He fell asleep the second we pulled out of the parking lot and slept during the hour ride home.  Amy carried him into the house and laid him in a recliner, still clutching the bag of popcorn he bought just before we left.  He never woke, so I later carried him to his bed, still gripping the bag of popcorn.  He slept through the night without ever waking.  This morning he got up, still covered in sunscreen and wearing his tshirt from the day before, walked into the bathroom and said "that water park sure was fun dad." 

Amy and I rotated between riding rides with Jackson and playing with Ben.  Both were fun.  Jackson and I went down some absolutely terrifying waterslides that were tons of fun.  Jackson would describe them as "wicked awesome."  He loved spending the day with his older cousin Caleb.  Their favorite part was playing in the big wave pool together.  We'll have to go back next year because it was a lot of fun.

Tuesday, July 17th, 2007.  Over the weekend we went to West Virginia so that Amy could visit  her Aunt Jerry Ann who is recovering from the stroke she had last month.  To break up the drive for the boys, we stopped on the way and let them hit the playground in Hillsville, Virginia.  Then while Amy visited with her aunt, I took the boys to a small playground in Princeton.   Today's photos are from that day.  Amy's aunt began showing improvement last week and we are hoping that improvement will continue.  Over the past week Amy and the boys visited the Winston-Salem Children's Museum and had so much fun they purchased a Summer Pass.  They are also hitting the pool almost every day.  Because of that, Jackson is taking the month off from karate class and spending his evenings relaxing around the house.  Tomorrow we get to spend the day having fun at a water park with the rest of my family.

Wednesday, July 11th, 2007.   My mother's heart catheterization showed no blockages and that she has a strong healthy heart.  She was able to come home from the hospital yesterday. 

As you can tell from today's collage, we've been hitting the game systems this summer.  The boys are spending so much time swimming and playing outside that they really enjoy the time they get to spend inside with the PS2.  Their current addiction is Lego Star Wars.  Our nephew Caleb let them borrow the first one.  They then pooled their birthday money together to buy the latest version.  We have to set the kitchen timer to limit the amount of time they spend on it.  When they got the first one, our entire house went into chaos.  They were constantly either crying because they were not being allowed to play it, Jackson wasn't getting to play it by himself or because Ben wasn't playing it exactly the way Jackson wanted him to (you have to play together, not against each other).  We had to take the game away until they proved they could manage their crack, I mean game,  addiction without constant refereeing.   Amy and I couldn't understand how a video game could cause so much turmoil.  Our 16 year old nephew Jesse  took us to the side and said "You know, the game really is that good.  It's pretty awesome."  Jackson recently asked me to take over Ben's controller long enough to complete a two player task so that he could advance to the next screen.  I soon found myself saying "Hold on Ben, just a minute Ben, I'll give it back in a second...let me just finish this part, okay, hold on, one more part...I promise..."  (It really is pretty darned fun.) 

Tonight was our nephew Seth's Two Year Old Birthday Party.  I'll have photos from the party on my next post.  The kids had a lot of fun goofing off with their cousins and picking blackberries.  Ben probably ate a gallon of them.  Jackson was bit by a horsefly.  He's never been bee stung, but he's very afraid of bees.  He saw it on his hand before it bit him and cried a lot afterwards.  Let's see, what else happened today...  Amy said Ben threw a terrible fit today when they were shopping for Seth's present.  He wanted a toy and made quite a scene over it.  And Jackson got to finally see the first Harry Potter movie.  He's been reading it with Amy and finished last night.  We made him wait until he was seven and until he had read the book.  He was really hooked on the story and had Amy reading to him first thing in the morning, during Ben's naps and before bed.  I think they plan on starting the second book tomorrow.  

Monday, July 9th, 2007.  I have no eyelashes.   I used to, but as of Saturday, I don't.  Amy discovered Saturday morning that we didn't have hot water.  I checked our gas hot water heater and discovered that the pilot light was out.  I couldn't get it to light, so I called the gas company who had me check our tank's gauge and sure enough, we were out of gas.  They sent someone out pretty quickly to refill the tank.  The man from the gas company and I then went under the house to re-light the pilot.  He held down the button you have to press and I stuck the match under the heater and lit the pilot.  For some reason the pilot light kept going out though and we had to light it a couple more times.  He finally got a can of air to blow the dust out or something like that.  I then bent down, lit another match, stuck it under the heater and "whooooof".  I totally saw the ball of fire come out and wrap around my face.  And buddy, I started moving.  Moving fast.  If backwards crab walking was an Olympic event, I would have set a world record.   I was halfway across the crawl space under our house before I stopped moving.  The gas man asked me if I was alright.  I told him that I wasn't sure.  I could smell hair burning and knew that couldn't be good.  It turns out that my eyelashes sizzled up to little nubs, some of the hair on top of my head burned and all the hair on my right hand was gone.  Two of my finger tips were burned and later blistered.  And the back of my hand and thumb were mildly burned.  One eyelid and my bottom lip hurt, but felt better a few hours later.  Amy went to the drug store and picked up some ointment for the burns and I kept my hand in a bowl of ice water all day long.  I took a nap with Ben and left my hand dangling in a bowl of cold water, set a bowl of cold water next to the tub so that I could take a sh*wer, and even carried a bowl of water with me to our friend Anita's son Jimmy's three year old birthday party later that evening. 

Ben had a wonderful time at the party.  Jimmy has grown so much and is taller than Ben, even though Ben is fourteen months older.  All the kids rode bikes and tricycles in the driveway and through the carport for most of the party.  Jackson spent much of his time running inside to watch the pre-race coverage for the Pepsi 400 in Daytona.  Sometime later that night my hand quit hurting and has felt fine ever since  as long as I don't get it near heat.  The next morning our pilot light was back out, so we had to call the gas company again.  This time we made sure THEY re-lit the pilot.

My mom had problems with her heart this afternoon and is now at Forsyth Hospital in Winston-Salem following a brief stop at the hospital here in town.  She feels fine now, but will stay overnight while they run tests.

Friday, July 6th, 2007.  You can see all our Independence Day photos from this year, and from past years, by clicking here.  My sister Deana and brother-in-law Martin hosted this year's July 4th celebration at their place in Kibler Valley.  Even though my kayak didn't leave the roof rack due to low water, the tubing, volleyball, cookout and fireworks were tons of fun.  Lots of friends and family showed up for the festivities.  In this photo you can see two of our friends, Timmesa and Sharon, laughing at my sister after she put toothpaste on a tick bite.  Trust me, they weren't the only two laughing.  That was pretty funny.  There were a few tears too, because not long after the sparkler in this photo went out, Ben decided to pinch the end of it.  The poor guy cried a lot over that one.  But he could later be found smiling in front of the with a bag of popcorn beside his new friend Zena.    It was a fun middle-of-the-week escape.


Tuesday, July 3rd, 2007.  Tonight after supper we decided to pick blackberries.  Of course, the next stop was to pick up a half gallon of vanilla ice cream.  Then when we got home, Amy and Ben made us a delicious blackberry cobbler.  Hot blackberry pie with vanilla ice cream, mmmm, mmmm.  Jackson isn't much of a pie kid, so he didn't like it.  But the rest of us loved it.   Ben said "Yeah, it's a good night.  I LIKE PIE!!!"   That made us laugh.  Amy told Ben that he was like Hugh Neutron from Jimmy Neutron Boy Genius.     (I think that when you miss-spell a word like genius, the spell checker should pop up with something really sarcastic rather than simply correcting you)

Tonight was Amy's first experience picking blackberries.  The boys and I stumbled on a patch near my grandmother's house a few summers ago with my nephew Jimmy and filled our shirts with the berries we picked, so it wasn't their first time.  I think Amy baked those into a pie as well.  As a boy, I picked blackberries every Summer.  I have many fond memories of fighting through fields of briars behind the elementary school near my house to pick buckets of blackberries.   I also have lots of bad memories from those trips too, as I often came home with an excruciating number of chigger bites.  If you know what chiggers are, then you know the spots they go for.  And if you know what those spots are, then you can imagine how miserable they make you.  And if you've ever been bit by them, then you've cursed their existence.  Imagine something that itches as bad or worse than poison ivy, then imagine it in all the places you would never get a poison ivy rash.  That's why I forced the boys to take sh*wers as soon as we walked in the door.  And why I took one myself.  Once as a small boy, I had a case of chigger bites so bad that I had to sleep with oven mitts on my hands to keep from hurting myself by scratching all night.     The fact that I would risk that for a cobbler should tell you something about how much I too like pie!

Monday, July 2nd, 2007.  Amy and the boys met Amy's sister Sherri halfway between his house and ours on Friday so that Jesse could return home.  We miss having him around already.  On Saturday we went out to dinner for grandmother's 88th birthday.  This has become somewhat of a tradition and one that we enjoy every year.  You can click here to see photos from Hama's past six birthday celebrations and here to read my sister's post. 

 Following dinner, Jackson went to see The Fantastic 4, for the second time, with Deana, Martin and Caleb.  We took Ben to McDonalds for a milkshake and let him play for a long time before calling it a night.  Ben and I fell asleep shortly after getting home.  Sometime in the middle of the night I heard Jackson yelling for Amy.  When I ran to his bedroom to see what was wrong, he told me that he was sick.  He never really settled back in, so I eventually woke Amy up and let her lay down with him.  They quickly fell asleep, but were awakened soon after by Jackson throwing up.  It didn't take long before the whole house was up with every light in the house on.  Ben kept jumping on his bed saying "Do you bemember that time on Mudder's day when I threw up and had diarita!"  After taking care of Jackson and changing the linens, the boys finally settled back down.  Amy slept with Jackson and I with Ben.  The next day Jackson seemed fine, although he occasionally said he was still sick.  We finally decided that it was a combination of his dinner, dessert, movie popcorn, excitement, etc... 

We cancelled travel plans for Sunday and stayed close to the house.  After dinner, Amy found Ben asleep in the living room.  She tried waking him up, but couldn't.  We've learned that with Ben, that means he's sick.  Each time he's been sick, he first shut down and slept for as long as twelve hours or more.  He woke a few times to go to the bathroom, but went right back to sleep each time.  Then this morning while Amy was at the gym and I was in the shower, Jackson ran into the bathroom to tell me that Ben was screaming.  As I climbed out of the shower I could hear Jackson asking, "Are you sick Ben?  Did you get sick?"  When I got there Ben said sadly "I slept so much that my stomach got sick!"  I held him while Jackson rubbed his back, then when Amy got home she took over.  Amy said that Ben threw up three times over the course of the morning before shutting down again.   The poor little guy.  He seems better tonight and appears to be on the mend