Since going to training camp last year, my oldest has been scheming and planning exactly where he would stand to try and get Ben Roethlisberger’s autograph.  My parents got him Ben’s jersey when he was a baby.  Ben was our rookie quarterback when our son was a newborn and he has proudly worn his #7 jersey for the past 11 years.  And more than anything, he wanted him to sign his jersey. 

Since our training camp experience didn’t go exactly as we planned, we no longer had a game plan for the autograph.  We knew that after practice the players would walk off the field towards the locker room and if they chose, they would sign autographs.  So, at first we headed off towards the path they’d walk, with his hand made sign and jersey in hand.  We talked to some of the training camp volunteers/employees and they said that it was family day at training camp which meant it was the day the players family came to watch them play and visit with the players.  This meant the likelihood of getting his autograph went down.  My son and I talked about this.  We talked about how if Dad was away for two weeks and he got to go see him at work for a few hours, he probably wouldn’t want his Dad to go off and sign autographs for other kids.  My son agreed and understood and said, “But man that stinks!”  Agreed.  We then heard that most of the big players get carted off the field in golf carts and don’t walk up the path to the locker rooms.  And typically IF they sign autographs, the last few days they had been on one corner of the field.  Knowing that really it is all a gamble and there are no guarantees, we moved spots again. 

I guess you can say that is all part of the training camp experience. 

IMAG0591Part of the experience is just getting to watch the players up close.  There is such a thrill to see the players you watch on TV, in real life… on the field right in front of you. 

Another huge part of the experience for our family is just getting to experience life in the hometown.  Living in MD, means living in the arch rival of our beloved team, so being in the hometown crowd is such a unique experience for us. As we walked in from the parking lot there was this huge BLACK and GOLD sign that said, “You’re in Steeler Country!”  My 5 year old said, “Wait, you mean everyone here is a Steelers fan?”  “Yup,” I replied.  “You mean, there are no Ravens fans here?” he asked.  “None,” I answered.  This is such a unique experience for my 5 year old who is pretty much heckled by random strangers and friends every time he wears his jersey.  And he wears his jersey so often the numbers are fading. IMG_1628

I’m not gonna lie though, a huge HUGE part of training camp for my kids is hoping to get the autographs of their favorite players.   And so my 11 year old and I stood an hour before practice down by the sidelines holding his sign and hoping to get Ben’s attention.IMG_7333

When practice ended wives and children ran on to the field to hug their Dad’s and play ball.  We learned that the lady who had been literally 2 feet in front of us playing Simon Says with her toddlers was in Heath Miller’s family.  Then we watched as Ben’s wife and two kids ran over to him.  He lingered on the field a long time, playing with his kids and with his team mates children.  IMG_1762

My son kept hoping.  But, Ben didn’t do any autographs.  Tears filled my son’s eyes as Ben eventually walked over to his golf cart with his family and left the field.   That’s ok I told him.  We will try again next year.  Let’s enjoy today. And so he got his football and sharpie and a Steelers license plate we had and went off for other autographs. 

He got our #1 draft pick.  He got some starters and he some people we had never heard of.

The older kids were running around getting autographs and my 5 year old was standing with me. 

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“What about me?”  my youngest asked.  I want an autograph.  So, I handed him a terrible towel and a sharpie and lifted him up to the fence.  And he got two autographs!  This man right here was so kind and so patient with him.  He totally interacted with him, saying, “Ok, now I need your help.  Hold the towel nice and tight so I can sign it.”  It was awesome! 

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The look of joy on his face as he had a real Steelers player RIGHT in Front of him, talking to him and giving him his time. 

Antonio Brown is credited with staying late after practice and getting there early.  I love that.  Brown stayed and ran drills after practice.  And his family stayed and watched.  And then he headed to the sidelines.

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Antonio Brown is one of the BEST receivers I have ever seen, Steelers or not.  He is so fast and so amazing.   I have to tell you when he came to the fence, I was farther down with my 5 year old.  My big three were over with my husband.  I honestly don’t really know what all went down.  I do know that my husband was close enough to Antonio Brown to snap this picture.  (poor Scott had my 8 year old on his shoulder and his head pretty much in a trashcan but he did look up enough to snap this picture). 

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AND two of our kids got Antonio Brown’s autograph!!!!   I can’t even believe it!  What a thrill!  I mean, he was right in front of them and he signed our license plate and our notebook.  Antonio Brown! 

Ya know how some families go to Disneyworld and get to meet princesses and cartoon characters?  You know how parents will stand in line for HOURS on end so their daughter can take a picture with Elsa or their son can get Mickey Mouse to sign his autograph book?  You know it’s a big deal.  They are meeting these characters that they see on tv or in movies and they are larger than life.

Well, for our family, training camp is like Disneyworld.  I am not exaggerating.   It’s that same thrill.  Meeting the players, getting their pictures and their autographs.  It’s almost magical.  We left training camp, all 6 of us grinning from ear to ear.  We met the Steelers!

 

And the following week when we were snuggled on the coach watching the preseason game on the internet and Antonio Brown walked on to the field, my son looked over at me with awe and said, “Mom, we have HIS autograph!” 

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Lest anyone think our life is some picture perfect world where everyone always gets along and the sun is always shining…

It isn’t.

We had some moments like this.

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And truthfully our vacation didn’t start at all like I had planned.  We were supposed to leave early on Friday and drive to Latrobe to see the Steelers Friday Night Lights practice.  One practice per training camp the Steelers play a scrimmage practice under the lights at the local high school.  We went last year and had planned to go this year.  My oldest has been planning since last year the exact spot he was going to stand in order to maximize his chance of getting Ben’s autograph. 

I busted my butt all morning on Friday to get everything packed and ready for training camp, camping, and my Mom’s 60th Birthday party.  Around noon on Friday I called to check in on our van which had been in the shop since Wednesday night and was supposed to be ready…  it wasn’t ready!  Ack!  I asked if we could just take it without the repair b/c we really needed to get on the road to make it in time for the game.  Our van was in parts, not drivable, and I was powerless to do anything about it.  It would be a few more hours, too many more hours, and we weren’t going to make it.

Tears started to flow and I got off the phone as quickly as possible.  I called Scott at work and was full out sobbing.  I guess it was the straw that broke my back after a crazy long week of Scott working overtime. The kids had woken up early and put on the Steelers jerseys and “Here We Go Steelers” had been blaring in our stereo all morning while they packed.   How was I going to break it to them?  I was frustrated and disappointed and mad.  I am not usually a crier, but I was full on crying when I called Scott.   He listened and then called my mom and then called me back with Plan B.  We’d skip Latrobe and go straight to my brothers once the car was ready.  We’d still do my mom’s party on Saturday as originally planned but instead of going to our campsite directly after church on Sunday, we’d go to the Steelers practice Sunday afternoon.  It wasn’t our plan, but it would allow us to get a Latrobe training camp practice experience. 

It was a good plan B and we all rolled with it.  We had an awesome time at training camp (more to come in future post) and it was so so nice to have AC in our van again after a summer without it (that was the pivotal repair).

That wasn’t our only hiccup.  Our second camping night it rained.  IMG_1882Not a little but 3 separate thunderstorms rolled through from about 1-3am.  The floor on half the tent was SOAKED… and huge drops of rain dripped through the ceiling.  We grabbed kids, scooted to dry spots and slept as best we could.  We woke Tuesday morning with our one unaware child remarking, “MY PILLOW IS SOAKED!”  She had no clue it had rained till she woke around 6 with a sopping wet pillow.   During the night I assumed the day would be wasted with a tired trip to the laundry mat to dry everything out.  Thankfully, the sun came out on Tuesday and we were able to lay everything out (pillows, ground pads, sleeping bags, sheets) and let it dry naturally before bed that night. 

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IMG_1881Contrary to how some posts may make it sound, circus life doesn’t always go the way we want.  Plans fall through.  Chores still need to happen.  Kids argue. Parents are tired.  And life can be boring.

One thing I do greatly appreciate about my family is their ability to roll with the unplanned.  Flexibility makes vacations, and life in general, so much more enjoyable.  That said, I think it may have been the super LONG week with crazy work hours, and the busy weekend with scrambled plans, that’s helped me find our few days of ‘nothing’ such the perfect remedy for this circus mom.

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We woke up Monday morning and one of the kids asked, “What the plan for today?”

Our response: “Nothing”

IMG_1840We figured we’d end up at the pool at some point that day but other than that, we had nothing on our agenda.  Some of the kids were better at self entertaining than others, but they all ended up enjoying themselves.  We ended up with a fabulous camp site.  We were close to the bathrooms and the water spicket.  I have no idea how this happened, but we had NO MOSQUITOS!  And the weather was perfect. We backed up to woods.  We didn’t buy any wood at all.  And we had countless camp fires.  The kids could run in the woods and collect wood while Mom and Dad sat in their chairs and watched. 

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We found a beautiful stream near  the pool. 

On Tuesday we skipped the pool and spent the afternoon at the stream. 

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I spent some time like this.

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For Real… Ice Coffee. Shade. Hammock.  Book. Stream.  BLISS!

Then they found a swimming hole.

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They splashed and made rainbows.

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Pure Joy

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And Scott and the kids had a blast jumping into the hole.

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Of course, it doesn’t take long before whatever they are doing turns into an opportunity for some form of gymnastics to evolve.

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Which then results in some MMA as well.

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(this is them pretending to throw punches at each other… I love how the rainbow appeared in the middle)

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They changed into dry clothes b/c they were cold, but then in a matter of minutes, they were back into their wet clothes as they set about to build a bridge.

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He was SO ADORABLE when he told me all about their project.

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Wonderful family memories were made just staying at the campground.

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Most of the time we use camping as a cheap way sleep on vacations.  We have the goal of visiting every National Park and the way we approach it is by spending pretty much every ounce of our time exploring the park. Most days we usually end  watching a sunset, and often the best spot for viewing the sunset is not from our campsite, which gets us to our camp site in time to set up camp in the dark.  We sleep, wake up, make a quick breakfast, tear down camp and set off to see more sights.  We love it!  We have so many wonderful memories of places we’ve experienced and explored this way.

But, it isn’t the typical drive up to your site, set up camp and settle down for a few days.  That is an entirely different style of camping.  That style of camping involves bringing lots more gear, and making more elaborate meals (than say oatmeal in a jet boil and Subway for lunch). 

IMG_1837We have our sights set on another elaborate National Park vacation for 2016, but we need to save up another year to make it possible.  So, this year we decided to opt for the standard pull the van up to one site and stay there for several days style of camping.

Ironically even though we have camped for YEARS, we have done very little camping this way and have lots to learn to improve it.  (We made two Walmart trips during our camping stay this week). 

But, we found that we enjoy this style of camping just as much as the other. 

Due to a change of plans in our weekend, we arrived at our campsite after dark Sunday night (it felt very much like our normal camping situation).  We set up camp and made our beds and settled into our sleeping bags around 11pm Sunday night.

I found our campground by googling “state parks in PA with a pool.”  The campground ended up being perfect for our wants.  We knew we’d be coming from State College PA after my moms bday party (though due to a change of plans on Friday we ended up coming from Latrobe, which made for a longer drive on Sun, hence the late night arrival)…. we were basically looking for a spot to camp for a few days between State College and home and we wanted it to have a pool.  When I discovered Caledonia State Park, I discovered it was actually only about 20 minutes from Gettysburg.  Since we studied the Civil War in History last year I had been intending to take the kids there and never made it.  My oldest was so excited when we told him we’d be visiting during our vacation.  We spent two and a half days lounging around the camp site and one day visiting the battlefield.  (no matter what we do, even on years we are breaking from our National Park vacations, we find ourselves visiting a branch of the National Park service… last year it was Boston and this year Gettysburg). 

We ate like kings.  Our Boy Scout was happy to share many of the meals he has made on scouting trips.

Hot Gooey Holes  IMG_1858

Omelets in a Bag

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Pita Pizzas

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Doughnuts!

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And of course no campfire would be complete without Smores!

(Boy Scouts didn’t invent everything about camping)

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More to come on our camping trip…. (click here)

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My family came for a visit this week.  My brother wanted to take his kids to the beach, so we spent two days playing in the sand and waves of the Chesapeake Bay.

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The weather was perfect.  Low humidity, blue skies, and temps in the 80’s.  It was perfection!

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I can’t really even put into words what a joy it was to watch the kids play with their cousins.  There is something special about watching your children develop relationships with your siblings kids.  It’s something my heart longed for for years and to watch it unfold is something I am so grateful for.

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These two are only 10 months apart and are such good buddies!  They just spent hours out on the water talking and floating.

 

But truthfully, all of them are close in age and they all have unique and individual bonds with each other.  It’s not like they only spend time with one cousin.  All week they kept flip flopping back and forth.  With 8 kids there was never a shortage of someone to play with.   FullSizeRender

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We topped off our day on the bay with a special crab feast in our backyard that evening.   I am not a fan of seafood and so we’ve never really cooked or served crabs here before.   It was a wonderfully memorable way to end the day. Even the kids that didn’t like the taste of them, enjoyed the experience.

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There was enough crabs for everyone to eat their fill and then some… The guys picked into the night and then my Mom made them crab cakes the next day with the leftovers.

We also celebrated two birthdays while we were together. 

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Other than some sunburn from spending hours bobbing on the bay, it was an enjoyable memory filled visit for all!

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Because our kids all left for one place or another on Father’s Day, we decided to celebrate the week after.  I had originally planned a low key afternoon followed by a family picnic at a park for the evening.  But, Saturday ended up being an incredibly LONG day…. 8 hours total of driving in the rain to pick up our campers and bring them home, plus a soggy basement to sop up once we got home…. Mom and Dad didn’t really feel up for much on Sunday.

We did our typical breakfast in bed on Sunday morning, followed by church.  Home for lunch and then Dad got a nice long nap on the couch.  We then took a long walk as a family and ended with a fire in the backyard.  It was a restful day of family time.  Which was just what Dad needed after a long week of work, followed by a long day of driving.

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Our oldest son bought some kind of light up stick at camp, that he was so excited to share with the family.  You put it in the campfire (provided your not planning to cook on that fire)  and it will light colors up in the fire. 

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Our youngest son LOVED it and the unprompted hug of thanks was so precious!

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But, back to our Father’s Day celebration…..

I love this man. 

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And I couldn’t ask for a better Dad for my kids.

He’s part cheerleader, instructor, jungle gym, and answer man.

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His is the voice you hear loud and proud at gym meets, BJJ tournaments or soccer games.  He is the one who taught them to start fires, shoot guns, ride bikes, throw a football and use knives.  ALL of them… boys and girls.

He can break complex problems down into easy to understand applications. 

He loves the Lord and truly strives to be a man of integrity.  He loves his kids and puts his family first.  He loves his wife and truly I think one of the best ways a dad can love his kids is by loving their Momma well.  He has that mastered.

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Happy, Happy Father’s Day Scott.  I couldn’t ask for a better man to raise this circus with. 

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