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Happenings

Fall Soccer 2015

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It's fall in Fort Worth, which means you can count on a couple of things happening. The first is TCU football (Go Frogs!), and the other thing is soccer. Sam and Nate have really improved their soccer skills over the past few seasons, and they are fired up for a great season this fall. Several of the boys on their team were also on their team in the spring, so they play together really well. They have had one game so far, which ended in a victory. We are hoping for many great games and memories this season. I have posted several photos in our online photo album. Check back for more updates!

Children of God

Today Sam and Nate got to participate in the worship service by singing Children of God with the praise team. It was a really powerful moment in the service (you can watch the whole service here), and the kids all did a great job. There are also some good shots of the boys singing. Gina and I are so thankful that Sam and Nate want to worship and serve in our church, and we hope they have more opportunities in the future.

https://youtu.be/4QCvcw3unWA

Boston 2015

 I attended a conference in Boston at the beginning of summer 2014, and I was so impressed with the city that I made a mental note to keep an eye out for future conferences there. The city seemed to be oriented toward familes, especially those who want to teach their children about the history of our country. I told Gina when I got home all about Boston and how great it would be if we could go there together.

Well, sometime last year I discovered that one of the conferences I had been wanting to attend was actually going to be in Boston, so I applied to be a presenter just to see what happened. Several months later I got word that I had indeed been selected by the program committee to be a speaker. So, now we had some decisions to make. Would I accept the invitation? Would we all go, or just me? Could we afford it? After a lot of discussion, we decided we could afford the trip and that Sam and Nate are at a great age for this kind of thing. They absorb absolutely everything, and there are so many experiences that would stick with them for a lifetime.

Looking back, I can tell you that Boston totally delivered on my expectations, and more! We arrived the evening before the conference began, and we spent some time walking around the Back Bay area. We actually saw Aaron Neville in concert, which was a total surprise. We also took the T to Revere Beach and saw some sand sculptures (as well as a Rod Stewart impersonator). After a late dinner, we crashed in our hotel room for the night.

The rest of the week went something like this: Gina and the boys explored Boston while I attended the conference sessions. There were plenty of free activities for them to do while I was in learning about new strategies and tools for using technology in my classroom. As soon as my sessions ended each day, I would meet the family somewhere in Boston and we would have adventures until late into the night. One such adventure was a Red Sox game at Fenway Park! Oh, I could there to watch baseball every night, and I don't even like baseball that much.

Gina found out about something called the Go Boston card, which is a discount pass to many of the attractions around the city. We did the math, and it seemed like a pretty good deal. Well, I don't have the exact numbers but I am pretty sure we got our money's worth out of this pass. We visited several museums, the aquarium, took two cruises around Boston Harbor, got a tour of Fenway Park, went on a guided tour of the Freedom Trail, and visited several other historical sites. Needless to say, we were totally spent at the end of each day.

There is so much I could write about this trip. It met and exceeded our hopes in just about every way. We learned so much about the early history of our country. We saw some amazing things. We got to spend a lot of time together (even considering how much time I was in conference sessions). We were already making mental notes about what to see next time we visit Boston, even before we left. You can see our pictures from the trip in our online photo album. I took over 1,000 pictures, which still does not seem to capture everything we did and saw. We are grateful for experiences like this, and we look forward to even more.

Alexander News 8.03.2015

Here is the latest installment of the Alexander News. The boys are getting better at this, as is their cameraman/director/producer. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FE0wUQXkAJU

Crazy Horse Memorial 2015

My lands are where my dead lie buried.

~Crazy Horse

The last leg of our trip to the Black Hills was a visit to the Crazy Horse Memorial. I had not been here in several years, and my last visit lasted only about 90 minutes (most of which was spent in the gift shop with a 9-year old). I had vague memories about the size of the memorial or what there was to do there.

As has become customary on this trip, our visit to this memorial did not disappoint. There are many exhibits, live performances, Native American artisans selling their crafts, and displays explaining the technical specs of creating such a large sculpture. We enjoyed this memorial so much, we cancelled out other plans and spent the rest of the day there. I think we all learned a lot, gained new appreciation for Native American culture, and look forward to seeing progress on the massive sculpture in the future.

You can see our photos in our online web album.

Mt. Rushmore 2015

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The main purpose behind our trip to the Black Hills was to see Mt. Rushmore. This is something Sam and Nate have been asking about for over a year, and my memories here are so great that I knew it was something we had to do.

We started our day at the monument by hiking down to the Sculptor's Studio to hear a talk from a ranger about the techniques Gutzon Borglum used to create a massive sculpture out of a mountain. I still have a hard time getting my head around the fact that he was able to pull this off. We then took a hike on the President's Trail, which was not as challenging as the hike around Devils Tower. After our hike, we explored the Visitor's Center and exhibits some more (with the obligatory trip to the gift shop ... boy, I had forgotten how money has a tendency to burn a hole in a kid's pocket). Gina and I splurged on a Junior Ranger vests for the boys, which I have to say are very cool. They wore them the rest of the day with a little more pride than usual.

After a quick lunch at our cabin, we went to Rushmore Tramway Adventures to ride the chairlift and alpine slide. The view from the top was really beautiful, and the boys did great driving their own sled down the mountain. Nate was a little nervous about it, but he did great and was quite excited when he got done. We spent the rest of the afternoon in downtown Keystone looking in the shops and, yes, the money was still burning a hole.

We came back to the cabin for a quick rest after dinner, then we went back to Mt. Rushmore for the evening program. I had not seen this in quite some time, and it is definitely worth the effort. In fact, if a person were to go to Mt. Rushmore only once during the day, I would suggest going in the evening to see the program. The movie goes into more detail about each president and what he represents in the monument. The boys were mesmerized during the show. At the end they ask all people who have served in the armed forces to come down to the front, and each person states his or her name and branch of service. This was inspiring and moving for everyone in the audience, which must have been at least a couple of thousand people.

Suffice it to say, Mt. Rushmore and the Black Hills have met, even exceeded, our expectations, and Gina and the boys are already talking about when we will come back. There is so much to see in our country, but I know we will make it back before long. The last leg of our journey will include the Crazy Horse Memorial and Custer State Park. You can see our pictures from today in our online web album.

Devils Tower

This morning Gina, Sam, Nate, and I left for a short excursion to the Black Hills. This is something we have been wanting to do for awhile, and we finally did it this summer while we were visiting my parents in Wyoming. Sam began asking last summer when we would go see Mt. Rushmore, which kind of surprised me. We had seen a story about it in a book, and the idea of seeing huge heads carved from the side of a mountain was too much to resist for a 6-year old.

We started our adventure today by driving to Devils Tower, which is about 3 hours from Casper. If you have never been here before, it is totally worth the trip. This national monument is unlike anything you can find elsewhere in the United States. We took the plunge and did the entire 1.5 mile hike around the base of the tower. You can see all kinds of varied terrain as you complete the loop, from valleys, rivers, canyons, and mountain ranges. The tower itself seems to change shape as you walk around, which is why we took so many pictures (oh, and a new camera). We saw squirrels, deer, birds, prairie dogs, and rock climbers up on the tower, and we met some very nice people as we hiked. We even saw the old wooden ladder that people once used to climb the tower themselves (YIKES!). Sam and Nate did great until about the 1-mile mark. You can see from their expressions that they were pretty worn out from the trek, but they bounced back in no time after they earned their Junior Park Ranger badges.

There were no alien sightings, but we have heard those don't usually happen until after dark. I did have this strange urge to play with my mashed potatoes at supper (movie humor). We are now in our cabin in Keystone, and we can hardly wait to see some more amazing sights tomorrow. You can view all of our photos from today in our online web album.

Casper Mountain 2015

IMG_0967 One of our favorite places on the entire planet is Casper Mountain. A lot of people do not know this, but it is very diverse, with everything from sprawling meadows to caves to deep canyons with beautiful creeks. My family has had a cabin up there since about 1980, and I have explored just about every square inch of the canyon on which our cabin sits.

Each summer the boys explore a little bit more of the mountain with Gina and I. We already got to show them the fault line at the top of the canyon with Leif and Io, and yesterday we stayed the night up there and got to see some more amazing sites.

One place the boys have been interested in visiting is Bear Trap Meadow. When we got there, Nate asked where all of the bears were. I laughed because I had this same thought when I was his age. I guess both of us were hoping to see a meadow filled with bears caught in traps, and finding out that it is really just a big grassy field was a little anticlimactic. Even with the disappointment, we had a fun time walking around and testing out all the swings at each picnic shelter.

Our next stop was Ponderosa Park, which was totally destroyed by a forest fire in 2012. I had not been to this part of the mountain in many years, and the last time I was there was on my mountain bike. I had forgotten how far it is from Bear Trap Meadow to Ponderosa Park, which made me wonder how in the world I used to make this trek on a mountain bike (13 miles round trip, with a killer 2 mile climb coming out of Ponderosa Canyon). The entire area looked like something out of the Hunger Games, with charred trees and picnic structures all around. There is new growth starting to emerge from the fire damage, and it creates quite a beautiful contrast. This part of the mountain is characterized by sandstone formations and a breathtaking view of Medicine Bow National Forest. We will definitely make another trip there in a year or so to see if any of the picnic structures have been rebuilt.

I have included several photos below. There are also some photos of the Great River Raft Race on the Platte River, which - let's just be honest - is just an excuse to drink beer on a raft in the river at 9 o'clock in the morning.

Don't let yer babies grow up to be cowboys

On Thursday, we took the family to see the Central Wyoming Rodeo in Casper. We have become quite the rodeo fans over the past couple of years, mainly because of the Fort Worth Stock Show Rodeo. The boys have gotten to where they know the different events, and they even seem to like some of them better than others. I have always been a fan of rodeos, though it is much like my appreciation of football in that I would rather watch it than participate. The rodeo last night did not disappoint, and some of the events were among the best we have ever seen, particularly the team roping and calf roping. The clown had a really funny bit toward the middle, which both boys claimed was the highlight of the evening for them. My personal favorite was the bareback and saddle bronc riding, and I was able to get some cool pictures with our new camera. Mom and Dad came with us, which made the whole evening a fun family event. Of course, no outing Casper would be complete if I didn't run into a few people I know. This time I ran into a friend from elementary school, a high school buddy, a former co-worker from Willard Elementary, the son of one my oil field buddies, and some friends from church. You can see my photos (as well as a bunch of others) in our photo album.

Earlier in the day, we went fishing at Yesness Pond. The fishing excursion was quite successful as each boy caught about 10 fish. They like to brag about how many fish they caught, while I was amused by the fact that the sum total of all 20 fish was probably less than 5 pounds! That may actually be an exaggeration (it is a fishing story, after all).

New cousins, new adventures

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On Sunday, we set off from Fort Worth to make our annual summer trip to Wyoming. The heat is starting to crank up in Texas, and this is always a great way to escape and enjoy cool temperatures in July. After the long trip getting here, we finally arrived on Monday evening just slightly road weary.

We were not only greeted by my parents, who we are here to see, but we got to meet Leif and Io who are traveling with their grandparents, Jeff and Melody, to a wedding in Colorado. We have known Jeff and Melody a long time, and I have met their children one time. This was our first time to meet their grandkids, and we have really enjoyed getting to know them.

Sam, Nate, Leif, and Io hit it off right away, and they have really enjoyed playing together. They have played soccer in the back yard, rolled candy under the tires of the oncoming cars in the parade (Leif's idea), marched like soldiers at the cabin, and hiked up the side of Elk Horn Canyon to see the fault line at the top. Considering we have only been here two days, I would say our annual visit to Casper has gotten off to a great start. You can see some of the photos so far below. (We got a new camera, which is why I am more trigger happy than normal).

July 4, 2015

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This year we were able to stay in Fort Worth and celebrate Independence Day with our neighborhood friends and family. We started the day by participating on our neighborhood Fourth of July Parade. Sam and Nate decorated their bikes and rode with the other participants on the (nearly) two mile route through our neighborhood. By the end, they were a little hot and tired, but we had a lot of fun.

Later that day, after spending some time packing for our trip to Wyoming, we drove out to the Gooch farm to eat dinner and launch fireworks with our family. Each family brought so many fireworks that I thought we would never get through them. We did not leave the farm until 11 PM, which meant we got home around 1 AM. Not my best time of day. Sam and Nate, as usual, loved the fireworks and even got to shoot some Roman candles.

This time of year is a great reminder about all the blessings we enjoy as a country. We have freedom to make our own decisions about life, faith, career, and happiness, and on this day we come together to acknowledge that these freedoms come as the result of individual accountability and many men and women who have fought to preserve freedom and liberty for our country. It's a day that makes me both proud and humble at the same time.

You can see some pictures from the big day below.

Raingutter Regatta 2015

Sam and Nate (well, mainly just Nate) celebrated their first full day of summer vacation by participating in the Raingutter Regatta 2015 with our Cub Scout pack. For this event, the boys build and decorate small catamarans using balsa wood, then they propel them down a raingutter filled with water using a drinking straw. These videos will give you a sense of how it works. Sam was not able to race his boat because he attended a birthday party (decisions, decisions), but one of the younger brothers was able to race it for him.

Nate got used to how the boats worked, and he took second place in our den. I think this is the first trophy he has won based on actual competition. He did pretty well in the all-pack race, but not enough get win a trophy. He was very happy with himself that he was able to beat some of the older kids.

I am proud of both boys for finishing their boats and showing such great sportsmanship. We look forward to doing this again next year (now that we know what to do).

Field Day 2015

One of my favorite days of the year as both a student and a teacher was Field Day. It was the perfect blend of competition and recreation, and being able to avoid homework for a day was an added bonus. When I was a child, we could win ribbons for each event, and we would bring a safety pin from home and wear them as a badge of honor. The boys' field day was devoid of any real competition, other than looking to see if they outran the person next to them. There were no ribbons, but I do not think it made any difference as far as they were concerned. The kids had a blast just being outside and completing each station. The day started with Opening Ceremonies and a parade of each class around the track. Each class rotated through several stations, which were the hula hoop, soccer kick, sack race, jump rope race, and hurdles, and they even got to run through a bounce house obstacle course. The only event that included a clearly decided winner was the tug-of-war, but it had to be delayed until a later date due to rain. Nate's class took second place, and of course his first response was that the other class cheated. Ah, field day ... some things have not changed. I used to accuse other classes of cheating, and my students did the same thing. I'm glad to see the art of gracefully accepting defeat is alive and well! Some pictures from Field Day 2015 are below. You can see how gray and gloomy the day was, which looking back, was a nice alternative to 90+ degree heat.

New Mountain Bikes

Sam and Nate finally got a bike upgrade this weekend. Their old Spider-Man bikes were so small, their knees were really cramped. So, we got them mountain bikes that seem to fit better, and they are definitely cooler. They struggled more than I thought with the new bikes, but as you can see from the video, they are starting to get the hang of it. We are looking forward to having some good rides this summer! https://youtu.be/f_smAHVvq1c

Cousins Weekend on the Farm

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Over Memorial Day weekend, we all traveled to the farm of Gina's aunt and uncle to spend some time with our cousins. Even though the forecast looked ominous, the rain held off while we were there and the weather was beautiful for playing outdoors.

Sam and Nate got to play with Max and Wes, which was the highlight of the weekend for them. I think it is so great having cousins so close in age, and they all get along so well when they're together. They splashed on the slip-n-slide, swam in the pool, rode the Gator, climbed trees, fed the cows, and watched a bonfire.

We also got to spend some quality time with Tommy and his family. Zach and Kendall had a great time driving the Gator around the farm, with Kierra as their supervisor. I can hardly believe how fast those three are growing up, and it has been awesome to see them transition into young adults.

We were sad to see the weekend come to an end, but we are looking forward to another chance to get together. You can see some of our pictures from the weekend at the farm.

Ella on Butterfly Brand!

I noticed today on Facebook that Ella is the featured Butterfly Child for Butterfly Brand. This company sells soft clothing and toys, specifically for children with EB. Every month, a percentage of their proceeds goes towards a different child with EB, and this month that child is Ella! Their write-up is below. You can also purchase items from their website: www.butterflybrand.org. Thanks Butterfly Brand for doing this great work!

First Grade Champions

Sam and Nate recently participated in the Ridglea Hills Elementary School talent show. They were part of the First Grade Champions (their team name, not their place in the competition). This talent show was not actually a competition, but if you ask me, their act was the best! Way to go, boys! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aBKsrDGZ9YQ

Dirty Scurry 2015

Sam and Nate got to take "getting dirty" to a whole new level this weekend. They have never had a hard time making a mess, but the 2015 Dirty Scurry was a whole new realm of mud and messiness. I have never done one of these races, so I had no idea what to expect. There were 12 obstacles on the "race" course, each of which involved running, crawling, or climbing through mud. Honestly, I was not sure how the boys would respond to this. I thought Nate would like it more than Sam since he tends to like playing in the dirt more than his perfectionist brother. On the other hand, Sam tends to be more competitive and usually likes this sort of challenge. Well, they both ended up loving this event! Sam loved the competition, and Nate loved the mud, so I guess I was right on both accounts. I had a brief "parent of the year" moment when I could not find Sam, but he went straight to the place I told them to wait for me if we got separated. With over 2,000 children, I can still hardly believe I made it to the car with both boys with me, but it all worked out.

I actually think they will want to do this again next year, and with a year of experience under our belts, it will be even more fun and dirty next year! Below are a few pictures from our adventure.

Science Project Survival Guide

20150403_13025220150403_130040 When I was a teacher, I commonly gave students projects to complete at home. I don't think I inundated the parents with projects week after week (at least that is my perspective), but I did have between 2 and 3 major projects each year for students to do at home with their parents. These included inventing a new board game, Ocean Life tic-tac-toe (students could choose 3 out of 9 available mini-projects), and designing a science fair project. This was always a fun experience for me and the students, though I am certain at times it caused some stress on the family.

How do I know this? Well, the two major projects Sam and Nate have done this year have caused some major stress. Perhaps major is an exaggeration, but we definitely had to put all things aside and focus on the project for one or two days. This may have more to do with the personality of the "project manager" than it does the nature of the projects, but even so, these are a little bit of an undertaking.

This got me thinking (which is heavily influenced by my time as a teacher): What about those families who have never done this sort of thing before? Or those kids who do not get a lot of help from home? Or those parents who simply do not have any time? I can imagine even a relatively simple project could throw a family for a loop, or they just won't do it. I know I had kids like this in my class, and I did become more sensitive to them over time. If you relate to any of these questions, then I have some simple steps you can follow to make the next take-home project not seem so scary.

Step 1: Find out the due date and make it visible

The number one ingredient to de-stressing your child's school project is to make sure you know the due date from the beginning. Most teachers send home a notice between a month and two weeks in advance, which is more than enough time to get the project done. When you know the due date far in advance, you can work backwards to make sure you give yourself enough time to finish without panic. By finish, I mean your child finishes the project during the day or evening, not the parent finishing it at 2 a.m.

For example, the latest project in our household was to build a contraption that would protect an egg even when dropped off the school. I put the flyer from school in a place where I could see it, and this let me not only plan our time building it, but I was also able to see how this project fit within the context of our over-planned week.

Step 2: Look up examples on Pinterest

Probably the most important part of any school project is to carefully walk that "parameter-choice" tightrope. You want to give your child some feasible choices for what to do without making it completely open ended or totally parent-driven. Pinterest is probably the best place to look for ideas. If you are not familiar with Pinterest, just imagine a seemingly unending museum of just about every project that has ever been done in every area of life. No matter what the project, there are hundreds of people who have done the same thing, taken pictures of it, and pinned it to some board.

In the case of our egg-drop challenge, I did some homework on Pinterest before I mentioned the project to the boys. I was able to see several different categories for this project, then I showed them some pictures and asked them which category they liked best (e.g., parachute, cushion, exoskeleton, etc.). Had I just asked them to brainstrorm how to make this project without giving them some options, they would have been envisioning rocket boosters, landing gear, titanium, or some other Marvel-inspired innovation. Thankfully, they both chose the same category, making my role in the project WAY easier!

Step 3: Do a materials inventory

Once you and your child have decided how to actually make the project, you need to look around your house and decide which materials you already have those you need to purchase. When I was a teacher, I felt guilty when I could tell from a child's project that the parents had to go out and purchase a bunch of materials. I actually had a parent tell me once that she spent more than $25 at Michael's on supplies! That was not my intention, and I began to wonder how common this was.

For our egg-drop project, I was able to determine which supplies we had and those we needed to purchase. Aside from buying eggs, which we would use anyway, we spent about $2 on some new sponges and $5 on card stock. I could have used some old sponges we had at the house, but ... ewww! We had every other supply at the house, and it was fun figuring out ways to repurpose some of our everyday household items into a hi-tech egg delivery system. Who knew that plastic Target bags could make such a great parachute?

Step 4: Pace yourself

If you are anything like my family, you have a lot going on. We are in soccer, do Tiger Cubs, are involved in our church, and my wife and I have careers that don't always end when the work day does. I had to find ways to fit this project into our packed week. The due date was Friday, which meant it had to be done by Thursday, which meant we had to have all of our supplies purchased and organized by Tuesday or Wednesday. I had to be creative when finding time to take the boys to the store to buy the sponges and card stock, but we got it done. And THEY got to pick out the color of their sponges (remember: it's their project!).

Step 5: Celebrate

I won't go into detail about how we built our project, but suffice it to say, we were able to finish at a reasonable time with very little stress. Yes, I had one child more interested in this project than the other, but he hung with me long enough to finish it. We took pictures, we Facetimed the grandparents, we sent the parachutes on their maiden voyage in the backyard. It was a lot of fun, and the boys ended up being very proud of what they did. Oh, and both eggs landed perfectly on the concrete with nary a scratch.

So, am I missing anything? What are some helpful hints you have found for successfully finishing school projects?

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Hitting the Slopes

20150311_111217 It's amazing to me where the time goes. I have done a pretty good job of keeping this blog up to date for the past 9 years or so. I don't post everything, but I tried to stay caught up with posting the important stuff. The stuff I wanted to remember. The stuff that we might look back on 20 or 30 years from now and be glad we wrote it down. Then I stopped. Did I just get too busy? Did I lose interest? Maybe I got so behind that the thought of trying to catch up was too overwhelming. I just know I have missed a lot of important events since my last post. Thanksgiving, Anniversary, Christmas, several birthdays. Then there are other events, such as my precious grandmother passing away, that I still plan on writing about. The truth is, life moves fast and if I really plan on documenting the little and big happenings, and everything in between, I must try harder to stay caught up.

So, I guess it would take a pretty big event to awaken my inner blogger. Today was one of those events, the kind that will bounce around in my memory for years and years. Gina and I took the boys skiing today for the first time. I have skied since I was their age, and it has been one of my favorite activities for many years. I would ski with my dad in elementary school, then in middle and high school I would go with friends and use it as a chance to show off. In college, I quickly found a group of friends to ski with in college, and we would explore a different resort in Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming nearly every weekend. I had to get a job just to fund my skiing habit! I moved to Texas after college, but I would still find time to ski over my school breaks. When I lived in Colorado I bought a season pass and went skiing almost every weekend. It was a great diversion from graduate school, but once again, I had to get a part-time job just to pay for the skiing.

Then I stopped going.

After Gina and I were married, we made a couple of ski trips, but once we moved to Virginia we never went. I really had no desire to go, and I didn't really miss it. Then we had twins. Then we moved. Again. And again. And again. Life seemed to be moving at too rapid a pace to stop everything and go skiing. The boys always seemed too young, or it seemed to expensive. There were just so many other things to focus on at the time.

That all changed this year when Gina suggested we come to Casper for Spring Break. I resisted the idea at first because I had become accustomed to using this week to catch up on work and rest. But after some thought, I knew this was the perfect time to take a ski trip with the boys. They have learned everything else quickly, and I assumed they would pick up on skiing just as fast.

After a few days of sledding, snow shoeing and playing in the snow, I knew the boys would love skiing. Just to make sure they got off to a good start, we signed them up for a ski lesson. It was also a great time for Gina and I go exploring a little bit. We checked on them a couple of times, and they seemed to be doing fine. When we reunited with them at lunch, it was hard to read their reaction. They were a little tired and hungry, and I think they envisioned themselves flying down the mountain and jumping off cliffs ... just like on TV.

After lunch we took them back out, and they seemed to do a lot better. They did so well, in fact, that we took them down a REAL slope and they got to ride the chair lift. There was a little drama, but they both made it down and did great on the lift. They even wanted to go back again for another run.

This was such a fun day with Gina and the boys. Everyone had fun, we got to spend a lot of time together, and the boys got to learn something they potentially could enjoy the rest of their lives. We are thankful for such a great day, and we look forward to many more.

https://youtu.be/QtMpDFxpR2M