Auto Show

Bradley loves the auto show. From the first time I took him, I have been amazed at his view point on the styles of a car. While I see them as a means to get from one place to another, Bradley sees them as pieces of art.

Kyle is not too excited by them. He comes with us to be with us, not see the cars. We always have fun at the auto show no matter the reason why we go.

Bradley and Kyle keep trying to pick out my next car for me. "Dad, you should get this one." is heard almost as often as "no Dad, not that one."

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Our sledding adventure started at Wal-Mart looking for sleds only to be disappointed that they had none. Hope came up with the brilliant idea of using an air mattress. To be totally fair, she was only joking. The joke was completely lost on the children and me. After quickly grabbing a queen size air mattress and a rechargeable air pump we proudly marched out of the store ready for tomorrow’s early morning adventure.

The next morning we headed straight to the hill. The air was really cold, the wind was blowing, we were all bundled up well and ready for the fun! Besides the air mattress, we managed to find a “real” sled.

We jumped out of the car, popped the trunk, unboxed the mattress and started blowing it up. Kasey was already busy using the “real” sled to zoom down the hill.

While the air mattress was filling, Brad, Kyle and I volunteered to be the first to take it down the hill. We piled on the mattress and sped down the hill. It was AWESOME! Fast! Smooth! We couldn’t wait to go again. The only problem is the air mattress had a few rips in it from the icy conditions.

Luckily I had a roll of duct tape in my car. With a few quick repairs we were back in business. So after each run we would repair the rips, refill the air, pile people on and speed down the hill.

Everyone was going to get on the air mattress. To get the best photo, I grabbed the only “real” sled we had and sped down the hill. I started to get sideways and began to steer with my hands. My left hand got wedged in a hole while the rest of my body continued down the hill. The result was a dislocated elbow, torn and strained tendons and a fracture on the tip of a bone in the middle of the elbow. Oh, and a LOT of pain! The worst part of it is I missed the picture. I immediately moved into the role of sledding observer instead of participant.

I watched the kids continue to sled for about another 30 minutes the cold and the wind started to take its hold on the children and we headed for hot chocolate and home.

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The weather was absolutely beautiful for Easter. Enjoying the sunshine, the children colored their Easter eggs outside on the deck. I enjoy seeing the different techniques and creativity they use to make the “perfect” egg. Their demonstration of patience and attention span also come through.

The Easter bunny hid the eggs in our backyard. Kyle and Kasey were at the window trying to get a jump on the other kids on the egg hunt. Seeing just how many they can spy from the house, but the Easter bunny through them a curve. Inside each their Easter baskets was a single color of egg. Their job was to only collect the eggs that matched their color.

Everyone headed outside. Hope and I were observers from the deck. With a cup of coffee in hand we were soaking up the morning spring sun and enjoying watching the children run all over the yard searching for their color of egg. Near the end when we had just a few eggs that had not been found they all started the search for the last few eggs. Despite their exhaustive search there were still two missing eggs. Those showed up months later in last July and they still had the candy in them!

While dinner was baking, we had a whiffle ball game. Everyone was a little out of practice and the wind was blowing from the bats missing the ball.

The highlight of the weekend was a trip we took on Saturday to look at kittens that would be up for adoption soon. Two adorable kittens were selected and then the big challenge of naming them started.

Someone would suggest a name. Someone else would like it but yet another person would not like it. We talked about it for what seemed liked hours! I started to think we wouldn’t ever be able to agree on names but two names finally won out. Katrina and Kit. Kit-Kat were going to join the family the following week.

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Memorial Weekend

Construction on our pool started shortly after Easter. What should have been a 4-week build time dragged out to almost 6 to 7 weeks because of rain. We had a very wet spring. Our goal was to be swimming my Memorial weekend and we beat that by a week.

Not surprisingly, all of the kids love the pool. Chris, Georgia, Abby and Megan came over to help us break in the new pool. Chicken fights, cheerleader stunting and Marco-Polo filled the weekend. We couldn’t get the kids out of the pool!

Kyle loves the underwater camera that we got last summer. He loves creating videos and taking goofy pictures.

Kit and Kat are growing like weeds. In just a few short weeks they have easily doubled in size. They not only put up with the kids picking them up all the time but they actually seem to enjoy it. They are fitting in very well.

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Kristin qualified for the National championship in gymnastics this year. In mid June, Hope, Kasey, Kristin and I travel to Orlando, Florida for the competition.

After years of watching Bradley and Kyle play football and baseball, gymnastics is all new to me. We have gone to a lot of competitions this year and I have started to pickup some of the nuances of the different events. Hope does a great job of answering my gymnastics ignorant questions and has been fantastic in getting me up to speed on the scoring.

While in the Orlando, FL area, we visited Hope’s parents. While there the girls got to play with baby bunnies. They were small, cute and super soft. They all enjoyed holding and petting the bunnies, especially Kasey!

You cannot be near Disney World and not go to at least one park. We spent a day at the Magic Kingdom. I learned a few things about Hope and the girls that day. First, I learned we have a lot of work to do teaching Kristin to drive. It appears she takes great pleasure in stopping quickly and having her sister rear-end us. She enjoyed this way too much while we were zooming around the speedway. The devious smile on her face is proof.

The second thing I learned was that they all secretly love getting hugs from the Disney characters, especially Pooh Bear.

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Learning to ride a bike

At the end of winter, Hope got a new bike as part of her 20th work anniversary gift from GE. When Kasey saw the bike, she asked if she could bring over her bike from her Dad's house. That then sparked the idea of Kasey learning how to ride her bike without training wheels!

The first lesson was in the basement as there was still snow and ice on the ground. Luckily the basement is good size and she was able to take a few passes to get her grounded on the concept. All was well until she tried on her own and put her front wheel through the sheet rock. :-) We then drove to a parking lot so that we didn't have too many holes in the walls. After a few falls and getting back on, she got the hang of it and was riding on her own. We had a great spring and summer with all of us riding our bikes around the neighborhood! The hills were not very friendly some times but we all enjoyed watching Kasey getting more and more skilled.

Earlier that same year, Kristin begged for a unicyle. With her gymnast balance and stubborn personality, she got better and better on riding it. She still needs practice but she had a blast learning!

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Washington D.C.

We loaded up the kids and drove 6.5 hours to Washington, D.C. After checking into our hotel we quickly turned around and got back into the car to head to Arlington National Cemetery. It was a simple 10-minute drive from our hotel. There was more arguing about seats and complaining about who’s touching whom than the whole 6.5 hour drive!

We made it in time to see the changing of the guard at the Tome of the Unknown Solder and explore some of the other must go memorials. It is always very moving to visit Arlington. The children really got into seeing the different memorials are learning about the past wars.

The next day we started at the Washington monument. Kristin decided to see how many back handsprings she could do in a row. She actually went longer than this one video clip but “someone” messed up recording it.

The weather was in the 90’s and mostly sunny. In fact, the weather for most of the week was exactly the same. We took to diving into different museums to cool off while walking the National Mall. Bradley frequently gave Kasey rides, which she enjoyed!

I had scheduled a tour at the White House. After everyone successfully cleared the background checks we were good to go. I had a surprise planned. I secretly, talked with all the children one at a time the weeks leading up to our visit. Kasey was the only child I still needed to talk with. While waiting in line to go into the White House, I took her for a walk and we talked. Like everyone one of the kids, she was happy and excited. The unanswered question was did any of them leak it to Hope.

We waited in line a few more minutes and that allowed me to plan the room for the surprise. Kyle was helping me figure out which room would be best for my surprise. Then we found the perfect room. I told Kyle to let the others know the plan.

The White House seems smaller in person than on TV but is just as impressive. Everyone was awed as we toured the building. When we entered the East Room, I whispered to Kyle and Kristin that we had one more room until my surprise and to remind the other kids.

I distracted Hope to let the kids get into the room first. Once we were all in the Blue Room, I dropped on one knee and asked Hope if she would marry me. She was completely surprised and didn’t see it coming. She simply said, “Are you kidding?” then answered “Yes!”

Most of the kids missed it! They were turned away from the entry way and only caught the very end of her saying yes and tearing up.

The rest of the tour was a blur. Once outside the kids insisted on a reenactment photo outside of the White House.

Why the Blue Room? It is unique for many reasons, two stood out to me. First it is uniquely shaped like an oval, like the Oval office. It is also the only room in the White House where a wedding of a President and a First Lady took place. On June 2, 1886, President Grover Cleveland married Frances Folsom in the Blue Room. It also doesn’t hurt that when the Presidents gives addresses from the White House, the room can be seen in the background.

We spent a few more days trudging up and down the National Mall. Some of the favorite locations included the Air and Space museum, the Capital building tour and a surprise the National Library.

Kristin was very insistent that we needed to go to the National Library. No one else wanted to go but she convinced us to go. The building is amazing inside, probably more ornate than the Capital building. Everyone was impressed and glad that Kristin was so insistent.

Taking a good picture of 7 kids is near impossible; someone is always making a goofy face. So we struck a deal. One good picture, no goofing off, then we would take another picture of them being as goofy as they can be.

The last evening we toured most of the outside monuments via a bike tour. Way better than trying to walk to each of them in the 90-degree heat. This is the way to tour Washington, D.C. It is also the perfect way to wrap up our trip.

After negotiating seating positions for the way home, the kids were once again fantastic during the long drive.

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Bradley and Kristin are only 39 days apart; both turned 15 this spring and cannot wait to get behind the wheel of a car. I took them to empty parking lots a couple of times throughout the spring and summer. Both picked it up pretty quickly. Next year are learners permits and driving on the road. I can’t wait. (Yes, that was sarcastic!)

With Brad as the chief designer and digger, our fire pit was built. Kyle, Kristin and Kasey collect rocks and took turns driving the lawn tractor with the cart in tow full of rocks to the pit. I love how proud they look in the picture of them right after it was completed. We have enjoyed many a good fire since it was built.

The pool is the center of our summer life. Each of the kids will spend hours in the pool. I think I saw gills starting to form on Kyle and Kasey.

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Cold Water and Ice Bucket Challenges

What is it with people challenging you with cold water??

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Gymnastics is a whole new sport for me. Hope and Kristin are trying to teach me the nuances of the sport and I am picking it up. I know enough to know a good routine from a bad one but I am still lost at some of the scoring. I now know enough to be able to ask clarifying questions!

Kristin is hard working and pushes herself very hard. She has high standards for herself. I have never heard her say she nailed a routine even when it looks like she has. All are great qualities!

I have enjoyed trying to photograph her doing her events. Taking decent sports photography requires that you anticipate what the athlete is going to do next. While I am improving I clearly have a long way to go.

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Bradley moved to defensive tackle this year and had his best year yet. He played with a ton more intensity than ever before. He is #64.

I really enjoy watching all the kids do something they love to do, Nicole with playing the flute, Kristin with gymnastics, Kasey with cheer, Kyle with singing and Bradley playing football or baseball. They all work so hard at it and to see them meeting or exceeding their own expectations is truly one of the best things in life.

Bradley is working harder in this off-season than ever before. I cannot wait to watch him play next season!

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Another new sport for me is Cheer. Yes, It is a sport. (Abby, Megan and Kasey are going to smack me for that last comment.) But I never thought of it as a sport before watching them.

It turns out holding people above your head while they bend in painful looking poses, throwing people up high in the air while they twist and then willingly catch them while their fists and legs spin takes an athlete who is flexible, brave, strong and dedicated to their sport. They work hard to have everyone doing it in unison.

This confirms for me that football is the greatest sport. I love all aspects of a football game, the cheerleaders always entertaining the crowd with stunts, the band playing amazing music while moving all over the field to tell a story at half-time and the actual game itself.

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Marching Band

After taking a year off of marching band, Nicole joined the Wayne State marching band. I am delighted. Watching Nicole play the flute or the sax in any setting is one of my most favorite things to do. She truly loves making music and she is darn good at it.

The Wayne State band is small but pretty good. The best part is seeing her smile as she comes off the field knowing the performance was a good one!

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Kyle has taken his talent for singing and decided to share it with the world by joining the middle school choir. Prior, Kyle would sing very quietly in the car or in the shower but I rarely heard him belt out a tune. He is good!

Kyle tried out for the All-State Honors Choir and made it!

My little boy is growing up way too quickly but I am proud of the young man he is becoming.

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Various pictures in the fall

Bradley attended his first homecoming dance and looked great. I am bias but he really is a handsome young man. He continues to remind me that he is bigger than me; he weighs more and is taller. In spite of what he thinks it really doesn’t bother me that he is bigger. The thing that bothers me is that I can’t wear his pants or shirts anymore.

We celebrated Hope’s birthday and Corey’s birthday. Kristin and Megan are the official candle placers and lighters for birthdays. They like to assemble the candles in a bunch and light them so they look more like a bomb fire than a birthday cake.

For Halloween, Kyle was an ostrich wrangler and Bradley was a crash test dummy. Kristin dressed up as a skeleton and Kasey was a little devil. They all got too much candy.

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We spent Thanksgiving with Hope’s brother and his family. This is my second Thanksgiving celebrating it with them. Chris, Georgia and their two girls, Abby and Megan made me feel welcomed and a part of the family the first time I met them.

I continue to learn new family traditions. For Thanksgiving we had the traditional fare but the Sterpka way, mashed turnips and carrots (not my favorite) and English stuffing (a favorite).

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Christmas preparations start right after Thanksgiving with trekking through a tree farm to pick just the right tree, cut it down, drag it to the car, tie it on top and finally get it home. Then the decorating begins with…everyone’s favorite….detangling the lights and finding out which ones work and which ones don’t.

Corey, Kristin and Kasey did a great job decorating the tree.

I love watching the kids have fun with each other. Corey, Bradley, Kyle, Kristin and even Kasey play Magic the Gathering together. They play board games, video games and nerf wars. Everyone deciding which movie to watch can be quite the challenge. Hope and I join in the festivities too. When Abby and Megan come over it is like two more sisters.

My favorite part of Christmas is a loud house full of life!

The children had puzzles, clues, and a scavenger hunt to conquer to find their last gift. 5 - three clue hunts without them crossing over and finding someone else’s clues takes a lot of planning. Coming up with clues that are hard enough but not discouraging for them is not trivial but it is a lot of fun! I am not sure who enjoys it more, Hope and I or the children.

The video is of Kristin who struggled with her last clue. It's a little long but if you wait for the end, her reaction when she finally figured it out is priceless.

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