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Life Lately

In January, I didn't have much to blog about, and then so much happened in February, March, and April that I never had time to write! So I'm going to try to catch up and do four months' worth of blog posts in one (including May)! This post is equivalent to getting out the projector and showing slides from an old family vacation. LOL. Are you ready for this?

In February, the most significant event was a visit by my wonderful friend (and former next-door neighbor) Rachael and her son Ilirian. They flew from Rhode Island to soak up some sunshine with us for one weekend. (Extra thanks go to her husband and younger son for sparing them for the weekend!) Liam (my son) and Ilirian were so happy to be reunited. They've missed being able to knock on each other's doors and play in the front yard daily. They were inseparable when we were neighbors, and I pray that they'll have a lifelong bond. During the two short years that we lived in Rhode Island, Rachael and her family became part of our family. I'm so blessed to have a friend who is so generous with her time and her heart.

Liam & Ilirian - First day of Kindergarten - Aug 2018

Rachael and I went hiking (just the two of us!) at a peak near my house. In the center photo, Rachael is pointing to the building where we parked the car.

We took the kids to the pool, and the boys had a blast jumping in over and over. Here is video proof!

We made a day trip to Sedona for brunch and some more hiking. The weekend flew by too fast! We're counting the days until we can see them again. And--because I know everyone loves hearing about my wildlife adventures--Rachael and I saw a roadrunner during one of our walks! I tried to take a picture, but it was--you guessed it--too fast! In other wildlife news, I SAW DONKEYS! Technically, this is the second time, but since I was the only one who saw the donkey the first time and it was in the dark, it didn't count. This time, Barkley, Liam, and I saw the donkeys off the side of the highway. We feel like true Arizonians now. We also met a dozen rattlesnakes. Thankfully, they were all at the Phoenix Zoo.

Phoenix Zoo

Our landscaper completed our backyard in February. We love it. Eventually, we will get a dining set and possibly a pergola to go in the left corner near the grill. I had no idea how much I would love turf. It makes the yard feel so fresh, clean, and bright. Our dogs spend a lot of time sunbathing. We created a gravel area on the side of the house for them to do their business, and I think they appreciate it almost as much as we do.

BEFORE (Above) AFTER (Below)

The biggest event in March was our Spring Break road trip to Florida! We stopped in Panama City first. We haven't been back for a few years, so we drove around and showed our kids where Daddy grew up. We made sure to snap a picture with the "no diving or jumping from bridge" sign that was undoubtedly put on this bridge because of Barkley. It's a miracle he is alive to tell some of his childhood stories, especially the one about him swimming in this lake during a hurricane—a true Floridian. Just look at that smile!

We went to the beach at Pier Park and somehow found ourselves near the same spot we'd visited a few years before. I didn't realize it until I was looking through pictures from our last visit. Check out baby Liam versus present-day Liam. Still the cutest boy ever, in my opinion, just don't tell him I called him 'cute.' He's reached the age where he doesn't like it when I call him my 'baby' anymore. Sigh.

Ever since Liam started crawling, I've called him my little 'stuntman' because he is constantly climbing on things. While at Pier Park, he got the opportunity to jump with bungee cords. He absolutely loved it. I think that was his favorite part of our entire trip. Within seconds he was doing flips and mastering the art completely. I can see him working for Cirque du Soleil someday. Check out the video below of his back-flip!

The photos above are from our time with family in Panama City!

Next, we drove about seven hours down to Orlando. We celebrated Liam's 8th birthday a few days early with a dinner at the Rainforest Cafe with my mother, sister, and father. Liam's favorite animal is the alligator, so he loves the entrance to the restaurant. Can you spot the alligator?

We enjoyed three very humid days at Disney World. For years, I've dreamed of going to Cinderella's Castle for dinner. However, in the past, it was challenging to get a reservation. Until now! Because park capacity is lower and many reservations are being canceled, we snagged a reservation about two weeks before our trip!

We kept it a secret from the kids and revealed it right before walking into Cinderella's Castle. (It was going to be Evelyn's surprise 9th birthday lunch.) I was expecting one of those commercial-style moments of excitement. The kids would jump up and down and cry tears of joy.

My kids could have cared less.

Cinderella? Met her.

Inside the castle? No big deal.

$60 per person? Whatever.

I guess that's what comes from taking your kids to Disney World every other weekend from the ages of one to four. When you go back at eight and nine years old, they are over it. The good news? My Disney-loving-heart thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The lunch was delicious, the decor was stunning, and Cinderella was gracious... from a distance.

Cinderella's Castle Lunch (above)

Highlights from Magic Kingdom

Toy Story Land at Hollywood Studios

Highlights from Hollywood Studios

Highlights from Epcot

We had the opportunity for two time-hop photos while at Epcot. First, there's Evelyn and Liam at Snow White's Wishing Well in 2014 when they were 1 and 2 years old, and then now (minus Snow White). I'm hopeful that we'll get to recreate this photo again, with Snow White and without masks, on our next visit to Disney World.

2014 & 2021

Next, here's a photo of Barkley and me in December of 2007. We'd been dating for about six months at the time. This year, we celebrated our eleventh wedding anniversary (a few months late) by going to dinner at Le Cellier in Epcot and getting a few more photos in the same spot.

2007 and 2021

Above: Liam's Birthday (opening presents at Grandma's house) and Evelyn's Birthday at home

After we celebrated Liam, Evelyn, and Barkley's three weeks of birthdays, we settled into what I'd hoped would be a quieter April. Hah.

My husband and I have discussed the idea of homeschooling for several years, especially for our daughter Evelyn. Since our move here last fall, she has struggled more and more. Her anxiety is rising, and her confidence and self-worth are plummeting. We had planned for her to finish this school year in person and begin homeschooling in the fall, but because of a string of incidents that I won't go into here, we ended up pulling her out of school.

I am officially a homeschool mom! Evelyn loves it, and we've already seen an improvement in her spirit. She especially likes doing school outside and getting time to read (her favorite thing in the world). Liam will finish out the public school year, and then we'll decide what he will do next year. At this point, I think he wants to homeschool as well, but we'll see how he feels after we homeschool through the summer.

April brought more visitors to sunny Arizona! Evelyn's former classmate and friend, Colton, came with his mom to visit his grandparents, who also live here. Evelyn and I met up with Colton, his mom, and his grandmother for a treat at a cafe, and then the kiddos played on the playground nearby. It was so sweet of Colton's mom to reach out to us and let us know they were coming. With all of Evelyn's struggles this school year, it was a wonderful opportunity to remind Evelyn that she has good friends in her life. It doesn't matter how far away they are; a good friend is a good friend.

Evelyn and Colton

Speaking of good friends... my friend Hallie, from Denver (where we grew up and met in middle school), came to Phoenix with her boyfriend to visit some of his family and celebrate her birthday. We've been friends for almost twenty-three years! Hallie and I weren't able to do more than get coffee together because of conflicting schedules and my sick kids, but it was a morning I cherished.

We are all caught up to May! I forgot to mention, that while I wasn't writing blogs in March, I was busy finishing my first-ever manuscript. I completed a novella just in time to submit it to the American Christian Fiction Writers' Genesis Contest. I recently learned that I am a semi-finalist! The top seven entries in each category (genre) move on for another round of judging, and then the top three finalists will be announced in June. Then there will be another round of judging, and the winners will be announced in September at the ACFW annual convention. I'm so proud of the progress I've made over the last year and am excited to keep pushing forward. The sheer fact that I entered the contest is a huge win in my heart.

The next step will be letting others read my work, which is the scariest step of all! I can't share any details about my current story until the contest comes to an end, but perhaps I'll share an excerpt on the blog when that time comes. I'm toying with the idea of starting a private Facebook group where I can share story ideas and get your input! If you'd be interested in joining something like that, let me know!

I'd love your opinion... for the faraway day when I publish my work... should I publish as Stephanie Finsterbush, Stephanie Rose Finsterbush, or under a pen name? What are your thoughts? I can't decide, but I need to choose something and stick with it!

We're a little over halfway through May, so I'll probably have a little more about May to add to next month's blog, but for now, I'll leave you with photos of my wonderful Mother's Day!

As always, thank you for reading and staying connected to us. Moving so frequently is surely a challenge, but we are so grateful for the incredible friendships we've been blessed with across the country. Love you all!

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