At first I didn't fully understand what Caleb was saying. He had to explain it to me several times over several phone conversations. Bethel was to undergo some major changes, and he might be sent back home. (See this official video for a recap of what was announced at the annual meeting of Jehovah's Witnesses.)
I took it like I take any life-changing news: holding out hope that it won't happen... that somehow things will resolve or change at the last minute... that we wouldn't be affected by the news... that somehow there would be an exemption...
Until reality finally slapped some sense into me, snuffing out hope's flickering flame. Caleb received his official reassignment October fifth. He was coming home. No worries. I have another defense when confronted with life-changing news. Drop everything and go wandering. Nature is my constant. Gravity, air, water, the seasons: they never fail. They heal and sooth.
So October fifth found me out on the prairie with the rest of the gang. Eye candy abounded.
The thistle was a fitting illustration of my feelings about Caleb's news. On the one hand, having Caleb home again filled me with joy... being able talk to him face to face again; being able to hug him again... what a beautiful thing...
but knowing his dream, his plan for the future was being pulled out from under him... hearing the pain in his voice... having to say good-bye to all his friends.. having to find secular work again... having to deal with the reality of a broken family... these thought were repeated jabs in my heart.
What would Caleb do now? That was a real mystery. Anna found a mystery of her own while chasing after me as I crashed through the wood. What were all these little puffballs littering the forest floor?
Turns out, these little fuzz-balls are also the products of gall wasps.
Simple lesson learned: build your own cocoon against life's set backs and come out a stronger, better person. Hopefully Caleb will take his experience at Bethel and use it to grow in ways he never thought possible.
I booked him an early flight on the seventh. I think by now we all know just what the poor boy thinks of flying.
Thankfully his final flight home was mostly uneventful, with only a harrowing sprint to his connecting flight in Chicago rattling him. As he was up in the heavens, meditating on his last four months away from home...
...we were heading to the airport. The parking lots were all full, so we had to park a distance away and take the light rail back to the terminal. Much to the kids horror, the inner tourist in me demanded I take plenty of photos to document their ride. Here's the gang at the station:
Our train pulling in:
Nora and Rosa were impressed by how fast we went.
Ella wasn't so sure about it all, however.
The fun didn't end there, however. We had to take another underground shuttle to the airport's innards. It was almost time for Caleb's plane to arrive. Everyone was getting antsy with anticipation as we waited for the shuttle.
After several phone conversations between a lost Caleb and a clueless-as-to-where-we-were Corbin, we achieved mission accomplished, and Caleb was back among us again.
We took the shuttles and trains back to our vehicle...
posed by the random Snoopy statue...
Caleb was still reeling from his journey home, but he was game for a ride on Nickelodeon Universe's Air Bender ride with Corbin, who just kept those hands up.
Caleb fit right back into the role of the calm brother.
This was the first time Nora, Rosa, and Anna splurged and spent their paper route paycheck on unlimited ride wristbands, so they could stay and hang out with the boys.
Here is a little slideshow of the mayhem that followed, via the rides' cameras.
It tickled my joy-filled funny bone watching them all on the bumper cars.
Around this time Ella lost it. No doubt her overtired little body and her finally-filled mental desire to have Caleb home again emotionally overloaded her. And she wasn't alone. Anna had had about enough. Even Caleb commented about his exhausted mental state to his clueless brothers. We split up a bit, and Ella and I watched Anna ride some of the more kid-friendly rides.
Anna was thrilled to find a rabbit on the merry-go-round.
She went on one last ride in a race car...
...before we called it a day and headed down the crazy-busy city freeway towards our small town home. The tension of driving in rush hour traffic was broken by a fellow traveler with a good sense of humor.
Caleb was itching have some good ol' Minnesota campfire smores, so a couple days later we found ourselves back at our outdoor home-away-from-home.
The trees even had on their best celebratory garments to welcome the boy back.
One downfall of fall: the sunsets occur earlier and earlier each day, which resulted in Anna and I being caught in the woods in sudden darkness. Oops. I managed to catch glimpses of the grand finale as we journeyed westward.
Caleb was smart enough to be at the beach at the right time, though. His camera (along with most of his other belongings) was still in a large crate somewhere between New York and home, so he made do with his phone's camera.
We spent the next ridiculously-warm day at the Nelson Farm with Grandpa. (Well all of us except for cart-boy Alex, who had to work and Ella, who had prior obligations.) Not sure what exactly this cut-out is supposed to be promoting, but Anna and I found it most humorous...
Cute chicks... bet you can't snuggle with just one.
Corbin kicked Caleb's butt in a round of larger-than-life checkers.
We did the corn maze, where Anna found a fuzzy friend.
Educational signs were posted at the many dead-ends, highlighting facts about the pork industry. Corbin got a little bit carried away with the silliness of the random facts taunting his escape from the maze.
A final shot of the gang amid the corn:
Too many people were milling around, so when we spotted a neglected-looking sign pointing toward a wooded walking trail, we seized the opportunity. A large paper wasp clinging to a tree frightened the kiddos, but I thought it was a very cordial participant of my shutterbug fetish.
The walk was most refreshing; the scenery wondrous.
The best part? No people. Evidently watching pumpkins being chucked through the air was a bigger draw. Boy are humans strange.
Proof of prior statement: wagon plus hill equals irresistible draw for goofy bipeds.
Here's Caleb and Rosa embracing their humanness.
Humans really enjoy the constants of the laws of physics, which results can be enjoyed by being in the last car of the tractor pull. (Spoiler alert: the last car fishtails wildly.)
More physics fun: an object precariously balancing on a beam will surrender to gravity when pushed by his brother. Human result: a hearty round of laughter and one sore backside.
One nifty thing about humans: they have the ability to make the comical connection between the symbolic meaning of the following picture after seeing the prior incident.
Gee, even the lama thought that was funny.
No farm trip would be complete without some good molesting of rabbits.
Anna, Rabbit Whisperer ™:
What use does a teen have for an empty silo? Instant surround-sound jam-fest via Spotify.
The most honest outhouse ever:
A highlight of any outing: playing mini golf. The farm's course was amidst an apple orchard. I horrified the kids by having a snack. Hey, that's what apples are for, right?
I further annoyed them by taking their picture at the same cut-out of years past.
Hey, more physics fun!
The concept seems somewhat lost on Anna.
All and all, we had a hopping good time on the farm.
Before we finally headed for home the girls splurged on a pony ride.
The rest of the week was wondrous. When not hitting the schoolbooks or caged in at work we were hiking the trails. The sumac dazzled:
The orchestra of frogs seemed to thin daily until only an occasional quartet broke the still. (Curious as to where they go? See here for info on our little buddy below.)
The sunsets never disappoint.
Well, it was disheartening how soon they came. Often by the time we got to our beloved romping grounds the sun was already low in the sky. Oh well, at least we could have some smores while watching the sun sink into the beyond.
The evenings had a real chill to them now. The fire was a welcome respite from the cold lake breezes.
The boys really got into the nightly campfires. They do have a certain mesmerizing beauty.
While they were enthralled by the glowing embers I sneaked away to the beach to watch the main event.
It had been a nerve wrecking month so far. Long story short: I had received a notice stating I must re-roof our house or we would loose it. Barely scraping by paycheck to paycheck, I didn't see how I would possibly meet their deadline. As I watched the final sunset before the big day, I wondered how events would play out.
A pillow can only hold so many screams... only so many tears... As my babies watched the setting sun our dear friends were preparing to spring into action.
Bright and early the next morning our roof was crawling with fellow Witnesses who had heard of our plight and banded together to assist us.
The support and love was overwhelming. I had to work that whole weekend, but it didn't matter to them. They saw to it that the whole roof was done by the deadline! As a bonus, Caleb and Alex became experts at stripping off shingles.
Why not Corbin? He likes his feet planted firmly on the terra firma, thank you very much. Besides, someone had to watch over all the food I left for the workers, right? (All kidding aside, he actually helped out a lot, hiking bundle after bundle of shingles up the ladder for hours on end.)
I went up once. Let me tell you, our roof has a much steeper pitch than the pictures show. I would have slid right off if Caleb hadn't grabbed me. It made me admire our friends even more. And Alex and Caleb. They were up their from sunup to sundown, tearing up old and laying down new.
Caleb went from waiting tables in New York to pounding nails in Minnesota. "It's a good thing Jehovah sent me home, Mom. You needed me," he proclaimed with all seriousness.
My head spun. Perhaps because I was coming off a weekend of work and hardly any sleep. But perhaps it was something more. At that moment I was no longer looking at my son. I was looking at a mature man.
It worked. The big-wigs of power decided our efforts would suffice, and halted the sinkhole of home-takeover.
How did we celebrate? Did you have to ask?
It was perfect. The leaves were in full peak, and the forest absolutely glowed in autumn's golden hue. Much to my chagrin, however, my camera decided it's batteries were dead. At least the gang took some photos. Anna found a friend, natch.
I found many a face...
and watched the sun set while the rest watched our fire dance.
We were up before the sun the next morning and on our way to the bi-annual Circuit Assembly of Jehovah's Witnesses. No complaining here. It made for a nice sideshow as we drove along.
It was a big day for Nora. Not only did she officially become a teenager that day, but she was going to be baptized.
We were all so happy for her.
She was one of three who dedicated themselves to God that morning.
We all agreed it was a great assembly.
One final shot of the girls in front of the stage:
We welcomed November (!!!) by walking about in sixty degree weather. And who says global warming is a bad thing?
Anna, Ella, and I walked off down one path, while Caleb escorted Nora and Rosa down a path in the opposite direction. Daylight savings had cursed us the day before, so now the sun set ridiculously early. We wanted to treasure every moment in the warm sun.
Houston, we have flowers blooming in November! I repeat, flowers in NOVEMBER!
While we were ogling at the flowers, Caleb was flexing his flight feathers in the forest. Rosa loved it.
Our group eventually made it into the wood, too. Leaf-shadow selfie time!
Well, look who Caleb's group ran into!
We soon parted ways again. Anna and I did one last selfie of the year:
All too soon we would be seeing the sun reflecting off cold snow instead of playing about with us on the prairie.
We will end with a funny face sighting:
Next stop: winter! We hope it will be a boring and uneventful one.