Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Apple Orchard Fun

The minute Andi's plane wheels hit the ground last week, the kids and I took him to the apple orchard for a family evening of fun. I know Andi was exhausted from two weeks of work on the road, but I was desperate for some quality time together. My world orbits so much better when he's in it -- when we're together as a family -- and the weather was too gorgeous outdoors that day not to get out and enjoy it.

We visited Apple Jack Orchard on a Monday evening and the place was practically empty. It was AWESOME. Several of the kid's activities weren't operating that evening because it was a weekday (the big jumping pillow, corn pit, etc.) but that's perfectly fine with us. At age three, Tory is none the wiser and there was still plenty for all of us to do together. Best of all, there were no lines, no crowds and plenty of gorgeous scenery to soak in.

First things first: the obligatory "How Tall Are You" photo, at which Tory shouted, "I am three units!" (I can't decide if it's a good thing or a bad thing she's citing mathematical measurements from her favorite Team Umizoomi television show).

And, of course, a "How Tall Are You" pic with Brother Bear as well. In true Aden form, he shoveled a gigantic handful of dirt into his mouth the second I set him down for a photo. 

Shortly afterwards, the farmer hollered he was giving the orchard's last hay rides of the evening. Andi purchased a few tickets and we hopped on for a tour through the apple orchard.

Love this one my favorite guys looking into the orchard. It makes my heart happy to see these two together, and I'm also strangely enamored when I notice ways Aden resembles Andi. The back of Aden's head and his ears are dead-ringers for his dad. So cool. Aren't genetics amazing?

Family photo!

After our hay ride, we went back to the cafe / gift shop to grab dinner. Andi, Tory and I shared a cider brat, chili-cheese brat and a hot dog, which were all pretty gross if I'm being honest, and a apple cider donut for dessert. We crowded around a little kid's picnic table, per Tory's request, and were swarmed with bees vying for our food. (This part of our apple orchard visit wasn't so picturesque).

Then, we cut Tory loose to play on the kids activities nearby. The great thing about being some of the only people at the orchard that night was letting Tory run to her heart's content. She went right for the maze of hay bails that lead to a purple slide at the end. I bet she ran through there fifty times. She loved it!

Aden driving a pretend wooden tractor (with a little assistance from Mommy).

We stopped by the small petting zoo with goats, sheep and chickens. Tory wasn't so sure about the animals at first, and definitely wasn't interested in feeding them. After a few minutes, she picked up some straw from the ground and shoved it into the feeding trough ... which, I'm not sure the goats really appreciated. 

Really, is there anything more adorable than kids sitting amongst a pile of pumpkins? Love Tory and Aden's faces in this picture. It's so -- them -- the way Aden is watching Tory with admiration and Tory's being a cheese-ball.

A visit to the apple orchard was just what our family needed to reconnect after a unusually long and stressful two weeks apart. I love these three so much; so happy they're mine. And, so happy we get to enjoy beautiful Minnesota evenings like this one together as a family.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Is This Thing On?


I feel like an entertainer back on stage after a really long hiatus. It wasn't too many days ago since I wrote here, but it sure feels like a lifetime.

First things first, everyone is healthy in our house again. The kids and I survived The Great Battle of Hand, Foot and Mouth and Andi's home from his big work event in Tennessee. He doesn't travel again for a few weeks, so all is right in our world again.

Reunited (from their quarantined sections of the house) and it feels so good!

Okay, last bit about Hand, Foot and Mouth and then I'll stop talking about it for good. In hindsight, I realize Aden had a pretty mild case of Hand, Foot and Mouth. He ran a fever and had a few spots, but didn't seem too affected. Tory, on the other hand, got hit big time with itchy bumps on her hands, feet and buttocks. Nine days later, the skin on her feet is peeling (gross, I know) and she still complains about them itching occasionally, though I think that's due to skin healing.

We blew through two cans of anti-itch spray, three tubes of hydrocortisone cream, one box of Domeboro solution, 1/2 a bottle of children's Benedryl and 1/2 a bottle of children's Ibuprofen ... and I wouldn't say any of the medicine was particular effective in relieving Tory's discomfort. The feeling of helplessness is the absolute worst when a child is sick. Last week was just awful. I think I have HFM PTSD and I hope we never have to deal with that nasty virus again. *shudder*

Monday, the kids and I made an impromptu stop for lunch at Chipolte because we were out buying a new dryer (ours went kaput Sunday - great timing!) and we had to pick up Andi when he got back into town. We never go out to lunch (Tory and I have maybe gone twice? Never w/ Aden) so it was a special treat. Tory was obviously excited as she exclaimed, "Best day ever!" when her kids quesadilla arrived.

Andi travels again next month over Halloween, so I've decided to take the kids to Nebraska while he's gone. There's no way I'm solo parenting on Halloween and not because I'm scared to be alone, but because I can't imagine anything more depressing than taking Tory and Aden trick-or-treating by myself and then coming home to an empty house. No, thank-you. Now that we'll be with my family, I'm head-over-heels excited for Halloween to arrive. It's going to be like old times! My mom already said she'll make chili and cinnamon rolls that night, and we'll trick-or-treat around the neighborhood with my nieces. Fun times.

Let's see, what else? Andi and I are taking the kids to Bayfield, WI this weekend for a mini family getaway. Our cabin is being remodeled right now, so we thought it was the perfect chance to do something different on a weekend. Fall colors are at their peak up North and the weather is suppose to be beautiful. I can't wait.

I'm hoping some family time will bring me out of the funk I'm in this week. I think it's a combination of tiredness and the sad fact my dear friend, Lindsey, is moving away next week. We've been trying to coordinate a time to get together for a glass of wine before she leaves town and between finding babysitters and her crazy life right before their move, it just isn't happening. I know we'll remain friends after she leaves town and we even have plans to vacation together this winter, but it's not the same as having one of your best friends right down the road. Bummed to say the least.

This little dude is still trying to figure out this crawling thing ...

He's changing so much lately, and really starting to look like a little boy. I think it's the hair.

Okay, off to whip up some dinner before Andi arrives home from work. I meal-planned a bunch of healthy "clean" recipes before sickness took hold of our house, and now all I feel like eating are cookies and Cheeto-s. So, let's see what I can throw together that won't sound like cardboard.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

HFM is the Devil

Two nights ago, I felt:

  • depleted from an unusually long week of solo parenting 
  • battered by a lingering cold 
  • exhausted after repeated night wakings from my not-so-little baby boy 
  • and, excited for a fun weekend away in Tennessee at Andi's work event


Life has a way of throwing curveballs, doesn't it? The last 36 hours have been a little rough around these parts. I thought I was tired before. Ha. Hahahahaha.

Around 10:30pm Thursday night, Tory woke up for the third time since bedtime. This outcry was different, more like a scream of agony. She complained of her feet itching so I switched on the light and discovered raised, red spots all over her toes, heels and palms of her hands.


I knew just what this was: Hand, Foot and Mouth. Aden had it (still has it?) earlier in the week with sporadic spots on his hands, feet, ears and cheeks. But different than him, Tory kicked and flailed from what seemed like the worst pain and irritation a person could experience. I rubbed some anti-itch cream on her hands and feet, gave her a dose of Benedryl and brought her into my bed so I could care for her more closely. I don't think I realized right away how much discomfort she was in until I watched her scream and twitch beside me in frustration and agony. I felt so badly for her, and I didn't know what else to do. The BabyLine nurse I spoke to earlier in the day regarding Aden's symptoms mentioned spots and a sore throat accompanying HFM, but never said anything about itching on the hands and feet. Tory (or Aden, for that matter) never had sores in their mouths but did have spots on their extremities. I Googled "hand foot and mouth itching feet" and uncovered several articles about HFM symptoms and comments from past sufferers. The itchy feet and hands can be part of it, I guess. Some people wrote how torturous the itching felt and one lady said she'd rather die than go through it again. Geez.

Tory was beside herself, so I dug through our medicine bin and pulled out anything we had for anti-itching. I sprayed Solarcaine on her feet and wrapped them in cold, wet washcloths. She cried, and cried and cried. I felt so helpless! Definitely one of the worst nights of parenting I've lived through. And why does this stuff always happen in the middle of the night? I sent a text to Andi in Tennessee and my mom in Nebraska, and felt so lonely laying there next to Tory. Finally, (thankfully!) my mom text back to comfort me while I comforted my own daughter. I know I'm not the first parent to sit next a sick child, but it doesn't make it any easier. Tory finally drifted to sleep from 2:15am - 3:00am before another bout of itching consumed her. More Benedryl, Ibprofen, anti-itch cream, sprays, cold wash cloths and snuggles. I did everything I could to make Tory feel better. It was awful.

By some miracle, Aden (basically) slept through the night Thursday only waking at 5:00am to eat. I don't think I could've handled them both that night. I suppose I would've done it if I had to, but I'm so thankful he slept so I could care for Tory.

Friday was a really, really long day. Tory laid in my bed all day and binged on Dora and Peppa Pig. I brought her coloring books and lacing beads for something to do, kept the Benedryl flowing and rubbed anti-itch cream on her feet repeatedly. Aden seemed fine, thankfully, and the sporadic spots on his feet and cheeks were mostly healed. I kept him entertained with toys in the living room, and separate from Tory as best I could. I washed sheets and sanitized everything. HFM is super contagious and I do not want to catch it. No. No. No.

I also emailed Andi and told him to cancel my plane ticket to Knoxville for the weekend. There was no way I could leave Tory when she felt so terrible. I'm sure my mother-in-law Janie could've handled it, but she shouldn't have to. I am her mother. And, how could I fly across the U.S. to spend a leisurely weekend at an ATV event when my baby was sick at home?

By 5:00pm Friday, Tory regained some energy. Janie came over after she got off work to help. I took a shower, ate some dinner and breathed for the first time in 24 hours. Seriously. Hand, Foot and Mouth is no joke. I know it's "common" (as per the BabyLine nurse) and maybe it isn't a big deal for some, but it seriously took a toll on us.

Tory seemed fine Friday evening, but as soon as she laid down to sleep that night she complained about her feet itching again. I busted out the medicine, and prepared for a long night ahead. This time, I kept the television on quietly which seemed to take Tory's mind off the itching, at least a little bit. She drifted off to sleep for 30 minutes at a time, then woke up screaming and twitching in pain again. We both clocked another restless night.

At the moment, Tory is bouncing up and down on the couch cushions and seems to have all the energy in the world. Apparently, (sometimes drowsy-enducing) Benedryl has an adverse affect on Tory. Red spots still cover her feet, but aren't causing her much discomfort for now.

It doesn't look like much, but HFM is the devil

Me? I am tired. Holy crap. I feel like I have a newborn in the house again. I'm pounding coffee and counting the minutes until this sickness rids our household. #dieHFMdie

Friday, September 19, 2014

Letters to Aden: 10 Months


You're 10 months old now! Time is really flying by, as you're closing in on your very first birthday. Memories of being very pregnant with you are flooding my mind this time of year. I wondered then how you'd change our family dynamics; what type of personality you'd add to the mix. Nearly one year later, here you are as sweet and wonderful as I imagined you to be.

The first thing people say when they meet you is how smiley you are. Your face lights up an entire room; your smile is warm, happy and welcoming. And, your pleasant disposition is genuine. You are such a chill little dude! Seemingly, the only times you cry are when you're teething (which happened this month with the addition of your upper central incisors) or sometimes when you're hungry or tired. Mostly, you roll with the punches and even on days when you miss your morning nap (which happens quite frequently due to various activities), you don't seem bothered. We have a new weekly babysitter this fall and she asked me what I do to comfort you when you're upset. I ... give you a pacifier? Hold you? Honestly, you're never very upset so I had to really think about what I do to satisfy you. Your blue blanket is still a favorite so especially when you're tired, snuggling it helps keep your temperament calm.

Though, not everything about you is a dream. You're still not sleeping through the night at 10 months of age. Oh, Aden. Why couldn't you be different from you sister in this way?! You are clocking more consistent sleep this month than ever before (typically 7:30pm - 1:00am / 1:00am - 4:00am / 4:00am - 7:00am) and this month was the first time you ever slept through the night (one glorious night of 7:30pm - 6:00am!). Luckily, you easily settle back to sleep after a quick feeding. I would maybe consider letting you cry it out on your own, but you're still doing that thing where you scratch your beautiful little face to pieces with those baby claws fingernails of yours ... so, NOPE. I'm content to wake up with you at night for now. At quick glance, it seems your sister was also waking up once a night at your age, so I guess it's to be expected.

I never can tell if this is really the case, and I'm probably telling myself this for personal reassurance, but you're on the cusp of learning to crawl and maybe that's to blame for your wakefulness at night. I'm not sure if this is indicative of your personality, but it's taken you FOREVER to learn how to crawl. At least it seems that way. You've been working on perfecting the technique for weeks, and you've mastered every step to being the best crawler ... but you can't seem to put all the pieces together. So far, you've very good at pushing backwards on your belly or rolling and turning your body to reach things you'd like. You can push up onto your hands and knees and hold yourself there for a while. You've also learned how to scootch from one place to another while sitting on your bottom. You can even make the tricky transition from all fours to sitting. All of that, but no crawling to report. Of course, developmentally you're doing just fine and I know crawling is right around the corner for you. I've got my video camera at the ready these days waiting to catch the big moment.

Your 9 months check- up was just last week, so I'll update quickly about your physical growth. You weigh 20 pounds and are 28 inches tall. Comparatively, you're the same length as Tory was at 10 months, but you're about 4 pounds heavier than she was. Twenty pounds feels like a lug to me, but it's actually the 50% mark for boys. You're wearing size 4 diapers and 12 month clothing. Your blond hair is really growing in now, and your ice-blue eyes still remain. I could seriously stare into them all day. Sometimes, I'm still wow'd that I have a blond haired, blue-eyed baby boy. Grandma Janie says you look just like Daddy's baby pictures at this age.

Your appetite and taste palette continues to grow. Your favorite foods are buttered toast, mandarin oranges, apples (applesauce, baked apples), crackers, buttered noodles and zucchini. At this point, you're eating all solid foods (no purees) and drinking 6oz. of soy formula every 4-ish hours.

We have many nicknames for you, Aden, as you're most definitely one of our favorite people on the planet. Dad, Tory and I affectionately call you Brother, Brother Bear, Aden Bear, Brudda, Buddy and Buddy Brother. Somehow, your addition has turned us all into a family of bears -- Tory even calls Dad and I Mama Bear and Daddy Bear now. I'll always remember you as my "little lion cub," though you don't growl nearly as much as you did when you were smaller. One way you've started to communicate is by shaking your head "no." Sometimes when you're seated in your high chair for a meal, you'll push your hands back and forth on your tray sending food flying all over the kitchen. When I tell you "no no, Aden!" you'll grin and mimic the motion by shaking your head back and forth to me. Little stinker!

Our dog, Chloe, is one of your favorite friends lately. Whenever you see her run by or bark, you strain your neck as far as it'll reach to see what she's doing. You love to watch Chloe, and smile from ear to ear when she's near. There's a special bond between the two of you; I can already see it. Maybe it's the classic "a boy and his dog" thing? Who knows. I remember when Tory was a baby and Chloe wouldn't have anything to do with her. Still to this day, actually, the two of them aren't very close. But, Chloe loves you so much. On car rides to the lake cabin, Chloe sits between the two car seats. You'll hang your hand over the side of your seat and Chloe will lick it repeatedly until I tell her to stop. Too funny.

One thing I noticed about you lately that just makes my heart swoon is the way you "soakie" your baby blanket. Rubbing the edge of my baby blanket between my fingers was the way I comforted myself when I was a little kid, and I just about died the other day when I watched you do it too. Like mother, like son? Maybe. It was so cute.

In other news, you completed your first Backfloat Baby 1 swimming class this summer. You loved the water and would contently back float for 30 seconds or more in class. Being submerged didn't seem to bother you, and you'd "zoom" under the water for 3 or 4 seconds at a time. By far, your favorite part of swimming class was the "welcome song" we sang at the beginning of each session. Even outside of class, whenever I need to distract you I start singing the song and you'll smile and coo right along with me. It works every time.

It's back-to-school time, so you started going to Sibling Care at Tory's preschool on Tuesday mornings while I'm in class with your sister. You transitioned into your own "classroom" just fine. Of course you did; you're such a happy, go-lucky baby. The caregivers in your room were excited to see you again after a break over the summer months. On Thursdays, it's Mama and Aden time while Tory's in preschool alone and I'm really looking forward to the quality time we'll get to spend together on those mornings.

I suppose that's all the news to report in your TENTH month of life, Aden. Keep growing strong and loving life. You sure make me proud to be your mama, and thankful everyday I'm blessed with such a wonderful son.

Love you to pieces!


Thursday, September 18, 2014

It's Been One Heck of a Week

Can't sleep, so I might as well blog. Staying up so late will be a bad idea when my kids wake up in 3, 2, 1 ...

Alright. Still sleeping ... for now.

It has been one heck of a week around here. A very long 7 days of solo parenting + little sleep + sickness = oof. Man, the days just drag when no one walks through the door in the evening to break up the monotony of our day. Wake-ups, breakfasts, lunches, nap times, snacks, dinners, baths, bedtime. REPEAT.

I loaded the kids into the car at 4 o'clock today to make a liquor store run because I was out of wine and couldn't possibly fathom another night of solo parenting without my vice. To shake the disgusting feeling of hauling my children to the liquor store with me, I went to the one attached to the grocery store and bought bread and yogurt to make it look like I'd come there for necessities other than wine. A lady in the check-out behind me said, "WOW, you've got your hands full" to which I responded, "Why do you think I need the wine?"

I love being a mom more than anything in the world but ... the 5 o'clock hour is a hard one for me. Make that the 4 o'clock to 6 o'clock hours. So much whining and crying from my children all at once and unfortunately, my patience are just shot by that time in the day. Wine helps, don't judge.

I filled our Andi-less days with lots of playdates and activities, as per usual. It helped, until we all came down with a variety of sicknesses. I battled a head cold all week long and pouned Airbornne and cold meds to nip my cold in the bud. It stinks caring for other people when you feel like garbage.

What's worse is when the children become ill. On Wednesday, Tory woke up cranky and whiny, and just wasn't herself. My mid-day, she spiked a 103 degree fever, had body aches and was throwing up. My poor girlie.

I cared for her the best I could with Aden there, and was thankful when he took a long nap in the afternoon so I could snuggle Tory and dote on her as much as she needed. By dinnertime, Tory's fever broke and she was feeling much better. I kept her home from preschool today just to play it safe. She was back to her spunky self all day.

All better!

Later today, Aden was diagnosed with Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease. I guess it started on Monday when I noticed a spot - almost like a pimple - on his cheek. His cheeks have been red from teething anyway, so I didn't think much of it. I put some lotion on his dry, chapped face and kept my eye on it. The next day (Tuesday), I noticed a few spots on his leg right where his diaper rests. I classified it as diaper rash because I had a few random Huggies in the closet I switched to using that day. Aden has super sensitive skin anyway, so I figured the new diapers must've irritated his skin. I slathered on some diaper cream, but noticed later the rash never went away. Yesterday (Wednesday), I noticed two spots on Aden's ear lobe and a few spots on the tips of his fingers and toes. Hmm?? Now I started to question the other spots on his body. After more investigating, I found a few tiny spots on the palms of his hands, too. He seemed happy and was still eating and drinking formula fine, but I decided something wasn't right. I called the Baby Line this afternoon and as I described the symptoms over the phone to the nurse I knew right away what it was: Hand, Foot and Mouth. Ugh. Aden was a bit fussy on Monday and was running a low fever (which I attributed to teething), so I gave him a dose of Tylenol and he's seemed fine ever since. No sores in his mouth that I can see, or trouble eating so I hope (hope, hope, hope!) we're through the worst of it. I was surprised to hear the nurse say he can be around other children so long as he isn't running a fever. I guess it's a common illness for kids? We'd never experienced it before.

Happy guy learning to crawl, with one spot on his left cheek ...

It couldn't be worse timing, of course, because I'm leaving for the weekend to join Andi at his work event in Tennessee. We planned my visit months ago when Andi mentioned he'd booked Dierks Bentley to play in concert for the Saturday night finale of the ATV event he's producing. I joked that his lovely wife wouldn't mind seeing Dierks in concert and he could fly me in for stuff like that whenever he liked ... and, well, my gracious husband did just that.

I leave tomorrow night and fly (by myself!) to Knoxville. I can't even remember the last time I flew without my children. What will I do with my my free time?! (Drink Starbucks. Read a magazine. Blog. I think I'll be able to come up with a few things). Andi's producing the event Saturday so I won't spend much time with him that day, but that's okay. I'll ... sit. Or go for ATV rides with other people. Or sit. Or drink coffee. Or DO WHATEVER I WANT. And Sunday, Andi will be done with the event and we can hang as a couple for 24 glorious hours before flying home Monday.

I am really excited for the weekend, but I'm also way nervous to leave my kids. Especially when they've been sick. They'll be in the very capable hands of my mother-in-law and our favorite babysitter so I know they'll be just fine ... but ack. Time away is HARD.

Don't even get me started on the fact that Aden is thisclose to crawling and if he figures it out for the first time when I'm not there I'm going to be SO BUMMED. We've been practicing tummy time and crawling moves so much this week. I think I'll tell Janie to keep a lid on it if Aden becomes mobile over the weekend, so I'll be surprised for myself come Monday.

Well, enough rambling. Tory's crying out for the third time tonight and it's 10:30pm. Long night ahead, I'm sure. TTYL.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Tory, Lately

Tory's been on my mind a lot lately. It's one of those pivotal times in parenting I can see her changing and growing before my very eyes. Every day, she does something that makes me so proud to call her my daughter. And, if I'm being totally honest, there's usually a point each day when I force myself to dig deep to refrain from shouting "stop whining / throwing a tantrum / shouting demands at me like I'm your servant!" Oh, life with a three-year-old. So polarizing.

Anyway, first an update about preschool because I'm loving how well Tory's embraced her new ECFE class this year and I'm so gosh-darn proud of the way she's handled the transition of it all. Preschool class is a night and day difference from last year. I'm not sure if it's Tory's age and maturity level? The fact she's been exposed to this type of school setting before? Whatever the case, Tory is rocking school. So stinkin' proud of her!

For one, she struts into the school building with her head held high and little blue bucket placed confidently on her arm. She walks into her classroom, finds her name sign on the table to "check-in" (she can locate her name card by sight which is something I've noticed other 3YO classmates have trouble doing) and then runs right over to her teacher, Miss Janna, to say hello. The admiration Tory has for Miss Janna is adorable. She is enamored by this lady. I'm not sure if it's because Miss Janna is young and pretty or because she's someone Tory looks up to, but she loves her teacher. Yesterday, we were playing kitchen during the designated play time at the beginning of class and I asked Tory if she made me a cup of coffee. "No, Mom, this is for Miss Janna" Tory said, and ran all the way across the room to deliver the pretend cup of coffee to her teacher. She hangs on every last word Miss Janna says during Circle Time and dances right in front of her during songs -- like she wants to hoard every bit of Miss Janna's attention. One day the class was singing and dancing to a song about fish and Tory shouted aloud, "Miss Janna, I go swimming at my cabin!" so randomly in the middle of the song. Ha! I couldn't help but laugh to myself. I remember feeling the same way about my own kindergarten teacher. Back then, Ms. Neal was so nice and loving. She even dressed up as Viola Swamp in Miss Nelson is Missing! for Halloween my kindergarten year, and I'll never forget that. I think it's the same thing for Tory, this admiration for her teacher, and I love it.

Admittedly, I was overwhelmed on Tory's first day of preschool this year. I think it was "parenting nerves" I'd worked myself up over (the first days of school have always filled my stomach with butterflies) and the diversity and size of Tory's preschool class this year which had me worried she'd be overlooked in her classroom. Two weeks into the school year, and several kids in Tory's class have dropped to the afternoon session making the class size much more manageable. There's 12 kids in her class now versus 17 kids on the first day, and everything feels much less chaotic. Also, a very timely church sermon the first week of school about loving everyone helped knock me upside the head and realize every kid in Tory's class has the right to receive the same learning experiences as my child. (Thanks, God, I needed that.) There's a little more hub-bub in Tory's classroom with extra professionals to assist children with special needs, but that's alright. Clearly, Tory is loving school this year and is taking so much away from every gathering. I'm loving the dynamics in the parenting group that meets on Tuesday mornings, too. It's going to be a good year.

Speaking of church, I've started to make God a bigger priority in our lives. Summer is ... hard, I don't know, and we stopped going to church regularly during the warmer months. It's an excuse, but not a very good one. Now the school year has started, I'm making Wednesday night church service a part of our routine. I'd love to attend church together as a family, but it's just not feasible every week with Andi's busy work schedule and I can't let that stand in the way of forming a relationship between God and my kids, or from serving God in my own way. So, I've taken the kids to church by myself on Wednesday evenings the last few weeks and it's gone surprisingly well. I prepare hard for the 45-minute service with lots of books, quiet toys, busy bag activities, etc. for Tory and Aden to do and strategically sit in a pew close to the band so there's entertainment for the kids throughout the service. Aden loves the music, and dances along in my arms - it's adorable. And, Tory has been awesome during the service. Seriously, an absolute angel. She keeps busy with her activities, stays quiet and well-behaved. Two weeks ago, she even went up to the front by herself during the children's sermon and recapped to me what they talked about during our car ride home. I'm so, so proud of her actions. It makes my life a million times easier.

One of Tory's favorite characters right now is Olivia. Olivia reminds me a lot of Tory; they both have a great deal of confidence and imagination. She likes to watch the television episodes on Nickelodeon and a few weeks ago, I bought her a box set of Olivia books. These are not the books Andi will want to read to Tory at bedtime (heads up!) because they're long-winded with some complex dialogue, but Tory enjoys them so we've been reading them quite a bit. Anyway, yesterday I was feeding Aden a bottle in the rocking chair and Tory brought over a few books to read to us. She sat down on the foot stool, flipped open an Olivia book and began reciting almost every word by heart using the pictures on the pages as a guide. Tears welled up in my eyes as I listened to her tell us all about Olivia's adventure because, seriously, I could not believe Tory remembered all that detail! I was so proud of her for listening so intently to our time together reading those books. What a smart girl!  

Tory has started to clean off her own plate after meal time, and put her own dishes in the dishwasher. I didn't tell her to do this; she just started doing it one day. Can I get a hallelujah?! It's moments like this that make me so proud of her. Like, maybe I am doing something right as a parent. It's a small glimpse into the future of a bigger, more grown up Tory Girl. I love it.

So anyway ... my girl. She's growing up fast and it's bittersweet. I find myself giving Tory extra hugs and kisses the last few weeks because she's just so darn wonderful most of the time. How did I get to be so lucky in this life of mine?

Monday, September 15, 2014

Minnesota State Fair 2014

Well, this is a bit after the fact but I just realized I never recapped this year's visit to the Minnesota State Fair. I can't not write about it here because then it's like it never happened, and that's just sad. Really, I'm wondering where the end of summer has gone. Didn't we visit the fair, like, yesterday? It sure feels that way. It's been one thing after another with Tory's 3rd birthday, the start of preschool and our new fall routine, a bridal shower for Lindsay last weekend and a string of long days of work and travel for Andi. Life has been busy, and it's left me doing a double-take at the calendar. Anyway, somewhere in there, we made our annual trek to the Minnesota State Fair.

We're one of 'those people' who make it a point to visit the State Fair every year. I really enjoy it -- the awesome people watching, the food, the atmosphere -- and, it's so fun to watch it unfold through the eyes of our children. Typically, Andi scoots out of work a little early one week day during the fair's 10-day span and we spend an evening there. This was also Aden's first visit to the State Fair, so I was extra excited to take him.

One afternoon, I loaded up the kids after nap time and drove to Andi's office to pick him up. Traffic was horrible and it seemed to take forever to drive all the way across the Cities to get to the fair. By the time we arrived it was 5 o'clock-ish. We paid for our tickets, walked into the entrance and ran right into our friends Josh and Krista from the lake cabin. Krista and I talked about our families going to the fair separately, but we didn't coordinate the date/time so it was funny to run into them first-thing upon arrival ... especially amongst thousands and thousands of people. We decided to join Josh, Krista and their little girls in walking around for a while. I spotted the Alphabet Forest right away which was on my State Fair bucket list, so we stopped to check it out.

Here we go!

Spelling the kids' names at the Alphabet Forest

The Aphabet Forest was so cute! Tory loved the word activities and they were perfectly targeted for her age. Even Aden enjoyed picking up rubber duckies swimming in 'word find' tub. We spelled the kids' names with foam pool noodles and laminated letters of the alphabet, and had our picture taken together. Cute, cute cute.

Next, we visited Krista's sister at a nearby booth and watched Hannah and Tory dance to live music playing on the Front Porch stage nearby. The girls loved the music and attracted quite the ooh's and ahh's from passerby's. 

Josh, Krista, Andi, the kids and I continued along toward the Little Farm Hands exhibit. This was another 'must do' on my State Fair bucket list because it's so gosh-darn adorable seeing the kids wearing little aprons and pretending to be farmers. I knew Tory would love it even more this year since she's finally old enough to operate her own tractor and "plant" her own seeds in the soil. I assumed correctly, and Tory had a ball acting out the farm activities.

At this point, Andi and I decided to split off from Josh and Krista so we could visit some home improvement booths. Our kids were fading fast, and it was suddenly apparent we needed to get some food in their bellies - STAT. Such a rookie move on my part loosing track of time. It was already 6:30pm which is way past Tory's dinnertime and nearing Aden's evening bottle and bedtime. I think we stopped for a Pronto Pup which Andi and Tory shared and then we booked it through massive crowds of people to get over to the home improvement booths before our kids lost it completely and we were forced to leave the fair alltogether. We walked around the grandstand FOREVER trying to find a stroller-friendly entrance to the second-floor of the building. Finally, I realized it was on the outside of the structure and, unfortunately, directly in the mix of people queuing up for the Tim McGraw concert that night. Super bad timing, so many people to push the double stroller through and Tory was losing her mind by this point. All this chaos to visit the Lumber Liquidators booth for a state fair discount they ended up not even offering - GAH! At some point I shouted for Andi to toss me some money and I bought Tory some popcorn to shut her pie hole fill up her belly and stop whining like a wacko preschooler.

We booked it out the busy grandstand vendor area in search of more food, and ended up stopping at a carousel along the way. This was the one thing Tory said she wanted to do at the fair, and as soon as she saw it she exclaimed, "I want to go on the merry-go-round!" Andi stayed back with Aden and Tory and I rode the fastest-moving carousel I've ever been on. Seriously, so fast - I was dizzy by the end. Tory loved it though and properly named her plastic carousel horse "Sparky." (Of course.) State Fair highlight for Tory, for sure.

Next, we stopped by the Blue Moon Drive-In Theatre to try the new SnoRibbons fair food I'd seen advertised on the news (disappointing; such a weird texture) and also for some Korean Pork Tacos (also disappointing; they were cold). While Andi ordered food, Aden decided to absolutely lose his mind right then and there. It was 7 o'clock, sure enough. I'm sure we were quite the sight as I scrambled to mix and feed Aden a bottle (OMG at 20 lbs., he is so super heavy to hold in my arms for long periods of time) while also corralling Tory in the stroller / beside me. It was ... stressful.

Andi came back with our food and I shouted, "Help me with them! I need a beer!" all at once. Oh, the fun of being a parent sometimes. Miraculously, Aden fell asleep in the stroller (first time ever, I think) and Tory turned back into a normal child after we fed her some pork tacos, SnoRibbons ice cream and popcorn. (Parent of the year award for healthiest dinner, right there).

All was right with the (State Fair) world then, so we decided to stay a little longer and enjoy the evening. It was a gorgeous summer night - sunny, no wind and in the mid-70's - and once again, being at the fair felt electric. The nice weather brought people out in masses, so every food stand was packed. Finally, Andi found a vendor with no line and I got a tasty beer. Ah!

No trip to the Minnesota State Fair is complete without a stop by the deep fried pickles stand. We made our way over to the food vendor and purchased an order to share. Tory loved the fried pickles this year, and gobbled them up right along with me. A weakness for all things deep-fried; just like her mother. There were so many other things I wanted to see and eat at the fair, but it was nearly 8:45pm and we knew we'd better hit the road for home.

Even though this year's fair experience was a bit stressful at times, I'd do it all again in a heartbeat. Most of our kid-drama was due to poor timing on my part. I should've realized the kids were hungry for dinner shortly after we arrived and any evening activity these days is difficult with Aden's early bedtime. The State Fair is all about making memories as a family for me, so experiencing it without my kids just wouldn't be the same. I wish there would have been a time Andi and I could've gone a separate time to eat all the adult food and beverages we wanted, but I'll settle for one crazy, fun, sometimes stressful visit with my family any day. Maybe two trips in 2015 ... because we'll definitely go back again next year.

And now, our annual Minnesota State Fair video. Enjoy!

Friday, September 12, 2014

My Dairy-Free Baby

The minute I stopped breastfeeding and began feeding Aden formula, I noticed he had an allergic reaction. It was obvious given the raised, blotchy hives and redness on his face and chest and by the way he rubbed his tearful eyes. My poor baby! It broke my heart to see him that way. I didn't need a professional diagnosis to realize what was happening, but Aden's pediatrician confirmed my suspicion and recommended we switch to soy formula. Aden is allergic to the protein found in milk, but not found in breast milk or soy. And thankfully, Aden tolerates soy formula just fine and we haven't had any trouble since.

I don't know about everyone else, but the early food stages (ages 6-12 months) are the most challenging for me. Food has to be soft to chew, not stringy (like green beans can be) or have skins (like blueberries or grapes) and easy for baby to pick up, chew and digest without choking. Aden has always preferred feeding himself over eating baby food purees, so I transitioned to baby led weaning far sooner than I ever did with Tory. Some of Tory's favorite foods are yogurt, cheese and cottage cheese (basically, everything dairy!) and given Aden's sensitivity to milk, those foods are a no-go for him. It's difficult coming up with foods they'll both eat. Sometimes I feel like a short-order cook preparing separate meals for everyone.

One morning as I was making a frozen waffle for Tory, I tossed a few bites onto Aden's high chair tray for him to try. Big mistake. Within minutes, my poor baby boy began to cry and broke out in hives all over his face and chest. I dashed to the freezer to read the nutrition label on the back of the Eggo waffle box and sure enough, milk was listed as an ingredient. Gah. Maybe it should have been obvious to me, but I'd never considered it before. I realized in that moment I owe it to my children to be more diligent in reading labels and mindful about what I feed them.

Since that day two months ago, I strictly follow the "three day rule" when introducing new foods to Aden. I know, I know ... it's suppose to be the rule when introducing new foods to babies anyway, but with Tory it never seemed to matter. Now it feels like I feed Aden the same foods over and over again, but it's necessary to see if he develops a reaction. And honestly, I don't think he really cares. Avocado was one food I'd fed Aden once or twice before without issue, and suddenly at one meal he developed a rash all over.

I keep a running list of safe foods Aden can eat taped to the inside of one of our kitchen cabinets, so anyone (family members, babysitters, etc.) have a guideline to go by should there ever be a meal time I'm not there to feed him. I also included foods Aden cannot have (such as the kid-favorite Goldfish crackers, which shamefully took me a minute to realize had cheese as an ingredient).

Slowly, I'm developing a repertoire of dairy-free foods and recipes safe for Aden to eat. This week, I made healthy carrot apple muffins for Tory and Aden and they were surprisingly moist and delicious. Both kids gobbled them up and they were simple to make, too. I'm pleasantly surprised by the number of dairy-free substitutes on the market including Earth Balance butter and mayonnaise. Any other dairy-free foods or recipes out there I should try? This mama is all ears.

Mmmm ... carrot apple muffins

My new job of reading labels definitely has me thinking about the foods I feed my family. For one, it's crazy how many foods have dairy in them. (McDonalds French fries! Spaghetti-O's!) I worked in marketing for a food-service company prior to my gig as a stay-at-home-mom, so I wasn't completely naive in the importance of nutrition labeling, but I really took a blind eye to it all. Some people need to know this information, but not me. Not anymore. Now I'm *trying* to transition to more scratch-based cooking and clean eating, but it's tough! Though, it's also staggering to realize how terrible the processed foods I'm feeding my family are, and it's silly to go to all the effort of researching recipes and preparing food for Aden only to eat junk myself. Immediately I've noticed how planning ahead has helped in eating healthier. I struggle to find something for Aden to eat on the fly, so lately I've been steaming and roasting vegetables at the beginning of the week so I can quickly re-heat something for him to eat at meal times. I'm also back on the meal planning bandwagon for family breakfasts, lunches and dinners. I know from experience that if I can reference a meal plan, I eat and cook healthier. It's the 5 o'clock scramble that gets me in trouble.

I'm crossing all my fingers and toes my sensitive boy grows out of this need to eat dairy-free, but in the meantime perhaps it'll steer our entire family into a healthier direction and that can't be such a bad thing.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Lindsay's Retro 1950's Bridal Shower

It's been one celebration after another around here! On Saturday, I hosted a bridal shower for my sister-in-law, Lindsay.

Lindsay is such a calm and relaxed bride-to-be. She makes wedding planning look easy and seems to have everything organized to the tee. She and her fiancĂ©, Kyle, have several throwback touches planned for their wedding (bars in lieu of a wedding cake!), so my mother-in-law Janie had the idea to host a 1950's retro-style bridal shower for her. I thought it seemed like a fun idea and fits Lindsay's taste perfectly. When hosting a party, I usually head straight to Pinterest for inspiration, but I couldn't find much online for this theme. So, Janie and I brainstormed ideas together and consulted a few ladies who lived the era including Lindsay's Aunt Judy and family friend Mary Lou.

First, I purchased this retro-style invitation on Etsy which determined my color scheme for the party -- turquoise blue and red. I made a CELEBRATE banner for the party in red, turquoise and green (download my banner here) and decorated the party with vintage 1950's advertisements I found online and printed at home (download ad images here). I thought the retro advertisements were the perfect tie-in for the shower as they showcased 1950's housewives back in the day. And, they were racey! Everyone at the party had a good laugh reading them.

"Successful marriages start with Pyrex"

Here's adorable Mia and a guy in the background ad reprimanding his wife for not buying the correct coffee brand!

My mother-in-law Janie found some mini Coca-Cola bottles which were (surprisingly!) a big hit at the party. We displayed the Coke bottles along with bottled water and ice, and a pretty red and blue apron I picked up for Lindsay to take home as a gift.

Speaking of aprons, family-friend Mary Lou let us borrow several of her vintage aprons for the party. During the shower, she told us about the occasions she used to wear the aprons as a young 1950's housewife -- for "Club," on Valentine's Day, New Year's Eve and her "working aprons" while preparing food in the kitchen. It was so fun wearing the aprons as we imagined what life was like for her back then.

Also - a note about Janie's dress ... Mary Lou said she had the perfect "mother-of-the-bride" bridal shower dress for Janie to wear to the party, as this is exactly what the MOTB would wear back in the 1950's.

Lindsay, Janie and I

L to R: Me, Janie, Lindsay, Kiera (Lindsay's cousin), Judy (Lindsay's aunt) and Mia (Lindsay's cousin) all wearing half-aprons from the 1950's 

Mia and Kiera with Tory, who were THE BEST little kid entertainers at the party.
The big star of the bridal shower (aside from Lindsay, of course!) was the food. I Googled "1950's party food" and came up with a list to serve meatballs, cucumber tea sandwiches, shrimp cocktail, veggies and dip, Jell-O salad, pigs in a blanket and a 1950's Canadian Dry punch recipe. Many of Lindsay's aunts and cousins offered to help with the food, so Janie assigned menu items accordingly and the food just showed up at party time! It's exactly how I'll host parties from now on - ha ha! Seriously though, help with the food made hosting this bridal shower so easy for me. I always think food is one of the most challenging (and expensive!) aspects of throwing a party and I didn't have to do much of it for this one. It was fantastic.

Mini red velvet cupcakes and assorted desserts

As Janie and I researched the retro party theme, we came along a 1955 excerpt from Housekeeping Monthly illustrating how to be the perfect housewife. We were shocked (and giggled non-stop!) about the ridiculous duties for housewives back in the day. Even though this side of the family aren't big fans of shower games, we knew we had to incorporate the "Good Wife's Guide" somehow. I saw some quiz and Mad Libs ideas online, but decided to take the simpler route of reading the article to the group and asking guests to write down some of their own "today's advice" for the bride-to-be.

While Lindsay opened her gifts, I assembled a bow bouquet for her using the bows and ribbons from the packages. I loosely followed an online tutorial, and it turned out so cute! The idea is for Lindsay to use the bow bouquet as her "practice bouquet" during the wedding rehearsal or if nothing else, keep it as a keepsake from the shower.

The completed bow bouquet

And finally, I gave wooden spoons tied with baker's twine to guests as a thank-you for attending the party. I had such a lovely time hosting Lindsay's bridal shower, and I hope she felt equally blessed. Now, the countdown's on for her wedding just over a month away!