Friday, May 29, 2015

21/52: A Weekly Photo Series

One of our family's favorite things to do at the cabin is go for "Ranger rides." The countryside near our lake place is surrounded by hundreds of miles of scenic ATV and UTV trails connecting through areas of Wisconsin. We tend to ride close to our cabin and surrounding towns, but have occasionally trailered the Ranger to farther destinations in Wisconsin to check out different trails and loops. The best part is, it's something our whole family enjoys doing together. We can ride for an hour or make it a day's adventure; there's road maps and restaurants perfect for pit-stops along the way.   

The first thing that comes to mind when most people think about trail riding is probably ATV-ing or four-wheeling. An ATV driver straddles a quad and steers using handle-bars. Differently, we own a UTV (or Utility Task Vehicle) that seats up to 5 people. Our Polaris Ranger Crew is outfitted with seat belts, a roof, a windshield and doors for roll-over protection and has a heater that makes it comfortable to use all year long. We've added car seats for the kids, a blinker, a rear-view mirror, a horn and a registered state license plate so it's legal to drive on the road. This set-up is ideal for our family because we can all ride together in one machine. 

Last weekend at the cabin, Andi, Tory, Aden and I went for a long morning ride. We saw some amazing sights on our journey, which is one of my favorite things about "Ranger rides" -- you never know what you'll come across. There's breathtaking scenery and wildlife around every turn. On this particular morning, it was dreary and cool with intermittent spurts of rain which made for a lovely drive.

Our cabin road, now densely covered by lush trees and shrubs:  

Spotting all the different animals during rides is Tory's favorite part. On this day, we saw cows resting in a pasture, horses, deer, bald eagles and various types of smaller birds. We've also seen donkeys, sheep, groundhogs, sandhill cranes, ducks, geese and bears to name a few.

We passed by Staples Lake Bar & Grill -- one of our favorite restaurants at the lake. I suggested we stop in for an order of deep-fried pickles to-go, but Andi quickly nixed the thought. "That's a bad idea," he said. Well yes, consuming deep-fried anything is always a bad idea, but it tastes so good!

More riding through the back country ...

We hopped on the ATV/UTV trail near Comstock Creamery and followed the path toward Cumberland. Recent rains left big muddy puddles on the road. "What do we do when we see a puddle?" Andi typically asks Tory. "Splash 'em!" she'll shouts back.

Though not on this day, as both kids were fast asleep in their car seats. Tory and Aden are powerless to the natural roar of the Ranger's engine. Rides are *just* bumpy enough to lull both kids right to dreamland, giving us parents a few peaceful minutes alone.

While riding along the same trail, Andi and I saw one of the neatest sights -- a white-tailed deer and her brand-new baby fawn together. We could sense the doe was afraid of us (though we stopped and let her pass, not intending to cause any harm) but she didn't run; she didn't want to leave her baby. The legs of the tiny fawn wobbled as its mother slowly guided him across the trail into the woods.

UTV riding adds a new element of adventure to our time at the lake cabin. We explore terrain normally off-limits by car or by foot, and it allows us to take in sights we otherwise might miss. So far, we'd clocked over 800 miles on our Ranger! I'm so thankful Andi's introduced this recreational past-time to our family, and for all the memories we've made on the trails together.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Life Before Blogging: Bahamas Cruise 2005

Back with another Life Before Blogging post; this one, a recap of the first vacation Andi and I took together -- a four-day cruise to Nassau, Bahamas.

The year was 2005, and Andi and I hadn't even classified ourselves as an couple yet. We obviously liked each other very much, but were co-workers for the same company and trying to keep our feelings on the down-low. What first began as an idea for a group vacation with several co-workers, quickly morphed into plans for Andi and I to go on a four-day cruise together following business meetings in Chicago.

I hadn't been on many vacations, let alone traveled outside of the United States before, so Andi took the lead in booking our trip. The plan was to depart Chicago after our work meetings wrapped and "lay over" in Miami on our flights home to Minneapolis and Sioux Falls. (Andi lived in Minnesota at the time, and I lived in South Dakota.) The company we both worked for had a loose travel policy, so no one would have noticed /or even cared that Andi and I both booked long lay-overs in a city logistically opposite of our home states. The Carnival cruise ship would leave Miami, spend one day at sea and one day in Nassau, before finally returning back to port in Miami.  

Unfortunately, the best laid plans often go awry. It was mid-December and a terrible snow storm blew through Chicago on our last night in town. We trudged through the storm to attend a work dinner on the final night, followed by drinks and dancing at a local club. Nightlife was a big part of our company's culture. I think a few members of 98 Degrees were at the club with us, but the details remain fuzzy because I drank way too much alcohol that night. At some point when Andi realized leaving Chicago in the inclement weather might be a challenge, he dragged me away from the bar and back to our hotel where he spent several hours on the phone with the airline trying to re-book our trip. If we missed our flights from Chicago, we'd miss our cruise line's departure out of Miami.

I was oblivious to all of this, of course, because I was three sheets to the wind. Not my proudest moment. Andi and I hopped in a cab and headed to the airport, turning 360's on black ice covering the freeway. Some time later, Andi finally convinced an airline ticket agent to re-route us through Fort Lauderdale by telling the lady he'd planned to propose to me on our trip. (Spoiler alert: he wasn't; we weren't even dating yet!) From Fort Lauderdale, we rode on a charter bus to Miami and made it onto the cruise ship just in time for take-off.

For some reason unbeknownst to me, Andi decided he still liked me after all of that and asked me to be his girlfriend while we waited at the airline gate in route to Florida. I happily said yes, and we embarked onto one of the most memorable trips of our lifetime.

The trip itself was nothing spectacular; it was lovely, of course -- white sand beaches, beautiful blue water, and cruise line food buffets as far as the eye could see -- but the real magic was the chemistry between Andi and I. In those few sun-soaked days, we started our life together.

Thinking back to that trip reminds me of the many reasons I fell in love with Andi. His determination, creativity and ability to never take 'no' for an answer (to name a few) have shaped the nature of our lives today. Andi opened my eyes to a whole new world of travel and adventure on that trip, and for that I'll always be grateful.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Memorial Day Weekend 2015

Plugging back in to regular life after a wonderful long weekend at the lake cabin. As is typical this time of year, Andi is traveling for work (almost) non-stop for the next six weeks but thankfully, we were able to be spend Memorial Day weekend together. The kids and I picked up Andi shortly after he arrived in Minneapolis on Friday afternoon, then`high-tailed it to our Wisconsin cabin to start the long weekend. We were determined to squeeze in as much family time as possible because our next stint without Daddy is 18 days long!

Not sure what kind of weather the next few days would bring (it almost always rains Memorial Day weekend), the four of us hopped in the pontoon boat for a trip around the lake immediately upon arrival Friday night. The sun was warm and bright, and practically the perfect opportunity for Popsicles. Aden is obsessed with these freezies!

We woke up Saturday morning to bright and sunny skies, so the four of us headed outdoors first-thing for a pajama boat ride. This is one of our family's favorite ways to begin a summer day. No time to brush teeth; just slip on some flip-flops, fill up our coffee cups and throw together some breakfast food for the kids. We've usually got the whole lake to ourselves, and it's such a peaceful way to start the morning. 

After our boat ride, Andi and I decided to capitalize on the good weather and complete some yard work. I outfitted the kids in swimming suits and sunscreen and let them play on the beach while Andi and I picked weeds and cleaned up the lakefront. The water isn't all that warm yet (60 degrees back in the bay by our cabin, and around 55 degrees in the main part of the lake), but that didn't stop Aden from bee-lining directly into the water at first chance. He contently splashed in the shallow water and built sandcastles with Tory while I kept close watch nearby. 

Tory and Aden enjoying a playtime snack break while they watched Andi finish up yard work. 

Sometimes, I'm still amazed these two lovely kids are ours. Pinch me! I love this life.

Around noon-time, the weather turned cloudy with intermittent rain and stayed that way for the rest of the weekend. No bother; we still had lots of fun doing other rain-friendly activities around the cabin. And, at least we were able to squeeze in a few boat rides and beach time before the forecast turned gray. 

Sunday, Andi and I loaded the kids into the car and drove North to Hayward, Wisconsin for the day. Hayward is one of my favorite small towns in Wisconsin, mostly for their Musky Days festival that takes place in late June. It has such a welcoming hometown vibe; I love it. On this day, Andi and I planned to buy a floating swim platform from one of Hayward's marinas and stop for lunch at a local farm called Farmstead Creamery and Cafe. The cafe produces their own produce, meats and dairy on-site and makes wood-fire pizzas from scratch every Saturday in the summer in addition to other sandwiches, salads and breakfast foods. We weren't there for the big Saturday festivities, but still enjoyed a nice picnic lunch on their grounds together. 

Aden loved having the freedom to roam around the farm grounds and explore. Tory loved the homemade gelato. I loved the road trip with Andi -- listening to music, talking, and laughing the whole way there and back.

We spent most of Memorial Day Monday going for a long Ranger ATV ride in the countryside, and prepping our cabin for another quick remodeling project. 

Why can't every weekend be a three-day weekend? This long holiday weekend at the lake truly felt like a vacation giving Andi, the kids and I time to unwind, spend time with cabin friends and reconnect with each another. I'm still riding the high from such a great time at the lake, and pining for the day we can get back there again.    

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Meals Lately

Andi's on a health kick lately, and I'm so proud of him. I am ... not on a health kick, though I really should get my rear in gear. (I blame Cadbury Mini Eggs. Anyone else still polishing off Easter candy at their house?)

I felt like a horrible wife after producing a positively disastrous dinner a few weeks ago. I didn't have a meal plan and the kids were nipping at my heels around the 5 o'clock witching hour. I longingly searched the cupboards and refrigerator for inspiration before decided to make beef enchiladas. Half-way into browning the hamburger, I realized we only had two tortillas so I improvised and made a beef enchilada casserole. The end result was an awful, soupy mess. Andi said he didn't mind, but I felt like I let him down. I strained and slopped the beef mixture onto a pile of Doritos for me (nachos, anyone?) and Andi ended up eating leftover take-out. WIFE FAIL.

What's that old saying, "pick yourself up by the bootstraps" or something? The next day, I scoured the Internet for healthy and easy dinner recipes to have at my beck and call, and since then have been working hard to have a dinner game plan each night. Here's a recipe round-up of some of our best meals as of late:

All-Purpose Chicken Marinade
It dawned on me a few weeks ago that marinading is another way to add flavor to the same ol', same ol' grilled chicken breast. We eat chicken breasts for dinner in our house quite often because it's a seemingly healthy choice and easy to prepare. This marinade is made up of pantry staples (except for the lemon which we always have on hand anyway because helloooo cocktails!) so it's simple to prepare in advance and leave in the refrigerator to do it's thing while I'm off wrangling kids.

I also pinned these 12 easy essential marinades and have made a few of them (Balsamic, Classic Steak, Mexican) over the last few weeks. All were very tasty, and it's nice to have so many go-to marinade recipes in one handy cheat-sheet.

One-Pan Balsamic Chicken and Veggies
This was pretty tasty, and I loved that it was a one-pot meal. Like, truly one dirty pan. That's it. The balsamic reduction was a bit too bold for me which could've been the house cook's error (ahem, it very likely was my error) but we still ate it and enjoyed it. In fact, Andi had leftovers the following day for lunch and said it was even better the next day.

Easy Homemade Burrito Bowls
Oh man, I loved this recipe. I wouldn't call it easy to prepare -- not that the steps were incredibly difficult, but there were seemingly one million steps involved in assembling the various parts -- but the end result was so worth it. I made it one Saturday when Andi's parents were visiting us at the cabin, and another time for dinner a few nights later.

Creamy Chicken & Herb Skillet
This recipe seems so fancy with its creamy herbed sauce poured on top of a grilled chicken breast, but it's really anything but that. Easy to make, and fairly quick to prepare too. The secret is pre-seasoned spreadable cheese. Recommend!

Shortcut Vegetable Ragu
I tend to whip up a pasta dish every time Andi's traveling for work. See, he's not a big fan of tomato-based sauces or garlic which cancels out my chances of slopping up spaghetti or lasagna with garlic toast in one fell swoop. This shortcut vegetable ragu is even better than regular out-of-the-jar spaghetti sauce because it's homemade and loaded with vegetables. Aden devoured it!

Crispy Honey Mustard Chicken
I might have mentioned this recipe before, but it's worth noting again. Hands down, my all-time favorite crispy chicken recipe. Andi loves it, too. Double bonus points for being simple to prepare and a Weight Watcher's recipe.

Crash Hot Potatoes
Not sure this recipe falls under the "healthy eating" category, but it's so delicious no one cares. Simple to make, too! Andi used our Pampered Chef Mix N' Chop to smash the potatoes and I thought it was just about the best idea ever.

Any big recipe hits (or misses) in your household as of late?

Monday, May 25, 2015

Our Summer Bucket List

Summer, summer, summertime!

My inner Fresh Prince is singing because it's summertime! Time to spend sunup to sundown outdoors enjoying Minnesota's shortest, but sweetest season.

I spent a good chunk of time last week populating our summer calendar with events and happenings near our house in the Twin Cities and around our Wisconsin lake cabin. I'm always amazed by the number of free kid's activities taking place in the community -- free concerts, farmer's markets, traveling puppet wagons, parades, picnics, story times, etc. I scoured local parks & recreation websites and city event calendars to develop a list, then plugged the events into my personal iPhone calendar. Now when I glance at my calendar for the week ahead, I can easily see what activities are happening around town and plan our day accordingly. Swimming lessons are the only real 'commitment' we have this summer, so I'll fill in the remainder of our days with these activities.

I have a few other must-do's on my mind this summer so I made a list of those, too. Here's our 2015 Summer Bucket List:

Attend a Concert in the Park
Many Twin Cities suburbs host free outdoor kid's concerts in the summertime, and they're one of my favorite things to do with Tory and Aden. They're usually held around noon-time, so I'll bring a picnic lunch and my favorite JJ Cole beach blanket; we'll listen to live music or to the kid's DJ and dance. The best part is, they're super low-key events so the kids can run around and be silly, or sit on the blanket and chill out. Love these!

Have Ice Cream & Fresh Fries
There's a Plymouth restaurant that's been on my bucket list for a while now, and I vow to cross it off my list this summer. Honey & Mackie's serves ice cream and French fries (um, match made in heaven!) and I think it'd be the perfect activity one sunny summer evening.

Eat at a Food Truck
Wouldn't it be fun to take the kids to lunch at a food truck? I think Tory would get a big kick out of dining al fresco (one of her favorite things), and scoring a free pass from cooking a meal + no clean-up are two favorite things of mine.

Shop at the Farmer's Market
Every week during the summer, I bring Tory and Aden to our suburb's farmer's market. I like supporting local events like this, and it's also a fun and easy activity to attend. Ours is held from 2pm-6pm so it's the perfect after-nap activity. Last year, I let Tory buy a fruit smoothie or an ice cream cone during our visits, and it was pretty much the highlight of her week.

Visit a New-To-Us Park
It's easy to walk to our neighborhood park in the evening for a quick play session, but I also enjoy making an adventure out of visiting a new-to-us park in the Twin Cities. On my list to check out this summer are: the "Teddy Bear Park" in Stillwater, the "Chutes & Ladders" park in Bloomington, Bassett Creek Park in Crystal, Elm Creek Park in Maple Grove and Oak Hill Park / Splash Pad in St. Louis Park.  

Go Strawberry Picking
Picking strawberries as a family is one of my very favorite summer activities. We visit a little pick-your-own place by the cabin and it's such a simple and lovely activity to do together. Aden is obsessed with strawberries and now that he's finally walking (!!), I'm dying to let him loose in the strawberry field.

See a Baseball Game
I'd love to take the kids to a baseball game at the new Saints baseball stadium this summer, but realistically I doubt we'll make it over to St. Paul to go. I might have to settle for a little league game at the local diamonds just down the road from us. There's a playground near the ball fields, so that might be the perfect alternative.

Visit a Nature Center
I remember visiting nature centers as a kid and it was so neat to see and experience plants and animals in their nature habitats. I've heard good things about nature centers in the Twin Cities like Westwood Hills, and admission is free so there's not much to lose.

Watch a Parade (or Participate in One!)
I'm a parade fanatic; I love them! There's something so simple and festive about sitting on a street curb, watching fire trucks and floats pass by. Attending the Musky Days in Hayward, WI every summer has become a cabin tradition of ours, and I hope to go back again this year. They have a fabulous parade in addition to rows of vendors lining Main Street, great food, and many other activities. Our neighborhood in the Twin Cities hosts a kid's parade every August and since I'm on the planning committee, I know the kids and I will participate in that one.

Grill a pizza
So wanted to try this last year, but never got around to it. Any tried and true recipes or tips?

Think this is enough to keep us busy this summer? I'm anxious to get outdoors and enjoy the sunshine with the kids. It's my favorite time of the year.

Friday, May 22, 2015

20/52: A Weekly Photo Series

Not going to lie, this week was full of ups and downs. Aden turned 18 months on Tuesday and seemingly overnight began acting like a, well, 1 1/2 year old. Lots of tantrums, throwing things in frustration and whining by my side. I love my little boy something fierce, but his non-stop need for my attention this week drove me bananas at times. 

There were also some really great moments, like Tory's last day of 3-year-old preschool and her year-end school picnic on Wednesday. My heart melted when Tory snuggled in by Aden's side as they watched cartoons on their first official morning of summer vacation. And, I couldn't help but smile (and grab my camera!) when I saw the two of them sitting together on my bed one day. His short, stocky legs and her long, lean ones; how fast they grow from one to the other. 

Yes, some moments in parenting are challenging. There are also so many great ones. Feeling thankful for these two little blessings of mine -- even their constant chatter in one ear and screeching in the other.  

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Letters to Aden: 18 Months

Happy 18 months, Aden! It's been a big month of changes for you, so let's get right to it.

First, the biggest news: You're walking! Wahoo!! It happened suddenly one day as you stood up on your feet, started walking forward and never looked back. No more (or I should say, very little) knee-walking anymore. Unlike most kids who start walking by taking a few steps at a time, you've gone from refusing to walk on your feet (but knowing how to take a few steps) to exclusively walking all the time. Sometimes you've still got the "drunken sailor" swagger as you stabilize yourself, but you've done a great job mastering this big milestone. So proud of you, little buddy!

A whole new world has opened up now you're navigating the world on two feet (vs. two knees). At the library the other day, you discovered the drinking fountain and wouldn't stop pushing the button to turn it on. Water was spraying all over the carpet and all over you as I quickly pulled you away. Silly boy! You proudly walked down the halls of Tory's preschool this month, and bellied right up to the sink to wash hands with the bigger kids since it's now within reach. It comes as no surprise, one of your new words this month is "wa wa" (water) -- you're obsessed with it!    

In addition to walking, you've become quite the climber. Monkey see; Monkey do! You watch Tory push the kid's chairs in the kitchen up to the counter to access things out of reach, and now you follow suit. You've started pushing a chair up to the refrigerator and pressing the water spigot. I rounded the kitchen corner the other day to discover you helping yourself to a banana muffin on the counter. And last weekend at the cabin, you let yourself out of the sliding screen door and climbed up the picnic table to help yourself to a powdered donut. (Luckily, I was right there.) You have no fear or instinct of danger, so I've got to have you in my line of sight at all times these days. The cabin is especially scary as you try to bolt down to the lake the minute your feet hit the grass. I looked back at Tory's 18 month update and she was doing many of the same things, so climbing must go hand-in-hand with this age. It's funny how quickly a parent forgets those things!

This was also a big month for you in speech development. You say 28 words now (yes, I keep track); the newest words being "look," "set," "go," "hot," "owie," "see ya," "Tory" and "wa wa" (for water). Associating names with people seemed to really click for you recently. You'll stand at the top of the stairs and yell "Dad!" as if he's downstairs taking a shower like he usually does after work, yell "Tory!" when you're looking for her somewhere in the house, or yell "Chlo!" (for Chloe the dog) when she's barking like a maniac at the front door. I love the way you shout "Bye! See ya!" when someone says good-bye to you. You love to sing and often mumble the tune of the ABC's, Baa Baa Black Sheep, or count "1, 2, 3, 4 ... 8, 9, 10." It's not the clearest, so I'm not sure anyone else would understand but that's totally what you're saying.

You're still a good eater, and will try almost anything I place before you. New foods you tried and liked this month were: corn, edamame, fruit snacks, pretzels and veggie straws snacks. You're not as wild about rotisserie chicken as you once were, and you continue to love eating pan fish. You absolutely love fruit, and it's gotten to the point where I have to hide it from you until you've first eaten other meats or vegetables on your tray. Some foods you'll try, then repeatedly refuse to eat are: bananas, blueberries, potatoes and eggs. At this point, it's safe to say you don't care for them. Suddenly, you can't get enough soy milk at meal times and chug it from the sippy cup. You still take two bottles of toddler soy formula -- 6oz. before your afternoon nap and 6oz. before bedtime, but I feel you gradually weaning away from bottles the same way Tory did around this age.

Your bed head is WILD in the mornings! (And, yes, that's a pink bib from Tory's baby days. Sorry, bud.)

Speaking of bedtime, I put down my foot and started sleep training you this month. Your multiple nightly wake-ups were out of control, and I finally reached my breaking point with patience on the matter. Sleep training is going okay so far; two weeks in, you still wake up once or twice a night and cry for about 5-10 minutes at a time (usually around 2:00am and 5:00am) before falling back asleep on your own. Sometimes, you'll lay awake in your crib and talk or sing to yourself for hours (yes, hours!) during the night. It's quite maddening! I'm definitely not getting any sleep while I listen to you make noises all night, but at least I'm not aiding the behavior by going to your side. It'll get better, right? In regards to naps, you've transitioned down to one, and it's usually for 2 or 3 hours mid-day or early afternoon.    

A few growth stats at 18 months: You weigh 23 pounds (according on the home scale; we'll know for sure at your 18 month well-check later this week). You're wearing 18 months clothes, size 4 diapers and size 5 shoes -- and have been for a while now. I see your growth stabilizing now you're officially into toddlerhood. For a while there, it seemed like I was buying new, bigger clothes for you all the time and now I'm wondering when you'll move up a size so I can finally retire all those pants you've worn thin by walking on your knees!

Definitely more of a "toddler" than a "baby" now, as evident by your newfound temper tantrums and curiosity for the world. We wouldn't have it any other way! You're an absolute light in our lives, Aden. We love you so much.


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Tory's Last Day of Preschool (2014-2015)

It's Tory's last day of preschool today, and I can hardly believe it! She's grown leaps and bounds since school began last September. I'm amazed by her physical changes (I totally get why every parent under the sun takes those "first day / last day" comparison photos), and I'm even more impressed by her social and intellectual maturity over the last year.

First day of preschool (September 2014) vs.  Last day of preschool (May 2015)

And, one more comparison for good measure. Not much has changed in a school year, right? 

Days like today cause me to step back and reflect how fast time flies as a parent. I guess the old adage "the days are long, but the years are short" rings true. Yesterday was a particularly long day in parenting, and I found myself willing the clock to move faster on more than one occasion. And then there's days like today when I stop in awe of these two incredible kids of mine, and wonder how it's possible they're growing up so quickly. 

It's incredible to see how much Tory's mentally developed this school year. She had some ups and downs -- namely, bouts of separation anxiety -- but worked to overcome her fears and really loved her time at school overall. She learned how to cut with a scissors this year, and mastered reading and writing the alphabet. She learned how to follow direction, to sing songs, and how to calmly sit and listen. Tory absolutely adored the children's teacher, Ms. Janna, who'd I say became one of Tory's very favorite people on the planet. I'll never forget the way Tory aspired for her teacher's attention, or the way she'd move her little carpet square as physically close to Ms. Janna's chair without actually sitting on her lap during Circle Time. She looked forward to going to school every week, even on the days she wasn't so sure about me leaving her. That's really everything a parent can wish for when sending their child to school -- for them to enjoy being there.

I'm going to miss seeing Tory's classmates every week, and also miss the adult conversations during my parent portion of the class. I even felt a little teary-eyed leading Tory out of her classroom one last time this morning. I can't imagine the emotions involved with the first and last days of real school someday!

Luckily, Tory will be returning to Ms. Janna's class next fall. It's a 3 & 4 year old preschool program and since Tory is the youngest kid in class (an August 30 birthday before a September 1 cut-off date), we've elected to enroll her in the same 2-days/week class again. Most of the other parents are moving their children up to 3-day preschool program next year, but I'm confident in our decision to stay where we are. Tory's excelling wonderfully at an intellectual level, and I think keeping her in the same program for another year (where she'll actually be one of the older kids in class for once) will only benefit her socially. Tory's teacher has already committed to tailoring preschool work to Tory's skill-level, so she won't be bored repeating the same class instruction again. Of course, there'll be a whole new group of students next year so it wouldn't be the same anyway.

Tory's first year of preschool is in the books. Now, bring on summer!*

(*Which, by the way, caused Tory much confusion this morning. "But, Mom! Why is school over? It's not summer break; it's still spring outside!")

Monday, May 18, 2015

Prepping for Cabin Weekends

Cabin life seems like a lot of fun (and it is!), but the logistics of running two households takes effort. Our babysitter and I were discussing this point a while back when she politely mentioned how much she disliked all the packing and shuffling she did when she owned a second property on the North Shore of Lake Superior. Ultimately, that's the reason she sold it -- it proved to be too much of a hassle for her. She was baffled how Andi and I manage to do it every single weekend with two little kids to boot. I suppose owning two homes can mean double the work, but with planning and organization it can also be a regular retreat to paradise.

This summer will be Andi and I's fifth year of renting / owning a lake cabin and by now, we have most of the weekly preparations down to a science. That isn't to say Fridays aren't stressful as I simultaneously entertain the kids and pack supplies for the weekend. Andi mentioned recently how much he appreciates when I've got the car packed and the kids strapped into their respective car seats as he pulls into the drive-way on Friday afternoons. No problem! I'll just wave my magic mommy wand and make that happen! All joking aside, I get what he's saying -- it works best if we can get ahead of Friday afternoon rush-hour departing the Twin Cities, so that's our goal each week.

Car packed; kids loaded. Chloe photo-bomb - can you spot her?

For my part, I take care of all family, household and entertainment preparations at the lake cabin. I usually meal plan and grocery shop on Thursdays, taking weekend plans into consideration like if we'll be hosting guests or if we'll be attending a cabin neighbor's BBQ. Planning ahead means I can relax and enjoy our time at the lake on the weekends instead of wasting half a day running errands in town. One of the trickiest parts I've found is planning meals for Friday and Sunday evenings as we're usually pulling into the cabin or back into our drive-way at home around dinnertime. We often get take-out on those nights because it's easier, or I'll marinate chicken breasts ahead of time so we can throw it on the grill as soon as we arrive. So, there's basically two breakfasts, two lunches and one dinner to plan for on the weekends. Some cabin guests volunteer to prepare a meal or two during a weekend, and other times I'll take care of all the food preparations myself.

We bring groceries with us to the cabin on Friday, and depart with a close-to-empty refrigerator on Sunday afternoons. Leftover food and perishable items like fruits and vegetables won't keep throughout the week, so I bring those things home with us and work leftovers into weekday meals. There are exceptions to this rule of course, like condiments, spices and shelf-stable pantry items. I have the hardest time remembering the roster of canned goods and spices in the cabin's cupboards, so it's not uncommon to end up with seven cans of black beans or three containers of chili powder there. Throw in other ingredients guests bring up for their meals and we've usually got quite the smorgasbord of ingredients! I've tried various methods to keep track of things, like taking pictures of the interior of the refrigerator before I leave for the week or making "cupboard lists" on my iPhone but no method seems to be fool-proof. It's the nature of having a vacation home, I suppose.

Two beloved bags I travel with every weekend -- a Land's End Boat & Tote and a Trader's Joe's cooler bag.

One fantastic aspect of owning a cabin vs. "going on vacation" are the many comforts of home we have available there. We've outfitted the cabin with bibs, sippy cups and a high chair so we never have to bring those things with us on the weekends. The entire cabin is baby-proofed inside and out, which is convenient for us and for our friends with little kids. We have soap in the showers and a set of toothbrushes there. The kitchen is stocked with all my favorite utensils. In many ways, the cabin feels both like home and offers a break from real-life, if that makes sense.

Andi keeps clothes at the cabin, so he never has to pack a suitcase. Though, sometimes his method backfires and clothing items migrate home, leaving him without pajama pants or socks to wear over a weekend. I keep a few things there (sweatshirts, t-shirts, pajama pants), but I also travel back and forth with some items (like a favorite pair of jeans, swim suits or make-up). I pack a suitcase with the kid's clothes every weekend that includes several outfits, pajamas, socks, shoes and swimming suits. I usually bring "play clothes" for them that I don't mind getting dirty or ruined. The cabin is outfitted with a stackable washer and dryer, but I rarely do laundry there. When I'm at the cabin on the weekends, I want to relax and enjoy our family's time together. Andi and I both wash sheets and towels there as needed, but I prefer to save the other laundry for Mondays at home.

Andi owns responsibility for everything related to the physical cabin and the outdoors. He takes care of maintenance on the pontoon boat, Ranger ATV, ice house, snowmobiles and the riding lawn mower. He mows the lawn and rakes weeds on the beach, and chops down trees that fall into the yard during a storm. In the wintertime, Andi's the one climbing on top of the roof to install heat cables to prevent ice dams -- not me, that's for sure! He calls in orders for propane refills and septic pumps. And, Andi's the social butterfly -- he's the one saying hello to neighbors, lending tools as needed and helping friends pull their docks in and out of the lake.

For us, owning a lake cabin doesn't feel like any more work than what we'd already be doing at home. In my mind, the week is always compartmentalized into "weekdays at home" and "weekends at the lake," thus I plan accordingly. Andi and I love the togetherness our family shares at the cabin on the weekends, we cherish our network of friends there and we relish in the ease of planing our weekends -- the answer is always the cabin, our favorite Wisconsin getaway.  

Friday, May 15, 2015

19/52: A Weekly Photo Series

I snapped quite a few photos of the kids this week, but perhaps the most telling are the ones of Aden enjoying his first ear of corn.

It was spaghetti night (aka: bath night) and he was head-to-toe covered in marinara by the end. Corn is the perfect accompaniment to spaghetti, if you ask me. I actually like to mix corn into my spaghetti, but that's neither here nor there ....

Aden wasn't sure what to do with the cob of corn at first. He touched it and immediately shouted "hot!" even though it wasn't. It was warm. And slathered in (dairy-free) butter. I think the correct exclamation could've been "what the ... ?"

I encouraged Aden to pick up the cob and eat it, and after that didn't work I asked Tory to demonstrate. He still seemed less than impressed, so eventually I used a knife to slice off the kernels. Then, Aden gobbled up the corn in 10 seconds flat.

We'll give corn on the cob another try this summer, Aden. You'll get it then - I promise!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

End of School Year Handprint Craft

Next Tuesday is the last day of Tory's three-year-old preschool class. I can hardly believe it! When I signed her up last fall, the description said children would attend something like 96 classes which seemed like an impossible number at the time. Suddenly, BAM! Here we are at the end of the school year. Crazy.

For the parent's last class next Tuesday, the instructor asked every adult to bring in something to share with our group (i.e.: a meaningful quote, beloved recipe, a book recommendation, etc.). I decided to make a simple handprint craft for my contribution to commemorate the end of the children's preschool year. You can never have too many handprint crafts, in my opinion. Kids grow so quickly and I know someday I'll cherish all the stamped artwork and ornaments I've made of Tory (and Aden's) little hands and feet over the years.

First, I found an "end of the school year" poem online (source here) and typed it into a blank computer document. I added a star border and printed 15 copies on 8x10 paper, then mounted each one to a piece of 9x12 construction paper.

Last, I painted Tory's hands and asked her to stamp them onto one of the papers in the designated spot. DONE!

My plan is to provide each parent with a "blank" sheet mounted to construction paper and they can add their child's handprint to the paper at home should they choose to do so.

Seriously, the easiest handprint craft ever!

Click here to download a free copy of the blank handprint craft.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

An Ode To My Children

Tory is ...

the daughter I always knew I'd have one day. In my dreams, I envisioned a smart, spunky girl with brown hair, brown eyes and olive-colored skin. My little girl and I would be best friends; we'd make crafts and bake cookies together. She'd share with me all of her greatest aspirations and fears -- no matter how big or how small -- and I'd always be there to love and support her with my arms open wide.

At 3 1/2 years, Tory is smart, sassy, compassionate and oh, so beautiful. She's everything I've always wanted in a daughter and so much more.


Aden is ...

the son I never knew I always wanted. I saw myself as a girl-mom but I never imagined in my wildest dreams I'd be lucky enough to call a sweet, sensitive boy my own. One with curly blond hair and bright blue eyes, no less! I couldn't have predicted how weak in the knees he'd made me feel when he snuggled his sleepy head into the crook of my neck, or how he'd always be my baby no matter how much time passed.   

It's too soon to tell if Aden will be a talker; a thinker; caring, or hilarious. Though, I do know this: there's something particularly magical about a mother and her son. That boy; he has my whole heart.


My two living miracles. I'm incredibly blessed to be their mama. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Mother's Day Weekend

I love nothing more than being a mother. I'm blessed to spend my days devoted to Tory and Aden... even if I might forget it for a minute when motherhood calls at 3:00am. 

My one request this Mother's Day was to spend the weekend at the lake cabin with Andi, the kids, and Andi's family. Andi's parents decided to spend the weekend with us at the lake, and Lindsay and Kyle joined us for a few hours on Sunday afternoon. 

Our weekend kicked-off with a bang Friday afternoon when Jim and Janie offered to take Tory and Aden to the cabin early, granting me an entire afternoon to myself. Andi traveled for work last week, so my original plan was to swing by the airport to pick him up when his flight arrived and drive to the cabin together. While sitting in rush-hour traffic with the kids at dinnertime isn't exactly my idea of a good time, it really was the most sensible option. That is, until Janie swooped in with Plan B and saved the day. Tory was ecstatic to have Grandma and Grandpa all to herself Friday evening, and they even treated the kids to dinner at The County Line Tavern -- something Tory's been asking about for weeks. 

Meanwhile, I spent my alone time Friday perusing Costco and the grocery store, buying groceries for the weekend, minus the tiniest bit of tension. I picked up Andi from the airport around 6:30pm, and together we made the peaceful (somewhat traffic-heavy but without kids!) drive to the lake cabin. We stopped for dinner at Staples Lake Bar & Grill and by our cabin neighbors Joe and Lisa's place for a drink before finally making our way to the cabin around 10:00pm. I've likely mentioned how stressful my Fridays usually are -- packing for the cabin in a frenzy, entertaining children in their car seats during the 1 1/2 + drive to the cabin, feeding their famished bodies upon immediate arrival -- so this rare, leisurely trip Friday evening was a treat. 

The six of us -- Andi, Tory, Aden, Jim, Janie and I -- spent most of Saturday outdoors at the lake. Temperatures were a little chilly starting out, but warmed up nicely in the afternoon. Andi and his dad fished most of the morning on the lake, and caught quite the slew of crappies. I made super delicious (but definitely not quick to prepare!) chicken burrito bowls and together we dined al fresco for lunch, as Tory would say. Then, Janie and I sat on the deck and basked in the sunshine all afternoon while the guys went fishing again with Tory.


We ended our day with a fish fry -- freshly caught and prepared by Andi and his Dad -- after the kids were in bed.

Mother's Day Sunday started on the perfect note, with a leisurely wake-up and a long shower. To some an uninterrupted shower might not be noteworthy, but in this season of life it definitely is to me. Andi made eggs and waffles for breakfast and the kids helped him prepare ingredients in the kitchen.

The weather was dreary and cold, so we spent most of Sunday indoors. Janie and I opened our gifts from everyone. Andi surprised me with a new KitchenAid Stand Mixer for the cabin (!!) in absolutely adorable handmade wrapping he and Tory designed together. 

We gifted Janie framed silhouettes of Tory and Aden which she loved.

Andi, Lindsay and Kyle prepared chicken with cherry-wine pan sauce for a mid-day lunch, then we all enjoyed yummy pastries from one of Lindsay and Kyle's favorite French bakeries in the Twin Cities. Janie and I relaxed on the sofa while all the kitchen prep and clean-up happened! It felt ... strange and awesome to be so pampered!

After all the delicious food and relaxation that day, our group ventured outdoors for a walk in the woods to rev up our bodies before the drive home to the Twin Cities. 

I couldn't have asked for a better Mother's Day weekend at the lake. It's wonderful to pause and reflect during the chaos of life and truly appreciate God's gift of family.